Friday, July 04, 2008

Religious and Observant - The Unifiers of Committed Judaism.

As a follow up to the previous post, I take exception with the labeling - TuM, TIDE, Chareidi and Modern Orthodox as well as with all the other labels that are used in general. I think that there are only two groups in the Jewish religious and observant community; those that understand that the goal is to find and get close to HKBH by learning His ways and emulating them and those that keep the Mitzvot as part of society and emulate their fellow coreligionists. For convenience, I will refer to the first group as “Religious and Observant - RO” and to the latter group as “Just Observant – JO”.

The O component in both groups, the observance, is pretty much the same. Although there may appear to be an endless amount of different opinions about how exactly to perform a mitzvah, the core of a particular Halacha is universal – the way it is presented in the Gemara and the rules of Psak therein.

There is however a great variation in the composition of the RO. People are different. Some are more intellectual while others are more emotional and there is a need for a variety of approaches to allow these different personalities to reach their goals. Some people are action oriented and their need to worship HKBH, their Avodat Hashem is manifested through keeping HKBH’s Mitzvot to their minute detail. Others accomplish that by focusing on their intellect or their emotions. The different approaches are at the core of the different Chassidic and Misnagdic groups that existed in Europe and that have survived, at least in form if not always in content, in our contemporary society as well as among the Sephardic Jews. However, all have one goal, discovering as much as a human being can, about HKBH by observing the results of His actions and emulate Him by doing their part in achieving God’s goals, as they understand them. This verse in Devarim 11:22 summarizes it very well.

כִּי אִם-שָׁמֹר תִּשְׁמְרוּן

אֶת-כָּל-הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה

אֶתְכֶם—לַעֲשֹׂתָהּ: לְאַהֲבָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, לָלֶכֶת


For if, you shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do it, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave unto Him,

We do the Mitzvot so that we get to love HKBH. They are a tool that HKBH gave us by commanding us to do them. That awareness itself, that they are God’s commands, is a constant reminder that the goal is to use the Mitzvot as a tool to get close to HKBH thinking of Him at all times. That is why we make the Bracha “Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvotav” whenever we do a Mitzvah. As humans, we need physical acts to keep us focused on a goal. We do not do well with intellectual or emotional connections only. We tend to get distracted. That is where Mitzvot come into play, especially the ones that are rituals. Love connotes intimate knowledge of the other person. To love HKBH means getting to know Him. The only knowledge we as humans can achieve is by looking at His creations, the result of His “actions” so to say, His ways. The way we cleave unto Him is by emulating those ways. That is the closest we, as humans, can get to Him. To me that is what I hear every time I read that verse.

That is the goal that RO Jews see and develop methods that fit each person’s character and personality to help them reach that goal. The JO group just emulates these people externally without even wanting to understand the why and how, just do so that they belong. The polarization we see in the community stems from the JO groups which are unfortunately the majority. They include some of the leaders, those regarded as Gedolei Torah and Gedolei Hador. However when one reads the writings of the real ideologues of the different groups of RO, the thinkers of the different sects of Chassidus, TuM, Tide, Ashkenazim, Sephardim etc… it comes through loud and clear that all of them have one goal only – Yediat Hashem, loving and fearing Him. People who have one common goal cannot be polarized!

We see the same thing when we learn the Torah of the Rishonim. Although we find sometimes quite sharp language by one towards the other’s position. That is because they cared and were committed to the truth as they saw it. Ultimately, they all respected each other and saw themselves as partaking in the same endeavor – finding HKBH. One only has to learn Ramban when he argues with Rambam or Ibn Ezra[1], Ibn Ezra against some of his predecessors such as R. Shmuel ben Hofni, Rambam in his undertone of disagreement with Rav Sa’adyah Gaon or R. Hasdai Crescas in his Or Hashem against Rambam to see this phenomenon. We see sharp words but respect and admiration for a fellow traveler.

My point here is that there is no polarization among those that seriously are working towards the common goal. Modern Orthodox, Orthodox, Chareidi etc… are not contradictory and exclusive approaches but personal preferences to arrive at a common goal. In fact I have a hard time with the concept that if one’s parents and family belong to one group, they should remain within it. It is not a matter of heritage but personality – Chanoch Lana’ar Al pi Darko.

Shabbat Shalom.

[1] See Ramban’s introduction to his Pirush al Hatorah

רמב"ן הקדמה לתורה

ועם רבי אברהם בן עזרא. תהיה לנו תוכחת מגולה ואהבה מסותרה.


  1. So on the money, it hurts!! Thanks for writing this.

  2. Can you do a Maimonidean commentary on Parashat Balak? Please!

    The nonsense spread by the misunderstanding of what spiritualism, prophecy, and angels are, is unbelievably out of control. One only needs to look at Artscroll's comments to be disgusted.

  3. I also have another blog post request. Can you do a post on explaining the difference between mysticism and metaphysics?

  4. My next post will touch a little on Bile'am.

    Anon5 - I will post on mysticism and metaphysics. Thank you for bringing it up.

  5. David: We love you!