This post should be more of an essay, it should be there on public web, an essay on disappearing ideas, namely the most real old-timer Litvishe outlook on the religious life. And I mean Litvishe, as in sober, open-minded, skeptic, analytical realism. Not the Litvishe that has started looking over its shoulder, feeling doubts, wondering about its lack of seemingly spiritual rocking, exaggerated prayer, and other religious compulsive-obsessive behaviors that became given and expected norms in the frum world. Maybe this essay is stilted. Maybe it's too rambling. Maybe it's not a guide at all. well. at least it sits there as a non-conformist reference.
Now that I am busy with my munchkins, and the project of transcribing and translating a rabbi's scribbles into a manuscript, I can write a guide like this so it will always be on internet – not necessarily the top hit on Google, but there as an annoying reference, a hated URL to the fanatics. All because after getting married, I found the religious world to be arrogantly gross and sanctimoniously religious compared to my family's idyllic Judaism inspired on our rabbinical celebrity great-great-great grand-grand- grandfathers. Node Biyehuda, Hasam Sofer, Yaabetz, Shaagas Aryeh, and further removed, Tzemach Tzedek. The best mixture of Litvishe, Oyberlander and Chabad heritage.
We had so many visitors under the influence of the holidays that I learned something – no matter where Jews are, and who they are, they are always in search of anything mystical and illogical that could dazzle them in their endless wanderings.
Having these famous rabbis for my great-great-great-great-grandfathers, two of them having bucked the system during the seemingly most inappropriate times, - and having been my rabbinical father's librarian and attendant – where I was exposed to the discussions of rabbinical sources enough to discern between Ran and Riff - I choose to use this time between nursing and laundry – to take it upon myself and write down another rationalist, sobering, scandalously gvaltige, email-storm-inspiring article.
|Snapshots of hassidus ... I went out on a date with one of these.|
Hashkafa means "outlook" in Hebrew, - and my Linux (Microsoft-free) user friend likes to say, "Life Is Easier Without Outlook" – how appropriate! – because Jewish practical law alone seems to be too boring for Jewish rank and file, therefore, - for thousands of years, we invented hashkafa. It is the essence of any Jewish –isms. Most people fall into the trap of looking for a rabbi, and nowadays a book, to tell them how and what to think of the world outside their heads, and Judaism.
I was born into the Litvishe hashkafa, which I find to be the simplest and easiest to observe even now when I am not religious:
-who am I? why should I do this? – these questions keep a person from unnecessary obsessive things, like behaviors, spirituality, and hassidus. From embarrassing others with unnecessary news, outbursts.
-never be religious at someone else's expense, time or space. That is, no taking precious resources from an unsuspecting, or uninformed people
-" do not do anything that is not understood, has not been learned yet, unfathomable, and unknown to everyone else. That means, no mystical component to Judaism, because it has been explained to the minutest detail.
The Christian-like Arizal-worshippers use their young, Gospel-like Zohar, to mystify their rank and file, very much like dangling a bone in front of a trusting dog.
Long time ago I am sure, radio, then telephone and TV were deemed to be evil influences. Now they are indispensable part of religious life. Even a TV set, and later a display, became a part of religious life. I remember being in late 1980's and told that there was something spiritually impure in a cathode ray tube, regardless whether it served as a TV set or a computer screen.
And the same is happening to smart phones, internet and email. Just like in the face of Vickie the Lolita, all resistance is futile.
The curious here ask me about frum life: no internet, no TV, newspapers with reprinted stale news, black fashions, no texting, no rumor mongering, - learn Talmudic jurisprudence all day, recite Tehillim, bake, cook – OK, people are still people, they want to talk about other people and things – naturally. What do you people talk about?
I said, about big profile rabbis, yeshiva politics, changes in child education, whose daughter married whose son, weddings, new bans, new leniencies, new fashions, rumors of miracles, of mystical rabbis, of scary stories, new amulets, and tricky things in any of the above.
When a huge flock of non-learned rank-and-file suddenly buys into their fur-clad leader's hashkofo, then the result is called the start of hassidut. Within hassidut there are extreme behaviors, often achieved out of demonstrative, bond-reaffirming, tooting-your-own horn, dancing around the tribal fire purposes. And most of the time it is so much easier to attend lecture of a rabbi-like not-rabbi lecturing the herd on the way to think – the not-rabbi's name and the content is a perfect excuse not to know the law of cooking a meat pie after baking salmon. The name dropping sets you free.
In a way, the Reform, the Conservatism, the Reconstructionist, all the Hasidic movements, the Breslov Hasidism that includes Kabbalistic non-Ashkenozi adherents, Essenes, Zealots, and all forms of Christianity is hasidus.
|Way back when...they prayed to get married...and I for divorce.|
It's 90 deg Fahrenheit, and 90% humidity outside, and you are wearing black clothes and no sunhat? Your wearing of your forefathers' garb will earn you a merit in the world to come, thousand fold.
The Hassidic leniencies so lovingly practiced in private – like morning prayers in the afternoon, evening prayers in the morning, - call for demonstrative stringencies in public.
