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Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Frum vs. Religious

I've been having an ongoing conversation with a friend about the difference between being "frum" and being "religious." It's still a working theory, so bear with me while I try to work it out.

According to my friend, being frum is about keeping up appearances. It's about the clothing, the hats, what other people see. It can also be about a mindset - that non-Jewish practices are not what we are supposed to engage in, that you shouldn't go to a movie theater, that Jewish music is preferable to secular.

Being religious is a different matter. It's about a spiritual connection, about serving God, following halacha with the correct intent. It's about living Torah internally and really feeling it in one's heart.

You can be both frum and religious, one or the other, or neither. I think there is some allegory to the four species on Sukkot, but I don't know it well enough to use, so I won't.

One can be frum but not religious pretty easily. You wear the right clothes and talk the right talk and play the part. But when no one is looking, things might change a bit. There might be a computer with a DVD player at home, maybe you feel skeptical about a lot of beliefs, maybe you engage in behaviors that you wouldn't in public.

I also know a lot of people who are religious without necessarily being frum. They have a very strong belief in God, in Judaism and a huge connection to Jewish life. Maybe they keep Shabbos and kosher; maybe a lot of other stuff. The important part is the intention and the connection they feel. They really desire to serve God in the best way that they can. This may or may not include being strict in many areas.

There are those who are neither - maybe they observe some jewish practice, maybe not.

And there are those who are both - they sincerely serve God and follow the Torah to the best of their ability, sometimes going above and beyond necessity. They put up fences around themselves and the laws in order to make sure they are not tempted to break them. They honestly and sincerely are frum, religious individuals and they care deeply about what their actions, both in public and private, say about them. I think it's a rare thing to see, but it is beautiful.

I've been trying to figure out where I fit in the matrix. I'm not sure.

Update - LT, one of "DaBoys" has posted his response.


  • I've always felt that frum = religious. It's the other terms (yeshivish or modern, for example) that are about appearances, not substance.

    By Blogger Ezzie, at 11/28/06, 11:22 AM  

  • i think this also encompasses being frum vs. being spiritual... or religious vs. spiritual

    By Blogger Maven, at 11/28/06, 11:58 AM  

  • Negatory to the above two comments. A non-Ortho Jew who adheres to Halacha is religious, but not frum.

    Of course, this appears to be purely a matter of semantics.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/28/06, 1:29 PM  

  • Ezzie -
    I think the terms yeshivish or modern actually do mean more than appearance - I think it is about a mindset also. Such as what I was talking about in my past about the 100% garbage comment. I think someone can be "yeshivish" and have a mindset that the secular world is wrong and at the same time not be religious as I'm describing above, due to the fact that they only go about it because it's what they are used to, and don't really feel it.

    Maven -
    I think you could easily subsitute the word "religious" with the word "spiritual."

    Sholom -
    I agree.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 11/28/06, 1:48 PM  

  • I hate to complicate things, but I think you actually need four terms:

    1) Frum: I tend to agree with your friend - the word "frum" is a cultural one, based more on dress, appearance, etc. For example, many would feel odd calling an observant Sephardic Jew "frum". The word is a Yiddish one - it conjures up certain images.

    2) Observant: This relates to the ritual observation of a person. What do they actually *do*? Are they Shomer Shabbat? Kashrut?

    3) Religious: This pertains to what a person *thinks*. Does a person accept their religion's belief system with conviction? If so, they are religious.

    4) Spiritual: This has to do with the extent a person *feels* a connection to what they believe.

    I think that the terms need to be carefully delineated because they are entirely separable. A person can be observant without being frum, religious or spiritual (and so on and so forth). Indeed, that perhaps most closely describes myself. I wasn't raised observant, but there's no question I became moreso. And yet, when a person asks me if I became more religious or more frum... those terms don't seem to fit. And I also know people who are religious but not observant. They fully believe they should be doing certain things, but they don't - and if pressed, I could probably think of someone I've met who meets any combination of the four terms above


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/28/06, 2:02 PM  

  • There was a very good article in the Jewish Press of 10/18 by Dr. Yitzchak Levine which made a similar point, contrasting frumkeit and ehrlichkeit.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/28/06, 2:09 PM  

  • PS - just made my comment here into it's own entry. Hope you don't mind.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/28/06, 3:54 PM  

  • Good post. I too wonder about myself where exactly I fit in in this equasion.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/28/06, 4:45 PM  

  • Too true. I'd like to think I was both.

    By Blogger kasamba, at 11/28/06, 5:09 PM  

  • Wow, I'm not sure where I fit in, but that's okay. I know what I do and believe.

