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How Frum is Frum enough?

February 27, 2012 – 4:55 pm25 Comments

A Mehadrin bus information poster in Israel

By David Werdiger
Many posts and comments on these pages have had a go at some of the Orthodox Jewish institutions in Melbourne, such as those associated with kashrut certification and the Beth Din, for a variety of reasons. There is a recurring theme of people complaining that these organisations are maintaining standards that are unnecessarily stringent, and not consistent with those the people want (well, at least those people who choose to engage in the discussion).

Whether it’s Kosher Australia following particular standards and therefore ruling products not kosher, while others point to rulings that would permit their use, or the Beth Din being overly strict in dealing with prospective converts (governance issues are not in the scope of this discussion).

So how kosher is kosher enough? How frum is frum enough? In a diverse city like Melbourne, these are difficult questions to answer. We have a plethora of shuls and communities, each with their own leadership, each with their own acceptable standards of Jewish practice, and this leads to a large variety of standards within a single city.

We live in a pluralist society, so we acknowledge the right of each individual to express their Jewish practice to the standard of their own choice. And herein lays the problem: to what extent should one person have to raise or lower their own standard to accommodate others?

This question can be asked on two levels: in the case of dealing with others (“peer to peer”), and in the establishment of standards used by communal bodies.

In the case of “peer to peer”, the polite thing to do is cede to the more stringent/restrictive standard. This is common in the workplace, where non-Jews will eat kosher to accommodate the dietary requirements of one, or adjust schedules to avoid Jewish holidays. But as is often the case, non-Jews have more respect for religious practices than fellow Jews. I recall situations of frum tenants wanting to establish an “eruv chatzerot” in a block of flats so they could carry in the common areas on Shabbat (this is not needed any more), and while the non-Jewish neighbours were obliging, the Jewish ones questioned the need to be “so frum”. There are countless more examples of this, and the intolerance displayed is quite disgusting. Surely we could be at least as polite and accommodating to other Jews as non-Jews are?

With regards to communal bodies, the issue is more complex. An organisation that is responsible for an aspect of religious observance of a community is “accountable” both to the community that is serves, and to God (or rather their interpretation and understanding of what God wants from us). These interests can often conflict. By-laws established by Rabbis must also be sustainable (i.e. the community must be able to abide by them). The Rabbis who establish these standards must balance all of these, and still be able to sleep at night hoping they have acted true to their beliefs and their constituency. Where an Orthodox Rabbi heads an Orthodox shul where most of the congregants are not practicing Orthodox (I like the term “Orthodox affiliated”), similar issues can arise. If such a Rabbi did not allow his congregants to drive to shul on Shabbat, either the shul would be empty, or he would be quickly out of a job.

People are quick to criticize the Rabbis for their decisions (which will invariably trouble someone) – no wonder there isn’t a queue a mile long for Rabbinic positions when they become open. It is a credit to Chabad for producing Rabbis who are prepared to step up to these roles and devote their lives to community service. That is surely one of the reasons there is a disproportionate number of practicing Chabad Rabbis in Melbourne, particularly in non-Chabad shuls.

Is a diverse community better served by having a greater or fewer distinct standards of religious practice in its organisations? No matter how many Beth Dins or Kashrut certifiers there are, there will always be a group of disaffected people. More of them will likely not increase or decrease that – if anything more will increase the fractures that already exist in a community like ours.

I doubt if anyone is “frum enough”.

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25 Comments »

  • Shyrla Pakula says:

    What about the phenomenon of everyone starting their own school because the existing schools aren’t frum enough? It wouldn’t occur to most of these malcontents to work together to improve the existing school. Better to take kids out and compromise the functioning of an established school. Why not just homeschool if you’re so miserable about schools, which were good enough for your parents to have you educated in, instead of white- anting established schools.

  • Yaron says:

    David,

    You raise a few important ideas, but was wondering if you could address a number of points that were either omitted or glossed over due to the brevity of the post.

