76 comments on “What Does “Observant” Really Mean?

  1. Mark said somewhere back there (between all the acronymns): “the true goal is to constantly move Beyond Observant.”

    Could we have a vote please.

    So many problems would be resolved once this basic tenet of belief would be acknowledged. So much divine energy unleashed once we decided to unite in cultivating this belief.

    IAAGS!!

    (it’s all about G-d, stupid)

    The Mitzvos are simply the means.

  2. RYH – Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz

    SKT – Shabbos, Kashrus (kosher), Taharas Mishpacha (family purity)

    BALM – Bein Adom L’ Makom – Mitzvos between Man and G-d as opposed to

    BALC – Bein Adam L’Chavero – Mitzvos between man and his fellow man.

    IYKWIM – If you know what I mean

  3. Can we please get an acronym guide?

    Needed are:

    RYH
    SKT
    BALM
    IYKWIM
    BALC

    Thanks…and please if you are going to use hebrew or yiddish terms, not everyone knows what they are.

  4. Mark,

    May I further refine your definition?

    R Shimon Schwab, IIRC, said that a Jew who steals should not be considered “frum”. If that is so, no matter how prominent the person is in the frum community, he would not be observant if involved in chilul Hashem(or at least in theft).

    SKT, of course are “big ones”, especially for a beginner, but a frum Jew who is jailed for financial reasons would not be “observant” according to R. Schwab(of course that doesn’t mean that frum people in jail shouldn’t do teshuvah and become “Observant”). So one would have to add chilul Hashem to SKT, as excluding from “Observance”.

    Your main difference seems to be “disbelief” in not doing mitzvos versus “mitzvah non observance is based on character deficiencies, rationalization, and lack of knowledge”, which I generally agree with.

    I would add that rationalization, whether for BALC or BALM can sometimes also be considered a lack of emunah, ie, a full palpable belief in schar v’onesh (although in those cases it’s a more subtle lack of belief). This would mean that there are infinite levels of “Observance”, although there are at the same time, outward base standards which one can judge about–hanistaros l’aShem Elokeinu, etc.

    Also, people talk a lot about how to increase emunah in both adults and children. If we assume, as some kiruv people do, that there are more frum people than we care to admit walking around with doubts, would that mean that these people–children and adults– are not fully “Observant”?

    I tried to distinguish, above, between the extent of doubts and when they reach a level of “Orthopraxy”(or “nonobservance”, according to your definition).

    It is interesting that in comment # 26 in “Shlomo Hamelech For a Day”, RYH wrote as follows:

    ” I also wanted our readers to see the complexity of these situations. many in our community see yiddishkeit like a light switch — it is either on or off — when it is far more like a dimmer, with so many shades of gray.”

    Notwithsatnding the above, I am sure that RYH also has a baseline for “Observance”(and he’s also not referring to my moniker :) )

    .

  5. Squarepeg wrote:
    Mark, I will have to think about your Havruta’s distinction between BALC and BALM. You are saying that someone who is Shomer Shabbat but dishonest is observant because down deep he believes in being honest but rationalizes his dishonesty. So belief seems to the criterion for observance.

    But what about someone who is a decent individual, and believes in Orthodoxy but doesn’t practice it? Like some Sfardim who might describe themselves as “Masorti” — they are not necessarily Shomrei Shabbat, but the stream they’re not observing is Orthodoxy, IYKWIM. Are they still “observant?” I wouldn’t think too many people would refer to them that way (in fact, I’ve heard them referred to as nonobservant Orthodox). So it seems like your Havruta’s distinction breaks down.

    My chavrusa said non-observance has to be based on character deficiency or rationalization. The hypothetical Sefardim’s non-observance is not because they’re trying to observe, but failing, but rather because they’re choosing not to observe.

    I think a definition of Observant would be:

    1) Believe in the Rambam’s 13 principles which can be broadly characterized as Believe in G-d, Torah from Sinai, Reward & Punishment (13P)

    2) Observance of Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas Mishpacha (SKT)

    3) Any mitzvah non observance is based on character deficiencies, rationalization, lack of knowledge.

    Of course the true goal is to constantly move Beyond Observant.

    I think there is a slightly larger category which we might call the Tent of Torah and for this category I would include those who believe in the 13P and observe SKT.

    The next and perhaps the most important is anybody actively trying to get closer to Hashem. As has been mentioned before, Torah Judaism is not so much where you are, but where you’re going.

  6. Charnie’s comments also remind me of the situation of some of my friends growing up who kept a kosher home but ate treif out. What was the meaning of kashrus to them? Was it more important to create a “observant atmosphere” than it was to actually be observant?

