Isaac Kaplan

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

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Ess Shver Tzu Zayn A Yid"

In my years in the yeshiva system, there was one anecdote that has recently bothered me. Maybe it wasn't the anecdote per se, but the way the rabbeim delivered it.

Here's the anecdote:

In the 1920's and 1930's, many American Jews assimilated. One gadol attributed the mass assimilation to a common saying that reflected the attitude of the Jews at the time: "ess shver tzu zayn a Yid - it's hard to be a Jew." Many Jews felt that their religion wasn't much more than a difficult burden. And at a time when many frum Jews were looking for jobs on a weekly basis because they couldn't work on Shabbos, perhaps we can't blame them for having such a negative attitude.

In any case, the lesson is: don't treat Judaism like a burden. Don't say, "it's hard to be a Jew."

This story bothers me on multiple levels:

1) Sometimes Judaism can be difficult. Keeping kosher in a small town in Middle America? Not so easy. Paying 5 tuitions, a mortgage, etc. in the tri-state area in 2008? Painful. Besides, Pirkei Avos discussed the concept of "l'fum tzara agra." Sometimes, Judaism is hard.

2) My bigger problem is, the rabbeim provided no solution to this problem. It's like a father telling a depressed kid, "cheer up." What the heck is that? For most people, emotions don't work like the on-off switch that turns on a light. They can't just get happy.

And in the same vein, if a kid finds Judaism to be a meaningless set of burdens, what's he supposed to do about it, after hearing the above? Just feel like an even guiltier schmuck for having those thoughts? That's really productive.

After telling such a story, a rebbi has got to follow it up with a discussion of what's great about Judaism, what's great about Torah and mitzvos, and the tremendous opportunity we've been presented.

3) And that leads into my third point: too many mechanchim portray Judaism as a bunch of meaningless burdens. They suck all the life and beauty out of Yiddishkeit, instead ranting about TV, concerts, and "kids these days." And then on top of that, they'll tell over an anecdote like the above. Again, just to make the kids feel even more guilty, I guess.

The best rabbeim I had weren't the ones who shouted until they were blue in the face about how evil girls are. The best rabbeim were the ones whose faces shone when a kid had a good pshat to offer, when a kid brought clarity to a difficult sugya. But that's a discussion deserving of its own post.

-- So in the end, I've got no problem with the anecdote - besides, the Torah says that one reason for the Tochacha is not serving G-d with joy.

But if there are no solutions given about how to get to that level of joy, then telling over the anecdote is pointless.

3 Comments:

OpenID frumpunk said...

I'm pretty much of the opinion that instead of being the defealt job for kollel guys, being a Rebbe should be a specialized job that only those who prove they can truly guide the youth should be allowed to do. Some Rebbeim I've known shouldnt be ones.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Em said...

isaac- do u go 2 EMS??? because i might know u then. i go there 2. see ya 'round! well, maybe..

8:58 PM  
Blogger baalbatish said...

Great post.

8:55 PM  

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