We live in our house – whisper it who dares! – religious and non-religious all together. What’s it like, you’ll be wondering? Like having a prime minister and a prime minister-in-waiting all in the same room, perhaps. Rife with tensions, backward glances, niggling remarks to each other, sources of dispute and confrontation.
Well, no, actually – all the frustrations are purely of a domestic nature in our home. Who does the least housework is a fertile area for argument. But religion? Hasn’t been a problem at all. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing transitional about it – it’s not that we’re on the crux of change, any of us developing or changing: we are where we are and what we are – Jews who practise or choose not to practise in different ways.
When I remarried it was to a man from a very committed Jewish background in terms of involvement with communal charities and relentless support and campaigning for Israel, but with very little Orthodox practice or belief at all. His (then) four children came from a similar background. My (then) three children and I are Orthodox.
When I took Anthony with me to meet an older friend I had visited for many years, her first reaction was surprise. “My,” she said, “you seem very similar. I had the impression you would be so very different from each other!” “Why?” I said, puzzled. “Oh you know,” she said, “the Jewish orthodox versus non-orthodox thing…” And I was surprised that this woman had absorbed some prejudice that somehow I, the rabbi’s daughter, have not; that there are unbridgeable divides between Jews.
In our house the way we do it is that we keep everything according to Orthodox practice within the home. But the youngest of us, for example, the child that Anthony and I had together, and who is himself being brought up Orthodox, knows very well – and what’s more suffers no sense of divisiveness or conflict over it – that some of his closest relatives don’t, for large chunks of their lives, keep the same practices he does. “Hmm,” our little boy said one evening, looking through his father’s family album, “don’t see many kippot in here.”
Other people do it other ways. One family I know where the father isn’t Orthodox has his office at the top of the house and he goes up there on Shabbat and types away on his computer while the rest of the family are all strictly Shabbat – observant.
For my husband, from his warm and loving Jewish background, that option – so much easier for a man in his forties changing a lifestyle – is not an option. We want a home that feels at one with itself, and we have achieved that.
So Anthony practises most things now – again not easy, particularly in the context of remarriage, and when you don’t want your children to feel that divorce means a separation from one’s own children. And also not easy in our small Jewish community where everybody is looking to label everybody else, and don’t quite know how to label this case. But he doesn’t do it out of belief (before we married a Dayan said to him that forty is too late to develop faith – Rabbi Akiva notwithstanding, this Shavuot period) – or at least not a belief in God, but a belief in that other Jewish concept: shalom bayit.
And we have it, we have this peace in our house. Well, you know, beneath the uproar of daily squabbling over who does what, who’s woken up whom, who has the remote control and who exercises supremacy over the computer.
The children ask questions. Daddy why do you do this? Mummy, how are we supposed to manage when your husband doesn’t wear a kippa? And we tell them that they are having a chance to see different ways – though you know, we are all Jews – and that’s of value in itself. And I talk about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash because of “sinat chinam” : people hating each other for no reason, a Jewish problem of old.
I’d like to think it’s urban myth but too many people have told me recently that one of the London Jewish schools is now sending out questionnaires asking questions like: “do you eat abroad as you do at home?” and “when do you wear a kippa?” and most invasive of all, “whom do you ask for advice on issues of family purity; to which rabbi do you go?”
Like those who go into JFS not to teach but to insist, to say, “ first you must take on the practices, then you will learn” there is an unpleasant tendency afloat in this community. When did Jews become judges of each other, rather than people who practise?