What Have you “given up” to be Frum?

By Charlie Hall

Late last week I was invited to give a research presentation to a prestigious conference. But the time for the presentation was to be on Shabat, so I turned the invitation down immediately. Incredibly, in 16 years, this is the first time that this has happened — I’ve withdrawn presentations that were scheduled for Shabat but never before have I been *invited* to give a presentation on Shabat. I was sorry for the non-Jew who invited me that I was not able to come to the conference panel he was organizing but I was proud to be able to declare myself as a Jew who does not break Shabat for work.

I put “given up” in quotes in the title because we of course understand that the real reward for mitzvah observance is not material. I have been blessed in that for the past ten years I have worked for a Jewish institution and am in a profession whose major professional conferences are not on Shabat. Observance has thus been very easy for me. But most of us have had to say “no” on occasion to things that were it not on Shabat we would certainly have done. And there are many career paths for which Shabat is much more difficult than it has been for me.

Please share examples of situations where you found that you had to make the choice in favor of Shabat observance, and how that affected your life.

25 comments on “What Have you “given up” to be Frum?

  1. Steve Brizel wrote above,

    “Most if not all of the academic and cultural elite reject the idea of Bchirah Chofshis that we all read in Parshas Netzavim.”

    Ironically, as individuals they tend to conduct themselves as if they do have free choice!

    Another irony: revolutionaries such as communists officially think of history as deterministic, but (1) they act as if they have free choice and (2) they act as if their antagonists have free choice, too—so these antagonists can be blamed, attacked and killed!

  2. I don’t think I can convert to Sephardic!

    Plus if you cant start until a certain hour and you finish by 11:45, you are talking about one rushed thru seder.

  3. Most if not all of the academic and cultural elite reject the idea of Bchirah Chofshis that we all read in Parshas Netzavim , in many other verses in Sefer Devarim, as well in Hilcos Teshuvah in the Rambam. IMO, affirming the vitality of Bchirah Chofshis is one of the key aspects of becoming a BT that deserves more discussion because it is truely a countercultural move against the current academic and cultural POV.

  4. Reisel,

    If the real problem is with the specific community you’re in, you may have other options along the frumkeit spectrum that you didn’t mention above.

  5. i gave up being not judged. i gave up being accepted for what i am. i gave up being an artist. i gave up feeling easy with friends. i gave up feeling easy about life. a little i gave up being myself.

    i feel very connected to hkb”h – it’ s more the community making things difficult, not accepting you, because you don’t have yiches, or all the fighting to get your kids into a proper school/ cheider an the like, there are enough examples out there…

    on the “good” days when i am strong i know my decision to become frum was for the good and pain is one way to show me my weaknesses to have a chance to work on it.

    but on my weaker days, when i don’t feel so overly inspired i find this decision difficult to understand (for example why in the world didn’t i choose to be misrahi? or modern orthodox?).

  6. Larry,

    Do you miss the actual not so frum seder or the time with the family? The family situation is very common among us BTs and show up in various scenarios but I will admit I miss eating the meal at a reasonable hour and not being half asleep at the time.

  7. I’ve already talked on BeyondBT about giving up eating in non-kosher restaurants.

    I also gave up Pesach seders with my family – from the day I was born until I BT’d I only missed one (when I was 6 and had German Measles) but I haven’t been able to go to one since. My mom drives out to me for second night, and she always tells me how much everyone at the first seder missed me.

  8. I miss having a full head of dark brown hair. Also before I was frum I could not only touch my toes but, believe it or not, bend over and palm the ground! Now I’m happy if I can reach down low enough to pull up my socks.

    I think there were other things I miss from before I was frum but … I forget things these days…

  9. You know it’s very easy to take each thing individually and say that these things were unimportant, hedonistic, etc. But I’ll tell you what I miss today. Coming home friday night from work and collapsing in front of the TV and ordering a pizza. Silly? maybe, but life was simpler (but less meaningful) before becoming frum, and as i get older I miss that simplicity.

  10. I gave up a standard of living. Being close to male friends. My wardrobe. A lifetime of restaurant eating (okay, choosing to have 7 kids is another reason I had to give that up.) I gave up most of my former music collection, dancing all night in clubs, my pursuit of singing opera…I could go on.

    I gave it all up b’simcha out of love for Hakodesh Baruch Hu. I don’t regret any of it. The fleeting pleasures and vanities of that lifestyle just didn’t have staying power.

  11. “This sort of sacrifice drastically decreases for those who move to Israel.”

    In theory, yes. In practice, the chances of me getting a job in my field in Israel are slim and none. Israel has been exporting great researchers, who have been making yeridah to the US in large numbers.

