15 August 2007

What is Frumkeit (really)?

Rabbi Maryles wrote a wonderful post about how praiseworthy it is to be a BT, yet we/they are treated as "defacto second class citizens" by many in the FFB world. For example, in our community, there is this FFB named "Golda".

Golda is the youngest child in a family full of rabbis, educated in a top-notch Beis Yaakov, and eventually married the "most frum" of a MO family (her brother-in-law was another early positive influence and a friend from college). Golda is extremely fascinated, to the point of being rude, with gerim and ba'alei t'shuvah. Upon discovering that a mutual friend of ours is a geress, she asked (in front of a large group of people) which traife food she "missed" the most. I really do not know what Golda is thinking with these questions. Tova (the friend) and I recently found out about another "stranger" in our midst (she told us because she is trying to make a shidduch for her daughter who converted as a child, over 10 years after the mother's Reform conversion). Tova joked that if Golda found out about this development, she might run to the lady's house and ask what pork tastes like or something rude to that effect.

Anyway, Golda seems genuinely fascinated by gerim and ba'alei t'shuvah because since she grew up in it, it seems odd that someone would "choose" to take this on. At the same time, she likes to "educate" us non-FFBs about the inner workings of the frum world. (Did I really want to know?) [At least twice, she has pointed out to me that one of her mother's ancestors was connected to "THE" Avraham ben Avraham, (of sefer fame)...Talk about riding on the coat tails of yichus.]

A recent simcha in the chareidi world may have changed Golda's perspective...She was snubbed at this party because amongst various reasons, it seems that she "married down" when it came to her husband (who, by the way, can boast of having had a grandfather who was a rabbi and a brother who is one), in the eyes of her mother's neighbors (and people she grew up with). This time, I gave Golda the education.

It seems that everyone has lost focus on what being "frum" means. So many people equate it with how many chumrot one takes on (or other meaningless external measures). First of all, my understanding of the mitzvot is that their purpose is to bring me closer to Hashem. My accountability (if I break one) is to Him, not to my fellow Jew (as much as some may want me to justify my life). I do sincerely believe that spirituality has died in so many people, that they may feel that taking on the most stringent rule fills them with a sense that they are getting closer to G-d (and keeping up with the Schwartzes on the chumrah of the month club).

Based on my bitterness about frum life (which I approached with open eyes), I have been asked why I bother. The answer is simple, which I told Golda. Golda did not have a choice to be frum, it's all she knows. I, on the other hand, chose to be frum because I wanted to have a closer relationship with Hashem and follow his mitzvot. I do this for purely selfish reasons and without a concern of other people and their relationships with G-d.

When They Were Young...

This post was inspired by a conversation I had today with one of my high school English teachers. She has since retired and is an adjunct professor in Holocaust Studies (as well as frum). I partially give her credit for where my life headed, as she was one of the first frum people I met that showed me it was possible to be a strong Jew and be "worldly". A large portion of my hashkafah came under her tutelage in high school. Yonina was bending my ear, sharing all the nachat she was receiving from her tribes of grandchildren. [One granddaughter, an officer in TZaHaL and frum, is engaged to marry another frum officer. Another granddaughter just graduated from our local chareidi girls' school and is heading off to seminary in Israel.]

Yonina: "It's the end of an era. For the first time in 52 years, one of my descendants will not be at ___________."

CYM: "A lot has changed in that time as well. Look how the hashkafah of the school changed..."

Yonina: "I have pictures of Rav D_______ before he grew a beard and was wearing sportscoats." [Rav D______ happens to be a descendant of a gadol that I do not wish to directly name as all will be revealed.]

CYM: "Everyone denies that ever happened, like when the school had mixed classes."

Yonina: "That was until the fifth grade. My daughter, 'Laura,' still remembers the boy who would pull her pony tail during class. Wouldn't you know, recently, Laura was talking to someone on the phone who had a familiar voice. After asking what his Hebrew name was, she realized that it was the same boy. My, how time flies!"

My conversation with Yonina reminded me of an e-mail that Esther had sent me some time ago. It must have been forwarded all over the Internet and blogged incessantly, but it is still appropriate in light of recent blogs on the chareidi world. [Rabbi Maryles and Barak]

An over-used cliche is that "clothes make the man". Would today's chareidim see future gedolim in (gasp!) modern clothes? Click on this link...

I welcome any feedback on when this change happened to Orthodoxy. What has been told to me by a friend (thanks, by the way) that it seems that the chareidim are trying to out-chassid the chassidim.
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