The BT “Problem” That Won’t Go Away

I sometimes hear back through the cracks the complaints, sometimes justified, sometimes not, of the disillusioned baalei teshuva and, sometimes, former baalei teshuva. Sometimes, it seems, they were promised rose gardens. Some were not, but believe they were. Others just changed their minds, or followed their passions, or had a mental hiccup of some kind. It’s a complicated world. I can’t say I’m on a point of spiritual development that’s on a smooth curve from where I was 21 years ago, or that I’d be all that proud of what that graph would look like if I had to draw it … though sooner or later, it will indeed be drawn.

But there is one complaint about assimilation into the frum world that is so common that while I have yet to meet someone who used it as a rationale to stop doing God’s will as revealed in the Torah, well, it can’t be helping anyone.

It’s the Derech Eretz Problem.

On the one hand, derech eretz — the basic mode of behavior among people within a society — is laudable in the frum world. Let’s shave off the issue of corruption and crime; regrettably, we have our criminals, and they are all the more noticeable for their outer trappings of orthodoxy; but still we are not a particularly threatening group to each other or the rest of the world. Get past that and there are behaviors that are fairly common “out there” but relatively unheard of in the normative orthodox world and certainly in the yeshiva environment. Examples of bad social behavior rare in the frum world that spring to mind based on my own observation are disrespect of the elderly, physical confrontations, street crime and petty dishonesty, foul language, and, with limited exceptions, following the Boston Red Sox.

But when we gather around in little groups in our weaker moments, what we talk about is the Derech Eretz Problem.

It starts in Beis Medrash. As a child I learned from my bacon-eating, Sabbath-driving mother that when you take something to use, you return it to its place when you are finished. This evidently is not the rule in Judaism: In the holiest halls of orthodoxy, seforim and siddurim are left stacked up where last used (usually, it seems, at someone else’s regular seat) for someone else to put away or, regrettably, someone else to find if they’re needed. The people referred to here are lomdei torah — learners of Torah, the cream of the crop, the best and the brightest. They just were never taught to put away their things when they’re through. You can find the largest stacks of seforim, by the way, by the chairs that are pulled out from under tables that someone else bothers to straighten out the next morning. This is the rule in every single beis medrash and yeshivish shul I have been in: Someone else puts away your mess.

Why go any further? Can it possibly be that people whose spiritual vanguards act this way, and those people themselves, are not affected in the way they view their responsibilities to others?

There are no small gestures, no miniscule omissions on someone else’s cheshbon (account).

None of this comports, by the way, either with what I read in mussar (ethics) seforim or the biographies of mussar personalities. How inspiring these stories were and are to me! The attention paid to every detail of human relationships by a R’ Yisroel Salanter, the Alter of Slabodka! Even contemporary personalities such as R’ Moshe Feinstein and R’ Avraham Pam — their lives are filled with stories about how to live your life. Why this does not filter down to us, I don’t know. But it is simply a commonplace view in the right-wing yeshiva world that I live in, love, and defend that parking and street signs do not apply to orthodox Jews; rules and deadlines are for other people; queues are for those with less important things to do with their time; the grossest, most personal information is demanded from casual strangers; seating at dinners is by net worth; conversational partners are never introduced and — of course — looking a stranger on the street in the face and uttering those infamous fighting words — “Good Shabbos” — is provocation of the highest order.

Baalei teshuva never get past this, unless they have given up any hope of independent mind completely. I had a yeshiva roommate who told me, when I complained about people who parked in the middle of a strip mall parking lot in our neighborhood while they “ran into” the store, that I should shake my “goyishe” concept of “manners.” God forbid. But that was how he, a very sincere young man, dealt with the massive cognitive dissonance introduced by observing the way a large percentage of orthodox Jews treat the world and each other.

To me, it all comes down to the seforim.

We claim the bais medrash is our spiritual, almost physical home; seforim are our trophies, our sustenance; we caress them, die over them, we want our sons to write them.

But when we’re done with them for the day, we leave them behind just like the pile of used Kleenex next to the shtender. More than zoo rabbis, Zionism, fruit-shaped yarmulkes, all the hot buttons we love to argue over — this, and the foundation of ill manners — selfishness — that stands on it, must be at the heart of every baal teshuva who turns back around again, and the other formerly frum on the other side who seek, and find, not just examples of outliers whose scandalous behavior would shame any community to justify their actions, but a lack of garden variety derech eretz that is part and parcel of our existence.

Blame it on galus (the Diaspora), on distraction, on Eastern Europe, on yeridas hadoros (the decline of the generations) but it’s our problem now. All we who stay the course can do is pick up the tissues, collect the seforim, make sure our children see us do so and that they understand what is right and wrong despite what they see and whom they see it from … and, for ourselves, look upwards, not down, for inspiration and leadership, and recognize a snare of profound subtlety and power, nothing less than poison to the soul of the striving idealist.

121 comments on “The BT “Problem” That Won’t Go Away

  1. …theft of time the other person could be using for learning Torah – gezel zman & even limud Torah

  2. I know this article I’m commenting on is a few years old and I have not read other comments yet so sorry if the following has already been mentioned.

    In South Africa Derech Eretz has been maintained. Also – the Yeshiva Gedola has an established culture of returning one’s own books to the shelves – but more than that – returning the book to it’s correct place so the whole set is in order. The svora – reason behind it I heard is that it’s a shaila of gezel – a question of theft from the next person who wants to use the sefer.

  3. I think “good manners” ties into a larger theme of “consideration for others” which in turn is part of “showing respect for other human beings, whether they are Orthodox Jews, secular Jews, or non-Jews.”

    Maybe the Sicarii in Eretz Yisrael should be reminded of this principle by their Admorim before the next young Tznius Jewish woman gets hit with rocks or spat upon.

  4. About returning books, it seems to me that the point has been missed. If everyone put their books back there would be no need to pay someone to do it. I read somewhere that failure to return books used in shul is tantamount to theft as the shul then has to pay someone to do that. Is it really so hard to put one’s books back, and in the right place. This is all about attitude.

  5. A bit late, but nevertheless, it drives me crazy that no-one sends a thank you note for a present for a wedding or a bar mitzvah. No wonder there is a generation of ingrates. A thirteen year old boy suddenly get a slew of expensive presents and a nice big lump sum and no-one thought to teach him to sit down and to write a thank you note.

    The other thing is that generally young frum people and frum men of all ages do not stand up on buses for those more in need of sitting down. (Women are the most likely to give up their seat.)

    I once took a taxi and the driver asked me if I was BT. I asked him how he knew, as I’m pretty frummed out B”D for many years now. He said that I was so polite. What a chilul Hashem. (not me of course).

  6. Hey Guys!

    This is always a difficult thing for any BT and I wanted to say what we already know: It’s wrong to leave your books and have poor manners! We all know that and there’s no question. We aren’t going to change these people. It’s really that these people are just normal people in black and white who know a lot of Torah. They just don’t apply it or really live it. BT’s live it. It’s that simple.

    As a fascinating point. I’m a yek. This means I keep the original, old halachos and minhagim of Ashkenaz (which is very pure and accurate according to the Rishonim). People know it to mean that they arrive/start on time, are very orderly and accurate. Well, the two aspects go together. I’ve found that real yekim that I’ve met will always put away their sefarim and have great derech eretz, (and certainly had the derech eretz to keep the old halachos and minhagim and not leave the Torah of their mothers). This is just my experience though and is by no means scientific ; )

    All we can do is keep being real Jews and pride ourselves that we live real jewish lives like our great Rabbonim.


  7. Rabbi Gifter recounted forcefully:

    “When a bochur would take a sefer out of the bookshelf, as soon as he finished using it, he would immediately return the sefer to its proper place.

    Not like today, where they leave the seforim on the shtenders and benches and a seforim collector comes around at night with a cart collecting and putting back all the seforim. In Europe, we had kavod for the seforim, that was Derech Eretz!”

    (From LIFESTYLE magazine, February 2003, page 15)

  8. Bob Miller,

    Point well taken. Everyone should be dealt with as an individual and should find their own individual way to deal with things.

    However, it’s axiomatic that on a forum for baalei teshuvah we want to focus on the special take we have on Jewish life, given our background and experiences, and use it to catapult further growth.

    Albany Jew,

    I agree. I shudder when I think of what my lapses in derech eretz may cause. Time to brush off my “crisp straw hat, shining waxed shoes and white suede gloves!”

    If that what’s Kelm was like, imagine what Slabodka was like?

    Thanks, David, for that piece about the Beis HaTalmud of Kelm.

    My Rebbe used to emphasize that derech eretz is for more than etiquette and manners; it is the entire world of middos tovos, good character traits, that make up the basis for a person’s avodas Hashem. The mussar movement taught that you have to love your fellow human being, who is in the image of God, in order to have a relationship with God. “Frumkeit” starts with the mitzvos between man and his fellow, and religiosity without regard for another is pure hypocrisy.

