Dealing With Clashes Between Orthodox and American Sensibilities

What are the issues that you find most difficult personally?

What issues do your non-observant friends and family seem to have?

What are the issues that you have trouble explaining to others?

Some issues:
– Equal Rights vs Segregation of the sexes
– Equal Rights vs Different roles for men and women
– Pluralism vs The Chosen People
– Pluralism vs Differing Halachic Treatment of Jews and Non-Jews
– Animal Rights vs Korbanos
– Human Rights vs Eradication of Amalek

22 comments on “Dealing With Clashes Between Orthodox and American Sensibilities

  1. In this instance, the American sensibilities that are challenged are often our own!

  2. Adding to Nathan’s point, it even goes all the way back to ancient Egypt. The commentaries to the Haggadah point out that the Mitzrim were very offended by the Bnei Yisroel taking a sheep and tying it to the bedpost. So we were busy offending other people’s sensibilities at least 3322 years ago.

  3. May I point out that the clash between Orthodox Judaism and American sensibilities is nothing new?

    The ancient Greeks and Romans and many centuries of Christians and Muslims all felt offended by Orthodox Judaism, in varying degrees.

    Historically, many Gentiles were offended by the fact that our laws forbade them from entering the Temple in Jerusalem.

    Other Gentiles were offended by circumcision or the fact that Jews may not drink wine touched by a Gentile.

    Many pre-Christian Gentiles were offended by the fact that the Jews alone refused to acknowledge the validity of the gods of the nations that surrounded them, in a world where all other nations more or less acknowledged each other’s gods.

    For over 20 centuries, the concept that the Jews are the Chosen People of G_d has offended many Gentiles.

  4. This in response to Judy Resnick, message 11:

    QUOTE 1:

    Mishlei / Proverbs, Chapter 6, verse 29:

    …he who touches her [a married woman] will not be forgiven.

    QUOTE 2:

    Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona, Shaarei Teshuvah, Shaar 3, Paragraph 80:

    Touching the hands of a married woman is forbidden.
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  5. To Mr. Cohen #14: I agree with you in opposing $3,000.00 wigs. However, I would like to point out that I have met Orthodox Jewish women who are also high-powered lawyers, who are required to look their absolute best in court when appearing before judges. Those women need to wear high-quality wigs along with top-of-the-line female skirt suits to look as well-groomed as possible. The expensive wig then becomes a necessary investment in oneself as much as mandatory continuing education courses or a bimonthly facial. Other Orthodox Jewish women in high-paid professional positions might also feel that one high-priced wig that will last five years with regular maintenance is a better investment than a lot of cheap wigs that look cheap.

    To Gary #15: I agree that our standards and practices are very different from those of Islam. For instance, I’ve met young Muslim women who wear the traditional hijjab along with blue jeans, a combination you probably wouldn’t see on an Orthodox Jewish woman (a woman who wears pants usually doesn’t cover her hair). My point was that “American sensibilities” usually lump all religious dress restrictions on women together, so that the burqa and hijjab and sheitel and snood all come together in the American mindset as symbolic of the grand extremist fundamentalist religious oppression of women.

    Regarding shaking hands with only unattractive women, the rabbi who said that was aiming for a particular psychological sociological ploy, using that line for every woman even an ugly one, thereby making the woman feel complimented instead of shunned by the refusal to shake hands.

  6. Judy, regarding your comments in # 7 and # 11:

    There are better ways to promote the positive aspects of Torah Judaism than to point out that some of our practices are less “restrictive” than some Muslim practices. Besides, some of our practices are more restrictive than theirs. One example is the bathing suits marketed for Muslim women who adhere to certain modesty standards. I can see such suits as not passing muster with some observant Jewish women. (I will not include the link, but you can find many examples on a web search)

    I have seen a wide variety of practices regarding men shaking hands with women, and I have observed (with a bit of surprise) some “very frum” people exchanging a “chaste hug and kiss” with relatives of the opposite sex. I’m also curious about the rabbi who only shakes hands with “unattractive women.” How would one deal with meeting a “classic beauty” and a “plain Jane” at the same time? On an individual basis, how would women react to being classified as “attractive” or “not attractive.”

    I have noticed that I am using quotation marks quite freely in this post; to me, this attests to the subjective manner in which people must act in a variety of situations.

  7. QUOTE from Mr. Cohen: “Even today, one of the major Sephardic Rabbis disagrees with Jewish women wearing wigs.”

    Also askenazim who follow Rav Kook disagree with women wearing wigs as well.

  8. Here I respond to what Belle said in message 4:

    “My longest lasting difficulty is Frum people’s lack of appreciation for secular education.”

    QUOTE 1:

    Rabbeinu Yonah commentary on the Mishnah,
    tractate Avot, chapter 3, last paragraph:

    The study of Mathematics [Chachmat HaCheshbone] sharpens [the mind of] a man.

    CHRONOLOGY: Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona died in Toledo, Spain, in 1263 CE.

    QUOTE 2:

    Rabbi Simchah Bunim Bonhart of Peshischa
    (born 1765, died 1827, Poland):

    The game of chess teaches us three things:

    A person must be very careful in all his ways.
    One should deliberately weigh each step.
    One should think seven times before making his move.

    SOURCE: Binah Magazine, 2007 June 18, page 8

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  9. In response to Judy Resnick (message 7)

    I was told by a very big Torah scholar that wigs did not become popular among Orthodox women until the 1920s, and there were prominent Rabbis who opposed them.

    Even today, one of the major Sephardic Rabbis disagrees with Jewish women wearing wigs, and Orthodox Jewish social critics have spoken out against Jewish women paying $3,000 for wigs.

