Replacing Secular Values with Torah Values

Before getting into my latest question/difficulty, I would like to give a quick follow-up on my last post, “Trying to Pray”. I wish I could say there was some dramatic change and my prayers are now impassioned and sincere. Unfortunately, were I to say that, I would be lying. What did change is my perspective, thanks to a wonderful story I read. I can’t remember where it was written, or who was involved (maybe someone who remembers these kinds of things will be able to help—I hate telling unattributed stories), but here goes:

A depressed Jew went to his Rebbe and explained his problem—he felt uninspired in his praying and learning, and in fact didn’t enjoy doing either. The Rebbe answered him by saying that he (the Rebbe) was jealous! He himself enjoyed praying and learning so much, that he felt that he wasn’t fully serving Hashem in either, because his own enjoyment meant that he was never praying or learning for Hashem’s sake alone. Meanwhile, the other man had the opportunity to pray and learn only for the sake of heaven, with no personal enjoyment acting as an ulterior motive.

Since reading this story, I’ve been trying to approach my prayers with the attitude of “here is an opportunity to really serve Hashem.” I might find praying difficult, but that just makes my efforts to pray all the more important. In fact, I do feel that I grow more in twenty minutes of prayer (with a lot of effort to focus) than I do in several hours of preparing for Shabbat guests (a mitzva I love to do).

Now for my latest struggle.

As pretty much everyone who follows the news knows, the annual international gay pride parade was scheduled to go through downtown Jerusalem. Which led to all kinds of protests, and counter-protests, and angry editorials on both sides, and in the end, the parade became a more private gathering in a less frequented part of town.

Despite my fervent hopes that I could somehow just ignore the whole issue, I found myself affected. By the constant traffic jams, and the fact that it was always in the news, and more importantly, trying to explain the conflict (justify the behavior of the protestors on both sides) to various family members. However, the main effect (and, probably, the reason that I wanted to avoid the subject in the first place) was being forced to confront my own very mixed feelings about the subject.

I know that the Torah forbids gay relationships, and certainly any attempt to openly flaunt Torah law in the public sphere should be protested. That’s the intellectual side. But emotionally, it’s hard to accept. I grew up in a town where it is very acceptable to be gay. I had gay neighbors, gay teachers, and gay friends, and I never saw anything wrong with their relationships. I was just as happy when two gay neighbors were married as I would have been for anyone else. Now, I have to learn to adjust my thinking to the Torah perspective. Not to become hateful or cruel, of course, but to recognize that this behavior is forbidden, and not a perfectly acceptable alternative to male-female relationships.

When I first came to Israel, about three and a half years ago, I had to undergo a similar change in mindset. I was already technically religious—I kept Shabbat and kashrut and wore mostly modest clothes—but my values and beliefs were still half-and-half. It took hearing a real Torah perspective on certain issues (mostly relating to Eretz Israel and Jewish morality) to shake me up and help me see that while my behavior had begun changing to be in line with Torah, my thinking still had a ways to go. I resolved to work to change my thinking as well as my behavior, until both would be according to Torah.

I found this second round of changes to be more challenging than the first. After all, in order to keep Shabbat, you just have to not do work. It might be difficult or frustrating, but in the end, it’s a simple physical act. Even when I felt like turning on my computer on a Saturday morning, I could just force myself not to. When I found myself thinking something that clearly came from my old perspective and was not in line with Torah values, I couldn’t force a change. I had to be patient and spend a lot of time learning and growing before those thoughts would be replaced by something better.

Overall, I believe that I had some success in becoming religious in thought as well as action. And yet, I have a lot further to go. So, my questions to everyone reading this are: what similar issues did you face (I can’t believe that any BT didn’t find some contradiction between the values they were raised with and the values of the Torah)? What helped you to overcome them? Were you ever downright offended by certain ideas/rules in the Torah, and what (if anything) changed your perspective? Thanks in advance for any and all honest answers.

