Back in the day when I was growing up, members of the Jewish community were categorized into three groups – Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. Those who kept kosher and were shomer Shabbat were considered Orthodox. Period. How men or women dressed, their choice of head covering – or not – was irrelevant. In fact, going to public school didn’t disqualify you from being viewed as Orthodox. The fact that you brought your own lunch, while everyone else lined up at the cafeteria for burgers and French fries confirmed your religious status.
Today, Orthodoxy is splintered into numerous factions and sub-groups, each defined by a plethora of subtle nuances that no doubt would have our sages scratching their heads, let alone confusing potential baalei teshuva and converts.
Frum Jews label themselves – or are labeled – as Modern Orthodox; Black Hat; Modern Orthodox machmir; Yeshivish; Yeshivish lite; Chassidish; Chassidish- but “with it”; just to name a few.
However, I sadly submit that there exists in our communities another kind of “Orthodoxy” – a version whose practitioners would never admit to being a part of or who due to their arrogance, are truly clueless of their affiliation. I call it FakeOdoxy.
There are actually two kinds of FakeOdox Jews. One is made up of men and women who are FFBs (frum from birth) and had the typical religious upbringing. However, for various reasons, they were turned off from yiddishkeit. Perhaps they had bad experiences in school, suffered a series of tragedies or despite everything they were exposed to, stopped believing in G-d.
However, they are afraid of being rejected by their families or ostracized by the community. Even though mentally they are off thederech, they don’t want to be cut off from everything they are familiar with, so they create the charade that they still are frum. They go to shul, eat kosher in public, wear the “livush” (the clothing favored by the people in their community) and “talk the talk” – but their hearts aren’t into it. So they, for example, wash for bread and later bentsch – but say Birkat Hamazon in like 20 seconds. Either they are super speed readers or they are just pretending to say it.
For the most part, they go through the motions of being religious; they know the routines and lifestyle – but sadly, it is meaningless to them. As long as they respect the beliefs of their family and friends, and don’t make them unwittingly sin, for example, by giving their guests treif food or if they are in business, selling their customers non-kosher items they claim is kosher, their FakeOdoxy is just a problem for them.
The other kind of FakeOdox Jews are more problematic because they can be emotionally hurtful. These are individuals who misguidedly believe that they are the “cat’s meow” in terms of their yiddishkeit. They consider themselves to be pious and authentically religious and because of this “self-righteousness” are full of contempt for those who they feel are not on the same page.
There is a Yiddish saying that states, “No-one see their own hunchback.” What it means is that people see other people’s flaws and shortcomings, but not their own.
The following scenarios (based on actual events) exemplifies this hypocritical behavior. First scenario: A young man works all week, including Sundays, to support his growing family, one that includes a colicky baby who screams half the night. One Shabbat morning he comes to shul later than usual – during leining (the Torah reading). As he walks in, a baal bayit turns to look at him, quickly glances at his watch and looks at the latecomer again, his face contorted in disgust. The man then blithely turns to his seatmate and continues his animated discussion on the pros and cons of buying stocks in today’s bear market. Not only is he talking during leining, but hepiously gives himself “dispensation” to do so, by declaring, “nisch Shabbas gerett.”(not spoken on Shabbas) – an utterance that I have been hearing more frequently as people talk about everything under the sun on Shabbat.
Which got me thinking – based on this mindset, if I say nisch fleisig gegessen – not meat eaten – can I have a milk-shake for dessert after my chicken salad?
The second scenario goes like this: A baalat teshuva and her husband move into a new community and try out the various shuls in walking distance to their apartment.
In one of the shuls, a “modestly” dressed young viebel (wife) wearing a stunning custom sheitel (that must have cost the equivalent of 6 months rent) and dressed in a tight spandex sweater that sharply outlines and emphasizes her baby bump (an obstetrician worth his salt would not need an ultrasound to figure out the size of the fetus) and adorned with enough sparkling jewelry to light up a dark room – told the baalat-teshuva, who was wearing a tichel- a head scarf (favored incidentally by many frum women in Israel) – that she did not belong in her shul.
These FakeOdox Jews walk around with an unwarranted “holier than thou” attitude that is fueled by unabashed hubris and ego. They pick and choose their mitzvoth and look down their noses at those whose observance is “different.”
Recently, a woman wrote an essay published in this newspaper lamenting a lack of derech eretz and respectin the frum community. The individuals she encountered who were rude and disrespectful to her are FakeOdox. I make this blanket statement based on the words of the sage Hillel, who when asked by a Gentile to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot, emphatically exclaimed, “What you dislike, don’t do to your fellow man.”