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Isn't it pretty?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Should All Jews be Orthodox?

This post by Jewish Atheist gave me a lot to think about, much of which I left in the comments. But it gave me pause because many times I think similar thoughts when reading posts such as the ones he highlights. I have also had conversations with friends about this topic - what would we do if out children went "off the derech"? or "should everyone be frum*?"

My family isn't halachically observant, nor do I believe they ever will be (a statement which, on a date, got a shocked and reprimanding response of "Don't say that! You never know!" to which I responded, "Yes, I do."). And that's fine with me. I don't think everyone is cut out to be frum (and when I say that, I'm not saying that I think those who are are necessarily better or greater than those who are not - I just think people have different paths that are right for them), nor do I think they have to be.

As someone who follows halacha, I guess I'm supposed to feel like everyone else should also. But I don't. In my perspective, it's a choice and people should make educated choices that they believe in, rather than blindly following what someone else tells them to do. Now, I realize that makes me, in some ways, a hypocrite (which I HATE to admit) because I don't know all the background to all the laws. But I try to understand them as best as I can, I ask lots of questions, and I try to wade through the things that are stringencies and those that are actual law. For me, this is the best way I can serve Hashem. But I think it can be very different for different people - both those more observant and those less observant than myself. But I think the choice is the key.

I have sat amongst friends while one is describing how her relatives have started taking on mitzvos - keeping kosher, keeping shabbos, covering hair or wearing a yarmulke - due to the example of the person telling the story. The group exclaims and awes about how amazing it is and how incredible that these relatives are making such changes. But I have mixed feelings about it. Do these relatives really know what they are getting into? Have they thought it all through? Why are they making these changes? I don't know the answers to these questions, and if these people have considered everything and make a conscious, educated decision to change their lives, that's great. But if it's something they are blindly forging into, not considering how it's not easy to be Orthodox, I'm concerned for them.

To be really honest, I think my concern is due to the fact that I know I personally didn't really do my due diligence when becoming frum. Which is normal. But it has caused a lot of discomfort along the way. Trying to really find my place within Orthodox Judaism. Sifting through the different layers and opinions and observance levels within Orthodoxy; trying to figure out what really is law and what is extra doses added on for "safety." What kiruv* organizations are leaving out. It's been many years, but I think I'm still figuring my way through it, and have gone through many permutations. I think I'm a lot closer to owning my decisions, and I've definitely gotten more comfortable questioning something that is presented as fact, but might not actually be such, but I think there's probably still a lot that I was once told in the name of "mikareving"* me that isn't nearly as clear as presented, and which I haven't yet sorted through.

So, I guess I'm saying that I agree Jewish Atheist in a lot of respects. I don't think Orthodox Judaism is for everyone, and certainly not one stream of it. I wouldn't feel comfortable pressuring others into taking on halacha if they don't choose it for themselves, and honestly, I think each person should feel free to make their own decisions. If people ask me questions about why I choose to do what I do, fine, I'll explain it to them. But when I watch my Jewish co-worker eating a bacon sandwich, I'm not going to give him a lecture, nor am I going to refer him to a kiruv organization. I'm going to be his friend, and get along with him as best as I can - and hope that he respects my decisions to live my life the way I choose as I respect his. Because in many ways, I think Jewish unity across the board is more important than making sure everyone is Orthodox.


*Off the Derech - literally "off the path" or "off the way" - of Torah observance.
*Frum - following Orthodox Judaism
*Halacha or Halachically - Laws from the Torah
*Hashem - God
*Mitzvos - commandments
*Kiruv - outreach, specifically groups that encourage Torah observance
*Mikareving - guiding someone towards Torah observance


  • Didn't read Jewish Atheist's post yet, but I agree with your points. I am very involved in kiruv, but most of my Jewish co-workers are intermarried and becoming frum is just not going to happen with them. Also, I really feel that the workplace is not a venue for kiruv. I am friendly and open and I answer all questions posed to me as best I can, but I am not out to be "mekarev" my co-workers. And I think I get more respect from them because I am not preachy.

