Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Pride vs. Guilt, pt. 1

This argument may well be the most complicated of the ones I have posted so far. So, we'll take things slow, and start with a story:

Back in 1996, I went to my old neighbors for Shabbos, and at the table was our old friend Howie Sapirstein. Howie is a Modern Orthodox Jew and we had some pretty heated debates about the issues of the day, including who should learn in kollel, the Flatbush eiruv, Zionism, the "fake frum" vs. the "real religious," etc. Howie also mentioned an incident where he was saying kaddish in a prominent Brooklyn yeshiva, and nobody answered Amen becuase he was wearing a kippah srugah. Many people would say Howie is not a shomer torah u'mitzvos. His wife doesn't cover her hair, and often not the elbows either. While many of my positions have changed since then (after all, I have grown older and hopefully wiser), one thing sticks out at me from that Shabbos. Howie was proud to be a Jew, and proud of his hashkafa. In fact, one of his statements has greatly inspired me: "If we all did what everyone else wanted us to do, we'd all be Christian."

Unfortunately, I haven't found this level of pride to be commonplace among many of the Jews, especially among the more right-wing. It seems that an alarming number of them just go through the motions, they daven, wear a hat and jacket, maybe learn a little, but do it just because it looks good. Maybe they do it because they know deep down it's the right thing to do. But it definitely seems forced. It's like "I was born Jewish, so I have to keep Shabbos and eat kosher, but if I had my way...."

Clearly then, these people like to keep their pride and Judaism to a point. Why do they keep it to a point? I believe that the reason for this is that the black-hat hashkaffa practiced ideally is more restrictive than more modern hashkofos. Practices discouraged (and some even deemed assur) include watching TV and movies, reading newspapers and other secular media, attending college, casual mingling with members of the opposite sex, etc. Many right-wingers enjoy one or more of the above activites, and realize that if they start taking their religion seriously, they'll have to quit. This, I believe, stops many of them from being proud. Many end up taking the attitude that Judaism is a nice thing, but let's not take it too seriously.

The question bothering me is, if these people happen to be right-wing and aren't proud, should they switch to an ideology like my friend Howie's and be proud, even if they aren't necessarily doing the right thing? Or, should they stick to the more right-wing mehalech, even though they won't be into Judaism and won't feel as proud, because it's better than having a flawed mehalech?

A few disclaimers before I go on:

1) For the sake of clarity, brevity, and avoiding machlokes, I will refer to the two groups/options mentioned above using Howie's terminologies "fake frum" and "real religious," and briefly describe how these phrases are being used on this blog.

REAL RELIGIOUS (abbreviated RR): A person who tries to do the right thing (e. g. perusing mishnayos instead of the New York Times) and takes pride in his Judaism. However, the person under our dicussion happens to be one whose hashkafa is of the YU/ Modern Orthodox variety. No, he doesn't wear a hat and jacket; he wears a sroogie, may have a large-screen TV in house, and may be outspoken.

FAKE FRUM (abbreviated FF): On the outside, a "fake frum" looks much more religious than his RR counterpart. He'll generally wear a hat and jacket and a white shirt. However, his interests and common activities don't differ much from the RR (except perhaps for a New York Times instead of the mishnayos). In fact, the FF's interests include things frowned upon by his rabbeim, such as TV, movies, etc. As a result, the FF feels indifferent about his Judaism. He'll generally avoid listening to mussar from his rabbi or rebbi, because he doesn't want to feel guilty about his carefree lifestyle.

2) I am referring to an isolated number of individuals in this argument. I'm not saying that every black-hatter is FF, or is part of this question. In fact, there are MANY black-hatters out there who try to do the right thing, and don't just wear the black hat to get a good shidduch, but rather because they're PROUD of their mehalech. My fervently yeshivish cousins Stephan and Izzy (no, not their real names) immediately come to mind; they're two of the most sincere (and proud) guys I know and epitomize the beauty of being truly religious Jews. I commend, respect and even envy such guys. Who are we discussing, then? It's the ones that are indifferent towards Judaism that I'm referring to.

2) This is not an argument over which mehalech is better: YU or Yeshivish. That issue has been dealt with many times by others. I consider myself an Independent. Like my uncle Harvey says, both mehalchim have their share of pros and cons. While that debate undoubtedly affects our argument, the argument is NOT about that.

We'll get the punches rolling in Part 2.


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