    And going back to Mark’s question, if someone does keep a 100% kosher home but eats non-kosher (maybe vegatarian) do you eat at their house?

  7. Squarepeg,
    I don’t understand some of your questions/points.
    Why would someone truly believe in orthodoxy and not practice it.

    Define “believe in orthodoxy”. what part of orthodoxy do they believe in, in theory, but then decided they would just rather not practice it.

    Ironically, isn’t the shulchan aruch, serphardic in origin and theme.

    Also regarding your dishonest point, define dishonesty and all of the contexts to which you are referring to.

    How can one be dishonest without violating bein adam lamokom commandements.

    According to Merriam Webster
    Doxology = a usually liturgical expression of praise to God
    Orthodox = 1 a: conforming to established doctrine especially in religion

    “Established” versus “establishing” does get tricky in 2009 but I think that the inherent definition answers all questions about qualifying for the observance label in two, easy to read definition sentences.

    I think that observance is essentially based on a doctrine, basically praising and sanctifying a G-d, not praiseworthy actions or feelings the individual is proud to practice and perpetuate.

    Clearly, one doesn’t need G-d or a doctrine to practice and perfect bein adam lchaveiro traits which are obviously essential in 2009.

    But they don’t have anything to do with observance (other than the observance of personal feelings) and or religion unless they are incorporated into a religious context.

    See shabbas 127a for a partial proof .

  8. Charnie, excellent argument.

    Squarepeg, if the severity of chilul shabbos where as clear to them as the danger of jumping off a roof, they would keep shabbos. They just don’t believe enough. It’s like those who know smoking is unhealthy but do it anyway because they’re not sure it’ll kill them.

    In fact I like Mark’s chavrusa’s theory better than mine (#22). I might add that this is probably the reason why those who are long on BALM and short on BALC, while they may convince themselves that they’re ok in this or that midah (character trait), or that the rules don’t apply to them (which is bad enough), as a rule they’d never assert that chessed is not important or lashon hara is ok. OTOH those who are long on BALC and short on BALM generally dismiss the importance of, or downright belittle or even bash, anything in BALM they haven’t achieved (yet?).

    Methinks they do protest too much.

  9. Backtracking to Gee’s comment (#50), and also those of others who favored more egalatarian synagogues, we’re somewhat getting lost in the forest here. This might be redundant, however, it’s worth noting that those synagogues that have redefined such issues such as driving on Shabbos, use of a microphone on Shabbos, women liening, women rabbis, and so forth, are taking the focus away from Torah Judaism and/or what being observant is. To the vast majority of members of more “liberal” synagogues, their total religious experience is focused on those hours spent on Shabbos and Yom Tov in the synagogue.

    In answering the question about what does observant mean, it is therefore imperative to understand that one who considers themselves observant does not just have that experience during services, but in every aspect of their lives. To those who keep many of the halachas in their home life, yet check them at the door of their egalatarian synagogue, perhaps you could say you’re observant in your home but not in your synagogue? There are clearly halachas as to why men and women sit separately during davening, and dropping those in a quest for more membership is clearly not working, as the demise of the conservative movement that many of us grew up with indicates. Religion is not a popularity contest, nor is the Torah the equivalent of the US Constitution. Torah Judaism is not something on which we vote for passage of amendments, it is what is forever.

  10. The idea of Orthoprax seems to fly in the face of the idea that “lo lishma” leads to “lishma”. That is, doing the actions doesn’t inexorably lead to a deepening of understanding and of attachment to HaShem. One could say that this points to a defect in the actions. Or, maybe, if a person lacks some needed level of attachment to HaShem going in, the actions don’t affect the entire person.

  11. Ron, I still don’t get the point you’re trying to make. Perhaps you can clarify?

    Mark, I will have to think about your Havruta’s distinction between BALC and BALM. You are saying that someone who is Shomer Shabbat but dishonest is observant because down deep he believes in being honest but rationalizes his dishonesty. So belief seems to the criterion for observance. But what about someone who is a decent individual, and believes in Orthodoxy but doesn’t practice it? Like some Sfardim who might describe themselves as “Masorti” — they are not necessarily Shomrei Shabbat, but the stream they’re not observing is Orthodoxy, IYKWIM. Are they still “observant?” I wouldn’t think too many people would refer to them that way (in fact, I’ve heard them referred to as nonobservant Orthodox). So it seems like your Havruta’s distinction breaks down.

    Shades of Grey, very interesting. Thank you for your contribution.

