Conformity In Orthodox Judaism

Should I stay or should I go?

If I go, there will be trouble.

If I stay, I will be troubled.

Damn phone’s not ringing.

I don’t care.

So you want me to repress my feelings? Just shove them right down inside of me? But then they might come out all distorted on my blog?

I didn’t get a personal invite for today. But I don’t donate, so why should I get a personal invite?

It’s a community event. Am I part of the community? I live Beverlywood-adjacent but I’m not part of the YICC community. Am I part of any Orthodox community?

I’m a rebel without a shul.

The Uninvited.

As Rabbi YY wrote so dispassionately in my Wikipedia entry: "He claims to have converted to Judaism in 1992, but in fact was given a "Dishonorable discharge" from the conversion programme of the biggest Orthodox Rabbinic organisation in California, the Rabbinical Council of California. No Rabbis can be found to support his claim, instead many confirm that he has indeed never been converted. Ford himself refuses to cite who it was that converted him and he is very active in attacking and criticising Jews and Rabbis in his Blog.[1] Ford says he observes the Jewish Sabbath, attends synagogue regularly, and keeps kosher. Judaism conflicts with his chosen profession, which all Orthodox Rabbis see as immoral, and he has been asked to leave at least two different congregations.[2]"

I offered to give this kid part of my lung. Anything to prove I’m a mentch. Open up my chest and cut away anything you find useful. Take, this is my flesh. Take, this is my blood. Just let me back into YICC. Let me join the team. Don’t leave me behind. I’ll be a good boy. The best boy. You’ll never need to spank me again.

Today’s speaker is Rabbi Steven Pruzansky. I can’t stay away. The topic is conformity in Orthodox Judaism. How could any Orthodox shul in Los Angeles host a lecture on conformity without my being present? It’d be a shanda. What would the goyim say?

I have some opinions. Heck, I should be giving this lecture. Maybe I’ll ask a sharp question at the end and show I’m the smartest guy in the room.

I walk up Pico Blvd. Thank God this is not the Stephen S. Wise temple where the security guards kept a picture of me at their station. Thank God YICC does not have security guards today. They must be dropping their standards.

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Sunday and the rabbi gives me a smile ’cause he knows it’s me they’re coming to see to forget about life for a while.

And the siddur sounds like a carnival. And the chumash smells like a beer. And they sit in the pews and put bread in my jar and say, man, what are you doin’ here?

This is the most intimidating Modern Orthodox shul in town. I don’t belong here. Maybe if I gave the rabbi all my organs that get me into trouble, he could lock them away in a safe until he was reasonably sure I would only use them responsibly.

As I walk through the door, I wait for the alarm to ring.

Nothing. Nobody turns around. Nobody looks askance.

The only alarm is in my head.

My spirits soar. I disco. My hips sway like Ricky Martin. I’m more moral than Oscar Wilde. More manly than Jane Austen. More sober than Charles Bukowski.

We are family. I’ve got all my sisters with me.

Living life is fun and we’ve just begun
To get our share of the world’s delights
(HIGH!) high hopes we have for the future
And our goal’s in sight
(WE!) no we don’t get depressed
Here’s what we call our golden rule
Have faith in you and the things you do
You won’t go wrong
This is our family Jewel

I open my mouth and scream but nobody hears me. I must go back on my lithium.

"Wecome rebbe," says Robert as he hands me a two-sided sheet covered with 26 quotations from sacred text.

I’m in trouble now.

Signs on the door say "No food or drink."

A friend follows me in carrying a cup of Starbucks coffee.

"I probably shouldn’t bring this in here," he says, "but what are they going to do? Throw me out? I’m with you."

I pull out the Orthodox Union’s Guide to Blessings and review the basics.

I hope I don’t run into the rabbi. I hope I don’t run into anyone I let down. I feel like I’m in a room full of ghosts of what I might’ve been.

Let me just sit here and study. Then first opportunity, I’ll get the hell out and return to my blog.

That’s where I belong — cyberspace — where the girls are easy!

I’m a universalist. I’m not tied down to any particular sect. I’m a free-thinker. I float above disputes like Barack Obama. I’m a wounded young god. I should’ve been born in Greece 2400 years ago. I belong on the Parthenon followed around by female disciples inquiring into the nature of the good.

Rabbi Pruzansky encourages us to follow our creative instincts, so long as we pursue them within the limits of Jewish law and lore. He says that the 90% of Jews who don’t observe Jewish law are outside the pale.

Rabbis. Harumph! They’ve got their pulpits and their security guards. I’ve got my blog and my readers.

I win.

I line up for the food. Everyone’s washing hands and I don’t want to be left behind. I wash and say the bracha.

Then I reconsider. My triglycerides are out of control. My cholesterol is high. My good cholesterol is consistently low. I have a six percent chance of getting a stroke or heart attack in the next ten years. What a loss that would be to the Jews and to world literature.

Maybe I’ll skip the bread and the cream cheese. But I washed! I wish I could ask a rav. Oh well, I’ll be my own rav. Not for the first time.

I comfort myself with a few slices of cheese, chocolate rugala, two helpings of omelette, potatoes, and fruit. Then I say an individual bracha on each food, but very quietly so no one can hear me and tell me I did it wrong.

Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star if I could get out of this place.

"Welcome back," says an acquaintance. We used to daven together every morning for nearly a year. "You’re always welcome here," he says. "You shouldn’t just come for sad occasions. You should join us for simchas too."

Yeah, well, tell that to the powers that be.

I can’t believe here I am sitting alone at a table, the greatest writer of my generation, and I’m snivelling about getting back into YICC.

As I walk out, a never-married acquaintance in his fifties yells at me, "Why aren’t you married?"

"Why aren’t you married?" I respond.

He throws up his hands.

I get in my car and listen to KPCC. A nude New Zealand rugby game was disrupted by a fully-clothed streaker.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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