Guest Post: Question?
by Rebecca Missel
Let’s just get one thing straight. I’m not a Mormon woman. I’m Jewish. So why are you reading this on an LDS website? Great question – keep those coming – we Jews love them.
I grew up in the Mormon Mecca that is Mesa, Arizona, and in a place like that it’s hard to avoid some sort of education in the LDS Church. I’ve seen Johnny Lingo. I know about garments. I went to school with entirely too many people with last names like Smith, Brown, Jones, Woods, Brinton, Wright, etc. I even get most of the jokes on “Seriously So Blessed!”
Recently, I was visiting an old friend in my hometown who is Mormon and a regular contributor to this website. We had a lively and inspiring conversation about our religions and our personal quests within our belief systems that I know would not have been possible when we were younger. As I drove home that afternoon, I felt energized by the commonalities I found with my friend and inspired by her journey, but also frustrated by the difficulties she has faced in negotiating her own space within the LDS Church.
It would be very easy to write a post about all the things I love about being Jewish and how dramatically different it is as a religion compared to Mormonism. The standard joke goes, “Ask two Jews, get three opinions,” because we so often have different interpretations and answers to any element of religious life, whereas in the LDS Church – answers come a little less opaquely. But ultimately, I felt that an entire post with these types of observations would amount to some form of imperialism or downright snobbery, so I cast that idea aside.
If the folks at Exponent are kind enough to welcome me back for another post, I’d be happy to write about the Jewish views on marriage, death (quite topical this week, it seems), feminism and more. Yet for this post – a whole new voice on the website – I decided instead to focus on questions. Those questions you might have for me, your friendly neighborhood Jew, and those questions I have for you, Mormon women.
As I mentioned above, questions are big in Judaism. You’d sometimes think Socrates stole his infamous method of answering a question with another question from us. Jews have entire books like the Talmud and Mishnah that are dedicated to asking questions about the Bible (that’s Old Testament to y’all), in order to tease out answers but rarely to offer any absolutes. The evolution of Jewish history, particularly in the last 200 years, stems from question after question being asked without any clear expectation of an answer.
Since about the same time that Joseph Smith founded Mormonism, Judaism has evolved tremendously. Today, Jews may be Orthodox, Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist, they may be Ashkenazi, Sefardi or Mizrachi, and within those denominations and ethnicities exist a plethora of interpretations of text and ritual that vary from Jew to Jew in a way that makes outsiders wonder what holds us all together. One answer? Our love of and dedication to questions. Every Jew must answer for him/herself questions as sublime as the meaning of the Divine and what happens to us after we die, and as mundane as whether or not to eat pork. While this sea of ambiguity and lack of clear definitions may seem overwhelming, many Jews; myself included, find it extremely liberating.
When I visited my friend in Mesa, I shared with her a conversation I once had with my rabbi. I asked my rabbi (who is a woman and ardent feminist) about how I should keep a kosher home. Should I go to the nth degree, banning all outside food without a kosher seal and keeping separate plates, pots and pans, silverware and sinks so that anyone could come to my home and eat? My rabbi very simply replied, “You have to do what works for you. There will always be someone for whom you are too religious and someone else who thinks you are not religious enough. At the end of the day, you have to answer the questions for yourself.”
So, in the spirit of Jewish inquiry and in the spirit of challenging the status quo that is the delightful raison d’être for this website, I’d like to pose a few questions of my own.
How do you see the path of feminism developing within the LDS Church in the next five year? In the next 10 or 20?
If you could change one part of church doctrine related to the status of women what would it be? Why?
What do you love most about being a Mormon woman?
And now I guess I’m turning it back to all of you – what questions can I try to answer? I can’t wait to read your answers, questions and for us all to learn and grow together.
Rebecca generally describes herself as a community organizer when asked to fill out bios such as this. Her job as a grants and marketing manager for a social service nonprofit in New Jersey pays the bills, while her freelance writing for Patch (www.patch.com) pays for occasional pedicures and expensive chocolate. In 2009, Rebecca founded Jersey Tribe (www.jerseytribe.org), an organization dedicated to providing meaningful social, volunteer, educational and philanthropic opportunities for young Jewish adults across New Jersey. She is especially proud of her accomplishments in creating an engaging community and looks forward to the challenges and triumphs ahead. This is her first time writing for The Exponent.