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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Quest for Normal

Daled Amos clued me into to an interesting downloadable shiur from YU regarding the restrictions of the Nine Days. This tied into my ongoing search for information regarding the source of the restrictions, and in particular, what exactly you can and cannot do during this time. It also touches upon an issue that I’ve addressed in the past here on this blog, namely the importance of matching the question with the authority.

For example, there’s no point in asking whether it’s OK to see a movie during the three weeks when the person you’re asking believes that it’s never OK to see a movie. The question itself loses all relevance, and equally so, the answer.

Too, MOChassid has a pair of posts about normality, or the definition thereof, that connect to this. In truth, I don’t know what normal is anymore. I used to think that I was normal, but after reading my blog I’m sure none of you will concur. But as with many things, I think context is of prime importance in the definition of normalcy. If many of the things that you consider to be normal behavior, e.g. watching movies, reading secular books, listening to rock music, are now considered by the community around you to be “assur”, are you normal? Or are you deviant?

And if you keep getting pounded over the head with messages that what you do is wrong, wrong, WRONG, how does that make you view yourself? And how will you feel about the community around you? And if this is primary exposure to Orthodox Judaism, how will you feel about Orthodoxy?

MO thinks both sides, the Chareidim (chumra of the week) and the Modern Orthodox (anything goes), are too far from the mean to be normal anymore. Is it possible, or even desirable to walk that middle line? Can the center hold? And wasn’t that what Modern Orthodoxy was supposed to be about?

By the way, the shiur was very interesting, but I still have no idea if it’s OK to go to a movie, or watch a DVD, or listen to a secular CD during the three weeks. Could it be that even YU is becoming too Charedi for me?

26 comments:

DAG said...

The Center must hold. The strength and appeal of the dark side are strong, but avoidable

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

some people do think that YU is becoming too chareidi.

like you said in the beginning of the post, it's not what you do during the 3 weeks necessarily that makes you modern or hhareidi; it's what you do the rest of the year.

tnspr569 said...

Erm, Modern Orthodoxy isn't just anything goes, despite what some people may think.

I know plenty of people who consider themselves Modern Orthodox who certainly aren't in the "anything goes" camp.

As for the rest of the post, I totally agree with you.

I do find it kind of ironic that many kids who attend all different kinds of Orthodox Jewish day schools,from families spanning the spectrum of Orthodoxy, all end up acting the same outside of school. Who cares about daavening or minyan? They'll do what we want with members of the opposite sex. Forget about authority. Perhaps the most ironic aspect of this situation is the fact that some of the parents who send their kids to schools that lean farther to the right because "they'll get a better Jewish education" or "they're better Jews there", when in fact, the kids from the farther right leaning schools often end up with the worst educations (Judaic and secular) out of the entire group of kids.

But I digress. Bottom line: it's a big mess.

Ezzie said...

I've been noting over the last few years that there's been quite a backlash from people of my generation in particular - they're rejecting those extremes and coming toward that middle. It's certainly not everyone, and I'm not even sure it's most, but it's a lot.

One of the arguments against the middle was that each side used to point and say "that won't hold, they'll end up going that way". In fact, a Rebbe I highly respect said "Modern Orthodoxy failed" - it wanted to be that middle, but the people almost all went to the left. Better to be slightly to the right.

A few years later, I decided he was wrong. Yes, a lot did; but there are still a lot who really are "normal" and stick to that middle. He just hadn't really been around those people in the last 25 years, and didn't realize that it still is pretty strong... and finally, getting a little stronger. The people in the middle have now had a good generation plus to see what went wrong with each side - MO and Agudah - and start to pick out the good and bad parts of each.

Okay, rambling a bit, but my point is somewhere in there.

fudge said...

it's funny, because a lot of people i know who grew up in the 70's and 80's in a more center-oriented world tell me that judaism moves like that, in waves: their generation polarized, and now ezzie seems to be saying their children are drawn back to that center. yet i don't really know if that's so. most of my friends, from high school and college, are continuing down the road they were raised, whether that means supporting husbands through kollel or starting a chabad house.
i have never really been acquainted with another family like my own, which i think is really half and half. by which i mean half 80s action films and half minyan points.
oh, and in case anyone's worried out there, YU's not getting too chareidi. seriously. you have NOTHING to worry about. rise, my son.

Doctor Bean said...

If modern orthodoxy is "anything goes" then I'm missing out on a lot of peperoni pizza.

As for the middle holding, it's really quite simple. Anyone who keeps even one more observance than I do is a mindless zealot who can't think for himself and follows rules irrationally. Anyone who keeps even one fewer observance than I do is a lazy secular sellout whose children will surely intermarry leading to the end of Judaism.

Right?

Doctor Bean said...

PS: Only Protestants can be normal.

Ezzie said...

I've heard what Fudge has heard as well from people who were in the 70's and 80's... and it's certainly possible that it moves in waves. But I'd think that now would be different (though surely they thought so each time), simply because there's a lot more focus on the problems of today. There's a much greater awareness, everything happens much faster, and people can actually check for themselves all the little 'facts' that they're told, thanks to things like the Internet (um, in most places).