  9. David S,

    I agree with 90% of what you said. However as it may be an “excuse” for someone with some experience looking for a way out, it is a big problem for the very new. I hate to use cliches but you “never get a second chance to make a first impression” That is why, we as BTs or FFBs, must be on out best behaviour at secular events (family weddings and the like) Like it or not, we all become representatives as soon as we put a kippah or a shaitel on our heads.

  10. In helping my daughter prepare a report on Reb Elyah Lopian, I came across some info that may be of interest to those following this thread. Clearly, these quotes are talking of different times and different places. Also, these ideas were employed in a specific Yeshivah and not in all Yeshivas but they echo some of the ideas expressed here. The first quote relates to viewing the tasks involved in the cleaning and maintenance of the Beis Midrash as “holy”:

    “Interestingly, there was no one who was paid to clean in Beis HaTalmud. All cleaning and maintenance tasks were performed by specially appointed students. These monitors would clean and organize all parts of the building, sweep and scrub the floors and draw water from the river during the winter months when the wells had frozen over. All of these tasks were considered special honors, and very few talmidim were allowed to perform them. Sometimes these honors would be sold on Rosh HaShanah , and there were many who vied for the opportunity.”

    The second quote relates to the question of whether the manners and etiquette of the outside world should be of concern to Bnai Torah:

    “The talmidim of Beis HaTalmud were very particular about their outward appearance, both in their dress and in their manners. They wore fine clothing, always pressed and of the latest styles. They would always be seen with crisp straw hats, shining waxed shoes and white suede gloves. They were careful to act in accordance with all the customary rules of modern etiquette. Reb Simcha Zissel (DL:Ziv) insisted on all of this as part of their responsibilty to make a kiddush Hashem, and to uplift the honor of b’nei Torah in the eyes of the world.”

  11. I’m uncomfortable reading that BT’s or FFB’s are uniquely this or that, whether in a positive or negative sense. At the end of the day, both have to live in the same Jewish society where they should deal with individuals on their merits.

  12. This is not a “BT Problem” that won’t go away, it is a problem with Jewish society that has probably always been and won’t go away.

    I once saw a Ramban that said that when the yetzer hara (Evil Inclination) sees that a person is being exceptionally righteous and he can’t bring him to fault in mitzvos (between man and G-d), he trips him up in derech eretz and mitzvos between man and his fellow man. At the same time, he lets someone who falls into apikursus (heresy) shine in pleasant manners, etc. Sound familiar?

    Of course, there have been gedolim and tzaddikim who did not succumb to this yetzer hara and excelled in both Torah, mitzvos, and derech eretz. And it is to them we look for guidance.

    But isn’t the lack of derech eretz a big turn-off for potential baalei teshuvah? Yes, however, it’s only an excuse. Someone who is really sincere will get over this obstacle quite easily (and I hope not by, “if you can’t beat them, join them”).

    A well-integrated baal teshuvah will try to keep his sensitivity to derech eretz, but at the same time strive to see Judaism past the Jews, as Rabbi Wein puts it (someone mentioned the entire quote above, I think).

    I’ve heard stories where baalei teshuvah endured wrongs that would have sent someone else off the derech, but it didn’t throw them for a loop. In one incident, the lawyer of an opposing camp that unjustly harmed a friend of mine asked him, “Are you a baal teshuvah?” When the affirmative answer came, he remarked, “I knew it. Because if you weren’t, this craziness would have made you frei (irreligious) by now.”

    I don’t think this is a problem for baalei teshuvah, but rather a problem which baalei teshuvah are uniquely qualified to see past. If we became observant, it was despite the behavior of a small minority of rude people, and keeping things in perspective, we saw ample reason to choose to join the religious community despite those flaws.

  13. Over shabbos, I saw this excerpt from Rav Elya Lopian’s Lev Eliyahu. He lists resolutions accepted by vaadim in Kneses Chizkiyahu, one of them is:

    “Returning Every Book to its Place

    It is extremely important that everyone become accustomed to order. In addition, keeping each book in its place is a great chesed, for others who will need the book will find it with ease, and will not need to waste time which should be spent in Torah study to search for it. Moreover, this is an act of respect toward the books themselves.”

    When I have a moment, I will also try to type up some interesting info re: Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv’s approach to derech eretz and the manners and understandings of the host culture.

  14. The reason there are people appointed to put away seforim is that the people who use them don’t put them away. It’s not the other way around. One of those putter-awayers who is now a Rov in a prominent shul agreed with me on this. He was happy to make a few bucks having this job but he still considered the whole premise proof of something other than generosity and good midos. Also, in many places, such as shuls, the people who do this are volunteers. They get a nice mitzvah for cleaning up other peoples’ messes, but that doesn’t make it a mitzvah to leave a mess.

    But really, this was a moshul! It was not meant to be the topic of the discussion per se! Really!

  15. I asked my husband and son about sefarim left out on the tables. Both said that in yeshiva there are people appointed (and paid) to collect the sefarim and put them away. This seems to be a practical way to clean up a beis medrash. Having 200 men converging on the bookcases doesn’t work very well (as I know from my exercise class – having 15-25 women putting their mats away simultaneously means a huge crush, weaving in and out, inadvertently blocking and bumping into people).

    When boys and men are used to this system in yeshiva, they will do the same in a shul and smaller beis medrash that may not have a shamash whose responsibility it is to put away sefarim.

    Neither my husband nor son thought this was a problem but then again, what do you expect of New Yorkers ;)

  16. Relative to Yerushalayim (also mentioned by Yakadum) all the other locations in the world are out of town. We are not praying 3 times daily to return to some other city.

  17. Sorry, I totally disagree with this post. The behaviors described are of course not proper and certainly if most people actually behaved this way it would indicate a problem. BUT I have rarely seen any of these things done. I have been in Frum communities for over 20 years and while there may be occasional lapses by certain individuals I certainly see nearly everyone put away their seforim and behave generally like menschen. Where I have lived, Yerushalayim, Chicago, Baltimore, Passaic everyone says “Good Shabbos”… perhaps the author is living in some strangely blighted area which is not representative of normative Frum communities… re: Ezzies comment that we should do these things because we want to not because we have to, I totally disagree… as chazal say: gadol hamtzuveh voseh…




  18. David Linn- no need to add humble pie to your Thanksgiving menu ;-) your stories are sooo entertaining and the lessons usually have a longer shelf life on memory lane and on the brain wave action hard drive which converts them into a learning experience and life lessons for future reference…..

    Ron Coleman – halacha aside for a second or a minute….. sometimes its the way halacha and related religious perspectives /thoughts and concepts are presented/taught or force-fed with the wrong utensils .Ever trying eating a piping hot complicated medium rare steak with simple chopstix .. I think that is where it gets tricky.
    When you say “mental hiccup” as a cause for tripping and discarding the religion rug instead of using it to navigate rough unfinished flooring aka life, I think its more complicated than just a mental hiccup or running after passions or random brainwave disconnect or energy meandering.
    Which is why aside from “appreciating” that there are different ways of presenting/ learning/ teaching and preaching there needs to be some taking the “appreciating” to the streets/orgs/schools… to kiruv and high school classrooms and while were at it cubicle curriculums too (you will never look at navi/halacha /hashkafa/ filing /faxing/marketing/branding… and phishing for acknowledgement the same way again) .

    Mark – great points on Real and NYC – I grew up in a random small town that is pleasantly patronizing /cordial and there is alwyas more than enough smiles for all . But also boasting a plethora of closet “steaming/ scheming” folks or just plain haughty and holier than thou individuals and plenty of evil slander and gossip advocates and coordinators but you would have never known if not for the patronizing part giveaway…..Anway , I fell in love with NYC and the real/what you see is what you get / sincere/ focused/quick caring individuals. It didnt matter that there was no slow /cordial pleasantries , I think being real and truthful is so much more important if its an either or situation.

    M – Mel Levine is a brilliant author of quite a number of fascinating books…….

  19. “Sometimes, when a person is told that the Torah requires him to act in a certain way, his response is “Where does it say so?” Where does the Torah say that one is not allowed to do such and such? Where is it recorded in Shulchan Aruch that this is forbidden? The answer to that question is this very pasuk [verse]: “You shall do that which is right and proper”.

    Great point which reminds me of a story (insert collective groan here).

    I had a friend in Yeshiva who owned an apartment in Yerushalayim. He was putting the apartment up for rent and told me that he was placing the asking price higher in the English ads that he was putting in the Jerusalem Post than in the ads he was placing in Hebrew in the hebrew language newspapers. I mentioned that that didn’t sound right. He got defensive and asked on what basis did I come to that determination. I answered that it sounded like he was placing a stumbling block in front of the “blind” (lifnei iver lo sitten michshol), he knows that they can’t read Hebrew and he is “tripping them up”. He disn’t think I was right.