    1. How much should kosher swing the other way. For example – if someone normally has only Chalav Yisrael, should they bend this rule in order to interact more freely with people who do not. What is the value of friendship and not over-burdening friends with stringencies? Should the accommodations be a two way street (within the boundaries of halacha)?

    2. With regards to communal organisations – who are the community they are serving? The Jewish community? Those that associate with Orthodox communities? The frum? The rabbinate?

    An example – ORA recently published a letter expressing their objection to gay marriage. The issur in this instance is sex, not marriage, which is already legal, so technically they are expressing an opinion which is not strictly within halachic bounds.

    So when they express an opinion which sector of the community are they representing? Clearly not the Jews of Australia. Possibly only the rabbinate? Or possibly their perceived view of what the frum community thinks?

    3. How do you see the difference between the organisations that are one of many (e.g. shules) where individuals can choose where they fit in, and organisations that guard their monopoly and force people who want to identify with the Orthodox into a narrow band of stringency (e.g. kosher food)? Should people be allowed to choose their own way religiously?

    4. I do not follow your argument about Chabad. They are the majority of rabbis in the community. Are you claiming that this is because they are willing to take on these jobs? Or that they are inherently better at the job? This does not mean that they are universally able to navigate these issues.

    5. You call on fewer organisations to minimise fractures. I agree, however I would add to this – fewer organisations with greater flexibility.

    A monolithic communal structure without flexibility will only lead to people leaving behind their religious requirements because of the stringecies of the few.

    An example – the eruv does not cross Dandenong Rd. Would it not be better to have a ‘two tiered’ eruv. For those who want to accept the stringent opinions can keep in the smaller eruv, while those who want to be lenient can carry into Malvern and beyond. How many people are carrying into those areas without the halachic safety net of an eruv due to the one size fits all directions that has currently been accepted on behalf of the community?

    6. In your concluding line are you calling for pluralism within the boundaries of Orthodoxy or a one size fits all path towards Judaism?

    I think you have started a conversation that is potentially very important but I feel you need to deal with some of the issues in greater depth to achieve greater value in the discussion.

  • Doodie Ringelblum says:

    David, an interesting article and an important discussion. But I perceive in your views an underpinning assumption that religiosity is the higher standard to which non-observant Jews should cede/bend/accomodate.

    I don’t think you have yet demonstrated that frumkayt holds the higher or even more restrictive standard. Secular Jews have their own standards, mores, customs, traditions and principles. For example some secular Jews refuse to recite any blessings or even say Amen because they will not invoke a deity.

    If the polite thing to do is to invoke the more restrictive standard, then does that mean when dining together the secular Jew should say Amen; or that the orthodox Jew should not recite a brokhe?

    I think the concept of accomodation you mention is important. But if the principle applies, it needs to extend in directions well outside just religiosity.

    For example, language is central to the Jewish identity and practice of many in the Melbourne community.

    פארשטייט זיך, לויט אייערע פרינציפן דארף די געשפרעך פארקומען אויף יידיש. און מען קען זיך אפילו נישט באקלאגן אז נישט אלע וועלן פארשטיין ווייל דער גוגל איבערזעצער קענען אלע ניצן

    So according to your principles of adopting the more restrictive standard, this thread should take place in Yiddish (or Hebrew or Ladino). And the argument that used to be put, that not everyone will be able to take part in the conversation no longer holds, since everyone can use Google Translate. (Though it seems to want to translate “this discussion should take place in Yiddish” as “is the call-parking in Yiddish”!!).

    Requiring contributers to this site to use Google Translate would be an inconvenient imposition. But so is requiring people to keep kosher or to adhere to standards of shabes observence, which is the norm at “mixed” functions like LimudOzFest.

    I respect that your question is “How Frum is Frum Enough?” But at the same time, could you please address the question “What expectations are too imposing?”

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Thank you for this article David.

    One ingredient I think is really important in this discussion is “bein adam l’chavero”. In matters of “frumness” it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing purely on the “bein adam l’makom” element. This applies at both ends of the spectrum.
    At one end, the desire to always be frummer than the next person leads to divisiveness and insularity rather than promoting ahavat yisrael.
    At the other end, the desire never to have to accommodate someone else’s stricter standards is similarly narrow-minded and intolerant.

