Am I More Judgemental of the Non-observant Since Becoming a BT?

Mark and David asked in their suggested topics: Am I more judgemental of the non-observant since becoming a BT?

Often times when we are becoming frum, we are at just about the most judgmental times in our lives. When it comes to non-frum friends and family one thinks, “If I could see the truth, why can’t they? They have no excuse!” On the other hand, we think about the frum people, “How can they talk during davening? How come he goes so fast through davening that when I’m starting “Ata Chonein,” he’s taking his three steps back?! How can people sleep through their Friday night seuda without any Zmiros?”

Of course, when Yiddishkeit is new and exciting, it is easy to get overconfident and judgmental about others. However, I would make two comments. One is that we all know that after a few years go by and things are not so new anymore, we start to understand our frum friends a little better, as we become, or are inclined to become, more like them. Once the davening becomes fluent and we aren’t excited by it anymore, there’s a desire to speed through it to things we want to do more. It becomes, then, easier not to judge frum people because we are more like them now.

When it comes to judging non-frum people, I think it’s good to step back from yourself and ask the question, “Why did I become frum to begin with? Was it because I was the only one who was intellectually honest and searching, examing all the evidence with disinterested objectivity?” No! I, at least, became frum because I was inexorably drawn to it, once I began learning about it. There was an inexplicable pull that caused me to incredibly fascinated with Torah and Yiddishkeit. I reflect on the fact that I know dozens and dozens of people who were exposed to the same people and teachings that I was exposed to. Yet they remained unmoved, while I was blown away and drawn after it.

I cannot explain this difference in reaction by any natural means. I can’t say that I’m the only deep thinker that I knew. That would be ga’avah and it would be false. The only explanation I have come up with to explain this phenomenon is Siyata Dishmaya. It may sound strange but I don’t put my teshuva in the context of a truly free-will decision for me. I was drawn. Others are unmoved. It seems to me that the hand of G-d plucks out certain Neshamos, for his own inscrutible reasons, and brings them into the fold. (For more on limitations on free will, see Mei Hashiloach Parshas Vayeira, D”H “Vatitzchak Sara,” and Parshas Pinchas. See also, Tzidkus Hatzadik 44.)

I think that we can avoid the feeling of ga’avah and judgmentalism by meditating upon the fact that you and I are only zocheh to be here because of the kindness of Hashem in bringing us close, and not due to any personal intellectual or spiritual greatness.

May Hashem bring all Jews closer to Him soon in our days!

12 comments on “Am I More Judgemental of the Non-observant Since Becoming a BT?

  1. I read it in either “Selected Speeches” or “Selected Writings”. I also personally heard the idea said over to me in Rav Schwab’s z”tl name by the current leader of KAJ.

  2. “I was drawn. Others are unmoved.” I struggle with being judgmental against the “unmoved” people and wonder why they are unmoved. How can they not see the light, etc., etc.?

    My shul (which is mostly BTs, but some of whom have been frum for decades) is wonderful but sometimes they do daven a little too fast. I’m willing to take the bad with the good. It gives me a goal to catch up with, and sometimes I start a little earlier than they start so I can keep up. Being a woman, anyway, I don’t have to say every single thing. There are certain parts of the Tefillah that leap out at me more than others, and it is those that I try to concentrate on the most.

  3. Speedy davening may not necessarily be without kavana. Some people talk and think fast. I find that my mind can wander just as much when I am saying the words slowly and carefully as when I am saying them quickly. The crux is focusing on the words which, if you know the language well, is just as possible when said quickly. Think of our conversations in English. Especially in the northeast, we speak quickly, yet can focus fine on our conversations. Another reason not to judge others.

  4. Aaron,

    As I clarified in my earlier comment to Andrew, I agree that it’s bad to talk or speed through davening. Although I feel somewhat silly having to point out that I “agree” with such an obvious sentiment. I suppose that I did not mention that outright in my post because it seems so obvious to me that taking on the bad habits of those around us, when it comes to davening, is a bad thing. Perhaps the fact that it is bad to talk in Shul and speed through davening is not as obvious as I had thought, And perhaps that is something that must be pointed out in order for that sentiment to be communicated with readers.