    I definitely believe that Jewish unity and making a Kiddush H-shem is more important that trying to make everyone Orthodox. Because as you & I know, that is just not going to happen. (And yes, sometimes, you DO know)

    By Blogger SaraK, at 2/2/07, 11:05 AM  

  • Not being frum I agree with you totally. Funnily though it disturbs me big time if I see a Jewish person or friend eat bacon sandwich or meat lasagne. It´s hard to explain and I know I am a hypocrite as I am not keeping Shabbos and am not observing myself, somehow Kashrus is more important to me, but that is me and who am I to judge what/which mitzva is more important to others. Many of those non-kosher eating Jews (that I know) are going to Shul every Shabbos....

    One of the beauties of being Jewish is that we can all be different and at the end still believe the same. How would it be if everyone would be frum? A dream for some, a nightmare for others.

    I guess live and let live is of essence here.

    By Blogger Jewish Smörgåsbord, at 2/3/07, 3:52 AM  

  • Excellent post, Soshana. I'll try to write up a fuller response when I have more time later - but in the meantime, I linked this on our blog.

    By Blogger LT, at 2/3/07, 7:33 PM  

  • I am with you on this!

    I know what I have to do and would never push it on anyone else unless they requested.

    We just can't afford to exclude any Jews, all we can do is to try to be a good and loving example to them.

    By Blogger kasamba, at 2/3/07, 8:04 PM  

  • I think you are mixing a few issues.

    It is a fundamental of Jewish Belief that G-d gave us the Torah and He wants all Jews to follow it. So from that perspective, everybody should be Torah Observant and follow all the mitzvos applicable to them.

    How to motivate someone who is not observant to become more observant is another matter and clearly depends on the person and their environment.

    The issue of determining what is Halacha, Minhag and Chumra is a third issue.

    By Anonymous Mark, at 2/3/07, 9:27 PM  

  • I completely disagree.

    People feel bad that decisions to become religious aren't based on well thought-out reasoning that would make a philosopher proud. You know what? Most decisions aren't made that way. People decide on majors, professions, places to live, people to marry, whether to have kids... it's always based on incomplete information, because, quite honestly, that's life. If you saw someone deciding to become a nurse who hadn't went through such a rigorous decision-making process, I doubt you'd be as upset.

    The fact that someone decides to only date Jews, or not eat meat out, or fast on Tisha B'Av -- even if they do that for a reason they can't quite articulate, that's a legitimate thing for someone to do. Yes, they haven't thought it all through. Yes, they haven't considered everything (I think that's basically impossible) and made a conscious, educated choice. So what? We all make decisions without 'realizing what we're getting into'.

    In the end, if someone experiences a shabbos dinner, and intuits that maybe there's something to Judaism, and starts to take on a mitzva, I think that's something to be applauded. We're not vulcans (purely logical aliens seen on Star Trek), but real people, with hearts and emotions, and yes, souls. If someone's neshama wants something, it may be perfectly reasonable for him not to be able to articulate why.

    By Anonymous Josh, at 2/3/07, 11:50 PM  

  • I agree with your post, and I get kind of scared when people become too frum, too fast. Sure, there is something to be said for doing things and learning about them later, but does G-d really want people try to take on a lot of mitzvot all at once, without really knowing they why's behind them? Or would he prefer that we take small but well reasoned steps towards greater observance?

    By Blogger curlygirl, at 2/4/07, 4:20 AM  

  • wow. as usual, a thought-provoking and well-written post. and - as usual! - i feel like i have so much to say about it.

    i like your approach to being frum. taking it slow, learning carefully, separating halacha from chumra. i also appreciate you trying to find your place on the frum spectrum. i remember reading in adin even yisroel's book "teshuva" him saying something like; if a BT jumps in too fast and drops his pre-frum identity, who is he really? he's dropped his "old-self," yet he's not truly integrated into his new self, either. this understandably can lead to some major identity crises, something that i suspect many BT's suffer from. (i know i have.)

    i have heard (often) that ba'alei teshuva adopt the ways of the people who "mekareved" them. the first frum people i ever met were lubavs, yet many times i've thought, "if could do this all over again, would i be a lubav? would i even be frum at all?" only after i started becoming frum did i start understanding the different "flavors" of other frummies. all this aside, i know i'm the jewess i am for a certain reason: hashgacho protis.

    i don't think every jew HAS to be orthodox. this implies forcefulness, on some level. it is imperative to recognize the elokus in every yid, no matter where s/he's "holding." ahavas yisroel is the main thing.

    at the same time, i agree with mark (sort of). we were all there at har sinai, we all said nasei v'nishma. each jew is capable of being torah observant, it is our natural state. that being said, i can't imagine my mother ever becoming frum. but i agree with your date, you never know.

    and now i have to stop being a grub and go say morning brochos!

    kudos for another great post!