    Social considerations are themselves a factor in halachic decision making. One of my rabbanim in Israel once told me that at home he will eat only mehadrin meat, but when he flies El Al he eats the regular meal (rather than ordering the mehadrin option) because the value in the mehadrin chumra is outweighed by the social value achieved when the chiloni guy in the next seat sees a rabbi eating the same meal as he is. I think this is a wonderful sentiment.

  • Yaron,

    The purpose of the article was to raise questions that sit at the heart of the matter, and to get people thinking about them and discussing them. In brief response to the issues you raise (and some of them overlap):

    1. This is a key point I raise. If you had friends over who were vegetarian, or vegan, or had an allergy or some other special dietary requirement, then surely you would bend over backwards to accommodate them. If your friend said “I observe strict vegan diet at home, but when eating out with friends, I eat whatever is served just to be social and not over-burdening with my stringencies”, what would you think of them? And yet if your Jewish friend says the equivalent of “my soul is allergic to Chalav Akum/Chalav Stam”, you say they are being unreasonable? Talk about a double standard!

    There’s an old joke about two friends, Frank & Mary, at a gathering, and there are two pieces of cake left on the table. Frank takes the large one, and Mary comments: “if it was me, I would’ve taken the smaller piece”. Frank quips back: “well, that’s the piece you’ve got!”

    If someone chooses to lower their standard to accommodate others, that’s up to them (as per Shira’s example), but for others to demand it of them is wrong.

    2. We live in a diverse community. If you’d like to take political correctness to the n-th degree, then no communal organisation could ever say or do anything.

    3. This is exactly the challenge for communal organisations. People can and do choose their own level of observance.

    4. This is a very brief response to the huge number of barbs at Chabad that happen on these pages. I’m saying that Chabad Rabbis put up their hands where others don’t, and this is because we have a culture that appreciates the importance of serving the community. To suggest universally that Chabad Rabbis are inherently better because of this is a silly generalisation.

    5 (and 3). There’s an old saying “parve is treif” – neutral is not good. If you sit on the fence, and want to satisfy everyone, then you satisfy no-one. Apply a simple test to your suggestion: will “more flexible” standards lead to greater observance or less observance, across the board? Surely it will lead to less observance, and less engagement with Jewishness.

    A two-tiered eruv is simply [insult removed] and is just a mechanism to further stratify frumkeit rather than work within the continuous spectrum that now exists. Again, it will more likely result in people dropping from tier-1 to tier-2 than the other way around.

    6. My concluding line is a lament on the state of Judaism and the attitudes of Jews towards the frumkeit of one another. If it’s a call for anything, it’s call for more ahavat yisrael.

  • Anon says:

    Schools are an interesting topic under this thread.

    1) Many (if not most) parents went to public schools – perhaps this too is acceptable? For me, the answer is yes – but I think comment #1 would beg to differ

    2) There is a lot of nostalgia about ‘the school my parents went to’ but lets be honest of the oldest Jewish day schools in Melbourne, over they years they have morphed, changed and diverted from their original principles, ethos’s and delivery of subject matter

    Does anyone honestly believe that the Adass, Y&BR and Mount Scopus operate in the same way as in our ‘parents’ era. Just look at the output. While in some cases, the alumni are far more ‘frum’ and shun secular subjects that their parents were taught – wear clothes from 17th century eastern Europe & refer to anything that doesn’t agree with their world view as ‘Nazi’, other institutions are far less ‘frum’, with levels of Tzniut greatly decreased from what their parents stood for and with a direct shift to ‘alternative’ lifestyles that were certainly frowned upon in previous generations.

    I think it fair to say that some of the Holy Rabbis of the past may be scratching their heads.