  12. My thoughts stimulated by this thoughtful thread:

    “Orthoprax is used these days to denote someone who does the outward actions of the mitzvos, but doesn’t necessary believe the Torah is from G-d and might not even believe there is a G-d”

    I see three aspects regarding the issue of “Orthoprax” people:

    How to define and distinguish them from ordinary Orthodox individuals who might experience doubt, how the community should judge such people (if at all), and most importantly, how to help such a person.

    “Orthopraxy”, defined here as one who “doesn’t necessary believe”(as opposed to simply “doesn’t believe”), seems to point to a weakness of faith in an individual. While it might be said that there are infinite levels of faith possible among all believing Jews(see Alie Shur Vol II, Vaadim on Emunah), the label “Orthoprax” presumably refers to someone who does not meet a baseline level of faith as far as belief in the generally accepted ikkarei emunah. An additional difference might be that an “Orthoprax” person uses his or her doubts as an excuse to not increase his level of Judaism–in both deed and creed. This, as compared to the “Orthodox” person with ordinary doubts, who is on a trajectory of increased Torah growth, even though he may also go through ups and downs in the area of belief, over a lifetime.

    In how relate to such a person, there might be the issue of accountability, versus being able to represent a community. While perhaps only Hashem, who is bochein k’layos v’lev, can ultimately decide to what extent, an “Orthoprax” person should be held accountable, nevertheless, an “Orthoprax” person, in my opinion, should not be able to represent to the world, the community of wholesome believers, nor to speak in their name to define(or redefine) Judaism.

    How to help an “Orthoprax” person would seem to be the most important issue. It is perhaps easier to be m’ekareiv people for whom the strength and duration of their intellectual opposition is weaker and shorter (although I sure that there are cases of successful kiruv where the person does not fit this mold). However, as a community, one must care about everyone if one is truly interested in kvod Shomayim!

    R. Emanuel Feldman( “Tales out Of Shul”) writes that a person might find it less burdensome to care for the needs of a helpless infant, but the same person might find it harder to care for an elderly adult with the exact same needs! Apparently, some forms of chesed and of Kiruv are easier and/or more attractive than others, for various reasons.

    I believe that many “Orthoprax” individuals, although ostensibly defiant, have a side of them which feels positively about Judaism, as in the Rambam regarding “kofin oso”; this positive side needs to be tapped into. The existence of “Orthoprax” individuals represent a challenge for all “Orthodox” individuals, I think in part, because it forces wholesome believers to rethink the depth of their own commitment, and for us to honestly focus on any doubts that we might have.

  13. Rationalization is the second most powerful weapon of the Yetzer Hara (The first is the idea that one is too damaged or sinful to start fresh).

  14. Earlier in the thread, somebody asked why Bein Adom L’Makom (BALM) mitzvos and not Bein Adom L’Chaveiro (BALC) are the yardstick for observance.

    My chavrusa suggested that when people violate BALC it’s not because they don’t believe in them, it’s usually due to a weakness in character or some rationalization. Which is not usually the case with BALM non-observance.

  15. Perhaps it would be best if this thread does not become combative.

    I think we have a number of people here who observe Shabbos, Kashrus and Taharas Mishpacha and believe in G-d, a G-d given Torah and Reward and Punishment.

    Perhaps we should encourage each other to deepen our relationship with G-d and each other through Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim.

  16. He’s standing on the shoulders of the sages of the Talmud. But whose shoulders are you (not you, Ron) standing on? The Sadducees? Karaaites? Reformers? Conservatives? Isn’t it time to admit that they all failed?

  17. >> Yes but “who is he to say”?
    Rabbi Kaplan always brings sources to back up his assertions.

    Unfortunately the article omits the references, but if you’re interested pick up the Aryeh Kaplan Reader which is filled with wonderful material.

  18. So where IS the line, Gee?

    Mr. Cohen above might ask, “I am an FFB who practices Zen… does that make me less observant?”

    And some reform Rabbis have asked, “We don’t believe in G-d… we officiate at gay marriages… we enjoy chazzer… does that make us less observant?”

    If you draw the line somewhere, who is to say this is the right place to draw it?

  19. Hi, Squarepeg. It’s “clearer” but I don’t think I will let you get away with it, because my precise point is that I don’t believe the sense in which you used the term really means that. I know I am talking about something somewhat obtuse here but if anyone can follow me on this cultural and psychological distinction please let me know!

    Gee, you use a lot of adjectives, but you’re not giving us a lot of facts. If your “trans” “temple” comported itself in an halachically valid manner, then it would be orthodox as the word is commonly understood regardless of its choice of self-description.

    But it doesn’t:

    how is men and woman sitting together, and women reading from the torah in any way makes someone less halachic?

