I Pick and Choose Which of My Religion's Tenets to Believe in, And It Works Perfectly for Me

I’m the maker of my own doctrine as I go along, fulfilling what feels right to me.
Publish date:
October 4, 2016
religion, judaism, jewish heritage

Just as there are 50 shades of gray, there are a lot of shades of religion. And I think a lot of us have a hard time expressing that. We don’t all necessarily fit into orthodox or reform. A lot of us gravitate somewhere toward the middle.

A few years ago, I somehow received NYC infamy due to my outrage that New York Fashion Week overlapped with the Jewish High Holidays — it was a small example of a larger problem: my constant difficult position at having pride in my faith and yet not being a super-orthodox observer. Did I have the right to complain and feel this anger when I was likely going to be on social media and watching TV on the actual solemn holiday? Was I not “Jewish enough” to fight this fight?

The NYFW issue is not one this year (though it ended up being one again in the years that followed), but my shades of gray continue to be. My problem, whether we speak of taxes (often quarterly estimated taxes are due on the high holy days) or fashion week (kind of the same thing, in a sense!), is one that simply doesn’t impact many others, including non-observant or secular Jews who will be going about their days as usual.

It’s hard to express to people, though, because I’m not a super-religious girl. I eat shellfish; I work on Shabbat. However, there are certain major holidays — the high holidays and Passover, for example — that I keep to the letter. And I wonder if doing so makes me selectively religious.

I think most of us create a customized doctrine within our religion. I grew up in a kosher home but knew all long my own home would not be kosher once I aged out of it. I had a bat mitzvah and don’t eat pork, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be eating cheeseburgers and canoodling with a non-Jew for the foreseeable future.

I do use the internet on Rosh Hashanah. I do engage in social media. I do not work, or spend money, or travel. Does that make me religious? Or totally not observant at all? Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with doctrine. It has to do with whom you ask.


It may be a #kidschallah event, but I am totally participating anyway!

A photo posted by alywalansky (@alywalansky) on

I think the concept of religion has a lot of gray areas. I have friends who swear they are not remotely active on social media or technology on the high holidays and yet right now, I see them as currently online in my Facebook messenger list. And you know what? That is their business. If they want to be online, be online: I am. But are they pretending not to be for OTHER Jews vs. for God? That’s something else. Because I know that I’m engaging in technology, but I also know there’s no reason to LIE about it. I will never, ever see how PRETENDING to be a better Jew makes you a better Jew. God knows what you are doing. Isn’t that the whole point?

I think a lot of us really do pick and choose the religious beliefs and the capacities therein, in order to prove some sort of point. And it’d endlessly confusing. A study released earlier this week referred to how a lot of Christians, for example, define their own their own beliefs outside of the traditional barriers of the faith. They may believe that there’s no such thing as Satan, or even believe in the Bible, or Jesus, but yet still define themselves as Christian.

The à la carte approach to religion is more common than a lot of us may realize, and I believe that a large part of continuation of a tradition is dependent on allowance to make our own guidelines that work for us within it. I have some strictly religious friends and I know if my being Jewish depended on doing all that they do on a given day or week as a component of their commitment, I’d not be able to do it.

The relationship between the religious and the non-religious can at times be judgmental — I’m guilty of it myself, not ever keeping Shabbat and yet judging my friends who are going to work or vacation as usual on the major holy days — but I think all of our shades of religion, so to speak, contribute to the continuation of the Jewish character.

I don’t think it’s a Jewish thing, either, mind you. I have Christian friends that will celebrate Christmas but haven’t been to church in years. Are they as devout as others? Of course not. But what they do still has value and importance. To themselves and to their society.

Always, though, my customized level of observance has been met with confusion. I’ve had orthodox friends who think secretly consider me to be secular, and non-Jewish friends who hear how strictly I adhere to the kosher rules of Passover and exclaim, “I didn’t know you were super religious!” Ultimately, I’m the maker of my own doctrine as I go along, fulfilling what feels right to me.

To me, I’ve always been far more concerned with being a good, honest human than not mixing milk and meat — but I’ll always absolutely respect the kosher rules of anyone I am spending time with. But maintaining the traditions are incredibly important to me. I believe in holidays and respecting the customs of the history of our people.

So, I’ll light my Hanukkah candles and bake a traditional Rosh Hashanah challah — but I just may be up to meet you for some treif when the holiday’s over.