I struggle with labels, really I do. I’ve long said that everyone these days seems eager to slap a new and inventive label (Hippiedox, Conservadox, Flexidox) on themselves in order to describe their uniquely complex and nuanced relationship with Judaism ( e.g., “I go to an Orthodox shul, but go to the gym Shabbat afternoon, and will take the subway because, like a Shabbat elevator, it stops at every station anyway”). As a result, no label really means anything anymore.
So, during my brief period on Frumster, I aligned myself with the most newly founded and most liberal category or label: “Traditional and Growing.” I chose this label because not choosing a label was not an option, and because this seemed like the most moderate, the most liberal, the most (if not exactly) resemblant of my observance. All the other labels included terms that I would never use to describe myself: yeshivish, black hat, ba’al teshuvah, etc)
Because the people contacting me were never people I could see myself with religiously (and because none of them seemed to possess anything resembling a sense of humor), I deactivated my Frumster profile last month, but today, got this message from their customer support team informing me that I’d been “reclassified.”
Your observance category of â€œTraditional and Growingâ€ has recently been re-classified to a Jewish Outlook of â€œTraditional or Non-Orthodoxâ€.
Members within this Jewish Outlook now need to choose an affiliation from the list below:
Traditional and Growing
If you do not choose an affiliation, your profile display will be listed as Traditional.
Forget for a minute the fact that I’ve deactivated my profile, so I shouldn’t be getting these messages anyway. After my initial chuckle about being reclassified, I was pretty happy to see this. Because it’s an acknowledgment that there’s more to observance than Orthodoxy (which is how things were set up initially).
Is this improvement enough to get me back on board at Frumster? Not really. Because another word I would never use is right there in the name of the site: “frum.” The connotations don’t really jive with my outlook. Because people expect me to come up with some sort of label, I do. I use Conservadox, or Traditional, or Observant. But for the most part people just end up shaking their heads, wanting the specifics: Do you eat dairy out? Do you use electricity on Shabbat? When you get married will you cover your hair?
Maybe the nebulous they in the ether of the internet should create a site for people who are “As Jewish As We Wanna Be.” People write essays and essays (and not particularly well, at that) for online dating services about what they’re looking for in a partner. I say make ’em write an old-school thesis (#2 pencils optional) about the kind of Jewish life they live now and how they’d like a partner to help them build a Jewish home. Force them to think about Judaism as a lifestyle and describe it to someone they’ve never met before.
I’ve seen and heard parents, urging their children to stop crying and actually express themselves verbally, tell the whiny kid to “use your words.” Maybe that’s the trick…it’s not “use your word,” or “use your label.” If a kid grunted “hungry” or “frustrated,” would parents be happier? It’s use your words, preferably in a full sentence, with a subject and predicate (don’t make me diagram what a proper sentence looks like).
We should all use our words, and not rely on labels or assumptions to make ourselves understood. If we’re lucky, it could lead to dancing.