    Well, how does the other side having more runs than our team after we get our last out in the ninth inning make us less the winners of the baseball game?

  20. Gee said “I don’t understand why othodoxy gets the monopoly on the “halachic” way of life”

    Because others twist the halacha any which way they feel like doing. Monday they might want to eat kosher; Tuesday treif…

  21. I’m going with “Wife” on this one. I belong to a “transdenominational” temple, and I couldn’t go elsewhere.

    I don’t understand why othodoxy gets the monopoly on the “halachic” way of life. I used to belong to an orthodox temple, and wasn’t quite right for me, and experimented with some independant shuls, and I can’t go back. Why should someone be discredited as not observant for the shul they belong to, and how is men and woman sitting together, and women reading from the torah in any way makes someone less halachic? I think some need to read a little honest history on woman and judaism. IMHO it’s 100% real, and if people could just take labels out of their minds and explore, they would find their truth instead of others.

    I am a BT who doesn’t daven in an orthodox shul…does that make me less observant?

  22. In today’ NY Times:
    On the Road, for Reasons Practical and Spiritual

    Mr. Cohen is an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath even while on tour and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. So how does he square that faith with his continued practice of Zen?

    “Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago,” he said. “Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.”

    emphasis mine

  23. To wife and anon#35: What can I say, I was part of a model community like that for 17 years. Shomrei Shabbat, kashrut, holidays, etc. Probably most observe some level of Taharat HaMishpacha. But I gradually saw that it wasn’t working so well. Something was missing. I think it was a process that happened over quite a few years. There didn’t seem to be enough to keep the kehilla on track, and I think it declined in observance and commitment, while I was trying to become more observant. It has been quite a painful break, but it seems necessary. If I tell my kids that we are supposed to do Mitzvot and do them in a particular way, then I need to be consistent about that. Exceptions for egalitarianism just look like picking and choosing to my kids.

    I live in Israel, so I am not so in touch with what is happening in the Conservative movement in the U.S. Here, I am *not* seeing a more observant laity or rabbinate.

    I think maybe there really *is* a slippery slope. Once we start making a bunch of changes, we start changing too much and too fast to retain what we had. Maybe the Jewish people can only handle a small number of changes (one or two?) in every generation.

  24. David, I think we’re pretty close to an accepted definition (Shomer Shabbos and Kashrus and Taharas Mishpacha).

    There will always be some people who disagree with one’s definitions which is why we ask people to define their terms when we seem out of sync.

    And as I said previously I think the more important issue is the context in which we are using the term.
    – Can I eat at their house? (possibly)
    – Would I include them in my Tent of Torah? (yes)
    – Do I think I’m at a higher level (don’t know – they have different challenges)

  25. Ron Coleman
    it wasnt so much a question as it was an observation.. and i dont think we should label them, or anyone else for that matter. i was just pointing out how complex the labelling is – the spectrum of observance covers a really a wide range of beliefs and practices

  26. For Albay Jew, an explanation from http://www.forward.com/articles/15176/,
    “the rise of something known as transdenominational Judaism. It consists of Jewish religious and cultural activists, mostly under 35, who reject denominational labels, viewing their Judaism as transcending the separate streams. Its best-known expressions are so-called independent minyanim, informal prayer groups that meet in community centers, synagogue basements or even churches, refusing synagogue affiliation. There are said to be at least 80 such groups across the country, with thousands of members. Their primary leaders, most observers say, are young graduates of Conservative schools, summer camps and even seminaries who continue to practice Conservative Judaism but reject the name and the institutions.”

    The young Conservative rabbis I know are strictly observant of Shabbos and Kashrut (obviously, I don’t know how strictly they observe the laws of family purity) AND are egalitarians who encourage the full participation of same-sex couples in their communities. They are observant of the “core mitzvot” Mark Frankel referenced above in post #4, many of them not driving or using electricity on Shabbos, but they are very much not Orthodox.

  27. Someplace there probably exists a text-searching tool that can scan through a blog or website for particular phrase (similiar perhaps to SQL fulltext search). Given the hypothetical availablity of said tool, and asking it to search through BBT for “labels” would inevitably produce probaly more entries then any other phrase.

    It’s been a constant subject here, as elsewhere on the Jewish Blogosphere. Which would bring one to the conculusion that there is no gauranteed, foolproof definition of “orthodox” or “observant”. Hashem is a far better judge of this then any of us could ever remotely be, because even within different communities, it means different things to different people.

    Case closed…..

  28. Mark, I agree with each of those points. My problem is that if we don’t have a working, accepted definition of “observant” what’s the point of using the term?