    By Blogger Maven, at 2/4/07, 8:59 AM  

  • Wow, lots to respond to...

    Sara -
    I think being friendly, open and nice is about the best kiruv a person can do - it's definitely better than being pushy or making people feel uncomfortable.

    Jewish Smorg -
    I guess, as open as I am, it still bothers me when I see a Jewish person with a Christmas tree - so I hear what you're saying. And yes, it would probably be a nightmare for some for everyone to be frum, and I wonder if it would make a difference in Jewish unity at all.

    LT - Thanks for the link!

    Kasamba -
    I think you're a great example of someone who loves all Jews.

    Mark -
    You are correct that there are a few issues here. I think my main problem is whether we should encourage everyone to be observant, whether it's a fundamental belief or not.

    Josh -
    The problem is, I think many people are pushed to observe things and are not even encouraged to think about them. I don't know that a person must think out every single little detail before following, but it should be a conscious decision and one should have some idea of what they are committing to before actually doing so. I think that blindly jumping in without knowing the details causes a lot of resentment and very possibly, retreating, later on.

    curlygirl -
    Good questions. I think G-d would want us to do His mitzvos consciously and with the knowledge of what we are doing.

    Maven -
    It's interesting that you mention that many BTs model themselves after the organization that mikareved them. I think that's true, because it's all they really know. BUT, I don't think that's necessarily healthy as I think it's important that each person figure out what they are really comfortable with. I don't think that I resemble most of the people who were the product of the (undisclosed) organization that I was initially introduced to Orthodox Judaism by, but it definitely had an impact on my initial growth. But looking back now, I am very happy that I managed to find a different model for myself, as I don't think I would ever have been extremely comfortable following theirs.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 2/4/07, 11:10 AM  

  • Well written, points well taken, brings up a lot for me. Some time I'd like to elaborate.

    By Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann, at 2/4/07, 2:56 PM  

  • hi Shoshana

    excellent post, what can I say other than you strike me as a very reflective and complex (in the best kind of way) person.

    however I can't help but feel like something of an outsider reading this post for reasons I'm sure the you can understand.

    I always question when halachick Jews (I suppose what you refer to as observant) talk about pluralism and diversity in terms of Jewish practice.

    don't get me wrong, I agree pretty much with everything you've written in this post but I would like to ask you the same questions I asked the atheist Jew.

    If Orthodox Judaism isn't for everyone and that is more or less all right does that legitimize their participation in postmodern expressions of Judaism? And if this is the case how do you feel about converts and their offspring in terms of participation in the Jewish community.

    I see this is something that ties to your basic thesis in that lets say some guy raised in a Orthodox family leaves and joins a more liberal stream like reform. Let's say he meets, falls in love and marries a female reform convert and has children with her.

    Where does that leave the children and their offspring in terms of participation in the Jewish world? Does it make a difference?

    the reason I ask is simply that I'm curious to know whether or not you're acceptance of pluralistic diversity takes into consideration these types of factors.

    Thanks again for the interesting post.

    By Blogger tikkunger, at 2/5/07, 9:48 AM  

  • TikkunGer -
    I'm sighing as I write this, because you bring up an excellent question and one that I don't really have an answer for. Because I'll admit that, from the perspective that I have been living in for the past ten years or so, the children you describe would not be Jewish. And I have a very hard time working outside that framework. That being said, it also troubles me that I do say that, because I wish I was capable of thinking outside that box, but at this point, I'm just not. I hope that doesn't offend. Thank you for the very thought-provoking comment.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 2/5/07, 6:08 PM  

  • Hi Shoshana

    First off nope not offended at all.

