Sunday, January 02, 2005

I enjoy the (real or virtual) company of both baalei teshuvah and renegades from frumkeit (for lack of a better term). Two dimensions are more interesting than one. In fact, every thinking person who was raised frum must be a bit of a rebel and a bit of a baal teshuvah.

The yiddishkeit taught in cheder, or the more modern equivalent, is filled with simple-minded myths designed to give meaning to our traditions. In this mythical world, the righteous are perfectly righteous, the wicked are perfectly wicked, and the very cosmos is centered on the comings and goings of a few thousand of anshei shlomeinu. Everybody and everything else is window dressing.

Sometimes life is presented this way because it is all our teachers imagine we can or need to comprehend at a young age. Sometimes it is because our teachers themselves have arrested at this stage. Either way, most people eventually outgrow that narrow view of the world and realize that they've been bopping around a very small and very arbitrary little corner of human possibility. Many prefer not to have to deal with the consequences of this realization and, after a cursory look around, head back under the blankets. Others rebel against the childish version of yiddishkeit which they've received and demand a more mature version. If they expect to get it from their teachers, they will be disappointed.

Only by rebelling does one have any hope of making progress. Rebelling allows us to leave the myths intact for future generations, while at the same time reinterpreting them for ourselves in ways that are both concrete enough to give meaning to our traditions and abstract enough to be plausible. In short, rebellion is necessary so that frum people can be chozer bi-teshuvah.

This process of rebellion and return can repeat itself many times in a person's lifetime. Unfortunately, many people arrest somewhere along the way. For some, the yiddishkeit that they'd end up with after rebelling and returning is so remote from that which would be tolerated in their little shtetl, there's no point. The social price is too high. Others are so resentful at having been played for fools, that they live the rest of their lives wallowing in self-righteous anger. Others bury themselves in unthinking frumkeit.

I follow the struggles of Shaigetz, Shtreimel, Mis-nagid, and SL Aronovitz with fascination, with empathy, and -- occasionally -- with envy. You can't buy them with pareve. I hope they get the milchig and the fleishig sorted out one day.

13 Comments:

Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Rebellion for the sake of rebelling is not always a good thing.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

It's important to separate Judaism from frumkeit. Frumkeit is superstitious bullshit that lacks any sense of tradition or history, bending them away from reality to further the aims of the cult. Judaism is a culture, a shared history, an ongoing narrative, and a collection of ideas. Much of what is worthy about Judaism has nothing to do with the nonexistent supernatural, while nothing that is premised by the supernatural is worthy. While Judaism, even in its origins, contains religion, subtracting it only improves it, grounding it in reality where it can actually be meaningful.

Remember, frumkeit is not equal to Judaism, and most Jews aren't frum.

5:25 AM  
Blogger rebelmo said...

great synopsis of our travels thus far

"process of rebellion and return can repeat itself many times in a person's lifetime"

this is classic


do you pass the struggle on to your kids or do you indoctrinate to go with th flow?

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wrong. Rebellion is not synonymous with finding answers. Thinking people need to search for answers, not claim satisfaction with having asked the questions.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Not to belabor the obvious but asking questions is a prerequisite for finding answers.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.
-James Thurber

2:34 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Not to belabor the obvious but asking questions is a prerequisite for finding answers.Some people need the obvious. Asking questions is incredibly important, it is critical for improving yourself.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

To rebelmo:

Indoctrinate, but with love.

--Ben

12:05 AM  
Blogger The Hedyot said...

Really well put. I've been thinking about a similar idea recently, how in the frum world, most people are expected to have essentially the same view of Judaism at the age of 30 as they had in grade school. I hope to explore this further sometime on my blog.

4:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it nice that essentially they are in the same boat as their fellow Chasidim? The Chasidim don't want questions, and they don't want answers.

Perhaps this attitude dates back to the origins of philosophy, which are after all based on asking questions, to which the answers changed in every generation. Torah didn't work that way, and doesn't work that way. Eilu V'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim - there are many answers to every question, and every person may find the right one for them, as long as it is within the framework of Torah.

Sheigetz wants to find his answers in egalitarianism. Never mind that it is a fad that may change when the winds blow. Never mind that the proponents of egalitarianism are as bigoted as any.

To not allow questioning is wrong. To question while presupposing that you are right and all others are wrong is intelectually dishonest. To presuppose that their is no answer to your question is religious dishonesty.

6:12 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

Ben, you're the best but I've got no idea what you meant in your last paragraph. I think you were basically saying that these guys are interesting and exciting but, nebach, a little confused. Or maybe you weren't saying that, I have no idea. However -

In all of your high sounding words on rebellion and counter rebellion and how it's all necessary... and all good... (and all sounds very Carlbachian...), you seem to be skirting the fact that there's truth and there's horseshit ~ and that snag and shtreimel and a few others aren't necessarilly "rebelling" or "counter"-rebelling, but perhaps /shifting/ the truth from the horseshit - or if we may, the milichig from the fleishichig.

That's not to say that there isn't plenty of emotion in all the whole thing, but just because someone's emotional, or even immature, doesn't mean that you can simply discount what they have to say, and from your plateau, patronizingly 'wish them well'.

You seem to feel safe in saying that the myths of blavk and white are false but you never go further. (And even here you allow seem to apologize for yourself by allowing some goodness on the myths surviving intact for the next dor to be raised with lies.)

How about further? How about some of what snag points out, or SLA points out? or Sagan, Gould, Dawkins, Darwin, Spinoza?? Sure, you can farenfer them, but you can also farenfer the stiras in the ideaology of the Hale Bop cultists or anyone else. Farenfering is easy, but as Pirkei says, don't be lawyers for a casue, be an impartial judge. And as a judge, do you think that the evidence supports the theory of "kol Hatorah hamatzuya b'yadeinu, hi hanetuna lmoshe?" or does the evidence weigh against that? Are you "frum" because of your society and culture or because of belief based in reason?

Your post had you on a perch looking down on a struggling snag, shtreimel and friends and alternatively politely clapping, tut-tuting and wishing the children well. How about you step into the ring, share your beliefs (those based in reason) and go one-on-one with the apikorsim? But a fair fight only, no fancy philosophies or apologetics, let's look at the matter as we would in the courtroom of God - whose seal is Truth.

mnuez

11:19 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

mnuez,
You're right. I'll have to get back to this thread.

2:30 AM  
Anonymous yoeli from the heiligeh shtetl said...

dont know if you check old posts, but you seem to have michigs and fleishigs mixed together making it treif.and i am n ot so convinced your yiddishkeit is any deeper then the simple yungerman in bp or willi you just ignore those feelings that knaw you with reading every shtiss written by every kofer.

4:44 AM  

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