  29. I just want a better chance at passing along a passion for Judaism to my kids.

    I found this formulation a little funny. Judaism is a “religion,” but I think the idea of Judaism is to pass along a passion for Hashem and for mitzvos and for Torah to your children. I don’t think “religion” is its own justification.

    Am I being too obtuse here?

  30. David, I’m missing your question. Tell me where we agree or disagree.

    – The halacha defines what the parameters are to consider someone observant.

    – We can observe the person’s actions and determine whether they fit into the halachic definition.

    – Based on whether the person is considered observant or not certain actions may be prohibited, permitted or required.

  31. Anon,

    I unfortunately see the opposite happening, where the more traditional Shabbos observing conservative rabbis are being pushed aside for the egalitarian (including the support for gay marriage)ones and the few congregants who want to remain traditional or become more observant are moving towards MO.

    BTW, how can you be “nondenominational” and Conservative?

  32. That’s clear, Mark, I’m not arguing with that. I’m questioning how the labeling system helps us understand where someone stands from a halachic point of view, if it does at all. And, if it doesn’t, what good is it?

  33. David, Fortunately the halacha defines what is considered observant not the participants of Beyond BT. As in many halachos there are grey areas which sometimes need the Torah knowledge of a Posek to navigate.

  34. Person #33, I am seeing some trends you may not see in Conservative Judaism. The total number of people who attend Conservative synagogues has been declining, but those who remain are growing more knowledgeable and more observant. The old joke about “Orthodox rabbis in front of Reform congregations” no longer fits.

    The people who first showed me what it meant to live an observant life were Conservative Jews living in a Conservative community. Among my own friends, I count dozens of Conservative Jews who keep Shabbat and kashrut more strictly than their parents did. In major cities across the US, “nondenominational traditional egalitarian” communities are growing.

    This doesn’t mean that there is a Shabbat observant community at every Conservative synagogue, and it’s a real difficulty to find one in a more “affordable” neighborhood.

    However, it works for a growing number of us.

  35. Mark,

    I agree that it may be important to know where someone stands, from a halachic perspective, before you decide whether you would be comfortable eating in his/her house. However, if we can’t even agree what these terms mean within a small group here on the blog, just how much info are you really getting when you find out someone is “observant”?

  36. Wife, I hear you and think you express your POV well. The Conservative approach makes sense to me intellectually in many ways, and speaks to my heart in supporting egalitarian roles.

    But unfortunately, I have concluded that it doesn’t work. There are fewer and fewer Conservative Jews, and they are less and less observant. The assimilation and intermarriage rates in the Conservative movement are so high as to tell me that Conservative is missing something too. Conservative just doesn’t seem sustainable any more.

    Orthodoxy does seem to be sustaining itself better than Conservative. But is our main criterion of truth to be whether or not it works?

    By practice I would probably be classed at MO. I’ve pretty much given up on the Conservative movement. But, I haven’t found anything to replace it that is believable or satisfying — emotionally or intellectually. I just want a better chance at passing along a passion for Judaism to my kids.

  37. PL, no, I would not agree with your proposed formulation. Even though the words of it are not false, they obscure more than they enlighten. (I certainly don’t mean that personally!)

  38. Nathan,

    Wouldn’t a Shomer Shabbat Jew simply be a Jew who observes Shabbat? Or is “Shomer Shabbat” naturally synonymous with the other items you mentioned?

    Aliza,

    Can you clarify what you mean by “counts”? Does that mean that tzniut, tzedakah, no lashon hara and saying brachot don’t “count”, to some extent?

    Ron,

    I think of Observant as observant of the mitzvot with the understanding that these are G-d’s commandments, rather than a nice/wholesome way to live, and Orthodox as a designation originally coined by the Reform movement in Germany to reference those who are Observant, and which is in common use today to reference same. Would you agree with this?

  39. “Certainly someone who debases a core religious ideal or practice would be difficult to be considered observant; such as a murderer or rapist, or someone who is lighting fires on Shabbos, etc.”

    I think a big stumbling block for many BT or would-be BT is that they can’t even fathom lighting fire on Shabbos to be anywhere near a debasement of a core ideal as being a murderer or rapist.

  40. Wow, what a contrast! Here person #1 says, “there is such a thing as bona fide halacha (i.e., not JTS ‘halacha’..),” while person #23 tells mostly-JTS-halacha-observing me that, “you belong in Orthodox Judaism, even though you do not realize it yet.”

    To answer person #21, I am growing in observance through Conservative Judaism because the Conservative approach to halacha best fits my faith, or lack thereof. I am more willing to recognize the binding nature of halacha when the rabbis interpreting what halacha means in my life acknowledge the historical (as well as divine) force that has shaped the particulars of the law.