    I will repeat my clarification from my previous comment. My point was not that BTs *should* speed up their davening and start talking in Shul. The opposite is so obviously true that I thought it went without saying. Rather, my point was that many BTs, l’ma’aseh, do take on those bad habits, unfortunately. And that fact can temper their judgmentalism of others who have been doing the same thing.

    Like you, I enjoy my current davening environment where there is virtually no talking and davening goes longer than in many other shuls. Perhaps if I were exposed to speedier and talkier davening more often I would be more tempted to judge those who engage in those activities more unfavorably.

    I would say, though, that perhaps your feeling of judgmentalism towards Shul talkers and speedy chazanim could be tempered with the following thought: You may not have *that* particular fault, while those people *do* suffer from that fault in their tefilla. However, that does not mean that you should judge them. Obviously you must remember that the activity its self is wrong, but that does not mean that you should judge the people who engage in it. You have other faults that could be as bad or worse than talking in Shul. Or even if not, you don’t know how much more difficult that nisayon is for them than it is for you. “Al tadin es chavercha ad shetagiah limekomo.” “Don’t judge your fellow until you reach his place.” Reflecting on the fact that while you may not engage in the exact same faults as the Shul talkers/speedy daveners, you have other issues that leave you with no ability to pass judgment on others. I hope this thought can be helpful in curbing our judgmental impulses. And that bit of advice was my main point in the post anyway.

    -Dixie Yid

  5. I enjoyed reading your Post but just like Andrew I do not agree with what you said about getting used to davening and talking in shul. I am person that has gradually been becoming more religious since I was in high school and it is still very hard for me not to judge a person when I see them talking in shul or rushing through davening. The minyan I daven in on Shabbos is a slow minyan with absolutely no talking. Regarding the speed of my own personal davening, I feel i have gradually slowed down because as my Hebrew improves and I underand more and more what I am saying I want to concentrate more and make sure I have the right understanding. When I see someone rush through davening, i feel bad for them that they might not understand their davening and what they are saying. There are many different sefarim out there about davening that can help these people. I dont know how to get over the judgement thing when you have a Chazzan who rushes through things and you have to play catch up or skip just to daven with a minyan. If there is talking on top of the rushing its even more frustrating and even more difficult not to judge. I dont see this as being a BT issue but possibly a universal Jewish issue with anyone that cares about davening.
    About judging non-religious people I agree with you. I have never had a problem with that because I realize where i came from and am not ashamed of it. I would not be religious today if it was not for my experiences growing up. Rather then judging people who are not religious you should thank them for making your beliefs stronger and maybe help them in seeing things the way you do so they can have a better understanding. By judging anyone who is not religous is just going to turn them off and turn them against religion altogether.

  6. Neil,

    Do you know where Rav Schwab said that?


    That’s right. And to attain some level of personal responsibility without the feeling of frustration that comes from things not working out the way we plan, I like to keep the following idea in mind: What I do is my decision, but the result is G-d’s decision.

    -Dixie Yid

  7. Our responsibility is to look at our own Torah-related planning and effort as strictly a case of free will, being aware, though, that it will turn out in practice as HaShem wishes.

    This applies to the people around us, too. We’re not really able to understand all the reasons they do what they do. They may even be truly at fault. However, it’s not our job to rub their noses in it, but to figure out how best to influence them for the good.

    There’s no guarantee of success with respect to ourselves or others, but we should give it our best shot.

