How Have You Navigated Orthodox Culture in Your Progress of Serving Hashem?

On Monday, Shmuel recently posted an astute comment on the Integrating the Ba’alei Teshuva post.

There is a lot of emphasis on sociology/culture in the orthodox community today. I have no idea whether this is good or bad, or whether it is even possible to change should someone think changing it would be a good idea. But it is important for a BT to be aware of this, since it can affect one’s development and self-esteem.

One may desire to fit in culturally in his chosen community, but the cultural fitting in is NOT what makes him religious. In always has to be secondary. Say a person wants to be oved Hashem and he thinks such and such community is the place he can do it best. Say that community demands or prefers cultural conformity (hat tilt angles and such), or he’ll feel more comfortable if he conforms, or some other reason that makes a positive difference in his life. So he’ll conform and his hat tipped correctly, etc. But it is important to keep in mind that that stuff is NOT avodas Hashem.

How have you navigated Orthodox Culture in your progress of Serving Hashem?

Do you feel too much time was spent?

Do you feel that you had to ever compromise your Avodas Hashem to conform?

What advice would you give new BTs in this area?

8 comments on “How Have You Navigated Orthodox Culture in Your Progress of Serving Hashem?

  1. I didn’t have to spend much time navigating. I knew that I was a rationalist rather than a mystic, I don’t fear the secular world (HaShem is what we should be fearing!) and didn’t have to be in a community where everyone dressed or thought alike. So I found a rabbi and a community that fit for me. It is also nice that in my community you can’t tell the FFBs from the BTs from the gerim. In it I see streimels, black hats, srugim, and every other type of yarmulke you can imagine. (And to play with Judy’s comment, languages spoken around here are English, Hebrew, or Yiddish, never Yeshivish!)

  2. Three well thought out responses from contributors to the Five Towns Jewish Times. They answer a question from a woman who grew up observant and is engaged to a man who is a Baal Teshuvah. They encourage her to marry him, citing good characteristics that override her reservations about him personally and about the fact that he is a Baal Teshuvah.

  3. This is such a broad issue. Some people have a knack for integrating, and doing so is not an undue strain on their self-respect or avodas Hashem. For others it’s too much to ask, either because they’ve landed in a community which is not too tolerant of diversity in non-essential things or because they’re just not the type to conform.

    Refusing to conform does not have to be deal-killer. A problem I have observed, however, is often how a non-conformist’s children are affected by, and view, their parents later on, and how this will affect those children’s experience and communal acceptance.

  4. If you ever find yourself in a situation where every sign of your individuality (within halachic limits) invites attack, go find a better situation. The community’s desire to program you should have some normal limits.

  5. Having a mashpia of some type can be helpful so you know how to navigate the different boundaries and cultural rules and know when they are important (or not). New Baalei Teshuvas might (maybe?) confuse culture with Torah Judaism, or as the author puts it, avodah. There are types of spiritual growth you can only get by being part of a community. However, I’ve found that if you were the type of person who marched to your own drummer before you were frum, the emphasis on being “normal” in the frum community can be trying. Also, sometimes you need to serve in your own way, even if it is “different” than others’ paths. The Israelis I meet seem better at this.

  6. Re “There is a lot of emphasis…_today_” (emphasis :) added): I don’t think there’s anything new about either community standards (not under discussion here, except if mentioned in a comment like Judy’s “long skirt”) or particular modes of behavior which may or may not be lishmah, and I think both BTs and FFBs at some point come across and in their own way deal with such stuff.

    Re a request for advice, my first thought is that the person should use his/her brain and utilize his/her advisors, just as one would hopefully do re any other issue worth considering. I don’t know if Judy was implying this, but I’ll say it straight out: I wouldn’t agree with Shmuel that even an action I and apparently he would generally consider shtuyos (say, the precise angle of one’s hat brim, much less its minimum width) is necessarily not avodas haBorei — again, generally, I would say that one’s kavanah is important, and if not only you but also an impartial, trusted advisor can legitimately defend an action of yours as l’sheim Shamayim and meant to enhance your connection with H’, who am I to say that what you’re doing is not avodas haBorei?

  7. I have over the years found Orthodox Jewish culture to be quite helpful, as it provides validation that I’m not alone and not crazy, being that there are other people who share my values and my mode of dress and even my lingo. I can tell my neighbor, “My muzhinik won Chosson Bereishis on Simchas Torah at his Yeshiva Gedola by pledging to learn 2000 blatt,” and she understands instantly what I’ve just said. Wearing a sheitel and a long skirt isn’t odd when all the other ladies in shul are doing the same. Children in particular need to sense that their families are “normal” and that they “fit in” and are not outcasts. Frum culture also guides the new baal-teshuva in figuring out where the path of moderation is, in between the “mayklil” and the “machmir,” which are the minhagim that are observed by everyone, versus the more extreme chumras that very few people take on. I actually enjoy most aspects of frum culture (yes, even Uncle Moishy concerts) and find that it enhances my Avodas Hashem, being that it shows by example how to integrate the Shulchan Aruch into everyday life.

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