    To respond to person #13, I already face some of the same issues in trying to follow halacha (yes, even ‘JTS halacha’) as those described in many places throughout BeyondBT, even without being Orthodox myself. Although I will drive with my family to join another family for a Shabbat dinner, I still struggle to find a way to decline invitations to family parties held on Friday night without causing offense. Although I ‘eat dairy out,’ I have struggled with how to respectfully ask my mother not to serve me a cheeseburger when I visit.

    There are many issues discussed on BeyondBT that are relevant to all Jews who are growing in our observance, whether or not we are Orthodox in belief.

  41. I strongly agree with you that labeling is often divisive, but I think abolishing important halachic categories is a tad simplistic.

    When John Smith, who in the new declassification system, is neither observant or non-observant invites you for lunch, are you going to ask any questions, or are you going to say “who’s really observant anyway?”, so who am I to inquire about another person’s observance of Kashrus.

    Which halachos a person chooses to observe are facts that are often important to know. How we judge people based on their stricter or more lenient observance is where we can all probably use some serious improvement.

  42. are avoiding sinas chinam= baseless hatred and lashon hara=prohibited gossipy speech not core Jewsih Observances ? And if they are are any of us truly observant?

    I saw a great piece by Sara Yocheved Rigler in a recent issue of Binah where she makes a good case about aboloshing the terms religious and secular. IIRC her main arguments are that we are all both observant and non-observant, religious and irreligious, Orthodox and Orthoprax, to varying degrees.

    All the various lables accomplish is to further divide us and to make the non-observant/secular feel disenfranchised and alieneated.

  43. Only G_d can always decide who is truly righteous and who is not.

    Our job as Jews is to help each other to become better, each one of us according to our abilities, and judge each other favorably (LeCaf Zechut), while working on our own service of G_d.

    In response to the original question, Shomer Shabbat Jews should be considered observant, unless:

    {1} They commit as sin for which the punishment is death, according to the laws of the Torah.

    {2} They commit as sin for which the punishment is eternal Gehinom or loss of Olam HaBa.

    {3} Their sins are much more numerous than their merits.

    In response to message #12, you belong in Orthodox Judaism, even though you do not realize it yet.

  44. Squarepeg wrote:

    “I had asked, because it seemed like people said it *should* mean both kinds of Mitzvot. But in practice, they use the term mainly for people observing Mitzvot Bein Adam LeMakom — whether or not they also work on Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChavero.”

    IMO it’s mainly b/c nice non-religious Jews and non-Jews also “observe” most Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChavero. How would you distinguish between them and “Bein-Adam-LeChavero-observant” Jews?

  45. I don’t think we should judge others for their level of Judaism, but I find it very difficult as an Orthodox person to really understand the mindset behind Reform/Conservative philosophy. I don’t really understand the term ‘orthoprax’. I recently read a post on a blog from a woman who is “Reform but orthoprax” who strictly observes tznius but is intermarried to a non-Jewish man. I can’t fathom how this is ok. It is not my place to judge, but when there is a clear violation of a Torah mitzvah, I don’t understand it at all.

    Along the same lines, the women who want to wear tzitzis and don teffilin while not observing many, many other mitzvos confuse me as well. I understand that they want to be more spiritual and are grasping to find a way to be closer to Hashem, but I believe that they should observe other mitzvos that apply to them before trying to observe the male mitzvos. I have spoken to many, many, “egalitarian” women, and none of them have been so shomer mitzvos that they really have nothing to take on other than tefillin/tzitzis. Especially when every explanation I’ve heard of why women are not to do these mitzvos has been very satisfying and positive, not that women are below men.

    I agree that observant should be close or equal to Orthodox in definition. You are observant because you feel that you are bound to the mitzvos by Hashem. Other movements don’t feel that the mitzvos are so binding.

    Again, it is hard not to judge, but judging comes from a lack of understanding. I try very hard to put myself in their shoes, but my outlook is so very different.

  46. Squarepeg wrote
    I could extend the question: what does Orthodox mean? Does it refer to belief or to action or to both? And if it refers to action, does it refer to Bein Adam LeMakom or Bein Adam LeChavero, or both?

    I had asked, because it seemed like people said it *should* mean both kinds of Mitzvot. But in practice, they use the term mainly for people observing Mitzvot Bein Adam LeMakom — whether or not they also work on Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChavero.

    I think there are three areas where this question applies:

    1) Who the halacha defines as Orthodox/Observant.

    This is relevant in terms of trusting somebodies Kashrus or testimony in halachic matters.

