Sunday, December 17, 2006

Not So Frum Orthodox

I want to describe a type of Modern Orthodox that used to be very popular but doesn’t get much attention these days; a group that I call, for lack of a better term, Not So Frum Orthodox (NSFO). In the fifties of the last century, Modern Orthodoxy was more or less synonymous with this kind of Jew. In more recent times, because of the criticism from charedim and the efforts of the sincere and self-conscious religious elements at Yeshiva University, this type had gone underground, and to some extent, disappeared from the ranks of Orthodoxy.

In the fifties, the way it went was that if a person davened in an Orthodox shul, he was Orthodox; if he davened in a Conservative shul, he was Conservative, and so on. Not only did NSFO daven in an Orthodox shul with a mechitza (divider between men and women), they refused to daven in a Conservative shul, again because they were Orthodox. They kept kosher and shabbus in a global sort of way, without particular attention to the halachic details. In the case of kosher, they did not hesitate for a minute to eat everything but meat and treif food in non-kosher restaurants. If someone told them that halachically this wasn’t the way to go, it would have little effect. To them, kosher meant to eat kosher food, which meant not eating visible treif (non-kosher). At home, they had four sets of dishes. (Meat , milk, and again for Passover) Outside, they would be happy to go to a cheese and wine bar, except there weren’t any in the fifties. In the case of shabbus, they had no hesitation carrying their keys and a handkerchief, but not a wallet, on shabbus even in places where there was no eruv. For all I know, they occasionally turned on a light on shabbus. But unlike their Conservative counterparts, they never violated the halachic laws of shabbus openly and in public. They would generally not drive on shabbus, for example, whereas, Conservative Jews have no hesitation to drive their cars into the parking lot of the synagogue when they attended services. Conservative Jews relied on the ruling of the Conservative rabbinate permitting them, if necessary, to drive to the synagogue on shabbus. Even when an NSFO drove on shabbus to shul, and a few actually did, they would park the car blocks away and walk to shul. It wasn’t just because they were ashamed of breaking the law. They thought it was respectful of the synagogue and of shabbus itself to keep their violation of the laws of shabbus hidden, private and away from public view.

In some ways being an NSFO versus a Reform Jew is similar to the difference between a liar and a bulls****er. As Harry Frankfurt has argued in his famous book, “On Bullshit,” the difference between the two is that a liar knows what the truth is and deliberately tells a falsehood, whereas the latter has lost the concept of truth. He’ll say anything to make his case. NSFO’s recognize the sovereignty of halacha, they just don’t want to keep all of it. A Reform Jew refuses to recognize halacha as normative. In Reform Judaism, the extent of religious rituals and traditions is largely an autonomous decision. The two concepts are very different even if in some respect, their behaviors are similar. The connections between NSFOs and Conservative Jews are complex because Conservative Jewry is in flux and tends to exhibit permanent disconnects between its theory and practice. Here too Harry Frankfort’s book is relevant.

Many of the issues that are front and center in contemporary Modern Orthodoxy are foreign to the sensibility of the NSFO’s. Since in general they were not intellectual or didn’t intellectualize their Judaism, they had no opinions whether academic methods are relevant to the study of the Bible and the Talmud. Nor were they particular feminist and concerned with greater participation of women in Orthodox religious life. Most importantly they didn’t emphasize the Modern part of Modern Orthodox. In the fifties, many were Europeans who barely spoke English. They had no great concern with being involved in secular culture. The only thing they “knew” that was “modern” was that Chasidim, with their eighteenth century dress, were off their rockers.

I’ll sum this up by saying Not So Frum Orthodox Jews are Jews who happen to be Orthodox. They were born Orthodox, they are comfortable in the world of Orthodoxy, they wouldn’t dream of being anything else but Orthodox, but they are not ABOUT being Orthodox. Contemporary Modern Orthodoxy, at least in its self-conscious version, is ABOUT being Orthodox. A self-conscious MO would never allow anyone to say of him that he is anything less than halachically observant. An NSFO couldn’t care less. He is not about defending himself from charedim, he is not self-conscious, he’s not trying to prove anything. He goes to shul, keeps shabbus, keeps kosher, and goes about his life.

Today these NSFO Jews have no obvious home. They don’t belong in a Conservative movement; they are not entirely comfortable in the Orthodox world.


