Thursday, June 29, 2006

Two Faced

The ugly face of hypocrisy appears to have reared itself in the comments on my last post. Not to kill the drama of my last sentence, but no actual hypocrisy- just the subject. Sounds like a great opportunity for me to spout off on yet another tangent in the frum blogosphere!

First - what is not hypocrisy. Many look at bloggers, and feel that they have created a second identity online for themselves. Things they would not sanction in real life, they partake of behind an electronic mask. And for others, they hide their numerous weaknesses behind a mirage of glistening data bits, putting on airs of near perfection online. (See Elster's post for extra reading.)

Seemingly unrelated, people throw around the term hypocrisy when it comes to frum people who sin. Whether it's somebody who wears a Yarmulke and swears, a girl who wears her skirt and goes to the beach, or, yes, even a homosexual. Attaching the appelation "Frum" connotes a certain lifestyle; not conforming to those expectations seems to contradict the "Frum" impression.

But I think both issues, the blogger's mask and the frum charade, are both related. And neither is necessarily hypocritical. Both issues betray the complexity of every human being, that we are pulled by good and evil. Might we want to be somebody online that we can't be in person, for whatever reason? Might we have sins on our hands that keep us from reaching the status of perfect Jew?

The answer, if you're like me, is a little of yes to both. I am not perfect, but I'd like to be. Does that make me a hypocrite? Does my failure to espouse a consistent perfection deny me the right to keep trying? Should I shave my beard until I conquer every last demon? Should you stop going to Shul until you stop speaking Lashon Hora? Obviously, this would be an absurd definition of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is voicing a view as universal, while not attempting to adhere to it yourself. It is not hypocritical to tell others to do something that I don't believe is incumbent on myself - this is merely a double standard. Similarly, it is not hypocrital to promote a universal truth but fail to live up to it. In my opinion, we all have weaknesses, but that by no means weakens the message. Might somebody write about the importance of Tzedakah but be considered cheap himself? Absolutely, and with no injustice. As long as he acknowledges that he is bound by the same ideal as all, his attempt at inspiring others to greater involvement is as much a mirror into his own soul as it is into theirs. It is only when one creates a ruckus over an ignored Mitzva, but doesn't acknowledge the need for his own growth in the Mitzva, that hypocrisy is breached.

And this is where blog identities and religious growth intertwine. There are many people out there whose eye's are in the sky even as their feet drag in the dirt. And on the flipside, there are those who float through the clouds, looking for a break to peak down at the exposed below. We all have masks, covering up our total self. This is the same idea as Purim, where we put a mask over our daily face and imbibe enough to let our guard down and let our spiritual selves mark our goals.

Whether we are hypocrites or aspirers to greater heights is not a matter of what we say vs. what we do, but simply a question of whether we are honest with ourselves about where we stand vs. where we want everyone to be. And that is something we can only decide for ourselves.

[Addendum - I couldn't fit this in above, but it was part of the impetus for the post, so I want to make sure I at least note it: In my opinion, the Lakewood style Kollel system is an example of hypocrisy. It states that as a universal truth, the derech for being frummer is exclusively the study of Torah. Somebody who isn't learning full time isn't showing the committment or capability to approach Gd fully. However, the system relies on people who do make money to support it. So it implicitly requires people to be "imperfect" in order to support the "perfect." To tell everyone to strive to learn full time while turning around and looking for a shidduch with a rich, working grandfather is hypocritical.]

Monday, June 26, 2006

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Ahh, Gay Pride Day! I probably missed a fabulous parade. But what a great excuse to introduce my own views on homosexuality and Judaism! And, no, I'm not coming out of the closet. At least today.

To start off the conversation, it's important to note that in my mind, homosexuality is a real trait, if abnormal, and can't be cured. It's like ADD - for some reason this person was hardwired differently. (That's not to say that all gay people are truly homosexual, but that point isn't relevant to the discussion.) And for some reason, in our generation, these characteristics seem to be in greater force. But while society always moderates the behavior of it's members in a unifying manner, it can never remove the individuality behind each person.

Since homosexuality is an orientation, not necessarily a practice, it is absolutely plausible to be homosexual and 100% frum. And if they adhere to Halacha, I know they will be rewarded beyond what a normal person will receive. Just like I can't go around practicing my heterosexual tendencies outside of marriage, a homosexual is also asked to restrain his desires in aspiring to the Judeo ethos. Like anyone, the choice of self-identifying as a frum person is their own to make, but so too is the choice to deviate from those expectations.

