Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Observant but not religious - unfortunately too common in our society.

I read an interesting article by Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau in Prof. Blidstein’s “Sabbath – Idea, History and Reality – that discusses Rabbi Ovadyah Yossef’s attitude to Chilonim – secular Jews. The focus of the discussion is the Halacha that someone who is a “Mumar” who touches wine makes it into Stam Yeinam and therefore not drinkable. I will not go into the intricacies of the Halacha itself and whether it is just a Chumra or me’ikar hadin. ROY in his responsa deals with that at length. I am interested in his view of secular Jews. First there is a clear distinction between the outlook of Sephardic and Ashkenazi society. The former see non-observant Jews as not following Halacha for economic or other personal convenience reasons rather than because they do not believe in the Halacha per se. It is common for people to go to shul Shabbat, make Kiddush and even refrain from certain Melachot while still going to work. They do the Zachor without doing the Shamor.
ROY was Rav in Cairo in 1948-1950 and writes about his experience in that community where many of the wealthier Jews kept their businesses open on Shabbat and would go there from shul directly. They would however refrain from smoking or do unnecessary Melachot. Ashkenazi society on the other hand is much more antagonistic to Halacha especially in Eretz Yisrael.

What I find interesting is that ROY differentiates between religiosity and observance. We have a tendency to classify automatically Frum or Orthodox Jews versus Secular and non-orthodox. ROY is much more subtle and really sees Jews as religious whether observant or not.

In this spirit I would venture to add one more classification: Observant but not religious. I am not talking about those who question, referred to as Orthopraxy in the blogosphere. A Jew that questions to me is a religious person. Struggling with one’s beliefs is the ultimate act of religiosity. It is the observant Jew who is machmir on every little detail in Halacha without thinking at all about why he practices, who cannot contain himself when another Jew observes less than his idea of observance is and insults him, excommunicates him and generally ostracizes him, who is non-religious. I wonder if one may drink from his wine.


  1. I love the last paragraph.

  2. dg,

    first you, now rabbi maroof.
    are we seeing a trend towards recognizing the struggle with faith as legitamate?

    ive mentioned this before, most yeshivish/charedi rabbis turned the litmus test for belief of judiasm to the golem of prague. they moved the bar so high thinking that if you spend your time struggling over that foolishness you wont even realize how fragile support for our faith is.

    im not saying the above was a conspiracy, but i have noticed the bar for belief in foolishness seemed to be raised much higher since the advent of chassidim, whose fantasies got absorbed by mainstream judiasm in a game of one upmanship. (of course visits by malachim seemed to be rampant in 15 to 17t century as well)

    unlike rabbi maroof who see supernatural events as one time singular events, like the big bang, these corrupters of judiasm made it an everyday occurance.

    for example, my son goes to MO yeshiva. his rebbi says would we marvel if dumbo was real. why should we? what difference is there between dumbo and a flower growing.

    that sort of logic now makes the supernatural, natural. if you make kids believe its everywhere, then they wont question fanciful claims.

    what to do?

  3. Happy, I feel for you. Your analysis is correct and it is the unbelievable peer pressure exerted by stupid leaders that is preventing growth of our community. However there is hope that slowly this nonsense is being lifted. My experience with children is that the home must offset the stupidities they are taught. It has to be done very carefully so as to not erode the rebbi's authority. I worked on this with my kids though not enough and my own personal issues interferred too. But that is life.

  4. i agree,
    the double edged sword is you make the supernatural everywhere, and its all equally valid, then once one doubts one, the rest fall by the wayside.

    i keep telling my kids, the yeshiva couldnt possibly teach you everything, so they focus on one approach.
    as you get older youll see judiasm is more nuanced.

  5. Nice post! (possibly I'm biased).

    So you'll drink the wine when you come for shabbos ?! (the invitation is still open)

  6. dg
    i was wondering. why is it (or do we) we assume all thought, once put on paper, is frozen in time.

    for example, the rambam.
    he wrote a sefer 800 years ago.
    if he was alive today, after reading the available evidence, and works of thought both secular and religios, would the rambam say the same thing as he did 800 years ago?

    i think clearly not.
    the same goes for rashi. after he read all the kashyas on him, would he say, sorry, i made a mistake, thanks for finding the typo, there is no machlokes between me and tosfos etc.

    or would he really say, everything i wrote is perfect, and the layers upon layers of effort to reconcile my pshat was correct.