At 9:37 AM, Anonymous zaire git said...

First of all, these NSFO jews still do exist scattered amongst out of town communities across the country, but their numbers are dwindling. There is definately an overlap though between these type of jews and the more lax sort of yeshivish/chassidish types that might exist in brooklyn or monsey, who would also never step foot in a conservative shul (nor a young israel either)and completely define themselves as orthodox, but are totally lax with halacha.
Aside from all that though, I think the fact that half a century ago, these NSFO's might have been the majority of the orthodox world in the U.S, and now they are barely existant should be viewed in terms of the larger culture. In the 1950's, people in the U.S., immigrants and the like, were very concerned with fitting in, and becoming the typical american house-hold. Ever since the 1960's though, identity politics and the fascination with different cultures has brought about a situation where people for the most part are becoming more interested and involved with the culture they come from. I think the rightward change in orthodoxy (and in Islam and in Christianity perhaps), must be viewed in light of these shifts in the larger culture. Many of the children of these NSFO's became more frum possibly because they rejected there parent's desire to conform to american values and wanted to be more "authentically jewish". This might be the reason it is very common for BT's to take on the levush of the frum very quickly, part of the reason they become frum might be to throw off the identity of the white american.

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And then there is the category that I fall into, the non-observant orthodox. I know many like me, people who quietly help the poor, stay on-call if a minyan is needed, sit shomer with someone who has died on shabbos and treat everyone, Jew and non-Jew as a valued human being deserving of respect. We are most comfortable devening in an orthodox shul when we decide we want to daven, and we raise our children believe that we are all created in G-d's image and to act that way. What we don't believe is that a group of self=appointed gedolim have the franchise on what Judaisim means. How did I get to this point, coming from a frum family. I learned from my father the respect for others and to perform mitzvahs for their own sake and anonymously, not for yichus. I also lived in Monsey for several years and learned that I was one of the few Jews there who did not lie, cheat and steal, one of the few who respected all people and didn't treat non-Jews as non-people. When it came to trying to help the frum of Monsey and New Square, I did the best I could as I tried to help the victims of their own cope with the pain of overburden, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. While frum people look down on my level of observance (or non-observance) I don't pass judgement on what their lives are like with their scrupulous observance. I'm simply more comfortable in my own skin and believe that if I am judged at the end of my days, it will be on my actions and not on my pintelach.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Ben Bayit said...

They fit in VERY well in either anglo-Orthodoxy (UK, Australia and S. Afica) and also fit in well in the great swath between traditional judaism and modern Orthodox between Hadera and Gedera (as well as in quite a few Judean and Samarian settlements). They may have died out as an American breed, but they are alive and kicking elsewhere

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Y-Love said...

Hm. I think that, in that case, NSFO Jews are far more prevalent in even the black hat world than people would like to think. And these people are often referred to by the misnomer "modern" because they are, well, not-so-frum.

I never looked at this in such a way. Kudos. Not that I agree, though. :)

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Ten Jew Very Much said...

- They were born Orthodox, they are comfortable in the world of Orthodoxy, they wouldn’t dream of being anything else but Orthodox, but they are not ABOUT being Orthodox.... An NSFO ... is not about defending himself from charedim, he is not self-conscious, he’s not trying to prove anything. He goes to shul, keeps shabbus, keeps kosher, and goes about his life.

I think this is a great attitude. I'd call them JPJs -- just plain Jews. They didn't need to define themselves in opposition to other Jews; for them, Shabbat and kashrut were simply parts of being Jewish, not yardsticks used to measure one Jew against another. Less intellectual, perhaps, but we usually don't have deep intellectual thought about the things that we consider inherent in ourselves--e.g., being male or female, breathing, etc.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

zaire git said...the issue why they NSFO's are less popular is the flip side of why Orthodox life has become more charedi. I've blogged on this topic when I first got started. The first issue that I now feel must be dealt with is whether it is a phenomenon separate and different from the rise of fundamentalist religion in Islam and Christianity. It all happened pretty much at the same time.The movements feel different and of course there are real differences, but is that enuf? Radicals on the left would also tie in fundamentalism with the destruction of progressive politics in America and in the Muslim world.Jewish life has become undoubtedly much more right wing today in America and in Israel than it was in the fifties.

anonymous... non observant Orthodoxy is a different category worthy of its own post. It is difficult to write about this group since each non observant Orthodox is not frum in his own particular way. lol. I certainly agree with you that some of the most idealist and sensitive Jews belong in this group.

y-love...Black hat Jews who cheat in serious ways, especially in sexual questions, are in my book not to be thought of as NSFO's but as hypocrites,etc. IMHO if you dress the dress you should follow through.