    We decided to ask Rav Mordechai Shakovitsky zt”l his opinion. He answered that he could not do so. I smugly replied “Why, because of lifnei iver…, right?” The Rav answered “It is just common sense and common sense when dealing with your fellow Jew is also halachah.”

  20. two examples of mentschlichkeit:

    It says Rashi 13:3 that when Avrohom travelled back, he frequented the same inns he had stayed at on his way down.

    Rashi 18:8 that the angels appeared to eat, because a person shouldn’t do differently than local custom

  21. Question is, how does “ha’yashar v’hatov” differ from the mitzva of “v’ohavta l’rei’ach kamocha” (love your friend as yourself)?

    One can also ask: how does the mitzva of “v’holachta b’derachav” (you shall go in His ways) differ from the mitzva of Ahavas Yisrael?

    we know that the mitzva of “loleches b’chol derachav” (walking in all His ways) means Rashi -Devarim 11:22 “He is merciful, and you be merciful; He is gomel chasadim, and you be gomel chasadim.” It includes the action mitzvos of loving kindness such as visiting the sick.

    the mitzva of ahavas Yisrael (as explained by some) is a mitzva dictating an emotion of love for a fellow Jew

    doing hayashar v’hatov – well, don’t have precise parameters. It is the reason given for “bar metzra” – selling a field to someone whose field borders it. Rashi on those words says it’s “peshara lifnim m’shuras ha’din” (compromise, going beyond the letter of the law), which by the way is a question in itself – how can we be commanded to go beyond the letter of the law – isn’t that contradictory?

    Anyway, apparently it’s not the emotion or the obvious kind actions, but …. being a mentsch!

  22. from comment #66 I think the Torah does tell us in two words, “Kedoshim T’hiyu”. The Ramban’s famous drash on those words explains that one can lead a perfectly “halachic” life and still be a “navel” (boor).

    “Kedoshim t’yiyu” is about Man-G-d mitzvos, not mitzvos between people.

    In a famous comment of the Maggid Mishneh, he says that the mitzvah “You shall do that which is right and proper (haYashar v’haTov)” [Devorim 6:18] is a mandate to act ‘properly’.

    Sometimes, when a person is told that the Torah requires him to act in a certain way, his response is “Where does it say so?” Where does the Torah say that one is not allowed to do such and such? Where is it recorded in Shulchan Aruch that this is forbidden? The answer to that question is this very pasuk [verse]: “You shall do that which is right and proper”.

    The Maggid Mishneh explains that the Torah cannot enumerate every last detail and describe every situation. The definition of what is correct and proper can change. The Torah was given for all times and all places. The details of “haYashar v’HaTov” can change from time to time and from place to place. There is no one finite way of being a ‘mentsch’ (a person who behaves morally and ethically), but the obligation to be a ‘mentsch’ is constant. It is a positive Biblical command.

    Where does it state in Shulchan Aruch that one must be on time to his appointments, for example? It is not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch. Why is it not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch? It is not mentioned because it is an explicit Biblical command! There are many things not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch because they are explicitly mentioned in the Torah. The mitzvah is “You shall do that which is right and proper”. The mitzvah is colloquially called, “Be a mentsch!” A mentsch does not come 20 minutes late to an appointment without apologizing, as if nothing happened!

    This is the meaning of the Maggid Mishneh’s comment. The details of the mitzvah change. But one thing does not change — one needs to be a mensch! This is constant.

  23. Great post!!!

    I still think it’s the Brooklyn influence.

    I once heard also that since frum yidden have a plethora of rules to abide by, that anything outside of halacha becomes so unimportant by comparison they tend to ignore them — hence ignoring traffic rules, not noticing basic courtesy, etc. Not an excuse, it annoys the heck out of me, but perhaps a cultural explanation. When we were raised, there was no halacha, so derech eretz norms were the few rules that were enforced in our homes. So they are pashut to us. Therefore, just as some halachos may be very hard for us, no matter what our level, some rules of derech eretz may be hard for FFBs, if they learned them later in life or if they were somehow given secondary status to other halachos in the home. Just a thought.

  24. BT Forever:

    A quick summary of our town (sorry to be off topic)

    We have: Two shuls, an eruv, mikvah, a day school (K-8 and a tiny High School) a Regular supermarket with a full Kosher Section (including meats) a bakery (which is a bit of a distance) about 50 frum families (give or take) Very cheap houses.

    We don’t have: a Kosher restaurant (although you can eat in the Kosher Caf at SUNY) a good Judaica store. We go to Monsey for these things (about 1.75 hours) and ask everyone if they need anything, someone always wants Chinese food :)

  25. Avakesh –

    Much of what attracts thinking Jews, young and old, to the teshuva movement and Torah, are the rules, the boundaries, bein adom l’chaveiro, and bein adom l’makom. Putting seforim on a shelf – such a simple mitzvah – is a rule that encompasses both. By failing to restore the sefer to its proper place, you are causing bitul Torah, bitul z’man. Eventually, some Yid will need this sefer, and will have to start scoping the shul/beis medrash.

    You’re defending the indefensible. Failing to restore a sefer to its proper place is a multi dimensional aveiroh that should not be rationalized away. This is the beauty of Torah Judaism. Clear lines of demarcation, and this is what attracts BTs. The blurring of these lines by FFBs and others is what turns us off. I’m guessing you’re a FFB, because a BT would probably not write what you wrote.

  26. Albany Jew, how is it up there? Do you have day schools/yeshivas? Shuls? Kosher shopping?
    Kosher restaurant(s)? Frum Jews? There’s a tiny chance I might get a job there.

  27. I could see neatness being a virtue in a shul with seats, as opposed to tables where people have definite ideas about what they want available for their review. In many , if not all yeshivos, the table in a Beis Medrash is a sacrosanct location for all sorts of sefarim. IMO, that is a sign of being organized, not being messy.

  28. “Double and triple parking, not cleaning up after oneself, ignoring traffic laws, have nothing to do with harshness and everything to do with fundamentally inconsiderate behavior.”

    Nothing and everything are extreme words. The truth often lies somewhere in the middle in that we are affected by the surrounding culture (in this case the need to get many things done) for good and bad, but we can and should try to overcome and act properly.

    Albany Jew, I don’t think being tough is great, it’s just a reality of NY life for many. A small town has tremendous advantages as does a big city.

  29. Re 77-80:

    A wise person once told me “Learn to stay sensitive to other peoples sensitivities but insensitive to other peoples insensitivities”

  30. Yes Mr. Lipkin, all of which, unfortunately, you will find much more often in a big city. But I agree that we should, as Jews, raise ourselves above that behavior.

  31. The “surrounding culture” argument just doesn’t work for me. We don’t dress like the surrounding culture, we don’t use language like the surrounding culture, we don’t spend our free time like the surrounding culture. So why is it acceptable that our derech eretz is based on the surrounding culture?

    Also, Ron’s original post did not raise issues of frankness and lack of pretense that some of you are identfying as a part of NYC culture. Double and triple parking, not cleaning up after oneself, ignoring traffic laws, have nothing to do with harshness and everything to do with fundamentally inconsiderate behavior.

  32. Being tough is great when necessary, but if a potential returnee walks into a small Shul and no one talks to him or her it’s not so good. That is where a small warm community has an advantage (also lowers blood pressure for those there all the time).

  33. Mark,
    Exactly correct. And since frum people often feel like a big family, they are comfortable being fairly straight with each other and not worrying that each person is going to be hurt by slight offenses. Baalei t’shuvah (perhaps due to insecurity) sometimes seem to want everyone to stand on ceremony and be super-sensitive to their feelings. It is ok to be a little tough.

  34. In defense of NY, part of the reason is that we live relatively more hectic lives and are more results focused and down to business, which comes across and often is harsh and rude.

    I worked for many years with a woman at the Commodities Exchange in WTC 4. We would argue loud and strong for hours about the best way to do things and she would often remark at the end of the day that she had a headache. But nonetheless we had a great friendship and we successfully completed project after project together.

    She ended up moving to another town where everybody was polite and all smiles, but behind the scenes there was tremendous politics and back-biting and you never knew where anybody was really coming from. If a NYer is upset with something going on, they let you know.

    The same happens in other situations, there are people who will always be all smiles and will never say anything is wrong, but in reality they are steaming and scheming.

    If we can get past the superficial harshness of the New Yorker, you will often see that there is a person who is focused on doing what’s right instead of saying what’s right. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t work on being less rude.

  35. Someone should investigate if this “New York Jewish behavior mode” was absorbed originally from New York non-Jews! If so, no one would have to consider this mode to be Jewishly authentic, so we’d have one less thing to defend or argue about.

  36. I know this has been mentioned before, but having moved to a (relatively) small town from New York I can say much of what has been discussed are New York City rather than frum issues. My wife and I visit the city often, and we find ourselves going into “New York” mode shortly after arriving. Not that we shouldn’t rise above it, it can be difficult though.