    I know many cases rashi indeed held differently, but is it possible some cases where simple scribal errors or mistakes rashi himself introduced?

    i remember my 5th grade rebbi telling us about the rashi on parsha va'era on the dibbur hamaskil va'era. rashi says "el havos". what is rashi adding?
    there are countless pshatim on this. my rebbi said its a scribal error. either rashi or the scribe copied the next set of words of the pasuk (to abraham, isaac and jacob) in short hand (el havos).
    no deep pshat, simply convience that got turned into a rashi.

  7. >So you'll drink the wine when you come for shabbos ?! (the invitation is still open)

    Only if you don't have a filter!

  8. Happy, you are making a point that needs to be written about. Rashi, Rambam and all the Rishonim and the great acharonim were interested in truth and would back away from anything that would be shown wrong. I had a psot in mind showing their opinion on this in their own words. will rush it up now that you brought this up.

    We live in a sad period for jewish thought led by incompetent leaders.

  9. dg
    since youre not anonymous, do you get flak where you live for your views?
    have you ever spoken publicly in a forum?

  10. I have been vocal since i can remember and they count me for minyan. We have a chabura every shabbos in shul where different members present usually for extended periods on subjects. The articles we write in hakirah are usually thrashed out there. Believe me we don't whisper and nobody has yet said a word. I found that if you base your opinions on texts of Rishonim never mind if it is a different reading, no one has the ability to trash you. It is when we talk without basis that people go after you. Of course there are exceptions but who cares about shotim.

    I am sure there will be a few who will not drink my wine - nor will I theirs - LOL.

  11. David,

    First of all, the observation of ROY is so true. As the Rabbi of an "out-of-town" Sephardic community, I see this as almost the rule rather than the exception.

    We should not be disheartened by the foolishness of today's leaders. We are in a situation no different from our predecessors, whether the Rambam or Yirmiyahu Hanavi, all of whom had to struggle to offset the influence of the Neviei Hasheqer of their generations.

    In terms of errors in Rishonim - I second your point on that. There is a wonderful Rashi on Hullin to that effect, where he explains that he erred regarding milk found in the kevah, and retracted his view. I'm sure you know this already, so I won't belabor it.

    However, it is still worthwhile to analyze both sides of an issue. As Ramban mentions in his introduction to Milhamot Hashem on the Rif, arguments among Talmudists rarely involve decisive refutations. The Brisker/Conceptual approach of seeking to grasp the theoretical views of each Rishon bears this out quite well, I think.

    All in all, an outstanding post. Ken Yirbu.

  12. R. Maroof, thanks.

    I was thinking of rambam's letter where he says that he would listen to a child who showed that he erred, Ramban on Be'od kivrat derevh and other such cases. I am planning a collection of these little vignettes.

  13. Excellent post! Objective knowledge is something that Rambam was much more comfortable with than many of our current leaders (which is why they dont lead the majority of Jewish people in the world today).

    I am particularly interested in the idea of a meta halachic method precisely because a method of looking at halacha that is not based solely upon the daas torah of uninspired leadership seems like a requirement for Judaism to expand its ranks by attracting conservative and even reform Jews.

    Have you read Rabbi Yuter's personal Hashkafa series (link below). I found it to be an interesting approach to this whole problem.


  14. David s. thanks for the reference. i do read his posts occasionally. there is so much though!

    There is a very interesting Meshech Chochma on Ve'af gam zot in Bechukotai where he blames the stultification of halacha in galut without sanhedrin as the source of many of our ills. Sanhedrin had the ability to rule meta halachik rulimgs.

  15. True, there is a theoretical Sanhedrin, which seems in principle capable of making "constitutional" amendments. The problem still exists of underlying principles. If the Sanhedrin members do not have a method for adjudicating disputes then it comes down to the personal choices of the judges.

    I'm sure you are aware of the newly constituted Sanhedrin. What do you think of it?

  16. I don't believe we arte reday yet for a sanhedrin that can be imposed on klal Yisrael which is the first requirement. It will have the same result as the one in the 1600's with the Beit yossef.

  17. I had posted on this topic from the perspective of inborn spirituality that some people possess and others do not, and how religion differs from spirituality and vice versa,


  18. In the Libyan shul in Rome they make hakofos twice, once after maariv, and then again for shopkeepers who must keep their stores open late. Everyone stays for both hakofos.