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous zaire git said...

Evanston: My point, I think, was to bring up the question of where did these NSFO's go? If 30-40 years ago they were the majority of orthodoxy (possibly), and now they are barely a contingent, how did this happen?
As to where they went, I think many of them because of there children became either more normative Modern Orthodox, or a brooklyn version of modern yeshivish. Many of them, because of there passivity to halachic details, I think didn't mind much sending there daughters to shulamis or prospect park as opposed to Flatbush when that became more of the thing to do. And then when there children requested there mothers cover there hair, or there fathers buy them a hat, it didn't matter much to them as much as it might to a more idealogically driven orthodox type. Others just moved slightly to the right with the rest of the modern orthodox camp, however I don't think many of the NSFO or there children became conservative or irreligious over the generations.
Since the shift I think happened more because of the children of the NSFO's, it was probally more the children who were reacting to social changes in the larger popular culture. However I don't think that muslim fundamentalism (or israeli charedi fundamentalism) shifted for the same reasons, there I think it was more due to what they perceived as an attack from western society that probally began with the haskalah.
Hope that made a little sense.

At 4:25 PM, Blogger avakesh said...

I suggest the term opportunistically Orthodox.

These are people who are totally comfortable with Orthodoxy and know its ins and outs. They will keep everything when convenient and only the basics when not conveneint. You will find them in many MO congregations, especially out of town. They have not by any means passed from the scene.

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Ten Jew Very Much said...

Avakesh - "Opportunistic" has a pejorative connotation. Did you intend that?

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post!!!
I love the line about the difference between nsfo and reform...

At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happened in the fifties is that many of these people, especially Europeans in origin, sent their children to day school rather than public school (despite the pressure then of "knowing" public education was superior). Often it was because the school day was longer and allowed the mothers to go to work. The children came home and frummed the house. This is a large part of the transformation. The children insisted on shabbos clocks, no carrying of keys, glasses, handkerchiefs and gradually changed the parents.

At 7:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn good post, again. So now I have to choose between "Geek Judaism" and "Not So Frum Orthodox Judaism." And I thought this would be easy...

At 8:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in a well known New York City neighborhood, outside Brooklyn, that has now become identified as an orthodox bastion, with many shuls and shteibels and places to buy food and eat out :). Orthodoxy developed as the NSOJ moved out and retired and their children 'disappeared' from the radar.

However it was not always that way. Once upon a time the neighborhood was largely the provence of conservative and NFOJs, with very few frum people. I remember how my parents, (my father was employed as the rabbi of a shul in the neighborhood) found it necessary to summer in the catskills in or adjacent to chasidissha bungalow colonies and send me and my siblings to camps like agudah, dora golding, deal and torah vodaath - to show us that there were other people just like us, and make us feel comfortable in a frum jewish environment. Over the years I have met other people who grew up outside new york with a similar experience.

My community was first developed in the late 40's and early 50's by a combination of holocaust surviviors (hungarians for instance) and the american jewish GIs who came home from the war. They had grown up, or spent time, in the Lower East side or other neighborhoods of new york. They moved in when the neighborhood was first developed from farm land and a golf course. There is still a old jewish cemetary in the neighborhood from the ancient days when "it was the boonies".

The neighborhood originally had a large conservative synagogue, however when the NSFOJ moved in they did not feel that this was their place - even though many or most were not personally religious. They founded a synagogue that had separate seating - initially with a rope balcony that over the years was able to convert to a full mechitza. As individuals they belonged to the synagogue, but their yiddishkeit did not seem to carry on well to the next generation.

There were people who came to minyan 365 days a year 3 times a day who were not midakdek bmitzvos such as shabbos (rachmana litzlon). These are the people who made the borshct belt the borscht belt - they went to Browns, Grossingers and other such hotels - not the frum hotels like the PineView or later the Homowack hotels.