    The halacha looks at both Adom L’Makom and Adom L’Chaveiro as evidenced by the fact that both the Mechalal Shabbos and the thief are viewed as not trusted in halachic matters.

    2) How other people view a person.

    I think people are quicker to disqualify a person from the observant/orthodox label if they don’t keep Kashrus, Shabbos then if they speak Loshon Hora or Onoas Devorim. Perhaps that’s because minimum levels of Kashrus and Shabbos are easier to observe and measure.

    3) How a person sees himself/herself.

    Here I think the question is limiting and perhaps a proper attitude would involve

    a) recognizing where we’re holding and what our issues are

    b) committing to improve by learning and working on changing our negative behavior patterns

    As far as the question of belief, I think the majority of the Orthodox/Observant world hold that both action (mitzvos) and belief are important with
    most regarding the Rambam’s 13 principals as the cornerstone principles of belief.

  47. I don’t get Orthoprax……I’m meeting more and more orthoprax these days……can someone please explain why someone would keep the mitzvot if not commanded by G-d?

  48. Orthoprax is used these days to denote someone who does the outward actions of the mitzvos, but doesn’t necessary believe the Torah is from G-d and might not even believe there is a G-d.

  49. Adam,

    “Didn’t make it home from work Friday before sundown? Light the candles anyway.”

    I’m afraid this is chilul shabbos. As is driving to shul.

    Another good answer to “Do you observe all the Mitvot?” is “I try to.”

    AJ,

    Right on. Where you are is not as important as in which direction you’re going. BTs who have taken on some mitzvahs but not others, but don’t deny their importance, have good chances to shteig in their observance. Whereas those who practice some mitzvahs (even if they do more than the former), but deny the importance of others, are stagnant in their Jewish growth. If you reach for the stars you might not catch any but at least your hands won’t be stuck in the mud.

  50. There is also “observant” and becoming “more observant” Such as when you start out observing Shabbos but you might still go to your nieces’ bat mitzvah at her Reform temple and sing in the choir. (you are the only one walking though.) Hmmm, this might be material for “BT stand up”

  51. I think being observant means that you’re stringent where it counts: on the basics, the cornerstones. You’re keeping kosher, keeping Shabbos, keeping holidays, family purity, etc.

  52. To wife, I hope you also read the ones about very positive relationships with unobservant family members and friends – where there is respect coming from both sides. Particulary if you feel that’s what’s keeping you from making that great leap from Conservative to Modern Orthodox, which actually, doesn’t sound like it would be a big step at all in your case.

    On a different note, it’s quite obvious that there is no one, at any point in time, who kept all 613 mitzvahs unless they were both male and female; a Kohan, Levi, and Israelite all rolled into one; making a bris, a funeral, a YomTov, a Shabbos, a wedding, et al all on the same day. You get the picture. The term “keeping all 613 mitzvahs” is really not a literal, but a figurative expression to describe someone who’s trying to do as many mitzvahs as they are able.

  53. I’m a Conservative Jew, with practices pretty close to those described by m00kie. I call myself “observant” when I’m explaining why I’m using up my vacation days at work for chagim and leaving early for Shabbos in winter, or why I don’t eat the sandwiches at a company event. I call myself a “sort-of BT” when I read some of the postings here about interactions with unobservant family members. I never call myself “Orthodox”.

  54. Sometimes an experimental material is ordered on a “best effort” basis. That is, not everything may come out like it should, but the supplier is to do his best to achieve that. Someone making a best effort to be an Orthodox Jew (that includes middos) could be considered observant.

  55. Ron, I think it’s the ‘best answer’ because

    #1. In this the second exile it is impossible to observe 613 mitzvot. Even during 1st Temple Period it was not possible for one individual to observe all 613. Should that mean we scrap everything? Israel as a people, as a collective body, saw to it that Torah was observed. So should we today.

    #2. Yes, we all are making teshuva in one way or another, at our own speed. Some of us dive in rapidly, some such fast starters fizzle out and grow complacent.
    Some of us follow a plan of adding one mitvah observance to our routine per day, per week per month, per year…

    So to ask any Yid, no matter how frum, “Do you observe all the commandments?” is almost a trick question, a way to catch someone slacking. I hear this more from less-observant Jews than I do from goy friends.

    It always sounds like an excuse: “If it’s impossible to obey every rule, what’s the point of trying?”

    Steinsaltz treats this common “all-or-nothing” attitude in his “Teshuva”, essentially urging the newly-observant gradually to add mitvot, always striving to incorporate more to your life. Didn’t make it home from work Friday before sundown? Light the candles anyway.