    As for me personally, I suspect that G_d never commanded Jewish women to pay $3,000 for a wig, considering that He knows many can not afford that.

  10. No sector of our Jewish world is problem-free. I asked about MO in response to Steve Brizel’s comment about a specific problem affecting MO. I was trying to get his sense of how pervasive the downgrading of the Mesorah was. His terse answer about a line of discussion on Hirhurim did not really respond to that.

  11. Orthodox sensibilities also differ from American ones concerning the “G” rating in films. According to American sensibilities, everything in a “G” rated film is OK to see even for little kids. It’s usually bestowed only on kiddie fare like Disney movies and Sesame Street. Well, we frum Jews know there’s a lot of unacceptable stuff even in “G” rated movies. For example, a scene showing people at the beach or at a swimming pool will show everyone wearing swimsuits, no big deal to American sensibilities. Or the movie will show some limited contact between men and women, less than you see on the street everyday, again no big deal to American sensibilities. However, this cultural divide means that even “G” rated videos can pose a problem for our kids.

  12. Also I find that American sensibilities have a lot of trouble with the Orthodox Jewish issur of men shaking hands with women. You can get into a lot of problems with that, particularly if the other person is Black and perceives it as offensive racism rather than religious practice. The Ethicist, a column written by a non-observant Jew, roundly condemned an Orthodox Jewish young male real estate broker for refusing to shake a female client’s hand. The real estate broker tried to explain that it was solely due to his religious beliefs. The female client was outraged and refused to go through with the deal. One rav said to say that he’s only not permitted to shake the hand of an attractive woman, which is giving the lady a compliment. I’m not sure how other frum Jews handle this problem in the modern business world. It’s a tough one.

  13. There is also a profound difference between American and Orthodox sensibilities on family size. In 21st century America, three children is considered to be a big family. I personally have seven children, which is not such a big deal among Orthodox Jews. There are many families with eight, nine, ten or more children. Among the non-observant, however, people look at me in shock when I say I have seven children.

  14. Don’t we all view the Mesorah as not binding?

    I was recently studying what was said on using parents using corpral punishment(starting in Tanach, then Mishnah, Talmud, going down to Halachic rulings). We have a very strong Mesorah that it is correct to hit our children but many of us don’t. Would you say that a parent who does not hit their children “deviates from Mesorah for ideological reasons?”

    I can find many other examples where we do not follow our Mesorah. Every one agrees that it is ok to deviate, the only question is a matter of degree.

    Statements like “What proportion of the MO world regards the Mesorah as non-binding and subject to revision on ideological grounds?” really are dishonest to the Charedi position (as Charedim also deviate from the Mesorah) and it also paints MO in a negative light in the minds of many people.

  15. Bob Miller-see the linked discussions at Hirhurim with respect to what R Gil Student calls “Post Orthodoxy.”

  16. I have found that people with “American sensibilities” have a lot of trouble with the concept of married frum women wearing wigs to cover their hair. From the extreme negative reaction, you would think that the rabbis are forcing us into burqas. Part of it comes from the false notion that married frum women are all required to shave their own hair off completely. Another part comes from what is perceived to be “hypocrisy” because wigs actually make us better-looking and more attractive to other men. I have tried explaining that this special mitzvah is about sensitivity and modesty, women being respected and not objectified. Unfortunately, there is a strong counter-reaction against what is perceived to be religious fundamentalism, particularly given the similarity to the Muslim hijjab or headscarf, which has been banned in many European schools. Incidentally, Agudath Israel lawyers have gone to court on behalf of Muslim women for their rights to wear the hijjab at work.

  17. Steve,

    What proportion of the MO world regards the Mesorah as non-binding and subject to revision on ideological grounds?

  18. IMO, in the MO world, especially the LW MO sector, there is a considerable difficulty in accepting and maintaining the Mesorah of gender based different roles and spiritual equality that has played a very important role since the Avos, Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon HaKohen and Miriam HaNeviah.

  19. My longest lasting difficulty is frum people’s lack of appreciation for secular education. I guess I was raised with a concept of education “lishma,” and that any knowledge could never hurt you and may very well help you someday. Putting oneself or one’s children in a position of willful ignorance (if I don’t need to know something, I don’t learn it), even for the purpose of staying pure, just rubs me the wrong way (with the exception of learning about vulgar things or people doing aveiras).

  20. These topics haven’t come up in many discussions that I have had with non-observant people, but they come up in my mind periodically. Some thoughts to be shared among our BT population and with others who question us:

    Every nation has different rules for its citizens, visitors, and resident aliens. So, too, does Judaism have different rules for its adherents and others. We can maintain these differences while adhering to standards of civility and following the law of the land in which we reside. Abundant examples of the Mitzvah status of this conduct can be found in written and oral Torah.

    There are differences of opinions regarding the restoration of korbanot (sacrifices). First of all, I hope that we soon reach a position (rebuilding of the Temple/Beit HaMikdash) where it becomes a real issue rather than an academic one. Second, the majority of korbanot are eaten by someone — the Kohanim/Priests and/or the person who brings the sacrifice to the Beit HaMikdash. There are some korbanot that are completely burned (Olah offerings). While this may seem wasteful on the surface, we see that fewer animals/agricultural products are disposed of this way FOR A HIGHER PURPOSE than the staggering amount of food that is wasted in secular settings.

  21. My cousin was distressed because tefillin straps are made from leather.

    I explained that the animals are slaughtered for their meat, and the leather is merely a by-product; no animal is ever slaughtered because Jews wanted to make tefillin.

    Also, one cow can provide enough leather to make many tefillin, and properly maintained tefillin can last for 100 years.

    I told him: If you eat meat or wear leather, then you have no reason to complain about tefillin being made from animal skins.

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