19 comments on “Replacing Secular Values with Torah Values

  1. Here’s a hint – NEVER EVER EVER _justify_ bad behavior to the other “side.” It’s natural that you should want to defend frum people (or whomever), but if you think violence is wrong, telling people that you think so will actually somewhat neutralize the massive desecration of G-d’s name. That doesn’t mean that you need to take part in badmouthing frum people, either, but your friends and family will rightfully be relieved that the religion that you subscribe to doesn’t justify rock-throwing or burning garbage. (OR, deliberately provoking religious sensitivities).
    You should feel free to respectfully distance yourself from the method of protest. (While you remain confused about the position.)

  2. Charnie, I agree. You are absolutely right, especially regarding the political overtones of the subject.

    I just would hesitate myself to promote “choice” on the political level, knowing all too well that the choice most have in mind is far from the few important exceptions we speak of. I couldn’t lend a hand to what amounts to wantom taking of life for the sake of a “right to choose”.

    However, Judaism does not have a blanket ban on abortion, and I think this is an important point.

  3. Clearly my analogy of bacon vs abortion is highly simplistic, and certainly we are talking about entirely different issues. M, you are quite accurate that “choice” is clearly related to the taking of a (potential) life. That being said, however, my objection is to the political aspect of this. The current pro-life lobby does not even want choice in instances such as incest and rape. Even in my most liberal phases of life, I never thought that abortion should be used as birth control by anyone, but we must understand that there are exceptions.

    The issue of homosexuality was addressed quite eloquently by my husand’s Rebbe, who also advised celibacy. See,1998/homow.htm

  4. Ora, great post. And great comments.

    The gay issue was my sticking point in my early teshuva. I remember running from the room in tears when it was discussed in the first seminary I attended.

    So I ignored the issue. I pretended the conflict between my values and Torah values just didn’t exist, and I pursued other aspects of my teshuva. Gradually, without working on it, I found that my own views came around to the Torah’s view, but that I have retained the compassion and sympathy that informed my original feelings.

    Charnie, I think the interplay of psychology and the yetzer hara is very complex, and that it’s not an either/or.

  5. I think that sometimes BTs have a harder time accepting what others will think about their choices than the actual choices themselves.


    That must be difficult and it’s a challenge that I hadn’t even thought of. Perhaps it’s trite to say l’fum tzarah agrah (the reward is in accordance with the difficulty?)but I think that the story about the Rebbe’s understanding of challenge might be helpful.


  6. A few of my friends are gay, and wonder how my increasing level of religion will affect our friendship. I sometimes wonder that myself. Not that I did anything bad with them, but there are several things I wouldn’t do anymore.

    But the biggest place I currently have a hard time with is the separation of men and women in shul. I grew up Conservative, and my family always sat together. So now sitting with my wife “Over there” has a very different feeling. I understand the reasoning behind it and all, but it just feels so different.

  7. “Shayna, I share your opinion 100% about choice. My basic, albeit simplified, argument is that just because we don’t eat bacon, doesn’t mean it should be outlawed”

    Charnie and Shayna- I sympathize with your feelings. Perhaps this is different than bacon though, because it falls under a category included in the seven Noahide laws, and thus in truth, is applicable to all of mankind. Permitting life to continue doesn’t preclude, of course, ending it in specific cases. But that wouldn’t negate the concpet of refraining from terminating life.

    Perhaps there’s someone more knowledgeable here who can say if this thought is correct.

  8. I’m glad you posted this, I think about this topic often. One thing that I have a really hard time with is not ever being able to read from the Torah again, or even having an aliyah. I was raised Reform, and I often read from the Torah on yomim noraim, and of course, I read from the Torah on my Bat Mitzvah. It’s really hard for me to accept that I’m never going to do that again.

  9. As far as the source for your opening story, the story was with the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek (Chabad stories are carefully documented). A chassid came to him complaining that he did not enjoy learning. The Tzemach Tzedek answered: And what should I do when I do enjoy learning?

  10. When Jewish law requires an abortion, that isn’t choice or “permitted”, it’s obligation!

    As for yetzer hara and homosexuality, R’ Moshe Feinstein has an extremely strongly worded teshuva that says it’s yetzer hara.