  56. Adam, what do you mean “the best answer”? Best for whom, or for what purpose?

    Arthur, what’s really eating you?

    m00kie, what exactly is the question? If you’re asking “how do we label them,” why do we have to label them?

    AJ, I do agree with what Adam may be saying — all Jews should be baalei teshuva, whether they’re FFB’s or BT’s.

  57. “Observant” is what other guys are, as in, “I’m not observant.”

    I’ve said before: Where ever you are on the scale of observance, there’s someone on either side of you telling you you’re wrong.

    The best answer to “Do you observe all the Mitvot?” is “Not yet.”

  58. Mark

    It can be argued that haredi jews are not truely observant or orthodox.

    Halacha covers everything, every aspect of our lives and being too strict, having too many chumras is a larger chilul hashem then any individual transgression.

    being too machmir, strict, causes others to ridicule halacha.

  59. I would go even further and ask, where do traditional sfardim fit in – those who fast on yom kipur and tisha bav, dont mix milk and meat, eat only kosher meat, kiss the mezuza everytime they walk by it, do kidush every week, wont smoke or cook on shabbat, keep taharat hamishpacha and have a strong faith – but dont dress according to halacha, drive to shul, go mixed swimming, eat dairy out…?

  60. To take Ron’s point further (or in a different direction) how do we define BTs who have taken on some mitzvah’s but not others, but don’t deny their importance. In other words, is it what we do or is it what we believe (and therefore strive to do)? Is there a such thing as an OIT (Orthodox in training?)

  61. From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism which often does an admirable job on Jewish related topics:

    Orthodox Judaism holds that both the Written and Oral Torah were divinely revealed to Moses, and that the laws within it are binding and unchanging.

    Orthodox Jews generally consider commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch (a condensed codification of halakha that largely favored Sephardic traditions) such as the Moses Isserlis’s HaMappah and the Mishnah Berurah, to be the definitive codification of Jewish law, and assert a continuity between the Judaism of the Temple in Jerusalem, pre-Enlightenment Rabbinic Judaism, and modern-day Orthodox Judaism.

    Most of Orthodox Judaism holds to one particular form of Jewish theology, based on Maimonides’ 13 principles of Jewish faith.

    Orthodox Judaism broadly (and informally) shades into two main styles, Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism.

    The philosophical distinction is generally around accommodation to modernity and weight placed on non-Jewish disciplines, though in practical terms the differences are often reflected in styles of dress and rigor in practice.

    According to most Orthodox Jews, Jewish people who do not keep the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov (the holidays), kashrut, and family purity are considered non-religious.

    Any Jew who keeps at least those laws would be considered observant and religious.

  62. Ron, can you be more specific? I didn’t understand your answer. And since the administrators were kind enough to pick my questions out of my comment on another thread and turn them into a thread of their own, I’m interested in reading answers.

    I could extend the question: what does Orthodox mean? Does it refer to belief or to action or to both? And if it refers to action, does it refer to Bein Adam LeMakom or Bein Adam LeChavero, or both?

    I had asked, because it seemed like people said it *should* mean both kinds of Mitzvot. But in practice, they use the term mainly for people observing Mitzvot Bein Adam LeMakom — whether or not they also work on Mitzvot Bein Adam LeChavero.

  63. Certainly we should not judge by individuals, as everybody has failings. If a failing is widespread, perhaps a case can be made on that group.

    Typically a person who is trying to maintain a level of orthodoxy in practice would be someone who is observant, even if they are not perfect; the bigger the failings a person has and the attitude they carry toward those failings would play a large role in whether they should be considered “observant”. Certainly someone who debases a core religious ideal or practice would be difficult to be considered observant; such as a murderer or rapist, or someone who is lighting fires on Shabbos, etc. I’d also factor in what they’re doing vs. their communal norm. If people aren’t so careful with borer, does that mean they’re all non-observant m’chalelei Shabbos? Or does that mean they could use a good shiur on borer?

  64. It means one thing but it has been utilized as a way to avoid meaning precisely that thing.

    It should be synonymous with “orthodox.” But at least in part thanks to a famous politician, who probably did not invent the usage, it is a way of saying one acknowledges that there is such a thing as bona fide halacha (i.e., not JTS “halacha” but what the readers of this blog would recognize as halacha), but that it is not binding on the one applying the label to himself; that is only for the sectarian “orthodox.”

    This is not the worst thing in the world, in my opinion. It is better to say “I don’t fast on Tisha B’Av because I am not orthodox” than to say “Jews don’t have to really fast on Tisha B’Av.”

    But it is a shame to debase language by calling such a failing “being observant,” because of course this is the precise opposite of the meaning of the word.

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