    Rav Neuman & Rav Stern of the Adass is trying figure out how the Adass ended up looking and acting the way they do. With a distinct shift away from many of the underlying principles of the school.
    Note: Many on the other hand don’t feel they have far enough away and have their own school

    While Rabbi Groner is trying to figure how in his pupils are playing gigs in non-Jewish alternative and grunge clubs that he spent his life making sure their parents wouldn’t go to.
    Note: Many on the other hand want to ensure their children aren’t exposed to this ‘Dumbing Down’ of religion and have taken steps to fortify their Chabad principles to the other extreme

    Perhaps Abraham Feiglin of Mount Scopus would be shaking his head at how far away from Religion his students are now. Most only attend the school for ‘cultural’ reasons
    Note: Hence the need for a more ‘middle of the road’ Yavneh for many whose parents went to Scopus, while others turn to Gardenvale and McKinnon

    The reality is that all these schools have changed SIGNIFICANTLY from yesteryear and for many people these changes are either too much or too little.

    So the options parents have are clear, stay in the school and continue to fight ‘the powers that be’ of each institution leading to fights, hatred, lies, propaganda and worst of disrespect of students to their teachers and school – hoping that their children don’t stray too far from what they as parents are looking to instill in them.

    OR

    Move away from the establishments and run things in a way that suites them and their families. It may start as ‘home schooling’ and with several like minded families, this may lead to a new school.

    This is currently happening in the Yeshiva and the Adass communities with new schools popping up across the board and others are choosing to home school individually or as a collective.
    While Mount Scopus has lost many of the more religious to Yavneh for many unfortunately many, many more to Public schools & Independent Private schools

  • Shira Wenig says:

    David (and Yaron),
    My example of the El Al meal was not intended to argue that everyone with stricter standards should relax them to accommodate others. I agree with David that it’s common decency to defer to the stricter standard as you would with a vegan. All I meant was that we all need to look beyond “pure” halachic considerations when deciding on our own standards (whether machmir, meikel, or assur for that matter) and consider the social impact on the community.

    For the machmir person – is the added value of the chumra worth making others perceive mitzvah observance as less accessible?
    For the meikel person – is the value of avoiding stringency worth undermining communal unity?

    In many cases the answer to both those questions may well be “yes” but we would be a better community (and we would probably argue more civilly on this site) if we at least posed those questions to ourselves.

  • TheSadducee says:

    I’ve always had a great deal of respect for those who take up a greater level of observance and conduct themselves appropriately.

    Where I lose respect is where these people occasionally get afflicted by pride and think they are better than those who do less.

    In the end, frum or not, we must remember that we are a people (Jews) from the same tribes and aid each other where we can.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Just a suggestion to other posters – imagine, if you can, a world where not every Jew or reader knows what chumra is.

    Perhaps some definition of these “in-group” words would be helpful for the less-learned amongst you?

  • frosh says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the thought provoking article. I have a couple of issues I’d like to get your response on.

    You wrote “In the case of “peer to peer”, the polite thing to do is cede to the more stringent/restrictive standard.”

    I understand that many Chabadniks and Adassniks in Melbourne will not eat the meat from each other’s butcher?

    What should happen when they dine together? Whose way is the more machmir?

    Following on from this, I follow a chumra to not eat meat at all, as I am not convinced any industrially produced meat is kosher enough for me, due to the practices of the modern live-stock industry.

    Should other Jews not serve meat at all in that case, to conform to the chumra that I follow?

    By the way, I’m not sure where you get the idea that non-Jews in workplaces are accomodating Jews who are shomer kashrut etc for the sake of Jews. Perhaps only when the boss is a frum Jew, but other than that…

    On the other hand, many Jews who are not shomer kashrut spend $$$$ on having kosher catering at their functions so that a handful of frum Jews that they have invited will feel comfortable. They should be given respect for this.

    Sadducee, I like your idea for someone to publish a glossary.