    By Blogger Lvnsm27, at 11/28/06, 8:48 PM  

  • good post. I was having a discussion about a similar topic the other day with a friend. It's hard to label or define however I do agree with you with the diff b/w frum and religious. It's unfortunate that it has come to mean something different when it should really mean the same sort of thing. All these labels for people... there really is a fine line in distinction. I don't know where I fit either but I'm ok with where I'm at.

    By Blogger ~ Sarah ~, at 11/29/06, 6:41 AM  

  • This is a similar thought & conversation I had in high school and sort of came to the same conclusion, but I think Da Boyz has defined it a little closer (then again, you could carry on dividing up, with more categories/boxes.
    Back then, it was what made me more religious than others, and I decided I was frum, while they were religious. Many of "them" being religiously modern-orthodox, or religiously reform/conservative, and even more recently, I defined a guy as a religious atheist!
    Unfortunately, nowadays being "frum" is not always the same as being "ehrlich", just as being "chassidish" could mean anything. Just Yesterday I was sitting next to a guy who was saying "Yeshivish" was all about the external look; the clothes, hat, being unshaven, not showering, smelling etc, while being "shtark" was exactly the same, just didn't smell!

    If you want boxes & labels, you are in the right religion!

    By Blogger Karl, at 11/29/06, 8:32 AM  

  • LT -
    Wow, you sure managed to complicate things! But I think you're right, it can be divided into many different parts. It's interesting that you can have so many delineations. Now, I'm really not sure where I stand.

    Josh -
    Thanks for the link, I'll have to check it out.

    Karl -
    I think the yeshivish vs. shtark thing is kinda scary!

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 11/29/06, 9:32 AM  

  • Great post. Sadly this is a major problem in the jBlogosphere. We tend to either label or find ourselves boxed into labels. Terms like Modern and Charadi get thrown around like baseballs in blogs. Of course, my blog title is just as guilty of labeling, but I have a sense of humor.

    Religious vs Frum is a tough one.
    It's all about where you are headed. Good Shabbos.

    By Blogger Neil Harris, at 12/1/06, 1:56 PM  

  • I think there's a lot of semantics at play here, but one way or another, however one phrases it there is within any category the ideological and the sociological version of that category - so there's sociological and deological frum which can also be called frum and religious and which can can also be called Frum with a capital and frum with a small f - as well as lots of other ways of breaking it down...

    By Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann, at 12/4/06, 12:05 AM  

  • Our tradition teaches that Hashem gives wisdom to the wise. Now, logically speaking, this doesn't seem right. It is out of our own control whether we are wise or not, correct? Actually, not. We say in the morning, "Reishis Chochma Yiras Hashem...", which in english translates to "The beginning of wisdom is fear (or awe) of Hashem". Also, in Pierki Avos it says that "Everything is in the hands of heaven except fear of heaven". So the question is, if you don't fear or awe of Heaven or Hashem, what do you do? Two suggestions I would offer are to 1)Act as though you feared Hashem and 2) daven to Hashem to give you "fear of heaven".

    Wishing you success, YM

    By Blogger YM, at 12/4/06, 4:58 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger YM, at 12/4/06, 5:10 PM  

  • To make my point explicitly, I am skeptical whether a person can really serve Hashem without fear of heaven and a person who truly fears heaven is going to appear different in almost all aspects from one who has made Judaism his or her hobby or lifestyle.

    By Blogger YM, at 12/4/06, 5:13 PM  

  • Two points:
    First,an important, possibly the important, facet of orthodox judaism is the belief that actions bring about belief. I believe the reason authentic judaism has persisted for so long is because the discipline of doing the actions required by halacha causes adherents of orthodox judaism to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Therefore, it can be argued that being frum (as defined by Shoshana) can bring about religous faith.
    Second,I don't see the classifications of "frum" and "religous" are labels. They more properly descriptions which apply to the same person in different degrees at different times. For example, even a tzaddik has some religous failings and the most shallow orthodox frum person has moments of true religous fervor.

    By Anonymous Joe (yuulk), at 12/4/06, 9:31 PM  

  • Neil -
    Unfortunately, it is a major problem all over, not just in the blogosphere. I wish more people would have a sense of humor about it all, it woudl be better that way.

    Rabbi Fleischmann -
    That's an interesting point - I need to think more about it.

    YM -
    I have also had a hard time with the concept of fearing Hashem, because I feel it is greater to do mitzvos out of love of Him. Maybe awe is a better word though.

    Joe -
    Do people really think about what they are doing, though? It seems to me that many go through the motions without thought much more often than not.
    Your second point is a very good one, however. We have in each of us both, in whatever combination at whatever moment we are at.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 12/5/06, 8:55 AM  

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