Thursday, July 5, 2007

Allergic to the voice of contemporary Judaism

Commenter and blogger extraordinaire Chabakuk Elisha writes:

A Simple Jew sent me a link today, asking if I had seen This set of books Well, I haven't seen it, and I imagine there are many good things in there, but I was immediately turned off.

First of all, the byline: "Laws and Ethics of Everyday Interactions"

I don't like the word "laws" nor do I like the word "ethics" here. I think it should say something like "Being Jewish in your everyday actions," or something like that. Titles and descriptions like these sound so condescending and pretentious to me. Maybe it's me, but I find this kind of Yiddishkeit to be a big turn off.

Then I looked at the description:

In this groundbreaking, invaluable guide, Rabbi Dovid Castle, noted Torah scholar and educator, details the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and their Halachic ramifications. Based on the teachings of Chazal and replete with Torah sources, the author provides clear guidelines on how to interact with one's fellow man. His effective examples are culled from common dilemnas and daily life. Find out what you should - or shouldn't - do when:

Selling your home
Advertising your product
Hosting guests
Helping your child with friendships
Someone asks you for a favor
Your mutual friends have a dispute
Noisy neighbors disturb your sleep

Nothing wrong here, right? All a very laudable cause, designed to help people "do the right thing." But I found their description somewhat offensive and even dishonest; I think it's overly simplistic and insulting (yes, I know – this may just be my own sensitivities). I would have edited it a bit; this would have been a more appealing version to me:

In this useful and comprehensive guide, noted Torah scholar and educator, Rabbi Dovid Castle, details the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and their Halachic ramifications. Based on the teachings of Chazal and replete with Torah sources, the author provides clear and simplified guidelines for grappling with questions that arise when interacting with one's fellow man. He cites effective examples and common dilemnas that arise in daily life. Find out how Torah leaders have taught us to handle…

Notice the difference? A little less pretentious? A little less offensive?

First of all, the assumption that I need this book for baseline behavior – and that this book is the word of G-d telling me how to become a mentsch – is a bit insulting; but more than that, I'm a bit sick of everyone printing up these books of rules. Somehow, Yiddishkeit has been stripped down to "one-man's-determination-of-how-to-live-your-life-and-do-the-right-thing." How empty.

It also touches on another thing that especially annoys me: the attitude that "this one true set of behavior and minhagim is what Yiddishkeit is about." There is no soul to this commonly held attitude of Judaism. It's just lists and lists of rules - and although these books are useful and even somewhat valuable, they have gone quite far in killing the religion. Or maybe I'm just allergic to people telling me what to do?


Anonymous said...

"blogger extraordinaire"?


Anonymous said...

modest too!

Anonymous said...

whazzehmatter chabakuk, it's hurting your ego? ;)

Anonymous said...

Rav Lebowitz from Woodridge claims that the anti loshon hora campaign has a goish taste to it,He claims that the Finkel story would never happened if the Rov would listen to Loshon Hora.

Chassidus not only Chabad,also others like the Bnie Yissoscher puts a strong emphasis that even Mitzvos that are logical for building a normal society should be done exclusively because its dvar hashem only, these kind of books and also the Fancy Aguda convention are promoting the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Spoken like a typical am-haaretz, and by that I mean the type of Jew that Chazal wouldnt trust as having been nizhar in trumos, maasros or tumah vitahra inyanim.

(By the way, the "A Simple Jew" link dosen't work)

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...


Lebovitch is the Am HoOretz?

Anonymous said...

In the world of Brisk there is a story that Reb Chaim said once on the Chofetz Chaim after he honored some Zionist Rov that it's a symptom of his Loshon Hora campaign, he should have known better that persons background before he met, and Lebowitz aint a Am Horetz, there are not to many guys like him walking the streets of the Mokem Torah Lakewood

Anonymous said...

Chabakuk Elisha must've have had a slow 'chsides' day, if he has the time to dissect the title of a book.
Sorry, I don't see anything wrong with the title, but than again, I don't learn 'chsides' of the Nosi Hadeir, so what do I know?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: if the Zionist Rov was Rav Kook and the tale was true, then the Chafetz Chaim was right. When the Chafetz Chayim heard the misplaced hate espoused at the Aguda conference against that Tzadik (yes he heard it) he refused to continue to attend. This was the Chafetz Chaim's Kano-us against a Chillul Hashem Befarhesyo. Since this legend leads one to the conclusion that Reb Chaim was "wrong", your story from the 'world of brisk' must be untrue. Reb Chaim was an Ish Hahalocho no less than the Chafetz Chayim. Read what the Gerrer Rebbe wrote about Rav Kook and to those who weren't respectful to Rav Kook despite the fact that the Rebbe didn't agree with elements of his hashkofo. He also heard the Loshon Horo.

