Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ideal Jew

In the ideal situation, every Jew should follow the customs (Minhagim) of his family. However, when a penitent (Ba'al T'shuva) returns to the true Torah faith (i.e. Orthodox Judaism) after generations of having been astray, there are no traditions to compliment normative Halacha for them to follow. His parents—and possibly even their parents and parents—were either non-observant or were minimally observant. In such a situation, the penitent traditionally adopts the customs (Minhagim) of those who brought him or her back to religion. This can refer to a specific movement, organization, or individual who influenced the penitent's theodology. The problem arises when a person finds religion by himself through such means as research. If this person does not consult with Rabbis on a regular basis or even just affiliate himself with an official faction of Orthodoxy, then this person would be exposed to all kinds of fallacious ideas; he would then just accept these falsehoods as truth. The left-leaning academia tries to defame various forms of right (meaning both correct and conservative, pun intended) Judaism[1]. Therefore, when this person decides to follow the path of Orthodox Judaism, to steer clear from the groups, which he learned are "evil" because he does not want to contribute to the rightward shift in World Jewry[2]; therefore, he resolves to belong to "Normative Orthodoxy". However, the reality is that such a movement is nonexistent. In the end, either this penitent will adopt the routine of one group over another, but will inevitably label that group the real Orthodoxy, or he will "pick and choose" from various groups until he finds a lifestyle that is more convenient for him. Both of these conclusions are unacceptable.

A true Chareidi (literally "trembler", i.e., one who trembles before the existence of HaShem) fears G-d in his own way. By definition, he follows Halacha to the utmost detail and is scrupulous in his decisions, traditionally following opinions that are more stringent when there are conflicting acceptable rulings on a matter. This is in contrast to modern Orthodox movements who adopt views that are still legitimate in Halacha, but are more lenient in many instances. Discouraging secular education and assuming that grown children will get married and learn Torah for the rest of their lives without getting a job is not the definition of Chareidism. There are Chareidi colleges or Yeshivas that find college acceptable, some even encourage such collegiate education; there are even Chareidi university professors and Ivy-league educated Rabbonim. Not all Chareidim outright prohibit movies or the internet; it is a matter of opinion. However, most of them do follow the opinions that such worldly activities are forbidden because they tend to rule stringently in general terms. Dress is also not a defining factor as to who is a Chareidi; some wear a shtreimel on Shabbos, some a spudnik, some a Fedora or Hamburg hat ("black hat"), yet others bare their heads of a hat and wear merely a yarmulka, whether knitted, suede, or velvet.

True Torah Judaism is made up of various factions, and none is superior to another. As postulated above, the correct path in Judaism is to follow the tradition of one's ancestors. Therefore, descendants of one geopolitical nationality differ from the descendants of another in terms of customs. The Yekkis from Germany, Litvoks from Lithuania, and Ungarians from Hungary each have different customs. Nonetheless, each one is doing what is halachikly required of them. The "Black Hatters" differ from the Sepharadim, yet they are both correct in their fashion of Avodas HaShem (serving G-d). There is no faction within Torah Judaism that is "more correct" than another. When a penitent decides to brand one type of Judaism the authentic one, he effectively tries to invalidate the other varieties, and he is thus violating the cardinal rule of unity. One's only mission is to remain observant in the Torah's tradition, as it has been passed down to him.

A frum person (colloquially, "religious") is, by literal definition, "tied up." He is bound by Halacha; he is in servitude to his creator and the Rabbis who decide the parameters of this responsibility. A frei person is "free" from his G-d-given obligations because he refuses to acknowledge rabbinical authority and HaShem's supremacy and authority in the world. Such a person is, in actuality, a slave to his own his temptations and pursuit of physical pleasure. This is why he rejects the self-evident truisms about HaShem and His Torah. In contrast, a frum person is free from his bodily enticements and consequently has the liberty to serve G-d properly, and thus he can fulfill the purpose of his existence. Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (1875-1941), may his blood be avenged, explained[3] that any thinking person can recognize the hand of HaShem unless he has been brainwashed to not be able to do so. A majority of irreligious Jews fall into this category. They are known in Halacha as Tinokos She'nishbu, meaning "children who were kidnapped", they were never exposed to the Torah True ideals, so their sinning is beyond their control for lack of better knowledge. In present days, some say that the Secular Israelis are not of this status because since Torah observance in the Land of Israel is so prevalent, these Secularists are constantly actually exposed to Torah ideals. Nonetheless, many Secular Jews have always grown up in closed communities (like their religious brothers) which do not accept change and eschew influence from Torah observant Jews, so the malediction that these Secular Jews suffer from is a result of their upbringing; they cannot all be branded sinners.

Whether in America, where the majority of Jewry belongs to the Reform Movement, in Israel, where the majority of Jewry is plainly secular, or in any place of the world, religious Jews are a minority of Jews, who make up a small minority of the world population. In response to this sad state of events, organizations of kiruv (such as Ohr Somayach, Aish HaTorah, Lev L'Achim, Arachim, and many others), which attempt to "bring closer" those Jews who are far away from the Authentic Judaism, have sprung up all over the world to spread awareness of the Torah. The more academically inclined leftists like to claim that Orthodox Judaism in its present state does not address issues of science, social and moral ills, history, and deep theological concepts. However, these same people call those Rabbis who do indeed address such issues "Jewish apologetics". In doing so, they defame such luminaries of the Torah world as Rabbi Avigdor Miller (1908-2001), Rabbi Berel Wein (a Rosh Yeshiva who heads the Destiny Foundation and writes a weekly column in the Jerusalem Post), Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1934 - 1983), Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller (of Yeshivas Telz in Chicago).

As long as one stays within the realm of Halacha, and feels bound by the Torah law, one is still within the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism. The moment that one has rejected or tried to modify a Halacha, one is no longer within the range of what can be considered acceptable for Orthodox Judaism, rather that person is treading on ground reserved for Conservadox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and other progressive movements which have come into existence since the Reform Judaism. Starting in 1806, in the midst of the European Enlightenment, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France proclaimed that Jews were equal to all other Frenchman. This essentially broke down the ghettoes, which had separated the Jews from their gentile neighbors for centuries. Napoleon's goal was for the Jews to assimilate into mainstream French culture; Napoleon's "Sanhedrin" furthered Napoleon's purpose of transforming all the Jews into good little Frenchmen. The result of his work was the German Reform Judaism Movement that eventually spread and developed splinter groups, which mimicked their ideology across the globe. This emancipation of European Jewry was arguably more gruesome than Hitler's Holocaust did because spiritual death is much worse a fate than physical death. Judaism has still not recovered the ills that it faced because of the rise of progressive Jews ideals, which essentially led to rejection HaShem, and the Torah, as well as to assimilation and the adoption of Christian practices and rituals within the Jewish synagogue.

[1] This is because of an interesting phenomenon in the academic world whereby the more left wing a school is, the more prestige it carries.
[2] See the multitude of works which vilify Hareidi/"Ultra-Orthodox" Judaism including, "Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy" by Haym Soloveitchik, Tradition, Summer 1994 and the multitudes of books and articles written by Professors Samuel Heilman and Noah J. Efron on the subject.
[3] Kovetz Mamaarim §1

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