Friday, May 11, 2007

"orthodoxy" and luxury - is this really what we should strive for?

One of the local jewish newspaper’s editors has this to say about Orthodox Judaism in my locale (boldface added by me):

We endeavor to have beautiful homes, expansive backyards, impressive landscaping, and more. We want synagogues near our homes, kosher food stores, yeshivas, and other religious institutions that we can utilize as our families grow and develop. Our religious life really doesn’t distinguish us in any real discernible way. The male adults and children wear yarmulkes, but that has long been accepted as part of the everyday scenery here in New York. Our wives and daughters may dress a little more modestly, as required, and they may be seen dressed in well-tailored suits and possibly even hats on Saturday morning or midday even when the temperatures reach 90 degrees or more outside.
This is truly a sad statement of what suburban Orthodoxy is all about. To “endeavor” means to strive for. Earlier this week I posted R’ Wosner’s beautiful derasha on shmita as a reminder that work is not an end in itself but just a means to providing the necessities of life needed for avodas Hashem. I don’t see how anyone can delude themselves into thinking that striving for an expansive landscaped backyard conforms to values like histapkus b’mu’at or is a necessity for avodas Hashem. Since when is Orthodox Judaism about striving for luxuries like these, "and more"?! Of course, if this is your version of Orthodoxy it is no wonder it does not distinguish you “in any real discernable way” from the rest of the world caught up in keeping up with the Joneses (or Cohens, as the case may be), working late to get ahead of the next guy at work, having the best car on the block, the best house, the nicest lawn.

The point of the editorial was that living an orthodox lifestyle is not an obstacle to participating in the civic functions of our town because of our integration and lack of discernable differences. I would hope that as orthodox jews we could davka tout our distinctiveness - our higher code of ethics, modesty, and integrity, all of which inspire civic good for the benefit of all.

I have little fear that if left unsupervised my kids will eat at McDonalds or break Shabbos to be more like the society around them. I have far greater fear of their being led astray by the dangerous sway of the "orthodoxy" this article respresents.


  1. well said. Youa re 100% righ. The boro park chandeliers the expensive clothing etc... One also has to reevaluate all other objectives that the community has set for itself within Kiyum Mitzvot and avodat hashem including limud hatorah and the tachlit thereof.

    Shabbat Shalom

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. One of the reported fringe benefits of living in Israel is the lesser emphasis on materialism.

  4. unless you live in one of those American-type Israeli cities,
    (Chashmonaim, Modi'in, Efrat) where it seems some of the more materialistic people have infiltrated.

  5. Ariella6:59 PM

    I'm afraid even Israel is not free of the materialistic urge, though it may be due to the American influence. I remember many years ago when a YU student of mine declared that he can live in Israel now that Snapple is available there. In fact, anything is available there -- for a price.

  6. Bob Miller12:20 AM

    Even if a non-materialist Orthodox Jew does not set out to buy an expensive home, and maybe can't really afford one, he does want to be able to walk to shul. In many, maybe most, parts of the US, this guarantees that the home will be expensive anyway.

  7. ezra - the communities you mention are probably a bit materialistic by israeli standards (though israeli standards have gotten pretty high in some places; been to herzliyah?), but it's a far cry from 5t.
    bad analogy.

  8. Also, to a certain extent living in Israel keeps you grounded even if you live in Chashmonaim, Efrat, etc. How many 5T kids do you know who have siblings in the army? These kids have a heightened sense of reality de facto that extends past their ipods and the newest sale at Barney's.

  9. This piece of the article in the 5TJT is just saddening. I am planning a post for later today that will hopefully incorporate with and your wife's post on chosson gifts.

  10. There are two very different conversations that sound the same, and most people don't see the difference. In Chicago, for example, there has been a recent flood of extravagent, lavish, BP style, edifices being built, contrary to zoning laws, contrary to neighborhood standards, contrary to good taste and the mentchlickeit that used to prevail, even among the well to do. But in most cases, the opponents of the new construction have not been people who feel that these towering monstrosities contradict the lessons of frugality and spirituality. No, most opponents just decided they could never afford to do the same, so they oppose those who can. Of course, there are a few who bemoan the loss of the beautiful Jewish culture of modesty and thrift, or who do not want to live in a shadowed valley created by sun-blocking towers of crude arriviste showiness. But everyone is happy to assume the mantle of the baal mussar, while most of them really are in opposition out of simple self interest.

  11. Nu, identifying problems is the easy part. What are you doing about it?


  12. I'd like to count myself as one who bemones the loss of modesty. But a 3rd conversation for those that are "jealous" is that they believe they are expected to do the same: throw the same wedding, buy the same engagement gifts, provide the same "support," etc, etc, etc.

    And the materialism is even being taught in schools (see Ariella's blog for more on that).

    As to what we can do, so much! I got yelled at by my in laws for holding an inappropriate simcha. My husband says we will do no different next time. I'm glad he is a mentsch and a half (can you send us some MENsch dish cleanser Chaim?), because it isn't easy to stand up to the pressure.