Marshmallow – Chabad proclaimed marshmallow to be treif because in US it contains traif gelatin. In my circles, satellites of Chabad, and Beis Yakov and sem girls - many of whom admired strictures, looking over their shoulders at Chabad's Chaya Mushka schools, - bought into the word marshmallow signifying pork of vegetarian foods. Whoever knows of marshmallow being a plant, is a heretic. The hassidus' adage at work: whatever extra that escaped prohibition, should be banned.
Ben Torah and Learning
Ideally, a Ben Toira is a genius in Torah, Gemorah and Halochah, and does not let it go to his head.
Ben Toira is a concept that has been manipulated like a rubber band, just like Judaism itself. According to the original concept, Ben Toira is a man who learned to be naturally in sync with the practical law, and still remain a mensch in all aspects and situations of life, and moreover still, keep expanding new horizons in learning Torah. He is expected to learn in a kollel, totally subsidized by fellow Jews, and not any government (in compliance with several passages from Pirkey Avos, and Shulchan Oruch, which we have not studied in girl's sem)
As a companion to my exes I was rather a silent observer to their and others uncontrolled unnoticed behavior – sanctimonious, – as we say "mit'hassed", beard-stroking, black-clothed dandy Ben Toira. Seeing a man in mismatched pants-jacket-hat frum ensemble, while wincing: "he looks prusteh, brings shame on the rest of us." Seeing frum women in the street drink from straight from bottles - in summer heat: "They don't behave like our mother Sarah, the example of modesty."
In the same spirit of sanctimonious humility, the secular knowledge is expected to explicitly support the Torah's lessons in ethics. If it is not, then unofficially the knowledge, or facts are branded as "epicorsus," which is probably heresy.
Religious learning has collided with the recent developments in secular life. Image-free, non-cinematographic, anti-humor religious interaction as the background for catatonic studying of Talmudic material is no match for the social life saturated with the iPhone-driven blogging, tweeting and video swapping DIY-entertainment.
Our friend noted that rabbinical learning is very much like the work of a judge on the US Supreme Court. Case law with precedent cases must be thoroughly studied (as Talmudic sugiyas), rulings understood (Rashi, Tosfos, Rif, Ran and Rambam understood), later opinions considered (Rishonim and Acharonim), and current opinions familiarized.
The learning can also be hashkafa learning, making a person's observance resemble that of a philosophy professor, who somehow feels that this daily exercise is the perfect reason that will guarantee him new depths and intensities in prayer and rituals.
This preoccupation is behind tons of the pre-Ice Age cassette tapes, podcasts, CDs, cheap glossy books and thousands of weekly parsha leaflets. Reading the predictable rhetoric justified one's observance. Of course, a tired family man dozing off on Friday night during a rabbi's vort is assured to be an unquestionable role model for the rest of the snoozers.
For a wife like me, a husband's pastime – either learning or the philosophizing – is as exciting as having to listen to a verbal summary of the confluences between Hegelian idealism and Kant's esthetics.
So far it feels great being married to a non-religious man.
|The truth is sorted out and the fantasy headed to the gniza. |
Thank "Wk" for the contribution.
Using my womyn's intuition honed by the experience with two religious husbands, their friends, guests, my own father and brothers – I would say that out of few millions of religiously observing, there are only 2000-3000 serious learning, true rabbi-grade (not the rabbi the smooth public-speaker leader class) men. Maybe less. The men who through natural competition and determination will become known learning-teaching rabbis in the next 20-30 years. This type of men deserve to be exempt from the society's assumed expectation to work, I wholeheartedly agree. This is the group covered by the concept of Toroso Umanoso – Toira is His Profession.
The group probably deserves special tuition, subsidies, financing, and community support, and probably through anonymous sources.
The rest of the religious men who spend time learning, or learn to learn, or appear to be learning, will never become greats, and their excuses and justification will never work with their brides, wives and gentile officials – the nature of a Hebrew man is that of a farmer, the keeper of sheep and goats, bulls, fruit trees, pottery, a specialist in drainage canals, animal fertilizer, builder of farm equipment, etc. Judah (prophetically) did call us forever-and-ever – the shepherds.
And so Litvaks up until the recent financial crises used to sneer at anyone who worked. To them that meant the working Jew was not really with the spirit of Toira. The Litvishe Ben Toiro knows how to dedicate himself to learning, while living up to the Ben Toirah concept – one of the major unpleasant necessities, or duplicities, is being able to secure parnossa, i.e., funding from whatever sources – whatever is the key- and of course after each successful deposit in his bank, claiming to everyone else that his prayers have been answered, and saying no more, keeping his mouth shut as everyone else's kids sleep in a patheiic pile on the floor living the life of Spartan childhood.
Hassidim are realistic, in this sense, to the point of being wishy-washy. Work is kosher. Diamonds and gold are OK. So is import-export, and the Chinese key chains by the pound are of course are even more kosher.