  11. Wrongness as a concept has mostly been abolished lately, except when describing modern sins like smoking tobacco or shooting a terrorist.

  12. Ora,

    Regarding the gay/parade issue I think you might appreciate an article written by Rabbi Moshe Hauer over on the “Cross Currents” blog. The link to the article is here (However, I strongly suggest that you not read the comments as some of them are really nasty.)

    Regarding the pro-choice issue, it has always baffled me that orthodox Jews often align themselves with the pro-life camp. While Jewish law does not condone abortion for “any reason” we do have a much more nuanced approach to the issue than do the Christians who push the pro-life agenda. There are times that Jewish law would permit, or even demand an abortion, where Chritian dogma would not. So it’s important for us to make sure that choice is available when needed.

  13. Ora,
    You put into words so nicely one of the biggest hurdles of Baalei Teshuva- turning over your whole mindset. And it’s a long process.
    I still struggle with getting rid of that liberal “anything goes (as long as you don’t hurt anyone else)” mindset that I grew up with. I try to remind myself that the WHOLE Torah is Emes, and if I don’t understand/agree with something, then it is something that I have to work on.
    What I also find extremely difficult is explaining my viewpoint to secular Jews, especially when they ask me why something that goes against Torah is so WRONG? It’s hard to tell someone that I believe that what they’re doing is wrong. Nobody wants to hear that. I always look for ways to explain things so that people aren’t personally offended, but come to see why Torah makes sense intellectually.
    As we change our thinking over to a Torah viewpoint, we are constantly telling ourselves that we were wrong- I think that’s part of the reason why it’s so hard. But if we take an honest, humble look at ourselves, we can pinpoint alot of flawed thinking.

  14. Shayna, I share your opinion 100% about choice. My basic, albeit simplified, argument is that just because we don’t eat bacon, doesn’t mean it should be outlawed. We alledgedly live in a nation where “church and state” are separate, and I do not want policies dictated by evangelical groups. Just because choice is available, doesn’t mean that any of us, G-d forbid, would utilize it, even though there are certain conditions under which this is permitted according to some Rebbeim, particularly where the mother’s life is in danger.

    Wow, where are the two of us going to go when we’re both outed from our respective communities!

  15. Yes, Ora, I struggle with the same battle about reconciling some of my most “liberal” beliefs with the Torah outlook. I also was sympathetic to certain aspects of the Gay Pride march–but not to their determination to shove it down the throats of the charaidi in Jerusalem!
    What I find harder to change is my deep down unwavering belief in a woman’s right to choose. Maybe it’s not an option for a frum woman (although the Torah certainly allows in in some cases) but I still think the secular law should allow pro-choice. (But that’s between me and my BT chevra. Don’t out me to greater Monsey!)

  16. Ora, you’ve again struck a deep chord with me (see my reference to one of your posts in the article immediately preceding this one).

    Ironically, the issue about gays in also one I’ve wrangled with. There is no doubt in my mind that this “parade” had absolutely no place in Jerusalem – which is certainly not Greenwich Village. However, although I can’t understand the whole idea, personally, I do (still?) believe that one’s predilection to homosexuality is not something caused by the Yetza Hora, but rather a psychological malady. There was a film released a few years ago about frum Jews who are gay. I didn’t see it then, and have no intention of ever doing so, but the fact of the matter is that this situation does exist. I’ve met such people, some who are “out”, others who still put up a façade. I’m sure they suffer greatly.

    You’re quite right about how difficult it is to “think frum”. Doing, or not doing things are relatively easy, they’re more external. But really reaching into the depths of oneself takes a lot of work. A process I’m still at for over 25 years, but I think I’ve made progress. Perhaps it could be summarized as how we see situations, through which glasses. There was this post on the subject previously.

  17. Ora,

    As I’ve gotten more Frum, over the years, one of the things I did was not watch TV on Yom Tov..I stopped doing that years ago. You have to understand that I came from a house where we watched TV & listened to the radio, and my Dad, A’H’ went to work on Yom Tov (he was Reform). Little by little, one step at a time, is the way to go IMO.

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