It is my experience with this community that makes me extremely skeptical of your ideas on funding kiruv in america for these alienated jews. I dont know what can be done to reach out to them... I don't know how successful the chofetz chaim yeshivos and kiruv groups and lubavitch style kiruv groups can be, nor do I see the idealistic youth heading out to Long Island and to all the Ivy campuses and medical schools and law schools to rescue to lost souls of the children and grandchildren of the NSOJs. It is a activity of heroic proportion to rescue these children - truly rescuing the sparks from the klippot in bringing them back to yiddishkeit.

Over time these jews retired to florida. Many moved over more and more to the reality of their lack of shemiaras hamitzvos. They kept fewer and fewer mitzvos and their children often kept less. Unfortunately, the children of this community were not educated in yeshivos, instead in talmud torahs, which were not successful in teaching more than bar mitzva lessons, when their jewish education ended. Their children have even less contact with judaism. Who knows who their children and childrens children married.

although some did become baalei teshuva in later years, this was very rare.

At 9:22 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

One question I have for all who wish to comment...the Jews I described had a broad sense of what was required but had a parallel and not always overlapping shulchan aruch. They weren’t easily intimidated except perhaps by their own yeshivish children. Why doesn’t such a generation appear today in any numbers. It would certainly be a step up to non enthusiastic conservatives. If such Jews could be ’developed’, would kiruv organizations be interested? And if not, why not? Are we allowing assimilation to continue because we refuse to settle for imperfectly Orthodox.

At 9:39 PM, Blogger SephardiLady said...

I lived in a small, small community at one time and there were a handful of NSFO as well as non-observant Orthodox. These two types seem to be a dying breed, and I don't think we are better off for it.

The same patterns can be seen amongst immigrant Sephardi communities. The question is, where will their children be in 20 years?

At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evanston jew 922 pm- doesnt this relate a bit to R.H. Soloveitchik's rupture and reconstruction? the older nsfos came from a time when saying, this is how my bubbie did it was relatively legit. Those feeling would not fly today, in talking to one's children (ya know, the ones who say my rebbe says:))

At 10:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You ask: "Are we allowing assimilation to continue because we refuse to settle for imperfectly Orthodox."

Strangely framed, but I hear what you are saying.

Perhaps you are asking this question.

We are experiencing a categorical maximalism from the religious right. Everything else is treif.

We are thereby pushing away people who are of 2 categories.
1) who think of themselves as orthodox - but are by their nature "not machmirim lifnim mishurat hadin" or
2) those who are philo-orthodox but are "makilim beyond the din".

I have come across both on the west side of manhattan recently.
1)People are offended to be chided for
issues such as of "taking food directly from a pot on the stove on shabbos", they view machmirim approaches as above board.
2) People who tell me they plan to keep 7 days nidah only and not the din of rav zeirah as examples of type 2).

This is the reference to the west side of manhattan singles who are a spectrum of orthodx - reform judaism.

But this religious tension exists in the non right wing religious world (engelwood/teaneck/bergenfield/)as given expression in books like the novel by
The Outside World by Tova Mirvis.

These people's sociology is somewhat analogous to that of the old world of the NSFO of yesteryear, but not the same.
The current crop of people went to yeshiva through high school. The old time NSFO grew up in orthodox families but went to public school.
The current crop may go to an ivy league university or graduate school after yeshiva high school and maybe learning in israel for a year,
but they seem to reproduce the same evolution as they will go to medical school and compromise on shabbos obserrvance,
they may go to law school and compromise on coming home late friday afternoon in winter (as in the novel "the outside world") etc.

It remains to be seen where their children end up, but it seems there is more to expect than the lost generation of decendants of the lost NSFO Jews.

At 3:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are describing my father and much more so, his parents. They came from Europe, they practiced what they knew and felt comfortable 'among their own kind'.

My father had a 'yeshiva' education for elementary school but then public high school in brooklyn and on to brooklyn college. All those years he identified strongly with orthodoxy of the type he knew - the NSFO. He kept that identity onwards - kosher in the home, avoiding treif out, etc. The older of the children got day school education for elementary school - as time went on and due to various issues, the rest in public school.

Out of 5 kids you have 2 who are 'strongly identified modern orthodox', one strongly identified orthodox (less interest in the modern label), one traditional conservative - i.e. conservative shul and driving but kosher home, etc, and one 'jewish culturally'.

