Sunday, July 8, 2007

The "do the right thing" Klippah

Chabakuk Elisha responding to Circus Tent: Allergic to the voice of contemporary Judaism

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, and 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 Ehrliche Yidden, more connected with G-d, right? Any intelligent Jew would have to say… no, it hasn’t.

The Kotzker 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 “Noisein 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 frummer and frummer, but not in a ruchnius'dike 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...

but not in a ruchnius'dike way, rather in a ritualistic or moral/ethical way.

Yah, and Rav Yisroel Salanter said Ah mentsch ken khoriv makhin der gantza velt, loifindik tsu tuhn ah mitzvah.

As a more ethical moral/lifestyle will increase the peace, and as a society made up of "goodie-goodies" has yet to appear in the real world but would, at least in theory, produce a more peaceful society and as siluk hashekhina is the result of a hateful cantankerous society, I rally can't see how your goals of heightened spirituality and the authors goals for more sensitivity bein odom l'khaveiro are mutually exclusive or even in tension with one another.

Anonymous said...

BTW I have not read the book and am not aiming to either give it a haskama or blast it.

I also know what Rav Laibovitch of Woodridge is talking about when he opines that the CC Heritage Foundation has a Goyishe ta’a’m. Way too Madison Avenue or glitzy for my tastes. OTOH I’m sure that if he shlit”a ever saw me in person or read some of my blog posts he would similarly opines that the Chaim G. has a Goyishe ta’a’m:).

I will agree with one major point you make. The current emphasis on self-improvement rankles. It has way too much narcissism and egocentricity to be authentic. True Yiddishkeit values self-negation or at least self-abnegation (i.e. mesiras nefesh and bitul Hayeshus).

But to be melamed z’khus (especially for English language Judaica) it is probably yet another “white-lie” that we allow ourselves to “hook” potential ba’alei T’shuva.

You’re not going to attract many new recruits with a book/sefer sporting cover picture showing a Jew from central casting immolating himself al-kidddush HaShem during Krias Sh’ma and calling it “The annotated ArtScroll Tzetil Koton” of Rav Elimelekh of Lizhensk.

Anonymous said...

I also want to clarify that I'm not speaking about this specific book. I've never even seen it, other than the description that was on the internet. My point was more to the wording of the description and how it reflects a certain trend that has become pervasive. I don’t think that this is a kiruv technique – I think this is what Yiddishkeit IS to many fine and good Jews. And I also think this is specifically the flavor of Yiddishkeit taught in most Mosdos.

The things that bothered me about the book title & description were:

#1 – IMHO, “Laws” is a bad word. It’s very cold and soulless. Perhaps the word is so often used because most of contemporary Yiddishkeit IS EXACTLY THAT: Souless.

#3 – The description goes overboard in its description, and is also representative of this “soullessness.”

#2 – These countless books that are regularly released that devote themselves to a specific topic reflect a certain problem in attitude and in Jewish life. What has caused this phenomenon (other than inexpensive cost of publishing these days)? I think that its basic economics… these books tell people what they are looking for, i.e. “how o do the right thing.” And while this sounds noble, this came at the expense of more meaningful Yiddishkeit.

I’ll take it another step further: Often, Torah has been regulated to two categories: Limud HaTorah and Halacha – basically, “interesting conversation” and “laws.” They generally don’t get connected and called Yiddishkeit. They aren’t discussed as Godliness. Instead they are additional check-boxes on the resume that we are told to check-off that will define us as good Jews. Limud haTaorah aliba dehilchosa is almost non-existent – I think that this has gone a long way to creating this metzius – and as it is said in the name of the GRIZ or R’ Chaim (Brisk), the separation of limud haTorah and halacha was a technique for dealing with haskola, simply “Eis laasos l'Hashem heifeiru Torasecha.” I think all this separation of Parde”s has created a methods of continuous separations upon separations giving us what we have today, which is the same as taking a human body and using a knife to separate all the parts from each other: while we may get to know each part better, we have killed the body…

Anonymous said...

CE, have you been reading DR Hayim Soloveichik recently? Sounds a lot like:

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the points CE has been trying to make. However, I find using the title of a book he hasn't read or reviewed self-serving. What next, are we to see a Misnagdic attack on a Chassidic book on the basis that the words Halocho and Kiyum Hamitzos aren't mentioned in the title? Will that be followed by an attack on Chassidic antinomianism as reflected by unacceptable halachic behaviour in chassidic circles---yes, it happens. It's about striking a balance. The extremes are a problem if they prevail. Is CE advocating one extreme?

Anonymous said...