  • Ian Grinblat says:

    David,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking article. I have been thinking around this topic quite a bit lately especially after I felt stung when someone on Galus rather patronisingly suggested that I should try Masorti.
    Being Jewish is such a delicate and elusive thing. I wish to remain in the Orthodox-oriented camp and so I know that I have to be careful of what I say. It seems to me though that the issue of standards is as much political as religious.
    Rabbis are no longer teachers – centuries ago they assumed power which was ceded to them; I know that they did not sieze it – it was handed to them by pious Jews asking questions that probably didn’t need to be asked. For example: I understand that the reason the reading desk has a sloping surface is because it was decreed as a resolution of a dispute over whether the sefer torah should be vertical or horizontal when read. If it could be compromised in this way, it seems to me that the true answer should have been “Do as you see fit – it doesn’t matter”. I believe that the background to the inclined mezuzah is similar. I am not saying that Rabbis have grabbed power but most of us would find it dfficult to decline the reins of power when they are so willingly offered.
    In recent years, kashrut has become a vast pit of quicksand. How did this happen? The laws stated in the Torah are straightforward directions – don’t eat x and y animals/birds/fish – but today we seek a hechsher. This is a vast shift from laws that direct us to refrain from eating some things to authorisations on what we may eat. And it keeps shifting – how long will it be before one of the touchstones for the kashrut of a household is that there is a separate Pesach kitchen? None of my grandparents would have passed and I know for sure that their piety was greater than mine but in their day, no-one could imagine a pesaach kitchen because no-one could afford it.
    Pesach will soon be upon us and it will be preceded by a spending frenzy of remarkable proportions. Is this the bread of affliction? Is this a rejection of the materialism that is identified with chametz?
    Remember the Peter, Paul and Mary song “All my trials”? It contained the memorable line, “If religion was a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die.”
    Has piety become a commodity?

  • TheSadducee says:

    Ian

    The rabbis became influential because they were the only (generally speaking) cohesive group that survived the destruction of the Temple.

    Additionally the rabbis were conveniently placed to represent the Jewish people eg. the Nasi, schools, Patriarch etc with gentile authorities as precisely because of their survival. Much of their authority came from being recognised by gentile rulers rather than from the people.

    So, it wasn’t so much an issue of power ceded or grasped as that of being in the right place at the right time and consolidating that which Fortune provided.

  • ariel says:

    David W,

    I don’t see why, for example, Kosher Australia can’t invoke the numerous halachic leniencies available in order to certify certain products, but to state in their subscription book something like “acceptable for those who hold by the ruling of XYZ”.

    That way, the rabbis could sleep at night knowing they have not “placed a stumbling block before the blind”.
    Those who want to be machmir will skip those products.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Sadducee, I assume I’m one of the posters you refer to. I’m sincerely sorry if my use of halachic terms might have made those you call “less-learned” feel inferior or left out – that was certainly not my intention. (In fact, level of observance or knowledge as a mark of status is precisely what I was arguing against.)
    I would appreciate though if you did not paint me as a narrow-minded bigot by cynically introducing this criticism with “imagine, if you can”.

    Frosh, my contribution to the glossary :)
    Chumra – stringency not mandated by Jewish law
    Machmir – stringent
    Meikel – lenient
    Assur – prohibited
    Bein adam l’makom – laws between man & God
    Bein adam l’chavero – laws between man & man

  • Doodie,

    Are you offended if another person in your company invokes a deity? Surely that person has the right to freely express their religion. It’s always your choice whether or not to answer amen (or block your ears).

    Your language example is a little absurd. However, anyone who has been to France will note the disdain accorded to anyone who doesn’t speak French.

    Frosh,

    There are still remnants of the ugly “shechita-wars” between Satmar and Chabad from some years ago. To my knowledge, that was a narrow dispute not really based on kashrut standards, and isn’t that relevant to this discussion.

    Your reasons for not eating meat are technically not classified as a chumra because they are more likely based on the laws of tzar baalei chayim (prohibition against cruelty to animals) rather than the laws of Kashrut. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Do you object to others eating meat around you?

    I’ve always found the workplace accommodating and respectful of my Jewish practices, even when I wasn’t the boss.

    The question of kosher catering at a Jewish simcha probably deserves an article of its own.