My father feels very torn today - he doesn't feel completely at home in the conservative shul where he attends, he feels they don't know their own identity, they are ignorant of basics, etc. But he feels completely alienated by the orthodox world today - he doesn't feel at home in their synagauges, with their looking down on him, etc. He said that way back when he was trying to raise his kids and helped found a young israel in the 1970s in a town where there wasn't an orthodox shul, he felt completely at home and not looked down on at all.

It is a loss, IMHO, that these people feel driven out of the orthodox world. My sister (the traditional conservative) would have been a NSFO if not for the feelings my father feels as well (looked down on, etc). Is it what I, the strongly identified MO wants for my chidren - not really - but if they don't feel they can identify strongly, I'd rather NSFO than them drifting away completely. (And given that I live in an 'out of town' Israeli community that is moving more and more chardal and where MO is unknown, their identity is going to be interesting to start out)

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If such Jews could be ’developed’, would kiruv organizations be interested? And if not, why not?

I think the phenomenon of NSFO is maybe an artifact of a time when "Jewish identity" was not in question. Everyone knew "who is a Jew" because for more or less insidious reasons Jews were not allowed to mix freely in the larger cultures. Thus, individuals could adopt any level of observance, and still remain identifiably Jewish without any doubts. Nowadays — when the level of a person's Jewish identity is entirely a matter of their own choosing — it seems that this is no longer good enough. I don't know...

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Harry Maryles said...

What you call NSFO, I call MO-Lite. And they most definitely exist today I n large numbers. In fact I’m sorry to say that there are substantially larger numbers of them than there are serious MOs. The NSFOs of today are the spiritual heirs of those of the fifties you describe. But I would posit that today’s NSFOs are halachicly more observant than those you describe who just attended an O Shul. But at the same time their observance leaves a lot to be desired in that here too lifestyle will often trump Halacha. But at the same time I doubt that anyone who considers themselves even nominally MO today would drive a car on Shabbos under any circumstances.

Back in the fifties, in Toledo where I grew up, my father was the defacto Moreh D’Asra of an O Shul (The only O Rav there was technically the Rav of all three Shuls there) My fathers Shul did not have a Minyan of Shomer Shabbos Jews. But he had a regular Minyan every Shabbos. The President of the Shul picked up most of the regular Shabbos attendees. They wouldn’t think of attending the Conservative Shul in Toledo, but not for ideological reasons. Only because of a sense of loyalty to the Shul. None of their children are religious today.

OTOH, today’s NSFMO’s children are indeed religious and are probably a lot more observant than their parents. In some cases for ideological reasons and in other cses bcause the standards of even the MO-Lite community have moved rightward.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Rereading all the comments, I find it very interesting how many different takes there are on the NSFO phenomenon. Some are convinced it used to exist in the fifties, but not today; others are convinced they are everywhere, even today. Some seem to say good riddance; others say ‘alas, we would be better off if they existed.’

Anonymous 3:53 makes an important point when he says ’But he (my father) feels completely alienated by the orthodox world today - he doesn't feel at home in their synagogues, with their looking down on him, etc’’ If someone is made to feel inferior for being who he is, he either shapes up as many parents did when their kids came home from yeshiva armed with new halachot, or they move on to more congenial surroundings. The NJPS data seem to indicate many Orthodox people left for easier surroundings. Even today when everyone is sooo yeshivish I am convinced there is considerable leakage.

The issue is simple...will Orthodox shuls treat NSFO’s with respect, (aliyot, other honors) even if halachically they are doing things that are without question wrong, what anonymous 10:35 called 'makilim beyond the din'? IMHO it is much easier to be mekarev people to a type of Orthodoxy that has lots of leeway, than to a halachically based Orthodoxy. It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but in these areas I believe it's a matter of quantity, not quality.

I am interested in hearing what people have to say.

At 1:02 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

I agree with R Harry Maryles's term MO lite for this sector of MO. However,I think that the notion that anyone can reject Rinim Drabanan because they are "modern" is IMO a singularly poor rationale. IMO, that rationalization simply ignores the well known fact as expressed by Tosfos in the beginning of Sukkah around Daf 3a and many other Rishonim and Acharonim that the power of interpreting and giving protections to Dinei Torah was given to the Chachamim of every generation and those who fail to adhere to their chumros or kulos are simply not adhering to the Torah laws. IMO, it is a joke to say that one observes the halachos of Shabbos or Nidah and ignores the halachos mentioned previously.