I can't think of real Ben Toiras, really, other than my father, and his father OBM. I keep telling my kids about how me and my two Little Rebels brothers – and parents - had precisely measured 1.67 of a hot dog with 3 inches of mustard and ketchup 2-3 times a week. After the bigger sisters married, we went up to 2 whole hot dogs each! – all the while our closets where stocked with $1-2 million in brown bags to give out as in 5-10 grand to needy families and 40-80 grand to newlywed couples for the down payment on a house. None of us touched in no matter how badly we needed to eat or new shoes or airfare to a wedding. To us the millions weren't even money, we called it Gamach, or tzedaka, and understood it to be so naturally huge that it could be used only for dramatic situations, the stuff of all the touching stories. Our father never called it "money" either, and that is why people of means sought him out as the true Ben Toira, the most trusted religious Jew.
He has refused to reveal the source of our sustenance. Of course he was paid by yeshivas where he taught. We suspect two-three businessmen in New York and Israel, who are totally unrelated to us, but always were happy to see us, and were very sharp at knowing the state of each of the kids progress, and always brought fancy toys and books.
Maybe that 1.666 hot dog/$2 mil experience made each of us – the Three Little Rebels – sober and fair about money. The minute I was able to get the deed to the apartment in Paris, I hurried all I could – so I could invest it as a tangible equity – in my children's future. I haven't bought anything furry, flashy, or sparkly, or splurged on anything yet – I am wearing artistic, pretty fashions which were designed, or altered by my girlfriend. I guess all the hot dogs and millions taught us to be frugal. And even more so my family. My brothers Benji and Eijuszik have a viable business of recovering-translating-publishing ancient Jewish manuscripts. Eijuszik is the youngest ever rabbi to start his own kollel – where he took in my first husband. His superman qualities in running a family-teaching-learning, and our father's name were the secret ingredients that made a good name for himself. Later on, honest with his standards of Ben Toira character integrity, he gave up all management when our personal life and his divorce disturbed him greatly.
|More Zohar for the gniza.|
As one of my ancient great-grandfathers detected, Kabbalistic material (Zohar) was largely a figment of Rabbi De Leon's creativity, injecting into Judaism thoughts of punishments at the hands of European crusaders.
Many non-rabbi rabbis found that Kabbala could be used conveniently to scare Jews into harsher observance, and to distance them from risky practices or thoughts, or put a woman in her place. The standard and simplistic formula: "Zohar says that anyone who does (does not)… will deserve (not deserve) …" translates into age-old mind-muck:
Make a woman wear an apron? Tell her that it is written in Zohar (as personally told to me by the Belz Chief rebbetzin ) a woman who wants male children will always wear an apron.
Make a woman button up in hot black clothes? Tell her that Zohar promised her each drop of her sweat turn into plenty of honey in the world to come.
Don't want to give your wife a sip from the havdala cup? Zohar says: a woman who drinks havdala wine will grow a beard.
4 centuries ago they were sure that messiah was coming? They had Zohar say that Messiah will cancel Tefillin fro men on the intermediate days of Pesah and Sukkos, so it stays cancelled even now.
They haven't produced greatest geniuses of late, and try to make up for that by dressing up in Ashkenozi black suit and fedora hats, and Torah-fudge it by saying that the hat worn at a jaunty angle is – you guessed it – a deep Kabbalistic secret, where the hat is actually a connection to angels. A stupidly naïve copy of Christians' portrayals of angel's nimbus, hey? Some of the Sfardim try to squeeze into the greatest Ashkenozi yeshivas and kollels, trying to impart themselves some of that which is lacking in their centuries-long fanatical obsession with mysticism, Kabbalistic Messianism, which includes the nearly messianic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai-Arizal worship.
Sfardi propaganda might be primitively chauvinistic. "You Ashkenazim should know, that's no wonder we don't eat fish and milk together…our minhagim are ancient…you Ashkenozim are from the tribe of Benyamin, and we are from Judah…"
I think my brothers came up with the best rebuttal to the Sfardi propaganda: if you are so holy and smart and special, then why are you on waitlists and change your names just to get into Ashkenoyzi schools and yeshivas? And dress up like Ashkenozi too?
I know I that it's anachronistic for a Lolita gal to sound like an ornery old opinionated man, but it's my brothers with me have been exposed to the worst Sfardi stereotypes. Eijuszik married Esterica, who is an educated refined formerly non-religious Sfardia, and I can't say anything negative about her really.
Maybe this fanatical Judaism is not so parochially dark and a turn-off, but still, I would not want a religious husband, and I am glad that many rabbis were speechless too feed me any further counter-arguments. I just find myself praying that my husband does not become religious. Everyone knows it that the grain has been sown inside everyone.
But if I was asked if I would like to live my life all over again, I would say for sure, I would want to be born into my own family again, the only and probably the last normal lebedige Litvishe mom and dad and brothers and sisters.
I also believe in the principle of marrying within own shtetl. My husband's genes come from almost the same area my paternal grandparents lived, though in different generations. That helps a lawt with the peace at home and mutual understanding. Even though we think in different languages, we share the common psychological responses. I am anxiously awaiting for the government politics to shake out in favor of our settling down at a kibbutz, where we can contribute to the common idea, while using our talents to the fullest.