Spirituality and Religion

Spirituality and Religion

I identify as a Jewish Woman. Not just a woman, not just a Jew. Equal parts both. Take one or the other away and you won’t have an accurate representation of who or what I am. Both roles have defined me since the moment I was old enough to start to understand who I was.

I don’t think I ever used the term religious to define myself until I was on the dating scene post-divorce and had to put myself in one of those much-hated boxes, describing who I am with a few twee words. I have always felt that I am more on the spiritual end of things.

I live a religious lifestyle. I keep Shabbat, Kashrut and Family Purity, and a bunch of other mitzvot. I cover my hair and dress modestly, and try very hard not to sin. But I am far from perfect. But the actual nuts and bolts of Jewish observance – I do most of them without a second thought. After all, I have been observant all my life – so many things just come naturally to me.

Organized prayer is not my thing. I find it difficult to talk to God through someone else’s words. If I am asked to say Psalms for one who is sick, I will. If I go to shul, yes, I pray when I am there. But daily? I fall down big time on this one.

That isn’t to say that I do not pray. I talk to God (isn’t that what prayer is?) all the time. It’s almost as if there is a running conversation 24/7 (mostly in my head). Yes, some of it is mundane as in “please, God, help me find a parking spot” or “God, please let me not throttle this kid who is talking to back to me right now”. But there are other conversations that I have with God that run deeper. I am not so holy as to believe that God talks back to me, or even responds to every request or thought, but I see God in all that I do. I believe that there is a Higher Power.

Do I believe God has a long beard and sits on a cloud with a bunch of rosy cheeked cherubim to serve his every whim? No. In my view God is most likely female – but that may be just because I would much rather deal with a female God. At least she’d get my thought processes and understand HaDassah-logic so much easier than a male version would.

My point is – you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual and vice versa. Having the ability to be both – WIN WIN. Some people find a lot of spiritual comfort in ritual – specified prayers, hand washing, blessings etc. They find that performing mitzvot brings them to a higher level of spirituality. Some mitzvot are so hard to do – and the idea is to still fulfill that mitzvah so that it brings you up one or two spiritual notches.

I have a hard time with covering my hair, for example. Every day it’s a struggle over my inner voice. Does God want me to cover my hair and be miserable about it? Does God care? I don’t have the answer to that, and I have asked God many times. Still waiting for the return memo. I do it because it is what I believe is right. But it doesn’t make me feel spiritual and all Kumbaya-ish. Yet I still do it.

Maybe one day we’ll all have the answers to our questions that we have for God. And maybe we won’t. I’m OK with that. I’m comfortable in my observance (mostly) and I love my own personal spirituality. It makes sense to me, and that’s what counts, right?


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  1. Shorty says:

    Another great post Hadassah. Identity can include made facets: spirituality, culture, country of origin…each will have an impact on your thoughts, your choices and your morals/principles you choose to live by (sorry if that isn’t proper grammer :( ).

    I took consider myself spiritual and Jewishly observant. I don’t like to use the work religious to describe myself. I guess maybe I don’t full understand what it means? I feel describing me as observantly Jewish is kind of accurate. I keep kosher and Shabbat. I don’t cover my hair and yes I am married to someone who isn’t Jewish. I don’t fit into the typical “boxes” of orthodox or reform. I also speak to G-d on a regular basis, and I too have a really hard time praying at Shul. I feel I need to be alone when I talk to G-d.

    • HaDassah says:

      Everyone needs to find a level at which they are comfortable. I, too, like to be along when I talk to God. I like the one on one attention. Oh wait…. well, one way at least :)

  2. Dan says:

    Identity is how you see yourself. Nothing else matter. ישר כח.

  3. Paula Popper says:

    Thank you, Hadassah, for giving voice to the inner struggle for balance between religious practice and spiritual yearning. At times we can feel pulled in opposite directions, and at times they run in sync. I appreciate your honesty in all you write.

