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March 3, 2015 / 12 Adar , 5775
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The Wrong Stuff – Focusing on Minutiae

A Jewish wedding.

A Jewish wedding.
Photo Credit: Lara Savage/Flash 90

The longer I live the further to the right Orthodoxy seems to be going. It seems to never end. One might ask, what is wrong with becoming even more religious? After all isn’t that what God wants? Isn’t becoming more religious the whole idea behind the Torah?

Well, the answer to that is not so simple. It depends what you mean by more religious. Rav Ahron Soloveichik used to say in Yiddish, “Frum iz a Galach – Erlich iz a Yid.” Loosely translated this means anyone can be religious and perform the religious rituals of their faith.  What matters most to a Jew is not how extreme his piety is but how sincere he is in doing what is required of him in all matters between God and between man.

Unfortunately that lesson seems to have gotten lost in our day. It seems like now more than ever Frumkeit – religiosity – has replaced sincerity as the primary focus of the right. In fact there is a new phenomenon identified as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) called scrupulosity. There are some Jews with obsessive compulsive tendencies that express them in ritual behavior. For example in overly long prayer sessions or in the constant ritual washing of the  hands.

Although not a common condition, there is no doubt in my  mind that an over-emphasis on Frumkeit is a contributor to this phenomenon.

The real problem however is that the right’s obsession with Frumkeit is spilling over into the rest of the religious world. So that the rest of Orthodoxy is unduly affected by it. Furthermore since the right is the fastest growing segment of Orthodoxy, a move to the right becomes almost standard practice for everyone. Or at least causes more moderate Orthodox Jews to move to the right themselves.

One of the biggest changes reflecting this phenomenon in post Holocaust America is how seating at wedding dinners are arranged. It used to be common practice for men and women to sit together. Some might say just because it was common practice doesn’t make it right. …that America’s rabbinic leadership had no real influence in those early days just after the Holocaust. That the Gedolim of that era would never attend a wedding where the seating was mixed… or if they did, they would just attend the ceremony and leave so as not to have to sit together with women at the same table. But eyewitness testimony will prove that view to be incorrect. From a Shiur by Rabbi Aharon Rakeffet (excepted in a past post):

I can never forget in my time, in Y.U. circles I never heard of separate seating, until I left America. It wasn’t shayach, not just [in] Y.U. [circles], [but also] in the Litvishe circles. Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenitzky, the Rav, how many weddings [did they attend] with absolute mixed seating. There was separate dancing, but mixed seating. It was normal. It was par for the course. For their own children, (I was at the weddings), there was mixed seating. There was no question about it. Each one’s kavod was with his rebbitzen. [They were proud to say], “This is my rebbitzen.” These were their joy.

I think that says it all with respect to the value of separate seating. There are those who would counter that were these great rabbinic figures alive today, they would never sit with their wives at a mixed table. That may be true, but it has nothing to do with Yiddishkeit. It has only to do with the new ‘standard’ set by Frumkeit. The fact is that there is no such thing as a mixed seating wedding in the Yeshiva world anymore. It is becoming harder and harder to find a wedding where the seating is mixed. That’s even becoming true the among some on the right wing of Modern Orthodox World!

But Frumkeit doesn’t stop there. I have just been informed about a Beis Yaakov elementary school that will no longer allow fathers to attend their daughters’ graduation. This after many years of allowing it with absolutely no objection by their Vaad HaChinuch – a rabbinic committee comprised of prominent right wing Poskim. All of a sudden it is no longer Tznius for a father to attend a ceremony where 8th grade girls will be receiving diplomas. This new edict came at the hands of parents who pointed to other schools who had this ‘standard’ and felt that any real  Beis Yaakov should have the highest standards of Tznius. (…as if this new ‘standard’ actually supported that contention!)

A new Shul has been built recently with separate  men’s and women’s entrances. As if entering the Shul with your wife or daughter is all of a sudden considered a violation of sexual mores. Not to be outdone, another Shul in the neighborhood has adopted this custom for themselves. In the past there was never a problem entering the Shul with your wife or daughter. Now, men and woman have to split up – with the two entrances on opposite’s sides of the building!

And recently there was a gathering in Lakewood to get women to cut their long wigs.

Why do I care about what the Charedi world is doing? As I said they are the dominant culture in Orthodoxy now and their increase in numbers outpace any other branch of Orthodoxy. But even more than that, extremes when incorporated wholesale into communities eventually become the norm. Just look at mixed seating at weddings. That used to be the norm. Now it is considered to be a less than Tznius event. Some Charedi leaders will not even attend such a wedding!

I understand that in some communities these extremes of Tznius are the norm… and probably have been the norm for many decades or perhaps longer. Meah Shearim and Bnei Brak come to mind. But what is the norm for them was not the norm for everyone else in Orthodoxy. Until it was… and is!

Can anyone have imagined having two separate entrances to a Shul just a few short yeas ago? Or not allowing a father to attend his daughter’s 8th grade graduation?

There are serious issues affecting Klal Yisroel today that need out attention. So many Frum Jews are in prison for financial improprieties or worse that one can easily find a Minyan for Davening in some places. Sex abuse and children going OTD are problems that are far greater than anyone ever imagined. And the right is worried that a father might attend his daughter’s elementary graduation?!

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah . / Harry Maryles

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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3 Responses to “The Wrong Stuff – Focusing on Minutiae”

  1. Warren Lewis says:

    Laudably stated.

  2. Well explained, time to get real

Comments are closed.

Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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