In hindsight, I fear I may have misled some of my reading audience (such as it is at this point) with my slugline and various other things. Please don’t misunderstand what I mean when I say “Orthodox Judaism.” Unlike what many people think of as Orthodox Judaism — which is probably what I’d describe as ultra-Orthodox Judaism, or Haredi/Hasidic Judaism — I am principally affiliated with the Modern Orthodox movement, which stresses engagement with the modern and secular world, places a high priority on secular education (whereas the Haredi/Hasidic movements tend to stress religious education over secular education), and a more open sense of communitarianism than in stricter movements. I’m not the future wife of a black hat, folks.
A Note on Terminology
I understand that many dati (Hebrew term meaning “religious,” in this particular context) folks don’t like the term “ultra-Orthodox,” but I also don’t necessarily agree with the implicit value judgements of some of their suggested replacements, like “traditional Orthodox.” It’s also the commonly-used term in English, so I am for the moment, with objections noted, sticking to it.
I am in some senses a secular person — I grew up in a largely-secular household, had an excellent secular education, believe in secularity as a value in government (in the sense that where a society is very pluralistic, it’s difficult to avoid unfairness if one privileges adherents of one religion or sect over another, or over nonbelievers), and I have many of the values of that world. I’m more or less just learning to be a religious person in the last year or so, although I am finding that my values, ethics, and principles, to a great extent, overlap with Jewish values, ethics, and principles already.
Due to circumstances, I’m also strongly aligned with the sort of everyday observant Judaism practiced in Israel — there is a small, or maybe not-so-small, part of me that feels Yerushalmit and has since November of 2009 (that’s another story for later) — which already makes me a sort of different animal from many converts here in the Diaspora.
Another reason to identify with the wider communitarian spirit, or the leftward angle in Modern Orthodoxy is that I don’t like the sort of inter- and intra-movemental politics that dismisses other movements within Judaism (particularly Reform) as morally corrupted or deficient, and although I have found my limited direct experience with Reform Judaism to be kind of “Judaism lite,” I’m not in any position to cast judgement on anybody’s Jewish politics or practice in any way, and I’d prefer not to overhear the various factions more or less yelling at each other in print. (I would be wary of anything in that Wikipedia article suggesting that any movement within Judaism is dying, as people have been saying that about movements of Judaism since the concept started.)
I’m also not willing to give up reading secular books (or other materials), or watching what little television I do watch (Air Crash Investigation for the win!), or making the occasional off-colour joke. I believe these things are possible within even the observant Jewish life. In modern Hebrew, you say “to have fun” as la’asot chai, which means “to make life.” I do think it’s possible to do both.