The Non-Observance (?) of Judaism

Once, I was taking a train. I will note here that this story takes place in the USA. Anyway, I was on this train and I heard a man speaking Hebrew.

That, in and of itself, was not particularly strange. Even in the USA this was not totally strange. It was more remarkable that I picked up on it, although he was speaking too fast and my Hebrew listening comprehension was too terrible to understand what he said.

The man walked past me. I could now see that he was wearing a kippah. This was also, while not necessarily common (actually, this took place in an area of the USA that I don’t live in and have no idea how common it is to see kippah-wearing Jews in this area), also not particularly strange.

The strange part was that this train ride took place on Shabbat. And while I didn’t think it strange to see either kippah-wearing Jews or to see Jews violating Shabbat, it was odd to me to see the same person doing both.

Not something I expected to see on Shabbat in the USA. Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

Then again, I was also on this train on Shabbat.


Another story: we recently attended a social event at a Reform synagogue in Another Location We Are Considering Moving To. The event was very nice and we met some nice people. The one thing that annoyed me slightly was that the sandwiches served were not kosher. Non-kosher meat sandwiches.

Now to be fair, this was not inconsistent with the Reform Movement’s philosophical position on halacha generally. And to be honest, I don’t keep strictly kosher outside the house. It wouldn’t have fazed me at all if they had served tuna sandwiches or cheese sandwiches that weren’t hechshered. But meat sandwiches felt like a crossed line.


Then again, would it make sense for an institution to observe something that the people don’t? Institutions are composed of and run by people, aren’t they?


I hit publish instead of save to draft while this was unfinished. Also, I’m traveling with unreliable WiFi. TBH, the main reason I wrote this post was so that people know I’m not dead, and I didn’t want to do a general update post, so instead, this was an opportunity to ruminate on some thoughts.

All or Nothing

The problem with expecting there to be a particular line is that the “line of reasonable” varies wildly person to person. It’s not like serving non-kosher cheese sandwiches would have been seen as universally accommodating either.

And sometimes, what makes one group of Jews more comfortable makes another group of Jews less comfortable. Some Jews feel most comfortable when the sexes are separated, where women don’t sing, etc. But this makes other Jews very uncomfortable. I consider myself a reasonably accommodating hostess (don’t we all) and my kitchen is kosher and I can handle a variety of dietary restrictions and allergies. But there are things I won’t accommodate. In my home I say kiddush (traditionally said by a male) and I will never ever cover my hair. I do not care how religious my guests are, I will not change these things to make them more comfortable. They can leave if they don’t like it (honestly, I don’t particularly like hosting)

Judaism shouldn’t have to be an all or nothing.


It’s said that Judaism is more than just a religion. There’s a strong aspect of peoplehood, even without the observance of religion. For me personally, Judaism as a religion resonates much more strongly than as a connection to the people. But I am still Jewish, even when I am not keeping the commandments. Even when I am on a train on Shabbat, this is still my religion.This is still a part of my identity.

Maybe the kippah-wearing man on the train feels the same way.


  1. I do find it strange, particularly the second one, as my experience working for a Reform institution for several years was that they did keep a somewhat higher level of kashrut than they advocated on paper as they knew their community kept a range of kashrut options.

    It’s also true that for a while in my teen years, when I was becoming frum, I was wearing a kippah all the time, but still eating in non-kosher restaurants, mainly because I didn’t know how to tell my family that I didn’t want to do eat there any more. So I guess I would have seemed strange to onlookers.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I wonder if this falls under ‘I know how I interpret religion’ rather than a literal interpretation of how a particular religion or version decrees what should be adhered to. There are some rules that are not personally meaningful so I will choose to bend or break them. Selective adherence.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It makes sense to serve the meat sandwiches if the gathering is known to consist of people only in that relatively small group, but it wouldn’t if it were to be a “mixed” group. Better to ask the non-observers to “play along” than to expect the others to break their laws. This, from a non-Jew. (What is the term for people like me?) My family were Catholic, sort of, at least on certain holidays, and they all made a big deal out of observing certain selected rules, like no meat on Fridays. However, the Catholics, if the players in your story, would have served the meat sandwiches in a mixed group and leave the observance up to the individual. Just for what that’s worth. Maybe a hundred years ago, they would not have. Somehow, I think, there’s the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This weirdly, wasn’t the strangest violation of Kashrut that I have ever scene in a synagogue belonging to this particular stream of Judaism. I once went to a Reform synagogue that served something with bacon in it. At least in this case, the turkey sandwiches theoretically could have been kosher.