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Anonymous 8:33-I think that I live in the neighborhood that you described so well. For many years, the element that you described were the key to the two YIs in the neighborhood. I can't vouch for how many of their Ivy educated sons and daughters remained or could be described as Shomer Torah UmItzvos in any objective manner but many of its sons and daughters also made aliyah or became Talmidie Chachamim or married Kollleleit across the full spectrum of the Torah world.Kiruv was unheard of in these shuls during their heyday. Other shuls, which have former Kolleleit and BTs as prominent members are active in kiruv and its flip side, chizuk and arranging for shiurim on secular holidays and the like.

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

I think that it should be noted that despite MO lite's problematic adherence to halacha , they were the builders of many shuls and day schools. Howeverm,their children either walked away from observance and continued in their ways. The next generation either "flipped out" or dropped out when they saw the gross inconsistency between what they learned in yeshiva and what they saw at home. Some parents were and remain able to deal with this issue by "moving to the right" with their kids and being more learned, aware and observant of halacha than the prior generation or by ensuring that there was no inconsistency between what they practiced and preached, thus enabling them to remain as religious role models for their children.

I think that MO is shaking itself out with the Five Towns and Teaneck/Bergenfield being the domain of what I would call seriously committed MO with shiurim and chesed on a very serious manner and level. These communities will set the tone for the next generation of MO.

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Gil Student said...

To complete the circle, those in the yeshivish and chassidish world who fit the NSFO type are UO-lite. They may not be medakdek be-mitzvos, but they belong to the Ultra-Orthodox community and don't want to leave it for various reasons.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Gil Student said...

Steve, I think you overestimate what is going on in Teaneck and the Five Towns.

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Evanston-I disagree with your POV re kiruv. NCSY, which is judgment free but adherent to basic halachos such as Shabbos, Torah study on a variety of levels via various means, mechitzah for davening and tznius has accomplished much despite the fact that neither NSFO nor the yeshiva world took it very seriously. Adult kiruv means adults reevaluating and changing their entire orientation to life, which IMO, is a far more serious endeavor that requires sophisticated and various methods without compromising halachic fundamentals.

At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Gil-I think that there is a lot of potential upswing in the Five Towns/Teaneck but also problems that are (1) endemic to MO, but (2) which exist in every frum community,

At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Gil-I think that there is a lot of potential upswing in the Five Towns/Teaneck but also problems that are (1) endemic to MO, but (2) which exist in every frum community,

At 8:26 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

There are issues all over the spectrum whether to maintain ideological and halachic standards and settle for those who are willing to be committed or to lower the standards and appeal to a larger public. I don’t feel they are of a piece. Someone could be committed to maintain Orthodox standards in areas of conversion, but willing to be more inclusive on NSFO’s. Unlike intermarried families these NSFO’S are not going away. One can call such people’s Orthodoxy a joke,etc. The effect is either to force them underground or towards the Conservatives.I do not know, but I conjecture on the basis of my readings of Frumster etc. that there is a significant number of MO (25%?)who eat fish everywhere and not bedieved when they have absolute no choice. I have read on the internet, and here I am really out of my element, of MO tefillin dates. There are rabbinical seminaries in and around the Orthodox- Conservative border whose graduates would be more than happy to be their rabbis.

I believe it is worthwhile to bring any Jew closer into the Jewish cultural/religious orbit. Thus I would argue it is an accomplishment to influence a totally assimilated Jew to become an involved Reform Jew. Why should there be a minimal religious requirement such that less than that doesn’t count. We are back to austritt and if not my way then who cares?

At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Ten Jew Very Much said...

Steve Brizel -- I think that the notion that anyone can reject Rinim Drabanan because they are "modern" is IMO a singularly poor rationale. IMO, that rationalization simply ignores the well known fact ... [that] those who fail to adhere to their chumros or kulos are simply not adhering to the Torah laws. IMO, it is a joke to say that one observes the halachos of Shabbos or Nidah and ignores the halachos mentioned previously.

I think that this is a case of "the perfect being the enemy of the good." So maybe call them "90% Orthodox" or whatever percentage you like, but the fact remains that they accept the concept of halacha and want to identify with the OJ community. You would prefer that they be 100% (by your standards, which might still be only 90% by someone else's standards), but they are people, not angels nor automata. What would you consider a "good rationale," as opposed to what you call a "singularly poor rationale?"

