Monday, December 31, 2007

The Making of a Shell

As I write, I know that I am mostly brainstorming and getting ideas out. This may or may not be coherent but I feel this is too important for me to let it be dormant -as it tends to be.

I was telling a friend of mine about the blog about the Hassid and the Heretic. Its about a guy (?) who for whatever reason just stopped believing. Nevertheless, he still dons all the right clothing, wears the right hat, says the right things, etc. Basically, he is like a shell. All the exteriors were "right" but the interior was missing.

At first I wanted to giggle a bit about it, but as I spoke and thought and thought and spoke I began to realize that many people -including myself- are prone to this shell-like behavior.

When I first became religious, I was so full with idealism, zeal, joy, will, etc. Everything was done with kavana (devotion). Each mitzvah was a big deal. Bentching (grace after meal) was inspiring! (can you believe that!) Any man with the title rabbi was revered. However, slowly slowly, as I assimilated into the culture, I realized my rose tinted glasses was getting me into trouble. I had to take them off and confront many things.

All around me there was great emphasis on taking on chumras (stringencies) it felt a bit like peer pressure. Those who were lenient on things were looked down upon. Everything was dependent upon how chumra-dik you were. People may not eat at someone's house because of the length of that person's skirt! Some will say, "can you prove this?" I can't prove it, but I know that I felt it. I know that I saw it happening. I know that others felt it because we've talked about it, people joke about it. Its like its in the air but nobody wants to confront it head on.

Certain things I could never get an answer on. Questions such as why is mehadrin hechsher A better than mehadrin hechsher B? Though I didn't know the answer, there were some hechshers I knew I mustn't be caught eating. Even though I personally felt absolutely nothing wrong with them. In addition, rather than finding the usefulness or good in something, it seems that folks have so little confidence in themselves that they rather assur (forbid) things. Now, having a computer in the house is questionable, using cell phones that aren't MIR phones is questioned, not to mention the countless bans in many sects.

There is one scene from the Body Snatcher (?) Movie that seem to pop up into my head a lot these days. The scene where most of humanity have been 'body snatched' and droids (looking like the very same people they body snatched) are walking around. This guy and girl who think they are the only real ones left take on a droid behavior so as to not get caught -and snatched. On their way up some stairs, in their droid-like fashion they get confronted by another droid. They try not to show any emotions but one of them slips! They both falter wondering what to do since surely they are caught..but the third droid slumps his shoulder and says, "Thank goodness, I'm not alone!" He was also a real human!

Sometimes, that is how I feel. I walk in very tzneut (modest) clothing. If someone asks me how am I, I respond robotically, "baruch Hashem" (Thank God) --even though that answer bothers me because it doesn't say how I am really, but I guess nobody cares really. My children are almost turning of age to be in school. Many chareidim ask me constantly, "so where are you sending your kids?" Eventually I have to choose between the Beit Yaakov (which means I'm "in") or anything else (which means I'm out of the circle). I try to think of the proper school, but I admit I do feel the peer pressure coming on. B'ezrat Hashem I will do the right thing.

But I go on, in my droid-like fashion all the while looking for hints of 'normalcy' in people around me. Waiting to put my guard down and relax. I don't want to conform out of peer pressure! I don't want to become a droid! I don't want to be just a shell....

to be continued...


-suitepotato- said...

I submit that if there was such a thing as truth detector and it were hooked up to give an electric shock, NO SANE JEW could swear individually before G-d to accept each and every one of the 613 mitzvot and not end up medium-rare. So we have commentaries and rabbinical explanations and lay theorizing, and so on, to explain away the discomforting parts. In the meantime, we do the shell thing and say, "sure, I accept them as binding. See my tzitzit reminding me?"

Who's up for burning down Hindu cities for idolatry? Anyone? Anyone at all? This is where someone posits that it was only meant for cities under the tribes of Israel and not the various goyim. Well, the Torah doesn't grant exceptions or even mention them. We have to pray (hope) that the oral law is good and saves us from this disturbing thing.

See what I mean? We actually try very hard to ignore these discomforting things. Douglas Adams called them SEPs. Someone Else's Problems. People block them out and they are effectively invisible psychologically.

Like the parallel you drew between the American African-American community and the charedi world. We know it's there, we just don't want to deal with it so we step around it.

So, we know we are all lying in essence to some degree, we just mutually silently agree to the shared lie. Because we feel deep down there's something to it that we can maybe somehow turn around to a deep truth and make everything better.

Hang in there, the little shared lies draw our shells together where underneath we can be like that movie and go, "thank G-d, I'm not crazy or alone."

Miriam said...

Hi Suitepotato,

Interestingly, its not the uncomfortable halachic points that bother me. Its more the social ones.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...


Fun blog, and interesting position you're in. Now, what I'm writing is coming from someone who has spent four years after high school in 'hareidi' Israel, and let me tell you; I still have a hard time understanding why anyone in their right mind would hang out with those people. Now, again, I grew up 'hareidi', and I admit, the options of other groups in Israel might turn someone -who's used to having their only exposure to religious Jews be hereidim- off. I also admit that thee are bad things that go on even in the religious zinist communities (for example). But, coming from a totally religious perspective, after being with them (including many of the Americans who try to be like them) that one would be much better off just staying away from them. (And by the way, I'm sure race will be an issue too, being that hasiddim discriminate against 'litvish, visa-versa, they're both very discriminatory towards sefaradim, and many sefaradim are discriminatory towards many of the newcomers (like those from Etheopia).

As regards to mr. Sweetpotato's comment over there, I would be bold enough to say that he might be coming from a slightly different perspctive in the orthodox Jewish world..

In regards to doing things by rote after a while; all the Rabbis say; that's obviously natuaral; the real challange is not starting out doing them with inspiration and meaning, but keeping that inspiration going till an 'unnatural' point.

Now, again, I don't have the time here to point out what about hareidi Jewry is objectivally un-Torah like, un-Talmudic, and un-ethical, but maybe if I have time I'll post about it sometime...


Lady-Light said...

This is the way it is: the way we are mikurav, is the way we 'do' Judaism; people who come from outside of observant Yahadut, who are either gerim or ba'alei teshuvah, generally (there are exceptions) only know what they are taught to follow socially by the Rav in the kehilah who 'mekareved' them (pardon my Hebrish). They haven't learned the vast body of halacha and most importantly, the history of the different Jewish denominations who followed it in different ways; they haven't learned the written and oral law, including the Mishnah and Shulchan Aruch; and they have not seen and don't know that there are many Jewish paths to Hashem, e.g., Lubavitch (or Satmar, or Litvishe,etc.) is not the only way to go. I have a friend who is a Ger. He was 'mekurav' by the Breslovers, and up to now, he followed the ways of the Breslovers; but he is an intelligent man. He decided, after being in several Chassidic communities, that the Hareidi life is not how he wants to live. He is leaning towards the more 'kippah seruga' type of observance. Fine, if that speaks to your soul. It doesn't make you a lesser Jew for it. Somehow, in all this ritual rah-rah, someone forgot 'mitzvot ben adam le-havero.' Remember those?
Are the Hareidim who abuse women on Egged buses (which are not marked as separate or Hareidi or 'mehadrin' buses)good Jews? Are they closer to G-d? I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and say NO. They are just abusive men masquerading as religious men.
(In my 'old age,' I am even less politically correct than before. Sue me.)