I have nothing against the book � really, the book isn't even the point � as I was trying to say, this was a general observation. Basically, the title and description of this book (one of who knows how many like it could have been used instead) was merely the springboard for the idea. It just so happened that this book was the one that caused the post.

Now, this has been frustrating to articulate, but I�m advocating something simple: G-dly motive and intent. There is no stira between Shulchan Aruch and Ratzon Haboreh � yet, the emphasis becomes almost, �shlachan aruch for shulchan aruch sake;� the focus becomes the myriads of details, and the result is to stress additional stringencies for stringency�s sake � and as such, there�s nothing religious about it.

However, if we promote focusing on G-d, there is no loss � shulchan aruch shouldn�t be neglected at all! � rather, it�s the cause that we emphasize. It�s a refocusing on the point of it all; we are stressing the reason for the act instead of the act itself.

So, when someone is busy with Shmiras HaLoshon, it�s not to be a good person. It�s not to be frum. It�s not to be refined. It�s not to be a machmir. Actually, it�s not for any of those things (although all those things may be done in the process), rather, it�s because we are worried about our relationship with G-d.

They aren�t Laws and they aren�t Ethics. They aren�t customs or chumros. They aren�t sugyos or pilpulim. They are all because were trying to work on our relationship with G-d. But, that only happens if a relationship of G-d gets stressed early and stressed often.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a story:

In America in the 30's or 40's, there was a nice simple Jew that davened in the same shul as R' Yisroel Jacobson. This Jew liked to daven loud, but clearly had no idea what the words meant, so R' Yisroel approached him and offered to make a seder with the fellow to study peirush hamilos.

But this Jew declined, saying, “farvos darf ich lernen peirush hamilos ven di verter alien zenen geshmak (why do I need to understand what they mean, when the words themselves are so enjoyable).”

Al derech zeh: “Why do I need a relationship with Hashem, when the laws themselves make me feel special?”


Anonymous said...

So, Chabakuk Elisha has joined the ranks of the pompous pontificators...
Turns out:He had this 'drosho' prepared, nothing to do with the weekly parsha (or in this case-the said book)
Lay off the pontification and religous indignation,I for one never take somebody who has a 'boich veytog' seriously.

Anonymous said...

"The Kotzker 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."

Wow, another expression of ahavas Yisroel from the movement that claims to be full of love. And just in time for the three weeks as we approach chodesh Av.

Wow, how beautiful ! Chassidus and Chassidim are so full of love for all Yidden....yeah.....

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...


why is a question of love and hate? He made a statement about different approaches two groups of people take, that's all.

Anonymous said...

C'mon Hirshel.

Have you forgotten that Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim, the first halocho in the Ramo, has an arichus on the inyan of Shivisi Hashem linegdi somid...and a misnaged learning shulchan oruch learns that. But you still say that he is not concerned with Hashem ???

Such negative stereotyping of snags is offensive and repulsive and should be retired.

Anonymous said...

Its interesting how this quote is pretty much the same charge the protestants made against the jews.

Anonymous said...

It's always amazing to me to see how many people who read this blog have no interest in intelligent conversation.

Shmuel, thanks for the warm words. I don’t understand your problem, but I wish you the best. “Prepared drosho” – huh? Did you read the original post? I though I made myself pretty clear there… Do you see the difference in the title and description they wrote and my proposed slight modification? Whatever.

Snag, you’re usually entertaining, but seriously speaking, you’re getting boring. Anyway, where was the sinas chinam? Pointing out a difference in emphasis is now called sinas chinam? And I already said that we aren’t talking about political definitions… Whatever.

Special thanks to Chaim G. and Isaac Balbin for saying something intelligent and substantive. And seriously Hirshel, if you want the blog to have dialogue with toichen you should delete pointless comments, not because of sinas chinam of course, but because they add nothing to the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Don't get excited, as Albert Eisntein said:
"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
(Then again, so have mediocre minds probably encountered violent opposition from great spirits" ;-)

Anonymous said...


You're welcome.

BTW Snag the Kotzker was a Chasidic counter-revolutionary. He was hardly a "warm-fuzzy" Rebbe in the mold of, say, the Berditchiver.

If legends are to be beleived his Chasidim would jump through doors and windows from sheer awe and terror when he zy"a would march through his Beis Midrash.

Actually he, zy"a, is a Rebbe that's easy for misnagdim to love and embrace as he reemphasized limud gefes, de-emphasized mofsim and his "take-no-prisoners" uncompromising striving for inconvenient even painful truth is something any ben-Torah who ever shvitzed throug a sugya in search of clarity should appreciate.

Anonymous said...