    Ian,

    The question of “does it matter?” is a very important one. I recall someone on this site paraphrasing Tevye: “Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan if I ate this burger?”. To that, I would have to say, “yes”, but I can only give that answer the justice it deserves in the context of kabbalah. It is probably the case that in many instances, the Rabbis said “yes”, when “no” was more appropriate, and who knows where that has led.

    The laws in the written Torah appear simple. However, they must be taken together with the Oral Torah as well.

    Where to stop indeed? My wife was in a kosher grocery in New York recently, and she put a yoghurt and a packet of salami in the same plastic bag – both were cold and fully sealed, so what she did was 100% acceptable. But for her “sin”, she was accosted by someone who suggested it was treif. That sort of ignorance is very dangerous.

    Ariel,

    What you suggest isn’t practical. There is some Pesach labelling of products “kosher for those who eat kitniyot” (i.e. Sefardim), and there are a few commonly known levels of kashrut (e.g. glatt, cholov yisroel). But the number of chumrot & kullot actually used in practice is vast. Watch out for a future article about this *grin*.

  • Ian Grinblat says:

    David,
    I am sorry if I mislead you – I was not arguing for eating a treif burger (even once in a while) which can only be OK if you have decided to abandon the orthodox-affiliated camp altogether. I was trying to make a point that our rabbis understood that their would imperil their own power and authority if they declined to give a ruling on a matter that does not require such close definition (such as the angle of the reading desk).
    Halacha is problematic for people who wish to live in the world. All around us, secular law is retreating from areas in which enforcement is impossible or inherited shibboleths have been successfully challenged by science whereas halacha has no mechanism for accommodating scientific knowledge (not hypothesis) – that is, it can only move to increase regulation it has no means of easing it in the light of new knowledge.

  • Ian,

    The burger was just an extreme example of the “vast eternal plan” argument. Surely the reason they have kosher McDonalds in Israel is so we can see first hand how bad it is, and thus be less tempted when we come back here.

    It is not clear whether Rabbis ruling on what may be inconsequential or mundane was a power-grab, or because of poor education among many people and their need for guidance.

    There is definitely a culture clash between Halacha and secular law, as been explored in these pages. Halacha does have a mechanism for accommodating scientific knowledge, but it doesn’t have much of a mechanism for revoking prohibitions.

  • frosh says:

    Hi David,

    To answer your question to me: I certainly would prefer if people didn’t eat meat in my presence, but I do not behaviourally object to it, as I believe this would be seen as me imposing my preferences on others.

  • Doodie Ringelblum says:

    David – Perhaps I am dense, but I don’t see why the language example I gave is absurd at all. I take it that the centre of Judaism in your life is God, Torah and Mitzves. For others, the centre of Judaism is culture and language. I can assure you that for many of them, their passion is as fervent in nature and degree as the most frum feel toward Torah. In both cases, there is an assumption that being/doing more Jewish is a positive thing.

    You argue that the courteous thing to do when sharing a meal with someone is to adhere to the more stringent standard of kashres. I understand that to mean, both parties should reach for the more Jewishly active standard rather than ask one person to compromise down.

    Why is it absurd to similarly argue that when engaged in a Jewish conversation, that both parties should adhere to the more stringent standards of Jewish language rather than compromise down?

    Perhaps in your view of Judaism, the substitution of language for religion is an absurd comparison. But that’s precisely my point. It is not at all absurd for many other Jews. I am interested in what compromise, if any, you think should be made for those who hold those views.

    Regarding your other question. No, I am not offended at all by someone invoking God (though I know plenty of people who are). I am however offended when some people refuse to eat at my table because it isn’t kosher enough, but disapprove of my (secular) brokhes when I eat at their table, because such things are not normative (by their standards) and they feel I should respect their home.

  • >How frum is frum enough?

    Hopefully, one day I hope to see the Orthodox institutions of Melbourne being known for their strictness in standards in regard to:
    1) protecting children from sexual predators;
    2) cooperating with police with respect to child sex investigations;
    3) a refusal to be associated in any way with those who are dishonest in business or who prey on the vulnerable in our community; and
    4) protecting the vulnerable and at-risk in our community.