  37. Here’s my take to date.

    – There is sometimes inconsiderate behaviour exhibited in our communities.

    – As BTs, not having been raised in these communities and cultures, we are more aware of these inconsiderations.

    – We think that it is a basic tenet of Torah Judaism that Hashem wants us to be considerate.

    – Different acts in different situations fall on different points on the inconsiderate scale.

    – We have to walk the fine line of judging the person favorably, while at the same time being critical of the act.

    – We have to recognize that culture is a big part of this and it’s very very hard to change cultures.

    – We should generally try to focus on the positive and not on the negative in people and communities.

    – Communal change is hard work and the best place to start is with ourselves and our families.

    – Perhaps we can start by tossing pebbles instead of throwing stones at those who we disagree with.

  38. M, boor means “ill mannered person”, which is exactly what this thread is discussing. Truth is the word Ramban uses, “navel”, which I think has a much stronger connotation.

    You have a good point, though, in that I probably should have referred to boorish behavior instead.

  39. Ron, I did not say it is “not Derech Eretz” to talk about a lack of same. I did note, however, that the term “boors” does little to contribute to fostering Derech Eretz. We need to increase our sensitivities toward our own Derech Eretz whilst discussing possible solutions to what is an aknowledged wider problem.

  40. Jaded, you’re a living example of unique neurological wiring, and I mean that in the nicest possible way! The premise of course is that we keep the halacha. That way of life is wired for all Jews. Beyond that, in terms of “lifestyle” within the realm of avodas Hashem, you’re right on the money: There are different styles for different Jews, and we should be able to appreciate each other not despite but because of that.

    There are two possibilities, chevra. We can discuss the problem and perhaps come to an understanding about what’s going on, what we can learn from it, how we struggle with it as baalei teshuva, how we can contribute to the solution.

    Or we can pretend there’s no problem. M thinks it’s not “derech eretz” to talk about a lack of derech eretz; I don’t see the logic. But sure; we can say people are leaving out seforim — our master example — for really well thought out, considerate reasons. (By the way, I agree: If you are learning a sefer over the long run and you keep it by your own makum kavua, that’s terrific. I do it sometimes myself. That’s not what I’m talking about.)

    It all depends on whether or not discussions like this one are legitimate hashkafic exercises. If they are, then let’s discuss the issues frankly and keep our eyes on the relevant halochos of loshon hora, rechilus, nivul peh, being melamed zechus — good.

    If they are not legitimate, what are we all doing here? Why are you reading this? If you want patty-cake stories of happy, contented baalei teshuva who found a perfect life in a perfect community, I can direct you to plenty of books, magazines and newspaper columns. If you want to know what “our issues” are — even if “our issues” are you — then keep reading.

    By the way, this is coming from a genuinely satisfied, “successful,” well integrated baal teshuva who learned in a major mainstream bais medrash and “passes” fairly effortlessly in almost any chareidi setting and is a lifetime New Yorker and who is kind of grump himself and is not devastated every time someone sneers at him for saying Good Shabbos. I think, however, that a lot of people from backgrounds similar to mine, or ones even less culturally similar to the frum world (I was raised in a largely Yiddish speaking Eastern European family and grew up in Brooklyn, so the leap was not so far out for me), gain from hearing frank admissions of what sort of obstacles to assimilation others perceive. That is what I understand to be the point of this board, and while I appreciate the sensivities of those who do not want to see the Accuser given ammunition, my assumption is that the discussions we have here are of a sufficiently toelesdike nature that the gain will, IYH, outweight the risk of loss. If I’m wrong, then pull the plug on me, by all means!

  41. “The 8 Neurodevelopmental systems and 8 different forces of which the Neurodevelopmental profile is developed”

    Jaded, I like this thought, and I think going this route has tremendous potential, for those capable of pursuing it. Also, how about Howard Gardener’s intelligences, or Mel Levin’s minds of all kinds?

    Workshops are one avenue to facilitating increased awareness in Kiruv activists for the youth.

    We’re getting off topic here, my apologies…

  42. I’m not sure how insinuating that other Jews are boors is representative of Derech Eretz. There must be a more Derech Eretz manner of referring to the issue.

  43. In post 44 JR asks, “How do we know the “right thing to do” without Torah telling us?”

    I think the Torah does tell us in two words, “Kedoshim T’hiyu”. The Ramban’s famous drash on those words explains that one can lead a perfectly “halachic” life and still be a “navel” (boor). I have drilled this drash into my kids’ heads and “shared” it with anyone who would listen.

    Through these words G-d is saying to us that he gave us a whole buch of laws of how to lead our lives, but he also gave us common sense and expects us to use it to act as His representatives in this world.

    This also shows who we can be big doers of chessed yet still be boors. They are not mutually exclusive nor does one counteract the other.

  44. Bob Miller- Amen to your comment regarding different approaches for different individuals ……..

    To take your thought just a little further down Sidetrack Ave. for a sec,
    Kiruv orgs and High Schools might want to adhere to the ” chanoch hanar al pi darcho” (loosely translated as educate your children according to their path), school of thought a little more often then they currently seem to be employing this slogan .

    And religious leaders , instead of spending so much time differentiating between different sects in judaism and why their judaism is the only right judaism… should channel their energies towards researching the different sects of judaism and what sort of minds and brains would best be suited for which paths.

    The 8 Neurodevelopmental systems and 8 different forces of which the Neurodevelopmental profile is developed/ based off of should be the central focus when determining how best to market the different sects of judaism towards the appropiate (minds) end users .Instead of the my size is the right size the best size and also fits all approach.

  45. An excellent post dealing with something that is one of my pet peeves.

    As someone who grew up in a community that meets the description in this post and has moved to another community where I believe this is not as significant an issue, I think there are underlying root causes for much of this. In my view, there is a prevalent psychological issue not just based on hashkafah that we are taught but arising from other issues that does not allow people to feel how other people feel. We (and our parents and children who we learn from and teach) all have to work so hard on making ourselves feel good and feeding our own self interests to prop up our self-worth – whether it stems from guilt about our torah observance (which, admittedly, can be very demanding) or deflecting other negative feelings that we need avoid, which often means we need to block out bad feelings about ourselves and, as part of turning off that part of ourselves, we don’t feel things about others. In this vein, I suspect that many things that people do that appear to be kind to others are really done for themselves and their own honor in order to achieve this sense of self, and there is no true sense of feeling for the other person. I think we are moving away from what I believe is an inborn trait of caring about others and how they feel. Now, I am not a psychologist or anything like that, but these issues have bothered me for a long time and reading this post really leads me to believe that there is more to this than simply hashkafah.

  46. “I can think of lots of good reasons to leave seforim out. Eg, so you can access them more easily so you can start studying them again on a moment’s notice. Or, eg, it’s better to leave seforim out, because speaks more highly of Jews to know they’re actually learning from the texts rather than just leaving them neatly arranged on shelves.”

    Those are all good reasons as is Mark’s point that there may be someone assigned/hired to replace the seforim (which he subsequently confirmed to be the case at at least one large yeshiva). However, if the decision to not replace books on the shelves does not include the question of whether it will affect others (i.e. through bittul torah, aggravation, etc.) then maybe we are falling short in our derech eretz, even with the best intentions.

  47. Which reminds me…

    Chaim Yankel, the shtibel Yid, is spending Shabbos at the gorgeous modern shul on the other side of town. He’s had a wonderful time. It’s Seudo Shlishis but there’s a problem. There’s just one piece of schmaltz herring left on the table. No one wants to take that last delicious piece. Suddenly there’s a power failure. Then a scream. The lights come back on. There in the middle of the table is one hand with nine forks sticking into it!

  48. I can think of lots of good reasons to leave seforim out. Eg, so you can access them more easily so you can start studying them again on a moment’s notice. Or, eg, it’s better to leave seforim out, because speaks more highly of Jews to know they’re actually learning from the texts rather than just leaving them neatly arranged on shelves.

    When you make global criticisms against Jews, and especially against lomdei Torah, you create an adversary angel against the Jews in heaven.

    Far better to look for reasons to praise the Jews instead of criticising.

  49. I think we should be willing to accept that different mussar approaches work for different Jews. I’m uncomfortable with those who champion an exclusively Chassidic or Lithuanian (or…) approach for all while putting down the other approaches categorically.

  50. Ron et al,
    “This week we learned derech eretz from Rivkah, from Avraham, from Eliezer”
    And part of the Derech Eretz that we learned from Avraham was that it is okay to tell a person to their face “Your cursed and I’m blessed so we can’t make a shidduch.” Yes, we need to have nice manners, and yes the fact that the German’s had them doesn’t automatically exampt us. Still, Jews may have their own culture and own definitions of what derech eretz is. Let’s ask ourselves a question. Do chasidim think that other chasidim are rude? If not, why not? Derech Eretz is a relative concept. Putting seforim away is one aspect of that which may be nogea to halacha. In other areas of derech Eretz there may be different opinions.