  4. Interesting post. My wife and I didn’t grow up observant. But we sent out children to a Modern orthodox preschool walking distance from out house. Next thing I knew we were in Shul every Saturday and becoming more and more observant. I sure their are many Orthodox and eve Modern Orthodox Jews that would still think of us as heathens. Thankfully not many if any in our community. Its a very accepting community that favors outreach. That said I pretty much only where a Kippah in Shul or at learning. But I don’t drive on Shabbat. I will however use my computer to write. I’d love to keep a Kosher house but my wife is against it. I love Modern Orthodox Judaism. Truthfully I see more of the Torah as allegory than fact, But I resolve that by turning to science to understand the world and Judaism for understanding how to live a life with purpose and intention.

    By the way I always considered myself more spiritual than religious and I used to feel the exact way about davening/praying. I was like I can talk to G-d anywhere. Hashem doesn’t have to have me in a shul to hear me. Then one day I had a flash.I was caught up in a particularly deep meditative state in prayer and it flashed through my brain like a lightning bolt. I don’t need to pray in a group for G-d to hear me, but praying in a group helps me hear G-d. I don’t go everyday, but pretty much every shabbat.

    My biggest struggle with Modern Orthodoxy is woman are still not really regarded as equals.

    • HaDassah says:

      I think religion and spirituality are constant journeys. We only take the next step when and if we are ready, and if everything else in our lives lines up in the right way.

      In what way would you like to see Modern Orthodoxy change it’s attitude to women’s equality?

      • Again, I grew up in a non observant house. It was also in a very liberal area. I’d have to give some thought to it. Off the top of my head… The modesty restrictions. I would also like to see a more egalitarian approach to women participation in ritual and ceremony.

  5. Lady Lock N Load says:

    Prayer is also a very hard thing for me but funny how it is easier for me to pray when something challenging is going on in my life, then I really reach out to G-d.
    There are many books that I own that discuss prayer and how to connect with it, please feel free to come and borrow.
    I love going to shul, I can concentrate better in shul. At home I get distracted and in the middle of shmoneh esrai I think “Oh, I have to do the dishes” and then I realize I was not concentrating and I feel so bad.

    • HaDassah says:

      I think it’s always easier to remember God is out there for us to talk to when things are rough. We need to remember to thank God in the good times too. I think it’s a challenge for all of us.

  6. Chris says:

    As somewhat-of-an-agnostic male, I wholeheartedly agree with the premise the big kahuna being female. Usually I picture something along the lines of “Aunt Jemima”. It just works for me.

    And I have nothing constructive to add to this conversation. :)

  7. rubyv says:

    I’ve always viewed God as a grandmother in a kitchen, wise beyond measure, caring, listening, and occasionally throwing a flip flop at you.

  8. Arnie Samlan says:

    Thanks for sharing your personal inner thoughts and struggles. There are many parts of religion that don’t feel spiritual and many spiritual thing that don’t feel religious. It’s true regardless of one’s religion (or one’s expression of that religion) and regardless of gender.

    You spoke about a higher power, but are not so clear about whether that power actually has “commanded” you. From a religious point, that may matter. From a spiritual point of view, not so much. If pursuing one’s spirituality is the goal, participating in rituals or in practices (such as prayer) are means to an end, not the end unto itself. And from a spiritual point of view, doing those practices, albeit not in the most “orthodox” way, may be getting you where you want to go.

    In my opinion, those of us who are traditionalists about religion have similar struggles: trying to reconcile observance (religion) with spirituality (recognizing the Godly in ourselves).

    May we all learn together on the journey.

  9. Shoshana says:

    ” I find it difficult to talk to God through someone else’s words. ”

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Felt that way since I was a young adult many moons ago.

  10. Melissa SG says:

    I’ve had a post in draft form about your first point for so long… Perhaps this is the nudge I need to finish flushing it out.
    Thanks as always for sharing your struggles.

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