Reform Girl Tries Out Orthodox Judaism For a Week

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In a fascinating religious and social experiment, a young Jewish woman named Emily Langowitz, who was raised as a committed reform Jew lived as an orthodox Jew for one week.

The reform Judaism she grew up with granted her much leeway and autonomy in her observance. She wanted to be able to make an educated choice about which things she wanted to observe and which things she did not want to observe. Her solution was to have a “frum week”.

For one week, Ms. Langowitz practiced orthodox Judaism as best she could. She kept the strict rules of kosher, she went to a minyan and prayed from the siddur three times daily, she made a blessing before and after she ate anything, she followed the laws of tznius and she dressed modestly.

Her experience gave her a profound appreciation for the orthodox Jewish lifestyle. Previously held criticisms were disproved by her experience. She found beauty in the minutia of halachic observance. She learned to appreciate the rhythm and music of orthodox Jewish prayer. She found that forcing herself to be conscious of God at all times gave her a greater appreciation for life and life’s gifts.

The one negative experience of frum week was her status as a woman in the minyan. Ms. Langowitz felt uncomfortable that she did not “count” and this would make it hard to continue praying in that atmosphere no matter how wonderful and warm the community was towards her.

The short of it is that for an outsider, orthodox Judaism can seem daunting, dated and difficult. But Ms. Langowitz found out how beautiful, relevant and inspiring it can be as well.

She was able to pick up on so many of the social, psychological and religious benefits to the halachic lifestyle in just one week. I think it is just as important for orthodox Jews to recognize those same benefits. Sometimes it takes an outsider to point them out to us. Luckily for us, Ms. Langowitz has done so. Thank you.

There is another thing. The intellectual honesty of Ms. Langowitz is to be complimented. I know a lot of unaffiliated Jews. Many of them are religious. Many of them are partially observant. Or selectively observant. But most of them have never explored the depth and vast richness of orthodox Judaism. They, like most people do what they do because that is what they do. They have not learned to appreciate what they do and certainly have not become educated on what they do not do. Frum week is a way of bucking this trend.

It is so important to understand our own personal choices and not just let them be default choices. This is something we can all learn from Ms. Langowitz.

Finally, the entire premise of Ms. Langowitz’s experiment is to observe orthodox Judaism without studying the rationale and reasoning behind. Nor has she studied the theological underpinnings of the halachic lifestyle. She didn’t profess to believe in the 13 Fundamentals of Faith. She has not accepted “Torah M’Sinai”. And yet, it has worked. She has enjoyed it. She has learned from it. It has changed her life.

I think this will be surprising to many orthodox Jews. Particularly with the vicious attacks against orthopraxy that we have seen in the last few years. Here is a prime example of successful orthopraxy. Ms. Langowitz practiced without believing. She was able to appreciate and experience the beauty of Judaism without professing any beliefs.

I have nothing more to say on this particular point right now. But it was certainly thought provoking.

Link: Reform Judaism Magazine

HT: Yossi Klavan

  • Rafi Goldmeier

    does the same intellectual honesty behoove Orthodox jews to try out Reform Judaism for a week?

    • No.

      In her view, reform Judaism is a selective observance of orthodox Judaism. Intellectual honesty requires that she know what she is choosing to observe and what she is not observing.

    • Jeff

      I think Rafi raises an interesting point. There are certainly young men and women raised Orthodox
      who try this experiment in reverse, particularly on college campuses. But they typically try out secular Judaism, rather than Reform. Many find their prior observance to be rote and lacking meaning. Faced with the enticements of what a full campus life offers when there are no religious restrictions or obligations,
      they abandon Orthodoxy.

      • Jeff

        I meant to say *many* abandon Orthodoxy.

  • shoshanna jaskoll

    Can you please change title? She is not a ‘girl’ but a woman.

  • “She didn’t profess to believe in the 13 Fundamentals of Faith. She has
    not accepted “Torah M’Sinai”. And yet, it has worked. She has enjoyed
    it. She has learned from it. It has changed her life.”

    Did it really work?  At the end of the week, she went back to being a Reform Jew.

    By the way, I’d be more interested to read about an Orthodox Jew who tries out being Reform for a week.  (That is possible, as Reform Judaism teaches that one can observe whatever one finds meaningful, so one could be fully Orthodox-style observant within the context of Reform Judaism.)  Than maybe, the bashing from both sides will diminish

    • It worked to the extent that she appreciates the value of many orthodox Traditions. I did not intend to say it “worked” and she stayed frum. Rather she had a good orthodox experience without the “dox”.
      What she will do next is up to her.

    • I’ve done it.  I was fully observant within the context of Reform Judaism.  Friday night services were a lot of fun.  The guitar led singing, the spiritually uplifting melodies of Debbie Friedman, a”h, were fantastic.  

      Of course, they looked at me like I was mentally ill when I wouldn’t hug women, as everyone hugged each other and wished each other Shabbat Shalom afterwards.  They winced at the idea that I would not eat the food at the “oneg”, since it was not prepared under kosher supervision.  They were stunned to silence when someone offered me a ride, and I had to decline, and explain that I was walking the three miles to my home.

      It was a very uncomfortable situation, I tried doing it for many months, and finally I simply gave up.

      • I am sorry. I don’t believe you.

  • How is this even possible?

    A Reform Jew can’t learn all of the blessings, learn how to pray a full prayer service, learn how to keep kosher at home, how to fully keep shabbat etc – all in one week.

    It’s an interesting premise, but I don’t accept that she actually lived as a frum Jew for a week.  It just isn’t possible.

    Even if she would have hired a “minder” of sorts, saying “now do this, now wear that, now eat this, say this, repeat after me, ” etc – that’s not observance!

    It takes several months, if not years, for a non-frum Jew to learn how to live a frum life, and to unlearn everything that Reform has taught them about practical observance.

    I believe that she thinks she was frum for a week, but I highly doubt that she really was.

    • I’m sorry if this borders on being a ‘personal attack’…but this is a very sad and unfortunate response to this article! You have clearly discredited or do not understand Reform Judaism.

  • Shelshari Bryson

    Just a question, Since we do not have a Temple in Jerusalem,most of us are in disporia arnt we all picking and chosing what we will or wont do?

  • Concerned

    Orthodox Jewish women usually only pray two times a day, almost never with a minyon. Additionally you cannot drop into any religion for a week and expect to make an educated decision–to understand orthodox Judaism you need to go to seminary, study, and learn.