But regardless of what I believe are the choices of an individual, I think there is no excuse for Jewish organizations or individuals to discriminate against gay individuals. If they don't want to be frum, they have that choice. If they want to be frum, and don't practice their tendencies, then they are as frum, if not frummer, than the next guy. And even if they do practice while aspiring to a religious lifestyle, we have no right to judge them ourselves, and certainly it is a double standard to judge them harsher than the numerous other classes of sinners embedded in our community. Sure, it's easier to chastise homosexuals than people who speak Lashon Hora, because we don't have that Yetzer Hora. It makes us feel like better people. But we are all the same, each going through his own struggles in his quest for perfection.

While I don't think being gay is something to be proud of, I don't think it's something to be ashamed of either. It is a fact of life. The sooner the Orthodox Jewish community comes to terms with that, and finds meaningful ways to openly educate on the topic, the stronger the entire community will be. I believe that striving for perfection in Judaism applies to everyone, no exceptions. By alienating some, we show the weakness of all.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Two for Two

Back from my biweekly New York trip. It proved quite successful. Forget about the two jobs I was offered - I met two bloggers!

Two thoughts -

After driving around NYC in my rental car, I may have a better understanding of why frum people tend to drive like maniacs. It's not just driving, it's the rushing all over the place, whether trying to get ready for Shabbos, or head to Minyan. And it has nothing to do with New York hustle. I think it comes from a good thing. Judaism infuses us with such a sense of purpose, we cannot help but run around. There's so much to accomplish with our lives, so much purpose, how can we casually stroll along?

Despite my optimistic assessment of the roots of this attitude, I do think that this positive trait is overused. That means that too much running through life is a bad thing. No matter how many good things we want to get done in a day, we cannot forget the feelings of those around us. And no matter how important we think our destination is, we don't have a right to cut off other people in line by assuming that their schedule is any less urgent.

Unrelated. As I look for places to live in NY, one thing I realized is that a person is not meant to live alone. Regardless, of our phase in life, we are constantly surrounded by others. We grow up in our parents' home, live in a dorm, and start our own home. But what of the singles that have one more phase? Are roommates enough to occupy the social gap? Living arrangements aren't the same as friendships. Sure, some will have enough to make it work, but there are so many chores needed to run a household that a bunch of singles can have a hard time agreeing on. And a lot of emotional investment and support.

I'd love to live with a family. Aside from all the practical considerations this would ease, I think it is a great thing religiously to be grounded in a world of responsibility, instead of the Hefker that seems to rule in the singles' scene. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that the families live anywhere near my peers. I guess I'll have to choose.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

It's Gotta be the Shoes

Tradition. A lot of things in Judaism seem to go back for generations, breathing the spirit of the ages. We don't question their profundity, but simply revel in their indescribable holiness. What is Shabbos? It just is. What is Yiddishe Naches? It just is.

But what is Yichus?

We seem to value it highly. Literally, "connection," the term itself implies the timeless bonds of our faith. But practically, it has such a different connotation. By inference, if there are those who have it, there are those who don't. And yet another system of subdividing fellow Jews into castes is born.

As amazing as it may be to be a descendent of the Vilna Gaon or the Baal Shem Tov (but not both, CHV"S), does it make one a better person? It's an interesting piece of trivia, but does it have an effect on who we are?

From my own observations, I've seen that children definitely do take many of their traits directly from their parents, so it stands to reason that many of those traits likewise go back multiple generations. This would explain how different nationalities tend to have different characteristics, even after generations of intermingling with other peoples. It would also explain how rich families in Europe, for example, were able to come to the States and rebuild their status, whereas those from more modest means turned up on these shores no better off than before. So at least some of the class system seems to be more learned traits than nepotism.

But does this explain the value the Frum community places on Yichus? Obviously, the biggest application of this relates to Shidduchim. People shop around for a descendent of some pious rabbi, but don't seem to inquire on whether the individual mirrors the ancestor deeper than his genome. Why ask whether somebody is the descendent of the Chofetz Chaim? Ask whether he's Makpid on Hilchos Loshon Hora!

Obviously, I have no Yichus. But is this just the rant of a wannabe? Or does the Frum community put a premium status on genealogy merely to insure the exclusivity of its ruling class? There was even one individual I know of who wrote a book illustrating the revered roots of his mark his being honored as a Gvir at a fundraising dinner.

Are we reconnecting with our tradition? Or are we superficially cutting others out?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gotta Keep On, Keep On, Keep On Moving...

So the door has opened. And I don't think I can change my mind now.