In respect of C. Elisha's article. I am afraid I don't understand what is bothering him.

Anonymous said...

A nice article (but somewhat sharf) about the difference between "ish Halocho" and a chosid

Anonymous said...

"another thing that especially annoys me: the attitude that "this one true set of behavior and minhagim is what Yiddishkeit is about."

Being that you are Chabad, this comment just set a new record for irony and cluelessness.

Anonymous said...

I truly do not understand the various anonymie that come here to post: You don't provide any facts to back up your claims, you make your claims with such malicious language that all you do is make your case worse. I haven't even felt like I needed to post a response in ages.

Anonymous said...


I must disagree with you on this one. Sadly, my life experience has taught me that s'forim (in ALL languages) on basic menthlichkeit are sorely needed.

As a matter of fact, and at the risk of sounding like an anti-semite, there seems to be a reverse relationship between one's frumkeit level and one's nice-guy, stand-up guy, just-being-a-mentsh level.

My Mashgiakh used to quip "here in Yeshiva we don't have a Mussar Seder, we have a daily 15 minutes of silence in memory of Rav Yisrael Salalnter"

Wouldn't you agree that in the post-war era whatever akhshir dora that has occured (itself a very debateable point) has been much more n bein odom l'mokom than in bein odom l'khaveiro?

Anonymous said...

I’ll elaborate, since this post wasn’t really complete. First of all, for all the simple minded folks who live their lives without thinking about what they’re reading, let me state clearly: Nowhere did I exempt Lubavitch from anything I wrote. Actually I don’t think I mentioned Chabad here at all. I realize that most of the readers here are so full of hate that they understand everything in those terms, but I am clearly including Lubavitch in this criticism.

The problem, in my opinion, is this klippa called “I want to do the right thing.” This is the root of all that is wrong in Yiddishkeit today. I realize that most people don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, and that’s a shame, but this attitude is pathetically sad. We have books and books of LAWS, of CUSTOMS, of RULES, of INSTRUCTIONS – all catering to those who “want to do the right thing.” Contemporary Yiddishkeit has checklist upon checklist for “how to do it right.” Sadly, this is the most superficial and decidedly unreligious attitude, and unfortunately, this is also the main emphasis of our educational systems. It has brought us countless chumros – theoretically good, right? – and has made us all more ehriche Yidden, more connected with G-d, right? Any intelligent Jew would have to say… no, it hasn’t.

The Kotzer said that the difference between a chossid and a misnaged is that a misnaged is concerned with Shulchan Aruch while a chossid is concerned with G-d. Now, I know that all you guys get excited when a vort like that gets quoted, so I’ll clarify:

We aren’t talking about political definitions of chassidim and misnagdim. We’re talking about attitudes of spiritual people vs. ritual people. Furthermore, since some folks might not understand the vort anyway, I’ll explain:

What, for example, is Shulchan Aruch? Is it lists of instructions to be a refined fellow? Is it rules to make you G-dly? Sure, it might help us get to those goals. But if all we need is codes for behavior, we don’t need religion – there’s nothing religious about codes for behavior. Farkert, often the fixation on the rules takes us away from what matters. A spiritual person cares about HKB”H; he keeps Shulchan Aruch not because of the rules in and of themselves, but because it helps him get closer to G-d. It’s not the “Torah,” it’s the “Nosein HaTorah.”

Somehow, we don’t promote relationship with G-d, so instead rules & rituals are substituted in G-ds place, and this is sold as “Yiddishkeit.” Judasim becomes a bunch of goodie-goodies seeking to become fummer and frummer, but not in a ruchniusdike way, rather in a ritualistic or moral/ethical way.

Which is why the book title bothered me; Yiddishkeit isn’t about self-improvement or not violating laws. But these books subtly reflect an attitude that is decidedly about those things. And if you still don’t understand what I’m talking about, I’m sorry but I seem to be having trouble communicating the idea here…

Anonymous said...

Interesting & thought provoking post. You might like this essay that I recently saw: