Friday, June 01, 2007
two versions of what orthodoxy is all about
I think one of the keys questions that affect a person’s religious practice can be summed up with a chakira: is a jew someone who is like everyone else except where restricted by ritual laws have to be obeyed, or is a jew someone with a unique set of values, attitudes, and behaviors which happen to coincide under some circumstances with Western values? The teenagers who get together for a pick-up basketball game in shorts and T-shirts on Shabbos or the adults who will vacation at a beach or a Las Vegas casino while making sure to eat kosher food I think view their religiosity based on the first tzad of the chakira. What determines whether an action is acceptable is whether one can point to a specific se’if in shulchan aruch that prohibits something (and even so, apparently some people think not all dinim in shulchan aruch are created equal), and if not, what is OK in secular society is by default OK for the Jew. The second tzad looks at things very differently. It’s not about whether there is a specific prohibition against something, but about whether a particular action or desire is for the sake of avodas Hashem or not. Halacha is not a collection of technical restrictions that impinge on a “normal” lifestyle, but halacha becomes a guide to a mindset that has completely different goals, values, and aspirations than what passes for “normal” in our society. One of the problems I have encountered in dealing with coreligionists who fall into tzad #1 of the chakira or who are non-religious is that they simply do not understand that those of us who aspire or try to live our lives by the tzad #2 approach. Decisions about what is permitted or prohibited are viewed through a completely different mindset (and again, this issue is especially hard to deal with when the other people are family members). When asked “Where does it say X is prohibited” or confronted with the observation “…But I see lots of frum people with yalmukahs there” how is one supposed to respond? There is no short and simple answer because the question presupposes a different framework of religious. Has anyone else confronted this problem?