The position of "if it's not 100%, it's a joke" is, in my opinion, not a good way of attracting people. The various parts of the OJ world are not only busy criticizing the Conservative movement, but also busy denigrating each other.

At 1:55 AM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Ten Jew-The concept of halacha means not accepting it as a theoretical construct but embracing it on a 24/7 basis in one's life. WADR, you have posited the classical definition of CJ.One cannot talk about the beauty of Shabbos or Taharas Mispacha without knowing and practicing the halachos, not deciding what appeals to your or doesn't to your sensibilities.

I think that a good rationale is that you have a rav or posek that you follow on all issues, whether lkula or lchumra. That may mean that your practices differ from other Torah observant Jews but at the very least keeps you within the ballpark of the halachic world. The two examples that you cited and the other cases that Evanston mentioned cannot be considered as within any standard but rather are "bshris libi elek"-I do what I feel comfortable doing and I could really care less what any halachic standard is, let alone any standard above a bare minimum which might be a required maximum or optimal standard in many areas of halacha.

At 2:05 AM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

OTOH, I think that the notions of eating fish everywhere , tefilin dates and the violations of other halachos related to Tznius cannot and should not be justified. None less than the Rambam viewed these areas of halacha ( Kashrus and Issurei Biah) as comprising Sefer Kedushah in the Yad HaChazakah-one of the main areas of differentiation between a Jew and a Gentile. IMO, the relaxation of these halachsos in certain singles neighborhoods is as problematic in its own right as the psychotic rites associated with shidduch dating-both represent unfortunate extremes that subvert the purpose of finding a lifemate.

At 2:35 AM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Here is another case in point. Many people say that they are MO because they follow RYBS . Anyone with even a passing familiarty with RYBS's teachings-lkula and lchumra and his hanhagos would be hardpressed to say that RYBS was "modern", approved of or justified widespread deviance from normative halachic practice.In fact, it can be argued that RYBS probably had more chumros than kulos in many areas of halachah and minhagim.

Similarly, despite RYBS's identification with many aspects of RZ, RYBS did not say Hallel on Yom HaHaAtzmaut and instructed his talmidim who were rabbanim that tefilos should be said for the US and Israel. Despite the prominence of the Shoah in many aspects of his thought, RYBS viewed Tisha B'Av as the proper day for mourning the Shoah to show its role as part of the persecution of Klal Yisrael after the Churban.

Others claim that their misreading of a well known passage in the Aruch HaShulcan permits their wives and daughters lchatchilah not to cover their hair and/or that being modern means that they see nothing wrong in mixed swimming, going to a beach or movies that have very questionnable content as to either violence, sex or nudity if the same is somehow "integral to the plot." IMO, those who engage in such a rationale are basically trying to compartmentalize their conduct on a de facto basis without investigating the outer limits of halachically acceptable conduct de jure and ab initio.

All of the above are minor gliches besides those who seek to learn Torah by importing foreign means of analysis and thinking as opposed to parking our contemporary sensitivities at the door and seeking to get back as close to Sinai as possible. Rashi in Parshas Bchukosai spells out in exquisite detail what happens when one ignores halachic authority and rabbinic ordinances-it leads to nothing less than the rejection of the entire Torah.

At 3:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in an area with a lot of NSFO. What happened in many cases is that their kids became frummer and friends became frummer. This group was primarily socially conscious and was willing to become a little more frum. The parents usually veered a little right - more to MO lite territory (if we distinguish between NSFO and MOlite) and the kids perhaps a little more. I don't really think this group is mostly composed of people who are too alienated to identify as Orthodox. Do you think more of the kids (the ones who didn't move right) would be orthodox (NSFO) today if it was a larger group of NSFO? I don't think there was any conscious decision to treat this group differently; they just sort of started to disappear.

At 3:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy your sociological analysis though I rarely comment. Keep it up.

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Ten Jew Very Much said...

Steve - The concept of halacha means not accepting it as a theoretical construct but embracing it on a 24/7 basis in one's life. WADR, you have posited the classical definition of CJ.

What I think I described is not a CJ but an imperfect OJ. That is to say, someone who, for a variety of reasons, may be 24/7/90%, which might look like less than 24/7.