So let me see if I got this straight:

By writing books to tell people how were supposed to act al pi Torah, we are somehow taking people away from serving Hashem?

Gee that logic is stunning.

Anonymous said...

while on the subject, how do you understand the acceptance of many minhagim based on the zohar and kabbalah and the arizal? while earlier generations may have come closer to hashem thru these, we don't. (to paraphrase the Alter Rebbes letter to the russians, we only take from kaballah what brings us to yiras shomayim). these minahgim are not practiced with yiras/ahavas shomayim or even ahavas yisroel. being "moreh dinnim" by doing this and not doing that is just a scare tactic for a generation that has very little confidence in it's own Judaism.

sourpickle said...

Osmosis Judaism
"The movement of a substance dissolved in a solution with a lower concentration through a membrane to a solution with a higher concentration."
While i agree with much here, the alternative, Judaism by Osmosis is not
well understood and not fairing very well either. Much of our (eastern european judaism, i.e. chabad, polisher chasidim and yes
misnagdim) "quality of life" religously, was based on many rules that were unwritten, not questioned and simply
felt in the air. As this concentration became lower this strength started and continues to waiver.
Sometimes the rule based judaism was added to increase the concentration to allow the osmosis to regain it's strength.
(this would be a simple understanding of the Imrei Emes's inclusion of Chofetz Chaim and Mishna Brura to the gerrer shtiblach of poland
, a pre-war shtibel was about as osmosis based as you can get. while some disagreed, chabad for instance, this is really a case of measuring
the osmosis concentrations in there respective areas). It may stun us to that this type of middos and hanhogos are not happening
by osmosis, but that unfortunalty it is our own fault.

Anonymous said...

I think the idea that H.T. is trying to convey, is that if one does something only b/c someone else tells him to do it - it loses the point, the essence within it. For instance, if I tell my wife, honey, my rabbi says I need to tell you I love you, so I love you, she'll get very insulted, at least. However, since I do love her, the best way to convey it is through telling her I love her, doing the chores/errands etc., and helping around the house.
I also heard the same type of idea from R' Moshe Weinberger, of Aish Kodesh

Anonymous said...

Well said Yaakov

Anonymous said...

CE said:

"and as it is said in the name of the GRIZ or R’ Chaim (Brisk), the separation of limud haTorah and halacha was a technique for dealing with haskola, simply “Eis laasos l'Hashem heifeiru Torasecha.”

Get it right brother, that's der Shoi'el U'Meishiv. I don't think they would incriminate themselves, would they?

About all this rule following, IMHO, I think in earlier generations Jews earnestly wanted to do the right thing and they went about it simply and humbly.

Today, I think we're more concerned with punching our ticket to paradidse. "Just give me the rulebook to assure me a ride on the Gan Eden Express".

Personally, that's why I march with the Rebbe. Drink the Cool-Aid and discover that the REAL DEAL is here and now. If you want Atzmus, this is the place to meet it head on.

Mashiach Vet Kumen, Un Mir Vet Beink'in Nuch Der Golus Teig.

Anonymous said...

From your many nasty posts, going back, I think there well be a very 'warm' or maybe scalding welcoming commitee for you.

Anonymous said...

BP - Thanks for the correction amigo.

But I dunno if there was ever this pervasive "I just wanna do the right thing" attitude, I suspect not. I think this is a relatively new way of thinking.

Anonymous said...


Thank you (I think?). But don't jump the gun, just back for a visit (so far).


I wasn't clear. Maybe my point was that we used to be "The people of the book", now a good portion of us have become "The people of the rulebook". I thinks anons link to Soloveichik is cogent (I skimmed it). I think C.I. did indeed start a revolution, but I for one don't think we have gained from it.

Anonymous said...

The issue here is that you cannot legislate mentchlichkeit, and that is what such books try to do. Mussar tries to do the same. There is a basic failure to all such systems - you cannot legislate every scenario. If you are going to provide an authoritative voice for mentchlichkeit, you need to provide for every possible situation. (If you are in an airport running to the bathroom 5 minuted before your flight, you need to XYZ as you bump into people/run over people/ - if you are traveling with 9 kids, 10 sheitel and shtreimel boxes and enough nosh to feed Ethiopia, the fellow passengers need to be treated as: overlords, goyim, nuisances, animals or all of the above?)

It is impossible to do. The only way to instill Middos and Mentchlichkeit is by being a mentch, by personal example to your followers. In Lubavitch, if you don't have a Mashpia who is a mentch, I don't care how many books you've learned or read, it won't help.

Agav, mentchlichkeit is never clear cut anyway - you can be a very crude person and a great mentch.