      This synagogue probably won’t wind up being our primary congregation (it’s also not entirely obvious that this is the right geographic location to move to) but there’s other things I do like and appreciate about this type of synagogue. I love the music and energy of their Friday night services, and the social event was really nice. Probably best to accept that no community will be a perfect fit and there will always be something like a sandwich, that will make you go, “huh”


  4. “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
    I keep my eyes wide open all the time
    I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
    ‘But this time, they crossed the line’.”

    Johnny Cash.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, but they only crossed my line. And considering that I once went to a synagogue that served bacon, this arguably wasn’t even the most egregious line crossing. And one could say, “Why does JYP get to decide where the line is?! I think JYP crossed a line!” But Johnny Cash said this much more eloquently

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If people attending a shul have a range of observance levels, it seems like the reasonable way to go for the shul would be to lean towards being accessible for those people. A kosher or kosher-ish meal seems like it would work for a broader group of people than a ham & cheese sandwiches with a side of popcorn shrimp meal.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. First, it’s not for me to judge anyone else’s chosen Religion or its alternative. As a chosen practicing Catholic, and I do emphasize on the word (practicing) I share a limited portion of the Theological aspect of the Torah but as to knowledge of the real Jewish faith and culture itself, I’m fairly ignorant. Personally, I’d prefer it I was a bit more of a devout Catholic, than a lazier acting member of the Church.

    So, if I understand you correctly, you’ve edited Traditional Judaism to your more modern and personal acceptance/tolerance?

    Respectfully, It seems to me, that if you’re are acting as your own Rabbi and synagogue, therefore any of your concerns or personal alterations remains between you and your God, right? However, perhaps your guest ought to be notified in advance of your proportional tweaks prior to attending your home or be left to chose not to come at all; much in the same fashion you’re choosing for yourself?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I left some context out, but yes, my guests know exactly where I stand so none of this is a surprise when they show up. You’re not wrong – there is an element of picking and choosing here. I appreciate that this is logically inconsistent, but I don’t see a viable alternative. All or nothing doesn’t work – the “all” is too many things that, for philosophical and/or practical reasons, I can’t live with; the “nothing” gets rid of too many things that bring meaning to my life and that I do care about

      Liked by 1 person

      • Clearly you appreciate much of your peoples history and love being part of it but lack a tolerance for its rigid form, but Isn’t remaking God in your preferred image your proportional all or nothing demand to others? Respectfully, Isn’t that the sort of philosophical indifference thing that led to the Forty years of strife before reaching the promised land? Please elucidate my mindset why it’s ok now to change orthodoxy? And for the record, I have a great appreciation and feel a kinship with all Jewish people and their history.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I never came back to you on this point (I came back from traveling and immediately started a new job, and then became busy with a bunch of other things), so I apologize. A few thoughts:

          1) Although many Orthodox scholars will say otherwise, Orthodox Judaism is actually not the same religion that’s been practiced for thousands of years. There have been significant changes (and significant historical revisionism to cover that these changes have taken place.)

          2) I think there are traditional Jewish practices and traditions that are absolutely central to keeping Judaism alive throughout the centuries and millennia. For example, it’s often said that it’s not that Jews keep Shabbat (the sabbath), but that Shabbat has kept the Jews. I think this is true, even as I admit to having lapsed in traditional observance of Shabbat, I do think it is central to Judaism and I see it as a noble spiritual goal to return to.

          3) However, I do not believe that all Jewish practice merits that same respect simply because it is tradition. In my opinion, traditions such as lack of leadership opportunity/visibility of women in religious spaces, the challenges of women being trapped in unwanted (often abusive) marriages because they cannot get a religious divorce document- these are not traditions that should be maintained. Jewish law actually has mechanisms built in for allowing for necessary change. The fact that Orthodox rabbis today (granted, not all of them) have allowed the problem of women trapped in unwanted marriage to continue under the guise of “religiously, our hands are tied” is quite simply a travesty and in my opinion, an abdication of responsibility that has hurt many, many people.

          4) I am not an Orthodox Jew. While there are aspects of Orthodox Judaism that I respect, I have plenty of philosophical and practical reasons for not being Orthodox. I feel fortunate that I’ve found communities where I can practice a non-Orthodox, engaged, egalitarian Judaism within the context of a community. I have no idea what G-d wants and I do not claim to speak for G-d (I wish more people would refrain from doing this because honestly, we believe that the age of prophesy has ended…), but I certainly know that I would rather practice this brand of Judaism than not practice Judaism at all. By the way, if not for non-Orthodox egalitarian Judaism, I would leave entirely. I have too many philosophical issues with Orthodox Judaism and would not practice it out of a sense of obligation. I do feel a connection to the Jewish people, and there are things that I do out of desire to serve the Jewish community. But maintaining traditions that I think ought be changed out of respect for Orthodoxy is not one of them.

          5) With respect to tolerance, you bring up a good point. The truth is that none of us are really as tolerant and as pluralistic as we claim to be and I am quite honestly, no exception. For me, egalitarian Judaism is a non-negotiable. I am a woman and it is part of my values to lead kiddush and to sing Shabbat table songs and the grace after meals out loud in my home. When I go to another person’s home, I am deferential to the values of my host’s home. In my own home, I feel I deserve the same respect as hostess. I’ve been to plenty of Orthodox homes that didn’t cater to me when it came time for kiddush or for saying the grace after meals, and this is to be expected because I was a guest in their home; why do my values in my home have to take backseat? It should be noted that all of my guests, Orthodox or not, are well aware of our practice before they accept the invite, and I have Orthodox guests who have accepted repeat invites, so no one is being caught off-guard.

          Apologies for the long-delayed response!


  7. I find it interesting when you discuss your values of faith and perceptions of others. I support your right to do that in your faith. I wished years ago I learned it was okay to do that. I encourage it in our children. As a Roman Catholic, I have very orthodox views about the way Catholics should act. I prefer Latin mass. Don’t get me started on The Lady Of Fatima, my husband knows not to even joke about it. I am always fascinated the way people view the world through their religious lens. Oh, how I miss the door to door religious groups stopping by, darn Pandemic. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You might be the first person I have ever met who likes when proselytizing groups come door to door!

      Thank you – the original goal of this blog was to be able to talk about things related to Judaism. I”ve not lived up to it because other content, like poetry or humor or general life updates, is easier to write. Even this would have been a better post had I not been writing it from my phone with lousy internet. But it was good to get some thoughts down. I really appreciate the feedback and I like learning the faith journeys of my readers

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Despite my religiosity as a Catholic, I don’t do well on observing Sunday as a day of rest. And I almost never fast. My first thought is “I wonder if I’ll lose any weight?” So because of my ulterior motive, I don’t do it. Plus my blood sugar goes haywire and I become a monster. I can push through a gurgly stomach type of hunger but not the low blood sugar kind. And you know how I feel about the veils 😅.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I fast for the fast days and my body is hardy enough to manage it, but I hate the way fasting is approached in Judaism. It’s so extreme and encourages people to do dangerously stupid, irresponsible things with their health. I once read a sermon about having fasting makes us more spiritual, and my reaction was like, um, have you ever actually talked to anyone on Yom Kippur? Everyone is hungry, dehydrated, tired, whiny, impatient, and generally the most unpleasant version of themselves. By the way, I think fasting for a day makes you gain weight because you’re so hungry afterwards and you just eat everything.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Religion is meant to explain to you the way to God and to give you the practical means or method to reach that goal. However, every single man and every single woman differs from each other. Religion on the other hand addresses large groups of people. What religious rule is of help to one person might be of no help to another one. Also, there are core rules and there are rules belonging to the periphery of a religious truth and a religious method. Not to follow the latter ones in the case they do not help you on your way to God does not at all question you being a believer within that specific religious context. It is your personal connection to God which counts.


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