    In fact quite the opposite because I commend you for being committed to working within the halachick framework even when it becomes uncomfortable.

    The only reason I asked the question was because I viewed it as being a possibly albeit unintentional naïve flaw in the type of thinking you presented in this post. It's very easy to talk about tolerance and diversity as long as we avoid all of the grimy corners, the ones that make things complicated.

    I hope that didn't come off offensive because I certainly didn't mean it that way.

    To be honest and I'm probably the last person who should feel this way because I'm a reform convert which means that according to many I do not even count. But I myself am not convinced that I would marry a woman who was anything but an Orthodox convert. for the very same reasons you probably wouldn't consider the people in my question to be legitimate as Jews.

    It is a double standard and I'm not saying it's what I would do but the truth of the matter is that my children status is not going to depend on whether or not I am a halachick Jew but it will depend on their mothers.

    Wow, I'm such a hypocrite or am I? (Rhetorical question no need to answer)

    Anyhow thanks for giving me a chance to ask a question and do a little bit of thinking about it myself.

    By Blogger tikkunger, at 2/5/07, 7:40 PM  

  • TikkunGer -
    Your response is very interesting - thank you for your candor. I think the only thing I can add is that, due to your reform conversion, it's not that you don't count, it's just that, halachically, you would not be considered Jewish. You can still count for a lot (except in a minyan, which I'm not counted in either ;).

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 2/6/07, 8:03 AM  

  • Very thoughtful response, Shoshana.

    By Blogger Jewish Atheist, at 2/6/07, 10:30 AM  

  • Hello Shoshana

    Hum, I would still count for a lot?

    Sure if you mean I would count as much as any other Gentile or possibly a little bit more because I'm interested in Judaism but not as a Jew.

    Anyhow, that really wasn't my point and it doesnot bother me if I am not considered to be Jewish from a halachick point of view.

    If that's what I'm looking for then I need to be put through an Orthodox conversion process, so the problem is solved.

    I've said it many times on my blog, I think it's wrong to try to force individuals who are trying to abide by a halachick framework to see non-Orthodox conversions as halachickly legitimate.

    I guess if anything I was just trying to point out my own inconsistencies in the fact that I'm willing to accept and acknowledge myself as a male Jewish convert but I may not see a female Jewish Reform convert as being on par. I suppose this is primarily due to the significant role they play in who is a Jew in terms of offspring.

    Now isn't that just very socially progressive and reform of me? (Another rhetorical question).

    All of that just to illustrate my point about how diversity and tolerance are all fine and dandy until one gets down to gritty little details.

    I just wanted to make sure that you understood that I don't feel like a second-class citizen nor am I overly upset by the fact that Orthodox Jews would not consider my conversion legitimate.

    I was just trying to draw a parallel between yourself and me in terms of logic but maybe you feel there's nothing there to compare.

    By Blogger tikkunger, at 2/6/07, 11:13 AM  

  • Such an interesting post, Shoshana. Thank you for your sensitivity.

    I am a non-frum Jew, who hails from a family of Orthodox rabbis and Orthodox first cousins (many of whom look down on those of us who have no desire to be frum).

    Being frum is not for me. It never will be. I have issues with many aspects of it, personally.

    But, as you said so eloquently:

    Because in many ways, I think Jewish unity across the board is more important than making sure everyone is Orthodox.

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. Our numbers are small and we need to have respect for our Jewish brethren, no matter the observance level.

    By Blogger Stacey, at 2/6/07, 12:04 PM  

  • Shoshana,

    I really enjoyed your post. I come from a very mixed family, but my mother always made sure that our door was open no matter where the person was religiously. She believed that we can show by example and without being judgemental. I hope that my son will also learn this acceptance as I have.

    After leaving the orthodox world and then returning I have found that you can't force someone to change, but you can show them the way. I hope that your family respects your beliefs and choices the way you respect theirs.

    By Blogger come running, at 2/10/07, 7:09 PM  

  • TikkunGer -
    Your thoughts are very interesting, I think we all have inconsistensies to work out, or maybe not work out, mainly due (I think) to our emotions pulling us in one direction or the other. Thank you for this dialogue.

