I was sitting recently with a BT who mentioned that he noticed how many frum people lack the “manners” of secular Jews. After a few moments discussion he finally said, “But maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe all this stuff about manners isn’t right.”
Although I had heard attitudes like this in Yeshiva many years ago, I was still surprised to hear him say it now. It’s been a long time since I’d heard statements like this.
Some people in kiruv do their best to vilify the secular world and make the frum world look perfect. This is understandable in terms of pointing out the differences between the two lifestyles. But there is a line that is sometimes crossed that causes a shift away from the true Torah perspective.
The observant world may have a handle on the most important things in life but they haven’t cornered the market on correct behavior. There are many things written about Derech Eretz in the Torah that frum people have left by the wayside. (I prefer not to go into specifics here. If you’re unaware of any problems like this, you are either oblivious or with a very special group.)
Maybe the secular world is nothing to compare to the observant world. But there are still, unfortunately, many things the observant world can learn from secular Jews. Not because the secular world came up with a sensitivity that doesn’t exist in the Torah. Maybe it’s even a result of the fact that secular Jews don’t focus and spend time on the myriad of ethical decisions that observant Jews focus on. Regardless, the observant world should always be looking to learn from everyman.
“Who is the wise man, the one who learns from every man.” Pirke Avos