Hmm, random thought: Maybe people start separating out every time a new form of media hits, as some are concerned and some aren't, then when everyone gets more used to it, they come back to the middle.

Anyway, I guess that's the problem with anecdotal evidence. My own experiences show a lot more people coming to the middle, while Fudge's show that people follow what they've been taught.

The truth is, I think people generally follow what they're taught until given a good opportunity to be a bit different. It's what they're thinking for now that makes the difference, and what they do later on... though some don't actually act upon their thoughts because they're scared of ostracism.

Hmm, rambling again.

Miriam L said...

If modern orthodoxy is "anything goes" then I'm missing out on a lot of pepperoni pizza.


LOL. :)

PsychoToddler said...

Dag: Curious: Which do you consider to be the Dark Side, MO or Chareidi?

Steg: My dilemma is that by going to a YU source, I thought I WAS getting a modern opinion on the situation. And still, he sounded awfully Taliban-like.

tnspr: I think a lot of chareidi kids buy into the system and do fine. But not all. There are definitely some, perhaps children of Charedi baale tshuva, who don't buy into it. I think their parents get all inspired when they turn frum and are suddenly throwing out the TVs and the CDs and the kids are just not into it and feel they are being thrown into some cave somewhere. Those kids rebel.

Ezzie, you know I agree with your "world view" and all. I wonder how your rebbeim really view you now. I know some are proud of you because you're intelligent and articulate and make a great case for Chofetz Chaim education, but I suspect there are some who see you dropping the uniform and some of the hashkafa and maybe think they failed with you. What do you think?

Fudge: Your friends are still young, idealistic, and for the most part, single. Give them 5 or 10 years and see how many have DVD players.

As far as YU goes, I'm starting to suspect that YU may be more of a microcosm of what's going on in the orthodox world in general. Meaning it's as polarized as the rest of us. There may be two YUs, the Charedi one and the Clubbin' one. What's interesting is that despite all that, you're still smack dab right in the middle. Good goin', Abba!

Doc Bean: MO's have this uncanny ability to pick a few lines in the sand not to cross, and then totally obliterate others. Kashrut is one of them. Maybe because they've found all manner of ways to remedy the situation (parve cheese? kosher baco bits? mock shrimp?).

Now, if they figure out ways to remedy negiah, kol isha, tznius, maybe they'd hold more to those lines too. And DON'T flame me, all you militant MOs. I was as MO as the best of them. And went on a lot of interesting dates...

DB: Protestants?

Ezzie: I'm totally into the 'pendulum' theory vis a vis Orthodoxy. In my day ('70s), the Orthodox schools sold tickets to Israel concerts with women singing. The Orthodox camps had mixed dancing. Everyone wore shorts and life was grand.

And yes, every time there's access to some new media that gives people something to do other than sit in the beis medresh, we hear complaining from the rabbinate. Here's an idea: Rather than harp on how evil it is that kids have access to interesting streams of information, why not spend time trying to inspire them about how great Torah can be? A little more sugar, a little less vinegar...

Y'know, this kind of reminds me of a discussion I had with some friends a few months back. One thing Chabad does right: they really do try to make people excited about Judaism, instead of constantly trying to make them feel guilty about themselves. Something the Charedim could learn.

Miriam: Yes, DB is like my own personal little Yetzer Hara. You can borrow him, if you'd like.

Ralphie said...

DB - don't forget the davening correlation: anyone praying faster than I am has no kavannah, anyone praying slower is just showing off.

(hat tip to George Carlin)

Doctor Bean said...

Yes, DB is like my own personal little Yetzer Hara.

Awwww. [blushing] Shucks. That's the nicest thing anyone ever said about me! Remeber, the rabbis say that without the inclination to do bad, nothing would be accomplished.

anonymous mom said...

Long live the center...but, everyone is moving to the right. All (that would be 100%)of my friends from Queens (think, 70's/80's) are right wing to ultra right wing Yeshivish. Every (and that would be every single one) Baal Teshuva that I know is choosing Chareidi. There are no MO going into Yeshiva Education (and I mean very few). No one MO is teaching at elementary level. Kiruv institutions are channeling everyone into right wing Yeshivos (V'Hamevin Yavin). YU and MTA is leaning more to the right in terms of structure and substance. The students are still a mixture. Oh and yeah, pass the sugar please. Answer me this, if a mass of people is marooned on a desert isle without sugar and just vinegar, will they actually think the vinegar is good? Um...seems so. Oh...wait. No one is marooned on a desert isle and Chabad isn't the only group that has the power to hand over the sugar, so where the heck is everyone else???? I'll tell you. The middle of the road Yeshivish and the MO are all going into accounting, law, and occupational therapy. No one is teaching!!!

DAG said...

Psycho: The Dark side has many guises.

Ari Kinsberg said...