I'll be interviewing for two different jobs in New York, both for the same company I'm currently with. It sounds likely I'll get my pick of the two, both great roles that I've been eyeing for so long.

Of course, now I'm having second thoughts. Am I really best off relocating to New York? Am I emotionally solid enough for life on my own? Will I remember to eat healthy food?

Those are the easy questions. Where would I live? The two locations I'm interviewing at are not convenient to the city. So do I live close to work? Do I live in a Yeshivish community? Do I live where there are young people? Or do I live where my friends are, despite the commute?

Do I rent? Do I buy? I really want to board with a family. I think it'll keep me grounded, and keep me from being isolated from other people. Sure I can go anywhere for Shabbos, but I do have a tendency to go with inertia and stay put.

Yes, I'm also (primarilly?) going to date. But I'm also going for very promising career advancement. And I'm also going because I don't want to keep missing all my friends' simchas. I don't need to live with them all the time, but I hate being the one in Galus, who has to miss every occasion or pay hundreds of dollars to squeeze in on a weekend.

Is New York the answer to all of my problems? Of course not - it's going to create a whole new set of them. Will it force me to grow up? Yup. And hopefully, it'll help make me into the person I want to be - more independent, more risky. But most importantly, hopefully I'll grow in the ideals that I've always tried to uphold as I progress on a new path of refining myself.

I'll have to keep you posted over the next few weeks - this blog may literally start to go places!

Friday, June 09, 2006

There are Reasons

Why is my emtional IQ zero? Why is my reaction to everything always obscene? Why do I laugh when others cry? Why am I so different?

Why can't I be left alone?

It's been bothering me lately. New theory - because I grew up without any sisters. Perhaps if I had been exposed to more estrogen growing up, I'd be more in tune with very normal levels of the feminine mind. Perhaps I'd freak out less with the idea of having to partner with one of "them." I'd cause less unintentional pain with my sophomoric reactions; I'd get less looks of ice from my blunt assessment of the facts.

Maybe when the Torah defined P'ru U'revu as a son and a daughter, it intended for us to grow up as balanced and understanding individuals, with exposure to equal elements of rational and emotional thought.

Or maybe I was just dropped on my head.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

There's Other Kinds of "Shomer"

This past weekend I served as a "Shomer", a guardian, for a friend who was getting married. Basically, it involved accompanying him around for 24 hours before the wedding. (It ended up being 24 hours before the pictures, not the Chuppah. Not sure why). I was trying to figure out what the purpose of being a Shomer is. Is it to protect the Chosson? Is it to make sure they don't back out/kill themselves? Is it to make sure they stay Tahor (ritually clean) up until the wedding night? Is it just to serve as an entourage, to give respect to the "king/queen for a day?" Or is it just a Halachically recognized emotional/practical support for a person on a very big day? That's to be determined.

But what it did accomplish is cause me to rethink this whole marriage thing.

I helped review my friend's Chosson classes. That's where they teach the groom all those, um, intricate details of marriage that he hasn't been exposed to before in the frum world. I didn't learn anything new in that respect. But what I did learn is I have no clue what the additional Halachic responsibilities are of getting married. I like to think of myself as pretty frum. It's easy to be Machmir on everything. Showing up to Minyan on time, not so hard. But Taharas HaMispacha? That's hard. Forget about all the emotional challenges. There's a lot of detail there that I just don't know. And you can't just be Machmir.

Of course, the same goes for Shabbos and Kashrus. Those are easy now. But once I have my own home? There are a lot of details that I just don't know. And even if I learn them, they are very challenging to keep.

I'm not saying I'm abandoning ship. I'd love to learn more and keep it all. But I can fully appreciate the challenges that newlyweds face. Suddenly, they can make their own decisions about how religious they want to be. And many want to be more religious. But they are thrown wholly unprepared into a new world of Halacha with details beyond their knowledge, and many are overwhelmed and forced to adapt to standards they wouldn't have subscribed to.

But that is just one of the reasons I have to rethink my readiness for marriage. The bigger problem was a non-Halachic insight my friend shared from his teacher.

Women are crazy.

Probably not a new idea to some, probably an exaggeration to others. But if this is true, then it means that my whole presumption that there is a girl out there that I can just reason with is flawed. Don't get me wrong. I fully expect that every girl will cry for some reason I can't understand. I know there are hormonal swings that have to be dealt with. And I know that our minds work differently. But if at the root of who we are, I can't speak the same language as a woman, I might go insane.

Of course, I may have misunderstood my friend's teacher. But if that is the case, I'm probably not ready to get married myself anyways.

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