  51. A Yid,

    Any mussar approach can be turned on its head if not properly applied. The works you mention are all important (I assume you are talking about the beginning of the Tomer Devorah). However, to discount or deride an entire school of mussar thought based upon an emphasis on one aspect without addressing the whole is shortsighted, at best.

  52. > David Linn
    Gadlus of man is great, but not when it comes at the expense of forgetting humility and falling into gayve.

    Why did I mentioned Kav haYoshor, Toymer Dvoyro and Reyshis Chochmo? Because this kind of mussar, based on Chochas hoEmes, rather than of philosophy teaches the way of humility. And if one follows it, he’ll have ahavas Yisroel for other Yidden, which will motivate him to care about others, rather than to be preoccupied with his own gadlus, forgetting to put sforim back to the shelves along the way.

  53. “I agree with those who say that N.Y. in general is not as genteel as the south…HOWEVER, take 9/11 for example – there were SO MANY stories of New Yorkers of all races and backgrounds (and yes, many frum Jews) helping one another.”

    If there is hope for New Yorkers, there is hope for everyone! Seriously, the fact that New Yorkers helped people during 9/11, may point to their truer, finer nature and potential.

    Similarly, although it is noted here that some frum people have more challenges with common courtesies, ironically, as a community, it engages in a disproportionate amount of chessed activities. Is it possible, that some(perhaps a minority) of those engaging in the humanitarian work might be the same people with the bad manners? Can one volunteer for a chessed project and still lack manners and refinement? If the answer is yes, this would again point to people’s underlying finer nature.

    It would seem that there is a disconnect between Derech Eretz Kadma Latorah and other mitzvah observance. If one’s whole weltanschauung is based on Torah-based spirituality, it is easier to see Man-G-d activity as spiritual, and the derech eretz component as less important and not part of the system, notwithstanding that R. Chaim Vital states that the latter are the foundation for the 613 mitzvos. If one only has the “humanistic” courtesy system,however, in this specific sense, one does not have the risk of unintentionally seeing common courtesies as less important.

    The trick is to maintain both, the humanistic courtesy and manners, and to incorporate them as part of the Torah’s system of ethics. One might say that in this sense, there is a unique risk inherent in Torah observance, but on the other hand, the potential benefits are also greater,ie, to refine the humanistic-based courtesies to one which is part of a spiritual system.

  54. It’s curious that noone has thought to mention the issue of loshon hara. Have any of us BT’s, before becoming frum, encountered the prohibition to slander our neighbors, acquaintances, families, coworkers, etc… in the secular world? Maybe an occasional and rare referral to “idle gossip”, but anything on the scale of how it is treated in the frum world? Isn’t this one area that we owe the frum world (big time) for teaching us derech eretz?

  55. It is the hypocritical Eisov-model the pores t’lafav v’omer kasher ani that have been the cruelest of all. Yet it was not Eisav but graceless and unmannered Sodom, we learned last week, that was so cruel that Hashem could not tolerate its existence any longer and destroyed it Himself.

    I’m sorry, but this is such a dodge. I understand the Germans “made the trains run on time,” too, so let’s not worry about tardiness. They also build great machines, so poorly designed, poorly built junk is okay with us. Plus their streets are clean, so living in garbage dumps is very Yiddish.

    Sorry. Good manners are their own justification. This week we learned derech eretz from Rivkah, from Avraham, from Eliezer. Rashi tells us the difference between false politeness and genuine derech eretz, but nothing suggests that because some wicked people hide behind formality and the appearance of manners, our obligation to be menschen is even remotely relieved.

    The swine says “Look, I am kosher,” but is not; but we do not deduce from that we no longer seek simonei kashrus! It means we demand real kashrus. We owe it to each other to live up to the examples of the Avos, not to use the actions of evildoers to excuse us from the standard of proper behavior.

  56. I think that Ron’s post and R Y Horowitz’s piece on the distrubances in BP should be read by anyone who seeks to rationalize or justify conduct that is neither mentschlik, required by halacha nor derech eretz in the most fundamental manner. As long as we act like slobs in those areas that we either view as the most sacred( shul, yeshiva) or on vacation or violate laws that have a manifestly obvious positive purpose and benefit all of our fellow citizens, we have a lot to look in the mirrror at and ask what we can do to improve some of the coarser elements of our society. IMO, those who tolerate these elements have allowed themselves to be influenced by the coarser elements of our surrounding society.

  57. Everyone is invited, indeed encouraged, to join us for BeyondBT’s Birthday Melave Malka on December 2nd but please, please leave the bare handed herring scooping at home. Thank you.

  58. I think that this thread has made one thing pretty clear. No one people or group has a monopoly on civility or incivility. The same (or at least similar)FFB culture that spawned callousness to cut lines and lanes spawned the kindliness to bentch the kids away from the eyes of the older singles.

    To navigate our way in a terrain of very uneven Derech Eretz we need to both toughen and soften up. Or, as a wise person once told me “Learn to stay sensitive to other peoples sensitivities but insensitive to other peoples insensitivities”

  59. As we head towards our first anniversary a little retrospection/chazara is in order. Here are some comments from a very similar thread that first appeared January 18th :

    Manners are all good and well if they serve as an external moral exercise to strengthen internal ethical muscles- i.e. character development from the outside in- or to use the Chinuch’s vernacular “HoOdom nifa’al k’fee peulosuv-A person becomes affected by their affectations”. Yet they should not be overrated nor automatically equated with middos tovos. Moreover if they serve as a agreeable mask to lubricate one’s glide through polite society while concealing an ugly lack of middos tovos they become pretty hideous themselves.
    I think that Torah Jewry has always had pretty sensitive antennae to this kind of hypocritical, sometimes cynical, pretension and always valued “keepin’ it real”. This sensitivity was raised to a fever pitch in the aftermath of the Holocaust when we (along with much of the rest of the world) stared in shock as the civilization that gave us Goethe, Beethoven, efficiency, punctuality, administrative professionalism and precision and, no doubt, fine table manners, bared it’s fangs and soul and gave us the Nuremberg laws, Babi Yar and Treblinka.
    Not that these are the only extremes to choose from but given my druthers I’d rather be the utterly benign yet unkempt, uncouth bare-handed-herring-scooping Chasid than the elegantly attired and coiffed SS man dispatching people to the left with his white gloved finger. Perhaps on a societal level the former is a repudiation of the latter!

    Reb Gil,(39) this is what I think the earlier commenters were referring to. While Harlem, Iran and Poland are overtly uncivil and cruel places at least they are up front about their anti-humanity. It is the hypocritical Eisov-model the pores t’lafav v’omer kasher ani that have been the cruelest of all. The external civility itself compounds the cruelty as one gets “blindsided” by it.

  60. A little insight on the applicability of Slabodka to the issue at hand:.

    Rabbi Dov Berish Ganz in the Preface to his “Defining Humanity” says

    “The Alter (of Slabodka) is teaching that the extent of a person’s kindness towards others is the ultimate barometer of one’s true frumkeit–his oneness with Hashem. In a sophisticated sense, it is such conduct toward others that can truthfully be termed “religious,” “ultra-orthodox,” “charedi” or even “holy”.

    This idea of the Alter speaks volumes on the pursuit of true religiosity. To act with Avraham-like kindness toward others, one’s own character traits (i.e. modesty, honesty, compassion, and so on) must first be perfected. To the extent that one is dishonest, unkind, egocentric, ungrateful, and the like, he will be incapable of heartfelt goodness toward others. Furthermore, truly helping others requires

    • a penetrating understanding of human nature,
    • a cognition of that person’s particular needs and
    • an academic knowledge of the Torah’s teachings on ethics and character traits.” pp. 24-25

  61. YM-

    The tokhakaha element is reflected in David’s comment 45. I was trying to deliver it humurously but perhaps it just came across as lacking derech eretz.

  62. A Yid,

    I’m not quite sure I understand what you are saying. Slabodka mussar emphasizes the gadlus of man– the fact that he was created “just short” of the angels. A deeper understanding of this approach would foster more, not less, derech eretz. When one realizes the greatness of his potential, he will refine his conduct. When one realizes the greatness of his fellow man, he will be more considerate of him.

    It seems to me that we need more, not less, slabodka mussar.

  63. from comment #5 people should be putting things back because it’s the right thing to do, not because they “have to”. The perception often seems to be, “Well, if it’s not halachically mandated derech eretz, it must not matter”, and that’s a HUGE problem.

    How do we know the “right thing to do” without Torah telling us? We venture into dangerous waters when our rules of etiquette are learned from the secular world.

    from comment #27 For example, if 4 men are walking on the sidewalk side to side, taking up the whole walkway, they would not deviate from their path, forcing her into the street to continue on.