    Stacey -
    I'm glad you appreciate. I think it's much more important to get along with our fellow Jews than for them all to be Orthodox. In the long run, I think it's better for everyone.

    Come Running -
    I just hope my family understands that I respect their choices and beliefs as much as I do.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 2/10/07, 8:24 PM  

  • Bravo, Shoshana, once again a superb post.

    And unlike Josh here, I believe that some of us are vulcans, some of us are Klingones or whatever.


    By Blogger SnoopyTheGoon, at 2/11/07, 11:24 AM  

  • Hi Shoshana,
    Your openess and aceptance of differences is refreshing.
    I like your approach of encouraging acceptance and opening oneself to awareness of difference both within orthodoxy and amongst those not so observant.

    Funny enough I think this is all shown in something that shows your maturity and the worldly approach you have when it comes to what it is to be Jewish.

    What is it? Its your thoughtful glossary, to help along those that aren't quite on the same step as you, too allow them to both understand and participate in the dialogue.

    You recognize that some of who you may be talking with aren't masterful in all things, and there's no need for 'secret handshakes', obscure references from the 11th century, isn't communication about communicating?

    Your approach is inclusive rather than exclusive.

    Shalom Aaron
    [6 out of 7 of your glossary terms, not bad for a prospective convert.]

    Visit: Bagelblogger

    By Blogger Bagel Blogger, at 2/12/07, 5:19 AM  

  • Snoopy -
    Which one are you?

    Aaron -
    I wish I could take credit for coming up with the idea for having a glossary, but it actually came about by the suggestion of a reader who wasn't understanding everything. But I'm glad it helped. And that you enjoyed the post.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 2/13/07, 10:07 AM  

  • Excellent post and I agree with almost everything except the part about "due diligence" before becoming frum. I think with some things in life, you have to just go and do what feels right, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. If I had to think about every possible permutation of every decision I made--how hard it might be, etc., then I would be paralyzed. Does anyone really consider how hard it can be to be a parent before becoming one? Is every parent-to-be 100% ready to be responsible for another being for the next 18 years (or lifetime)? I doubt it. I think it's one of those things you can't really predict, and while you can and should PREPARE for it, if you prepare too much you'll freak yourself out of doing it entirely. Or at least I would.

    Thank you for sharing.

    By Blogger ALG, at 2/13/07, 6:06 PM  

  • First of all great post.

    Secondly, in my opinion, since G-d gave the Torah to all Jews and we all promised at Mount Sinai to keep it, we are all obligated. But I agree that we should try to understand the mitzvos so what we do has meaning.

    By Anonymous sharona, at 2/18/07, 1:39 AM  

  • I agree and disagree.

    I disagree in the part that being orthodox is not for everyone: Ideally, every Jew should be keeping all the mitzvot. OK, this is extremely difficult, and everyone has to work towards this ideal from their own starting point, which differs drastically based largely on one's upbringing.

    I agree in that it should not be done blindly. A person should do mitzvot with their eyes wide open. And not because it's "beautiful" or "inspirational" either, because it isn't always.

    However, I have one important point to add: one doesn't need to know the reason behind each mitzva in order to make an informed decision to observe them. Once you have reason enough to believe in G-d and His Torah, then you can accept its contents without needing additional proof each time.

    If I understood all about how mitzvot work, then I'd be nearly as great as G-d, and I don't think that's ideal because if the G-d who runs the world were only slightly greater than me, that's a scary world indeed!

    By Blogger Bas Melech, at 2/20/07, 11:34 PM  

  • OK, I want to revise my comment a bit: just to leave out the word "orthodox." I realize, after reading the other comments a bit more carefully, that this is a loaded word and is used to identify a specific type of person.

    What I mean is that everyone should be keeping all the mitzvot, however only four people since creation have managed that so really we can only do our best, taking into account our strengths, background, personality, and all those things that make us unique. Every person is unique BECAUSE we all have a different role in serving G-d.

    Regarding the chasm between "doing our best" and "keeping all the mitzvot," I commented on the next post.

    By Blogger Bas Melech, at 2/20/07, 11:41 PM  

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