In asking for a "good rationale," I didn't mean a good halachic rationale, but a way of understanding where these people are and why--their psychology, if you will. You don't have to do so, of course, but simply dismissing them as a "joke" is not productive. As the saying goes, "a sneer is not an argument."

At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Ten Jew-I think that there is a lot of person who is striving and winds up at a 24/7 90% level than someone essentially does what he or she does convenient ala Mitzvos Anashim Mlumada and then proclaims themselves as MO. I think that in many instances we see that the behavior or religious level creates a post facto philosophical standard that sneers at anyone who seeks a higher standard. Look at it this way-it is quite easy to be either totally meikil or machmir in one's halachic or hashkafic approach. Being precise or mdakdek bmitzvos and hashkafa requires far more work. Here is my analohy-It is just as easy to mindlessly "eat fish out" as it is to buy meat from someone who is ostensibly "heimishe" and a star of one's community when in fact he is peddling all kinds of tarfus. OTOH, checking the ingredients of a product requires precision and an attention to detail.

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Ten Jew Very Much said...

Steve--I agree that people often sneer at those who choose a "higher" standard. It's a form of rationalization, such as "what I do is enough; no need to be crazy frum."

But you can't discount the element of commitment of someone whose standard isn't up to yours. 90% is not the same as 20%. Now, Ploni's 90% might be different than Almoni's 90%, but they're both committed at a high level compared to people who say "halacha is irrelevant."

In my experience, many (probably most) people who are at 90% (or 80% or 70%) aren't trying to convince others that their particular level is the "correct" one; they're just doing what they feel they can, even recognizing that with more effort they could raise the percentage a bit. Think about exercise. Obviously I don't know you, but is your diet and exercise regime 100% of what it should be for a healthy body? I sure know mine isn't. I know I should and could get more exercise, but some days I'd rather sit and read. Or nap on Shabbat instead of taking a walk.

At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Ten Jew Very Much said...

Steve--A follow-up question. Assuming that "NSFOs" are content remaining where they are, are you saying that you'd prefer they not call themselves "Orthodox?" But what do all these labels really add to the quality of modern Jewish life?

At 10:03 PM, Anonymous PINNY said...



At 10:10 PM, Anonymous PINNY said...




At 10:33 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Pinny...I agree. I think the generation who came through the war were much more sophisticated in terms of how to get along socially with Jews of different stripes, and in their attitude to their rabbis. They weren't bnei torah, but they used their distance to their advantage.They were grown ups and took responsibility for their lives. I very much miss that generation. Niskatnu hadoroth.

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Ten-excellent point. Look at it this way-None less than RMF was careful to distinguish between "Bnei Torah" and "Shomrei Torah UMitzvos" in his teshuvios and often suggested that Bnei Torah should follow a more machmir/mdakdek approach in halacha. Many other Poskim, AFAIK,also had and have a similar POV. My point is that one should at least strive upward in one's spiritual growth rather than be satisfied at what is a barely passing grade and be committed to the halacha process.

As far as Holocaust survivors are concerned, some walked away, maintained and regained their observance. No one can judge their reaction to the hell that they went through. OTOH, one can question whether the theology of Yom HaShoah and all the knowledge surrounding the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust is a quasi substitute for observance and destined to create a reaction that Torah observance and identification with all things Jewish relates to and leads to death and suffering is either healthy and a substitute for Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim and placing the Holocaust in its proper context-without blaming anyone and while trying to understand what happended during those years of Hester Panim Muchlat.

At 2:22 AM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

One more comment-RYBS once asked why the ramp up to the Beis HaMikdash was in the form of a ramp. RYBS answered that just as the Kohen Gadol had to keep moving upwards in order to keep from falling down, we too have to have keep moving up in order to keep from falling down or becoming satisifed in our Avodas HaShem.

At 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps all the stringencies we see today versus the fifties are a product of our affluent times. During the fifties, when I was a child, it was a struggle to make ends meet, provide a yeshiva education for the children, and find a job where unemployment was not required on shabbas. In addition, kosher food was not as widely availabe. Now we have the luxury of a year or two of seminary for the girls, supporting men in kollel, all kinds of kosher food, and a generally higher income which allows for the sneering at those really working for a living. All those black hats, suit jackets, and white shirts, deemed necessary today, would have been a luxury in the 50's. Are the "frum" of today better Jews than those NSFO of the past?


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