    I protest this slur on Boro Park. Nobody forced her into the street. She could have walked on the side away from the street in which case the men would have no choice but to move over. Alternatively, she could have held her ground and kept walking on the sidewalk and they would have moved. Who asked her to step off the curb?

    I agree with those who say that N.Y. in general is not as genteel as the south. New Yorkers have a reputation of ignoring one another and the line goes – if a man walked a leopard on a leash down the street, people wouldn’t bat an eye. HOWEVER, take 9/11 for example – there were SO MANY stories of New Yorkers of all races and backgrounds (and yes, many frum Jews) helping one another.

  64. Great Post. I once attended a shiur by Rabbi Berel Wein; he said “Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews”. Sad, but necessary.

    Concerning a comment made above; I was wondering whether it was a joke or a tochacha. We have to be careful, I actually know or have met both the person who posted and the one posted about. Remember, we live in a very small world.

  65. Thanks for the “Toyro” (shouldn’t that be Toyreh???) no doubt emanating from ERETZ Israel. (Kee MeeTzeYOIn taytasy Toyreh) I always knew it was those evil Slabodka-niks who were the root of all the incivility!

  66. Great post and a hot button issue to say the least. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of comments will end up exceeding the Financial Realities post.

    I have yet to meet a BT who isn’t appauled at some level with the lack of basic common courtsey that is none too common in certain communities.

    Ron’s allusion to sefarim I think is a fine one. It reminds me of a more mundane job I’ve had in my life. I used to work a minimum wage job in my college’s athletic center. I worked the night shift and after the gym closed (10PM), my co-workers and I were responsible for ensuring that all of the weights were re-racked in the proper place.

    Needless to say, after re-racking heavy weights (some of the weights were nearly as heavy as me) night after night for $4.10 an hour, I learned an important lesson. Just clean up after yourself! I am working on teaching this important lesson to my children. If they don’t learn it through my harping, I know where I will be sending their resumes. :)

  67. It is a lack of ahavas Yisroel, i.e. non returning sforim back to the shelves. If those who use sfori would care about others who might use them, sforim would be in place. People who don’t return them cause bitul Toyro, because others often can’t find the sforim which they need!

    People learn musar, but not the kind of musar which they need. Let them learn Kav haYoshor, Toymer Dvoyro and Reyshis Chochmo instead of Slobodka! This would quickly wake them up from these sleepiness.

  68. “The most polite peoples are also the historically most bloodthristy.”

    I think a visit to Harlem will change your mind about that. Or Poland. Or Iran.

  69. Chaya, you are so right! I have concluded, after (well, in the middle of) rearing four children, and seeing what happens around me in terms of what parents can and cannot do in terms of what is called “parenting” to affect the outcome, that a parent can do three things, and no more:

    1. Demonstrate love and affection for a child. This is 80% of the game.
    2. Expose — by teaching and by example — a child to the proper values. You cannot make a child live with your values but you can make darn sure he knows what they “should” be.
    3. Teach him manners. For this, only the parent, and not the child, has responsibility!

  70. Perhaps it’s inadequate to opine that BTs alone are carrying the load in dealing with the Derech Eretz-challenged environments.

    I’m a BT who married an FFB. After the maturation process got me past non-issues like yichus and frum connections I realized that a big “mayleh” (advantage) of this union was the many practices of Derech Eretz to learn from my wife and her family.

    One example: When we host an older single for Shabbos, I make sure to bentsch (bless) the children, as is the custom on Fri night, in a room where the guest can’t see it occurring in order to spare him/her any extra anguish over his/her station in life.

    That practice is credited entirely to my wife and as talented as she is in DE, it’s not likely she thought of this in a vacuum.

    Also, for our wedding, my mother-in-law thought of many clever ways to deal with one of the banes of a frum person’s existence; rude chattering during a Chupah.

    Plus, one of her uncles told me that when he receives an invitation to a Bar-Mitzvah (we are talking about a fully Orthodox one) that requires travel, it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will attend. That’s because he decided for himself and his children to always daven in a yeshiva (as opposed to a regular shul) so his offspring will absorb the fact the talking during davening is not a standard practice and therefore even a one-time deviation of exposing his kids to talking in shul was an issue that required scrutiny.

    This does not, nor is it meant to turn Mr. Coleman’s thesis on its head since it doesn’t contradict any of his points expressed.

    However, perhaps it could provide a measure of “chizuk” by saying that we (BTs) are not necessarily alone.

  71. Ron, even in the last category they are not all the same problem and your article did seem to make some sort of equivalence, especially with the line that it “All comes down to the seforim.”

    Derech Eretz is a huge category with a multitude of specific behaviors which must be considered individually in regard to culture, context and damage.

    Of course addressing the problem is important, but if we overstate and generalize the situation as the Derech Eretz Problem, we won’t get heard and the problem won’t be addressed to any significant degree.

  72. Avakesh-

    I find the first 1/2 of your comment snobbish and dismissive of whole swaths of K’lal Yisrael. Also, your implication is that “descendents of other cultures” were somehow more influenced by mores foreign to Yiddishkeit than were the Yekkes and Litvaks. A debateable point to say the least.

    Chaya-This:”But seriously, how realistic is it that we will change other people’s behavior. Rude is rude. We can improve ourselves and we can set an example for others, including our children. And that’s about it.”

    is a profoundly puzzling sentiment to see expressed on a site like this. Replace the words “Rude is rude.” with “Non-Halachic is non-halakhic” and the FFB first generation pioneers of Kiruv/outreach would have devoted all their energies to cultivating theri own gardens and their never would have been a Kiruv movement. And very few of us would be blogging here today!

  73. Chaya,

    I’m glad you commented, my wife and I have been wondering for months why you didn’t thank us after having shabbos dinner in our home. That explains everything. :)

  74. A number of people have brought up a nice point here about the “polite” / bloodthirsty culture. There are many droshos on this as regards Eisav, who was the “perfect son.” But it cannot be the case that chazal taught us this in order to suggest that we are “off the hook” on derech eretz. In fact, we learn exquisite lessons in derech eretz from every great person in Tanach, and for that matter every baal mussar and gadol batorah.

    Incidentally, I would say the Japanese and Germans are known more for their formality, or what may be called politesse, than manners or genuine derech eretz.

    A few people have suggested that perhaps I hit the nail on the head when I said maybe it’s just New York. That’s not much help, either. By the way, these Germans and (frankly, idealized) Litvaks who are so polite are every bit as much in New York, and in the latter case in Brooklyn, as the chasidim and regular Russian and Polisher yidden.

    Mark, you keep hitting this “let’s not equate them” button which leads me to believe that my point is not getting through at all! We’re not equating them. Murder is bad. Stealing is almost as bad. Dangerous driving could be somewhere in between. Slamming a door in a woman’s face, cutting in line at Great Adventure and parking in someone else’s driveway because you need to make a minyan are on the bottom of that list of evils. I am writing about the this last part because that’s our problem and the others by and large are not.

  75. A Newcomer said,

    “My company is moving near Baltimore in a few years, and my wife is hesitant to move into the Jewish community in Baltimore…”

    Not to worry, you’ll both love it!

  76. It’s absurd to discredit common courtesy because some rogue cultures happened to practice it. It’s absurd to say that Jews, being members of an extended family, have license to abuse each other. We should not be so secure in others’ good intentions that we become willing to take advantage of them.

  77. Menachem, we can all probably use some work in the Derech Eretz and the Bein Adam L’Chavero departments, but there is a difference between not putting away seforim in the Beis Medrash (not a big problem), cutting a line (a bigger problem) and creating dangerous traffic situations (a serious problem), even if someone might consider all three boorish.

    If we equate them all, do not take account of context and culture and make no effort to understand and give the benefit of the doubt, then I’m afraid the solutions will be worse than the problems.

  78. I agree with the poster who said we should be melamed zechut that rude people didn’t receive a proper foundation of derech eretz.

    I was raised by two compassionate, conscientious nonreligious parents whose parenting approach involved never correcting my manners! I know they were trying to do the right thing, but I was a rude little child, and as an adult I struggle with the basics like remembering to thank people! Simply because these things are not reflexes for me. I compensate by trying to be particularly attuned to other people.

    [Yes, I am rude and I don’t care about Thanksgiving…perhaps I am actually FFB and I don’t know it?]

    But seriously, how realistic is it that we will change other people’s behavior. Rude is rude. We can improve ourselves and we can set an example for others, including our children. And that’s about it.

    But it does feel good to vent, and I’m glad we have a space to do it.

  79. This is all culturre and little else and has nothing to do with Yddishkeit. If you had grown up among the Yekkes in Washington Hieghts or in a true Litvishe seviva, you would have found much more politeness than your find in our average shtibel dominated by descendents of other cultures.