    I’m not enough of a Zionist to let go of a career as a professor where I’m making (I think) a big contribution. Another complication is that while my wife would easily get a job as a primary care physician, salaries in Israel are about 1/4 that in the US and she’d have to default on her medical school loans, which is prohibited by the Torah.

  12. “My research productivity increased dramatically after I became Shabat-observant…”

    Charlie, I think you should publicize this effect to the scientific/academic community—you could even work up the data and analysis and publish it in a reputable journal, if the editors dared to think outside the box. A lot of Jews in teaching and the professions might be burning themselves out through 24/7 work and availability. Their becoming Shomer Shabbos shelo lishmah could lead them to lishmah.

  13. “It’s also instructive that the productivity gurus stress that working more that 40 hours a week is usually counter-productive and those 40 hours can be worked without Shabbos.”

    My research productivity increased dramatically after I became Shabat-observant. As of tonight I have 89 articles either published or in press in peer-reviewed scientific journals. (Three have been accepted, and an additional one published, in the past ten days.)

  14. The hardest thing I can remember was many years ago as a college student who was just starting to become shomer shabbos and who didn’t know many frum people yet, and getting phone calls from friends (who either didn’t know I was shomer shabbos or didn’t understand what it meant) at 8 or 9 or 10 pm on Friday night asking me to get together. I remember sitting in my apartment (where I’d decided to live alone so I could keep shabbos) reading a book and hearing the messages they were leaving on the answering machine and worrying I was missing out.

    More recently, a company I used to work for had periodic get-togethers that would be over a shabbos with a dinner friday night, interminable (from what I heard) seminars on saturday, and another dinner on saturday night. I could only attend on motza’ei shabbos of course. So from one perspective I might have missed professional shmoozing time but I felt fortunate to be spending shabbos with my family while everyone else was at the seminars.

  15. When I was in the process of becoming a BT, I gave up on Shabbos a ticket to the NY Philarmonic to hear a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, high school basketball games and skiing . Once my position was established, giving up non kosher seafood and mized swimming became a lot easier.

  16. It’s been only an indirect loss for me, in the sense that I didn’t lose out on getting a job that literally required Friday night and Saturday work, so much as not being considered for employment with a high-powered fast-paced bigshot law firm where everything is supposed to take second fiddle to racking up the billable hours (religion, family, caregiving, hobbies, grad school for an LL.M., et. al).

    However, I think ironically that being a mother of young children was harder than being a Shabbos observer, with so many frum lawyers out there of both genders who are putting in the extra hours on Thursdays and Sundays to make up for Friday nights and Saturdays. There still is the idea that a man lawyer can rely on his wife to be the main caregiver if the kids get sick, but who does a woman lawyer rely on? Sometimes you have to make it clear that there are arrangements in place (grandparents, nannies) and that parenting will not cause absences.

    I would agree that I have gained much, much more from being frum than I have given up. Many nonreligious Jewish women of my generation and cohort never married and/or never had children. Here I have been blessed not only with blee ayin harah fantastic children but now I have wonderful grandchildren! It is a tremendous blessing that I give thanks for every day, and I have deep gratitude that I was given the chance by the Aibershter to “come back to my roots.”

  17. I’ve had to give up looking like a sane person in the eyes of my family. “You can’t WHAT on Saturdays?! You CAN drive, you just CHOOSE not to! I think you better reconsider showing up to the family get-together…don’t you think family is important?”

    Then the conversation morphs into DEATH: “Well, what if I had a heart attack, or, ohmigosh, DIED on a Saturday…you can’t come to the funeral?!” (“The funeral”…as if it’s already planned.)

    When they see they’re not dying so fast, they tone it down to emergencies. “You won’t answer your phone? Even if it’s ME?! Even an EMERGENCY?!?”

    I once answered that if we always had to be available at all times in case of emergency, then you could never travel on vacation. My mother answered, with a straight face, “I would leave you the number of the my cruise line, and they would call the ship.” Sigh.

  18. Earlier Orthodox Jewish generations in the US, before the five-day work week became the default or norm, had to give up jobs and job opportunities. Their sacrifices were more significant than the ones that have been asked of us.

  19. It’s sometimes hard to remember what I’ve given up, because I’ve gained so much more having Shabbos in my life. This is true even on a material basis.

    It’s also instructive that the productivity gurus stress that working more that 40 hours a week is usually counter-productive and those 40 hours can be worked without Shabbos.

    The follow up question would be, if we’ve gained more than we lost, even materially, for observing Shabbos, does that lessen our reward?

Comments are closed.