"tell me that judaism moves like that, in waves"

religious observance, piety and devotion (in general, not just in the jewish world) is cyclical. it has been that way for thousands of years. people who argue that the RW will inevitably take over, that conservative/reform will die out, about the wide successes of the BT movement in a triumphant manner,etc. lack historical perspective.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

«waves»

i'm in teaching!

of course, i'm ideologically MO, and am not such a big fan of the RW world. when people talk about being in "the middle" between them, i don't really get what's so exciting about the other side...

(this was not an insult directed at Hhareidim; this is just the fact that i don't believe in them)

PsychoToddler said...

Ralphie: "anyone praying faster than I am has no kavannah, anyone praying slower is just showing off." Hasn't that been the theme of this blog since it started?

Doc: I appreciate your efforts. I even created a poll for you.

Anonymous Mom: What a great comment! So many good points...but I want to touch on this "desert isle" concept. It seems very much to me that the people that are in such fear of the internet, and books, and movies, and secular culture, are desperately trying to keep their constituents marooned. It's like what they are really saying is, "our culture is ok, but it cannot possibly compare well to secular culture. Rather than try to teach our kids that they can appreciate the world around them and still be excited about being Jewish, we must make them think that there IS no other culture, or that any contact with that culture will automatically corrupt them."

It's like this thing about Jewish music. Most Jewish music is just not as interesting as secular music (yes, I know, I play Jewish music). But if you make sure your kids never hear secular music, Jewish music starts to sound better.

Dag: So, a true centrist. More power to you. Let me know how that works for you.

AriK: I agree. Perspective is needed.

Steg: I would also like to not believe in Hhareidim, but the problem is, I keep seeing them everywhere. Doc Bean? More medication please.

anonymous Israel mom said...

Well, if anyone wants to travel back in time to suburban MO circa 1988, come take a visit to the anglo communities in Ranaana Israel. I just moved here from Yerushalayim and my berets and tichels actually put me in a minority. I'm a little bowled over because I didn't think such communities existed anymore.

(The midot are wonderful here, the people are very warm and welcoming, but the whole slide to the right seems to have skipped over this town)

PsychoToddler said...

Mom: I'm a little slow. Do you mean most women don't cover their hair at all or wear sheitels.

As far as I can tell, there's still a pretty large percentage of MOs who don't cover their hair.

anonymous mom said...

Psychotod, the intention, the Machshava behind the Maaseh, of the Chareidi world is that the secular stuff--music included--is just spiritually bad for you. It is not their fear of it being better and outshining what they have to offer that motivates them. If they provide their Chareidi kids with a celebration of Torah and Judaism, then the eschewing of secular pursuits would be okay with me (not my choice, but okay for them). Instead they push an ascetic hard line toward life that is not necessarily the path of our Mesorah and this ascetic lifestyle does not necessarily pull all of their people. I don't think that their people necessarily need a good Billy Joel song, but they do need something to inspire and they do need answers when asked. That said, so do the MO kids who have their rap music and movies. All Jewish children need to be excited about Judaism and they need to see it as the vibrant, warm, earthly, diverse, rich religion that it is. So do the adults. Orthodoxy is failing in this regard on all fronts, but more so in the Chareidi/Misnagid world where there is no warmth and no logic or answers.

anonymous Israel mom said...

sorry- yes, my kissui rosh puts me in the minority.

Here in Israel, most MO (dati leumi) women cover their hair.

anonymous Israel mom said...

"where there is no warmth and no logic or answers."

anon mom-

it's curious that you include the word "answers" in your comment because I think that is precisely the problem. There are too many answers. They have strict black and white answers for everything related to day to day living and big life decisions.

Were you referring to larger theological questions?

PsychoToddler said...

Wait a minute...

Anonymous Mom...Anonymous Israel Mom...are you like...two different people?

I am TOTALLY confused now...mind if I call you both Bruce?

PsychoToddler said...

Bruce: the intention... of the Chareidi world is that the secular stuff--music included--is just spiritually bad for you. It is not their fear of it being better and outshining what they have to offer that motivates them.

Actually, I think it's both. They think it's bad for you because it gets you thinking about all sorts of secular pursuits, and then you're not interested in Tairah. What I've heard over and over is "how can you expect to appreciate the beauty of Tairah if your mind is full of this...this...filth!" Presumably filth means more than what the average person means by "filth", filth also means books and magazines and the occasional TV show.

It's interesting you use the term "ascetic" because I often think of it that way as well. I think the kind of head-buried-in-the-sand repressive culture they push is very unappealing. I didn't sign up for that religion.

Israel Bruce: A lot of people draw very rigid lines in the sand over head covering. It's really not that important to me, I guess. Do a search of my blog for "sheitel".

anonymous mom said...

HaHaHaHaHa. I am sooo not a Bruce. And I'm too much of a weenie to move to Israel.
My Judaism rocks. Like your most recent post.

anonymous mom said...

Anon Israel, by answers I meant both theological and even basic. They don't teach the differences between Halacha, Minhag, Chumra. The huge theological questions about G-d and the world are a problem too, but for practical every day purposes, the black and whites are more important. I don't believe many of them (and they are not really "them" to me because I was kind of raised that way)know or are taught much about the whats let alone the whys. They are taught Mussar as Halacha.