    Until then I guess, I can only look at the strickness asseted in regard to kashrut and other various chumarot directed at the community in general which only forces those with meager resources to waste same in the pursuit of some “highest” unattainable and ever changing “level” (as one can always add more chumrot and claim a “higher” standard until of course starvation/thirst sets in) for example of kashrut when the more reasonable “level” of our previous generations was sufficient. Or did all of your grandparents, great-grandparents eat only a Glatt standard of beef? Perhaph our great-great grandchilden will only eat a Beit Yosef standard of beef and shake their heads at their “uneducated and ignorant” elders for eating “only” a Glatt standard.

  • Ian Grinblat says:

    David,

    I have been thinking further about your most recent response to me and I’d like to add some further comments.

    You mentioned an incident in a grocery store when your wife placed yoghurt and packaged meat together in her bag. You rightly say that the person who accosted her was ignorant and that ignorance is dangerous. I’d like to ask how did our zeal to do the right thing become this ghastly vigilantism – what products are you buying, how do you carry them home, let me see your kitchen, let me see your bedroom – which fails completely to reflect love of one’s fellow Israelite.

    The maxim “less is more” has little traction in halacha where the guiding principle seems to have become “even more for evermore”. Ultimately, this obsession excludes any possibility of work and seriously reduces any likelihood of friendship and hospitality. Is this Jewish life? Furthermore, the obsession with standards, especially the standards of others, leads to horrendous gossip.

    I believe that the mitzvah of ahavat yisrael needs to be restored to a prominent place because if we concentrate only on our own relationship with G-d, we’ll be intensely pious but utterly friendless. No-one can be a Jew alone.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Ian/David

    I think a big part of the focus on details/standards relates to identity politics – people want to be seen to be part of a group, and adherence, especially public, to particular standards/behaviours is vital to that identity.

    Then this can lead to people pushing into further extremes to indicate their particular identity within the group and/or enforcing their own perceptions on others that they think are in the group – here we see an authentic Jewish identity being constructed (i.e. frum) as opposed to others.

    It is very unfortunate when you consider that pre-Shoah, there was a multiplicity of Jewish identity which has been largely lost, especially in the religious world today.

  • Meir Rabi says:

    Thank you for your thoughts David.

    I would like to share the following perspective.

    It IS polite to cede to the guest and to the more stringent standard. But I doubt that is the case where it creates serious or even moderate discomfort. For example, having women at the back of the bus, closing the roads on Shabbos, modest dress codes and the list continues and becomes more uncomfortable. So the question really is; when is it “skin off your nose” and when is it “no skin off your nose”? That a fellow Jew should refuse to participate and thus doom to failure, a simple permission to make an Eiruv sounds like “no skin off your nose”, so we see that as bloody-mindedness and provocative. This of course leads directly to the Bein Adam LeChaVeiRo issues raised here; we appear to be using Halacha as a club to beat up those we don’t like, camouflaging and “purifying” “holyfying” our aggression with the Holy Torah. And communal bodies and even rabbis may be engaged in such infantile behaviour, see Rabbi D Freilich’s disillusionment in the AJN. http://www.kosherveyosher.com/rabbi-d-freilich.html.

    I suppose we can sum up this attitude with, “All those more religious that I are fanatics and all those less religious that I are heretics.”

    This is the divisive energy, not the number of groups. The AFL is composed of a number of competing clubs, the more clubs the greater the strength as in the English football model. There are however guidelines that govern the interactions between the teams and their members.

    Written laws are good but they are not the backbone that maintains society and civility. It is the goodwill that is the backbone of any society, goodwill determines the proper and just application of the law.

    Do not judge them by their laws but by the manner in which they deal with one another.

    This can not be legislated imposed or demanded, it is the still small voice of reason, love and selflessness that one hears only if one wants to listen.

  • Neil Freeman says:

    Rabbi Sacks when in Melbourne recently, quipped, Jews are the only group who multiply by division!

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