  8. I was thinking about it and there’s another “mainstream” source for my point in the previous comment that remembering the role of Hashgacha Pratis in one’s past mistakes as a way of empowering one to do teshuva. The Gemara in Avodah Zara 4b says, “וא”ר יהושע בן לוי לא עשו ישראל את העגל אלא ליתן פתחון פה לבעלי תשובה …והיינו דא”ר יוחנן משום ר”ש בן יוחאי לא דוד ראוי לאותו מעשה ולא ישראל ראוין לאותו מעשה.” I won’t elaborate further, but on more than one level, this is a very instructive Gemara, showing that these ideas were meant for every gemara learner at least, and not only those who study Reb Tzadok and Rav Mordechai Yosef of Izbitz.

    -Dixie Yid

  9. Andrew,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. On the point about being less idealistic with tefillah as time goes on, I agree with you. I’m not saying we *should* take on the bad habits relating to tefillah. I’m just saying that very often, we do even though we shouldn’t! You are right that those behaviors shouldn’t be accepted or imitated. My point was different. I was saying that when we do start to exhibit some of the same bad habits that we were previously judgmental about when it came to FFBs, then this circumstance leads to less judgmentalism about others with those faults. And that is a good thing.

    Also, you’re right it is not judgmental to dislike those “behaviors.* However, it is judgmental when it comes to judging those people as “bad” or seeing ourselves as better than them. We may have different faults than someone else but that does not give us the right to judge them for their own faults. We have our own faults that we need to work on so there is no place for thinking we are better than another just because we do not do the exact same bad things that they do.

    another Jew in Evanston,

    Interesting and thoughtful point. First of all, I would not publicly teach those teachings from Izbitz. I think that, for the most part, those who are able to look them up are usually ready to hear/study those ideas in consulation with a Rav who can help him understand those teachings and put them in perspective.

    However, I would differ with you when it comes to thinking about the idea of limited free will. I brought it up when discussing “decisions” from the past. I think that is a very different matter than discussing decisions in the present. If one is *totally* free-will focused even when thinking about his decisions of the past, I think that can be very dangerous. It can be debilitating to look at all of your past mistakes as purely self-imposed. It places a heavy weight on your shoulders that, in this time of Elul, can criple one’s present efforts to change. If however, one can see an element of Hashgacha Pratis in his past errors, it can give one a feeling of freedom and Divine presence in his current effort to become better.

    The truth is, I was asking this quesiton long before I every studied the Mei Hashiloach. And long before studying this, I came to that conclusion. In fact, the very same Rambam that you mentioned approached the question of Hashem taking away Paroh’s free will as a literal removal of free will. It was the Ramban who viewed it as a restoral of free will that got out of balance due to the makos. The Rambam himself in Hilchos Teshuva does not give free will the winning hand. He leaves it as a draw, abstaining from answering the question. He takes very seriously the limitations of free will. And the Izbitzer also would obviously never negate the pasuk in the Torah, “Uvacharta Bachaim,” affirming the existance of free will. It’s a difficult puzzle but I think that we’d be fooling ourselves if we ignore both aspects of life. Since you favor not mentioning the limitations of free will, you may actually be more of a Ra’avad man when it comes to this issue!

    What do you do in Indiana? It’s been a pleasure. Hope you make a follow-up comment.

    -Dixie Yid

  10. I think it is very dangerous in a blog devoted to Balei teshuvah to use the the Mei Hashiloach as an explanation for one’s life choices. I love learning and teaching the Ishbititzer, but it is anything but normative Jewish thought. Before relying on the Ishbitzer to justify why one was attracted to observance, perhaps intense therapy and self analysis might be in order to help you understand your life choices. Please understand this not as a critique of anyone’s psychological health, but rather a plea to restore free will and choice to it’s central place in Jewish thought. A little more Rambam, particularly in Elul, might be in order!!

  11. A very interesting article. However a point of disagreement regarding Davening and copying FFB’s for example shmoozing in Shul I would hope that a BT would not become like this i.e more “heimish” as these are not behaviours that should be accepted, and I don’t think that it is judgmental to dilike this behaviour. I do not think that I am being idealistic as a BT is in an enviable position to choose how to behave in Shul as on the whole he has not been conditioned by years of negative examples.
    Many Thanks

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