    The most polite peoples are also the historically most bloodthristy. Jews can push the envelope because they are basically secure in the basic good intentions of their fellow; other cultures need manners as a barrier to flaring emotions and murderous rages.

  80. My wife grew up in Boro Park (before it became a Hasidic neighborhood, it was more of a Modern Orthodox neighborhood). She doesn’t like going back to visit her parents because now she knows that the rudeness that she experienced (and still experiences on visits) there daily is not the norm in the world. For example, if 4 men are walking on the sidewalk side to side, taking up the whole walkway, they would not deviate from their path, forcing her into the street to continue on. When following someone into a store, doors were frequently released so they would close on her as she was stepping through, etc. In fact, I notice that when we visit BP, my wife “toughens up,” she starts to become rude to strangers there. When I asked her about it, she said that was the only way she was able to get through living there, otherwise they would hurt her (emotionally) too often, so she had to use that to shield herself.

    And Melissa… parking in Boro Park, oy, what an adventure that is. I try to avoid 13th Ave at all costs! (the family lives one block away)

    My company is moving near Baltimore in a few years, and my wife is hesitant to move into the Jewish community in Baltimore, she’s afraid she’ll have to go back to the kind of environment it became in BP.

  81. While a agree with Menachem’s point, Derech Eretz has always been an integral part of Jewish life. Rav Simcha Wasserman says (as written in RAV SIMCHA SPEAKS) that when working in adult outreach it’s important to emphasis the stories and roles of the Avos and their since of righteousness and derach eretz.
    In terms of subjectivity and cultural norms, if the Torah is Emes, then its values should cross all cultures.

  82. Mark,

    Of course social norms are a factor. For instance here in Israel the gesture for “wait a minute” is a hand/arm gesture that to me, as an American, is almost as offensive as holding up a middle finger.

    However, I think what most people here are talking about is behavior that is boorish relative to the host culture. The fact that project DERECH exists and is widely used is proof enough that there’s a problem.

  83. Point taken Ron, but there has to be something deeper. Consider that the politest people on earth are the Germans and Japanese. Our understanding of manners differs from theirs. They view manners as expedient social lubricant while we view them as a path to emulate the Almighty and come close to him. When push comes to shove (sorry, rotten choice of words) the degree of caring of a New Yorker or an Israeli will rise to very impressive levels.

  84. Thanks for the post- it’s a great one, and really got me thinking…

    On Mark’s cultural norms point- here’s an example that may lend some perspective to this:

    In New Zealand, social norms don’t include providing feedback to a speaker. So in a Shiur, a New Zealander will look deadpanned at the speaker, even with a small cozy group, without any yesses or uh huh’s, no laughing at the speaker’s jokes, no interested raising of eyebrows, or nodding of heads. To do otherwise would be considered disrespectful, and the American norms regarding feedback are viewed as exceedingly rude… To an American, this audience looks bored, to a New Zealander, this audience is respectful…

  85. Ron, If you don’t have a real source, then perhaps R’ Moshe said that putting away the seforim would be bittul Torah :-)

    To everyone, do you think that the Torah takes into account any cultural norms when judging behavior? If it does, are we guilty of not judging people favorably, if we don’t consider some of those norms.

  86. This is a great post, Ron. In the last chapter of Pirkei Avos it lists the 48 ways to acquire the Torah. One of them is HaMakir Es M’como (to know your place). I’ve always felt this also relates to your issue with lack of derech eretz in putting things back in their place.
    As one who as lived with Torah observant Jews in NYC, Indianapolis, and now Chicago I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s a ‘New York’ or an FFB thing. It’s just a lack of sensitivity. The same way that people don’t hold doors open for others (and when I do, I rarely get a Thank You).
    Many people when it comes to their yiddishkeit are too busy with the mechanics of the halacha and not the more interpersonal side.

  87. This lack of respect used to eat at me.
    But one thing I observed for a long time is.
    That the jews who live in NY (where I grew up)
    are affected by the surroundings. I noticed when these same crazy drivers and disrespectful people came to where i live in the south after a few days they just relaxed and they became sweet kindhearted and caring jews that we all strive to be.After a few years not going to NY i came back i felt i would change everything i will smile a t everybody say hello seek the needs of my brothers. But after a short time i felt totally drained weak and unable to maintain the same will to be nice not angry or anything. I came to the Conclusion that the big city atmoshere destoys the sensitive jewish heart. I came to the conclusion its not their fault you let one car go ahead of you 50 others follow behind to take advantage of you.
    So NYers create a tough external shell.
    Thats why i always say jews dont belong in NY they need to be in small towns be a part of a community not Chaosville.
    Thats why from then on anytime I see this kind of thing i just judge favorably that if I lived ina Big City Iwould be a Monster.

    Yaakov from the South

  88. I am an FFB from a BT father.
    I hold Derech Eretz is Nubmber One.
    In my own house there was no such thing as chutzpa. And more than that but true Honor and respect.I myself now live in a southern town.
    I feel that if One of the Gedolim will write a sefer on derech eretz from Table Manners to respecting elders Klal Yisrael will be uplifted from this galus.
    We Somehow Forget We ARE BNAI MELACHIM Royalty.
    I think it is a GAlus Thing weve Forgotten that we are the KingS Son.
    I feel that one of the Most Amazing things thet BTs do, is remind Klal Yisrael we are the children of the Kings.
    May H-shem bless you all for all you do for us
    YAAKOV from the South

  89. I once drove home from Boro Park in tears because I was so shocked and hurt by the way a frum Jew was driving. It’s painful to see any Jew act this way, but especially a frum Jew who “claims” to be living by the guidelines of Torah.
    I struggle constantly to reconcile this behavior, but two things I realized helps put it in perspective (but not excuse the behavior, which IS a chillul Hashem): Each person has their struggles and some did not have the benefit of a proper upbringing in Derech Eretz.
    Every Jew is lacking in their own areas. One may not have much Torah knowledge, or may not give as much tzedakah as they should, etc. Some Jews lack proper Derech Eretz. That is what they have to work on, and we have no idea just how much someone is struggling in a particular area.
    Some, like Ron, had the benefit of an upbringing with a foundation of Derech Eretz, but who knows how some people were raised? Some BTs were raised without Torah knowledge, so they shouldn’t be blamed for not living by the Torah (before they learned the proper way). We all know how hard it is to learn what you didn’t know as a child, and then apply it to your everyday life.
    I think it’s the responsibility of those who DO practice proper Derech Eretz to make a kiddush Hashem whenever possible. And to make sure that our kids have good examples in school. Those are the best weapons.

  90. I’m afraid my particular problem with frummies is their behavior toward women. It gets exemplified best by the guy who (accidentally, I’m sure) pushed his chair into me at a kosher restaurant, but couldn’t be bothered to apologize because that would have involved talking to a — gasp!– woman. I’m okay with not shaking hands. If I lived surrounded by an orthodox community, I would even consider covering my hair. But surely orthodoxy does not prohibit gentlemanliness?

  91. Excellent post and it has touched on so many hot spots I don’t know where to start.

    I think the symptoms that Ron has highlighted, and there are so many more examples, point to an underlying problem that is the single greatest cause of what is holding us back as a people. We would be in so much better shape if Derech Eretz were truly at the foundation of our religious lives. This couldn’t be clearer after having lived through the “tumult” here in Israel over the past few weeks.

    When we lived in the States my son’s yeshiva embarked on a program called Project DERECH. It basically consisted of exercises, with parental involvement at home, to increase Derech Eretz awareness among the students. My initial reaction was that this was such a terrific program (it is, don’t get me wrong), but then it hit me just how absurd it was that such a program was even necessary! These boys were sitting in Yeshiva for 8-9 hours a day, with more than half of that devoted to Jewish studies and they needed a supplemental program to teach them Derech Eretz!!!! That’s as a absurd as having a supplemental program to teach 8th graders the Aleph Bet!

    There are no simple answers, but at least we can maintain our Derech Eretz and act as an example.

    Some Israelis are saying that the Tafkid (purpose) of current wave of Anglo Aliyah is to bring greater civility and manners to this culture. Maybe that’s is also the Tafkid of BTs in Judaism in general.

  92. Oops, I wrote a whole long response and forgot to mention the most basic part–the root of the problem, and how to fix it.

    I think that many problems in derech eretz are caused by not wanting to be a sucker (“friar” in Hebrew, and here it’s about the worst thing someone can be). A lot of times people will expect unfair things from the religious, or an unrealisiticly high standard of behavior. So maybe people are reacting to that, for example thinking “it isn’t fair to expect me not to push on the bus when everyone else does (just as it isn’t fair to expect me to keep my temper when someone is insulting me, or to give tzedaka to everyone I meet, etc).” The trick is to learn the difference between realisitic and unrealistic demands, i.e., when we need to do something because it’s the right thing to do, and when we can say “no” because too much is being asked.

    So, for example, I think it would be appropriate for a Rav to explain that books need to be returned. Or that, while it’s fair to save your own place in line, it’s not OK to push ahead. Things like that. I think that once the boundaries are made clear, a lot of people will be happy to follow them. They aren’t trying to be rude, just to protect their own interests.

  93. David is right: My point is that this actually rather trivial offense (but see below) is symptomatic of a widespread lack of consideration. I didn’t even mention “please” and “thank you.” Thank G-d I do mention it to my children, but they would hear precious little of it in their haredi bubble. Remember what R’ Hutner said about “thank you,” i.e., todah. Why todah.” for “thank you”? Same root as hodaah. It means acknowledgment: I acknowledge that, but for your kindness, I would have been lacking. Well, such acknowledgment is quite unfashionable in our precincts.

    And, by the way, since some have raised the question of just how terrible can it be to leave seforim around, I recall R’ Moshe being quoted (this is probably the source of Ezzie’s sign) as saying it is actually somewhat terrible, being a cause of bittul torah to others who need to poke around the bais medrash looking for them. (That is considered terrible and certainly would have been to R’ Moshe.) I do not have a cite to Iggros Moshe, but am doubly sure of this because when I was once a shul officer for what is now a major shul in Passaic, I was “called out” for saying that R’ Moshe said it was forbidden for people not to put away their siddurim and seforim. “R’ Moshe said no such thing,” Mr. Yeshivish told me. “He said it only about seforim because of the bittul Torah.”

    Oh, okay. So I guess R’ Moshe would have left his siddur out for someone else to put away because the world is divided properly into those who take from others and those who serve those who take? I don’t know. Maybe he did “take” like that. It’s a mitzvah to be mishtamesh a talmid chochom. I know I would gladly put his siddur away, knowing as I do how he used every second. Can someone tell us? That would be illuminating. But of course, yes, it’s relatively besides the point. I meant this example as a symbol and a symptom, not as the sum of the matter.

    I agree that a lot of it is “New York.” Uh, and “Israel.” But that covers a lot of territory for us, doesn’t it?

  94. If the people responsible for cleaning up seforim on a regular basis do their job well, there is almost no bitul Torah.

    As for the proper place for seforim, I vote for the table rather than the shelves. In fact I had a discussion with someone in my Shul who preferred the seforim in a neat arrangement on the shelves, while I preferred a less neat but more accessible arrangement. The person agreed that having the seforim off the shelves and in use was the ideal and any barrier towards that goal was not a good idea.

    Again, I think that if we make the point that not returning seforim is the cause of more derech eretz lapses, our case weakens and we can not effectively deal with the more serious derech eretz problems.

  95. I think that the seforim example is a good one, mostly because it lends itself to a “kal v’chomer”–if we can’t show respect to those in our own communities, how will we have good relations with Jews from other communities, or with the world in general? OTOH, I’ve personally been guilty of leaving out seforim a couple of times, and I always really did mean to come back and clean them up after shiur…

    Unfortunately, there are more serious cases of lack of derech eretz out there. For whatever reason, a lot of it seems to involve buses around here. There’s a lot of shoving on to buses (even past children and the elderly), a lot of not giving seats to older people or pregnant women, and I’ve been yelled at more than once for accidentaly entering a mehadrin bus (I hate those buses for several reasons, but that’s a different story) from the front (they’re not specially marked). A big problem with this is that most Israelis have no reason to be in haredi neighborhoods, so they really only see haredim in buses or the supermarket. Without any personal interactions to base their perceptions on, their whole idea of what haredi life is about is often based on these brief moments (and on the Israeli media, unfortunately). So when a middle-aged woman sees that only she is getting up for a pregnant woman, while several young haredi men stay in their seats, that might be her only interaction with the haredi world that week, so the incident plays a disproportionate role in her assesment of haredi life.

    I’ve been saying “haredi” because, to be honest, most of the incidents like this that I’ve seen involved young (14-30) haredi men from certain neighborhoods (although I’ve seen some similar stuff from dati leumi kids, so I don’t mean to put all of the blame on one group). The good thing about that is, it means that this problem isn’t somehow inherent in being frum, or part of every frum community. I’ve seen many wonderful communities with a lot of derech eretz, so apparently it can be taught.

  96. I think it occurs quite often but even if I am wrong on that, we need look at the reprecussions of the offense to determine whether it is a “capital offense”. What ends up happening when people are careless in this regard is that a great deal of bittul torah is engendered. So even if the offense is not so widespread, the reults of the infractions are so great as to make it a bigger issue.

    Maybe a little bit off the point but the issue of having “somebody else responsible for cleaning up” may relieve the “offenders” of the title unthoughtful or inconsiderate (although I personally dont think it does bc of my point above) but it reminds me of the logic I used to pull on my Mother when she chastised me for not putting my socks in the hamper. I used to tell her that the cleaning lady will do it. :)

    Finally (for now!), I don’t think that Ron was making the leaving of seforim around a “capital” offense, I think he was saying that, in his opinion, it was the starting point for graver derech eretz lapses. It was kind of like a kal v’chomer, if we do not take proper care with seforim in the bais medrash which we claim to be our “spiritual, almost physical home; seforim are our trophies, our sustenance; we caress them, die over them, we want our sons to write them”, then why would we be expected to take proper care in other areas of “seemingly less importance”.

  97. As the Gemorra would say, that case (somebody needing the sefer before it is returned) does not occur frequently enough to build a fence and condemn the entire Yeshivish world as lacking Derech Eretz for leaving out seforim.

    And if there is somebody else responsible for cleaning up, then I wouldn’t classify not-cleaning-up as either unthoughtful or inconsiderate.

    I can hear the dangerous driving and the cutting the lines as lacking common courtesy or worse, but by making leaving seforim around a “capital” offense, you are weakening your case and will cause people to dismiss the issue entirely as a BT quirk.

  98. A few years ago, our family took a chol hamoed trip to an amusement park. My children and I were standing in line for a train ride when another family pushed ahead of us. My daughter, who was about 8 at the time, asked me, “How come chassidim are the only ones who cut the line?” I didn’t have an answer then, and I don’t have one now. The only thing I could think of was that the mothers were too busy coordinating their children’s matching outfits to bother teaching them basic manners.

  99. Mark,

    The issue with the seforim is not limited to a “clean up” issue (although, in my opinion, that is an important one). Let’s assume that someone does fill “the cleanup role”, until that person does it, others have to do without or spend precious time looking for those seforim. Either way, it is unthoughtful and inconsiderate.

  100. I think there are at least three major factors in play: 1) Selfishness. 2) The perception by some that as religious Jews, we’re “better”. 3) In heavily Jewish areas, the idea that we – for some reason – don’t need to act a certain way, because there’s less of a concern regarding chillul Hashem.

    A couple of blogs discussed this recently regarding NYers as well – excellent discussion and perspectives all around.

    The question becomes: Now, how do we teach people not to be selfish, not to be rude, not to think that it’s okay because it’s only Jews around. Regarding the “putting back seforim” point from the post, I’ve noticed that many places post signs saying that “it is a halacha that one must put back their seforim”. While this may be true, I think it does more harm than good – people should be putting things back because it’s the right thing to do, not because they “have to”. The perception often seems to be, “Well, if it’s not halachically mandated derech eretz, it must not matter”, and that’s a HUGE problem.

  101. I agree with substance of ron’s post. Generally, in the very frum neighborhoods the derech eretz is weaker. I’ve heard this explained as a kind of big extended family phenomena. Meaning, in a person’s home they are generally less carefull about proper manners than they are with strangers. I think that is true across the idealogical spectrum. So for chasidim and the other very frum areas, the entire community is an extended family (to a degree, literally). So they are heimish around each other.

  102. I agree that selfishness or ego-centricity is an issue, but this is the fundamental challenge we all face. Hashem created us with a very strong sense of self and our goal is to become more G-d centered and more other-people centered.

    Although illegal parking and line cutting are clear examples of not caring so much about others, I’m not sure if the seforim example is a good one.

    We are taught early on that families, schools and other organizations have structures where different people have different roles. The people in the yeshivas and shuls may be assuming that there are people filling the clean up roles, which is the case in many places.

    So although an argument could be made that it’s always better to clean up after yourself, I’m not sure that it all comes down to the seforim.

  103. As long as good manners are taken as a sign of goyishness, there is work to be done. In communities with a manners deficit, the heavy lifting has to be done by the rabbinic and lay role models, and by their entire families, to provide by example a benchmark of acceptable conduct. This would be a goal and a framework for parents in general to do their own job in this matter, in case they haven’t caught on yet. No amount of sermonizing will overcome a lack of real live everyday role models.

  104. Great post! Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook put up a sign at the entrance to the Beit HaMidrash: “Whoever doesn’t return books to their proper place should not dare to enter here.”

    Not returning books is a sign that one’s Torah learning is an egotistical act, far from being lishmah.

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