Understanding and Accepting Different Types of Jews

I grew up in a “conservative” home where we kept kosher in the house, and ate treif out. We went to temple on Saturday morning and to the beach or the mall on Saturday afternoon. Like many a reformed smoker, when I became Shomer Shabbat I quickly became intolerant of that which I left behind. As I moved up the ranks of orthodoxy, becoming more careful in my mitzvah observance, I was becoming intolerant of those who were less observant.

I would silently question: Why does he dress like that in shul? Why doesn’t he go to minyan? Why doesn’t she cover her hair? Like the quintessentially egocentric highway driver, everyone else was either driving too slow or too fast, only I was driving at the right speed!

With the passage of time, added maturity, a little wisdom, and some hard life experiences I’ve come to see how foolish I was. We have absolutely no idea of either the entire picture of person’s life or what metric G-d uses to judge us.

The glimpse we see of other people is merely a few frames of a multi-million-frame movie. And even were we to view the whole movie we’d have no idea how to “review” it.

Moving to Israel has crystallized this outlook even more. Here, people are very neatly divided up as either “Chilonim” (non-religious) or “Daatiim” (religious). But there’s nothing “neat” about it. Here are just a few examples:

– It’s not uncommon to see a scantily clad women sitting on a bus reading from a well-worn sefer tehillim with kavanah that you’d expect from the greatest sage.
– When my wife recently offered my, apparently, chiloni workers some milk for their coffee they said they can’t have any because they are “basari” (fleishig).
– My ulpan teacher knows tanach better than the vast majority of FFB yeshiva kids in America!

Of course more fundamentally, we have no idea what kind of merit accrues to these “chilonim” for living here, building this miraculous country, and risking their lives to defend us all.

In our shul this past Friday after mincha we said tehillim as a refuah for Ariel Sharon. One person walked out and several people gave the Rabbi a really hard time about it. Even though the rabbi was strongly against the disengagement from Gaza, he was unapologetic. First he said, Sharon is a Jew and we have an obligation to pray for him. Then he added that Sharon, this Chiloni head of state, has “Z’chuyot Ein Kamohu”. (He has merits like no one else.)

I think we need to treat everyone as if he has Z’chuyot Ein Kamohu and leave it to G-d to do the actual tally.

Originally Posted on January 11, 2006

15 comments on “Understanding and Accepting Different Types of Jews

  1. Menachem,
    I do hope this is the same wonderful person I knew in Monsey before aliyah, but even if not, this was a great article. Continue to seek the inspiration to grow higher from all Jewish sources, and of course you’ve described the classic “don’t judge a book by its cover” in marvelling at the differences in observance Israelis have to offer. They all have the pintele yid, we are all brothers and sisters. Keep up the good work, and your children of course will benefit greatly!

  2. I know what you mean! Wherever I am here in Israel, I’m always reminded of the saying that “Israel is as full of mitzvas as a pomegranate is full of seeds.”

  3. I so hope that you keep your perspective on the chiloni/dati divide while living in Israel. It can be hard to do b/c often it is as if the chilonim and dati’im live in two different Israels!

    I well remember once while hospitalized for a pregnancy complication at Misgav Ledach hospital, I was the only ‘dati’ woman in the ‘preterm’ unit. At lunch in the communal dining room, I was talking with the other women on the floor when the conversation turned to shabbat. Every one of them kept shabbos to a degree that they would have been considered ‘Orthodox’ by American standards! Yet they all self-identified as ‘chilonim’ (secular). It set my preconceived notion about ‘who is religious’ on its head.

  4. So true, Menachem. I have the same experience at work. So many of my seemingly non-religious co-workers (most of them Sefaradim actually) are such maaminim! I’m amazed at the depth of their belief and trust in Hashem. I find that I have to work so hard as a Baalat Teshuva to get to the place where they already are.

    And about those Israelis who may not be shomer mitzvot at all (although who knows were they are in their Heavenly Reckoning) – I am consciously grateful for what they have done to build this amazing land – the mesirut nefesh they and their parents have lived and died through in order that I and millions like me can come and be here. Had I been in their places, would I have had the courage of heart and mind and body to accomplish what they did – for love of Zion and the people of Israel?

    True, I vehemently disagree with the many of the government’s decisions now – and have davened and demonstrated against them – but I keep trying to balance that with the tremendous hakarat hatov I feel towards my people. With our different strengths and experiences, we all fill different pieces of the circle. Halavai that we should all feel that unity!

  5. “I’m always saddened to read negativity from BTs in reference to FFBs with comments such as this: “My ulpan teacher knows tanach better than the vast majority of FFB yeshiva kids in America!” ”

    That is not negative, you are being hypersensitive. Most FFB’s don’t know much tanach even in adulthood. It is greatly minimized in the yeshiva curriculum. I have a post on my blog highlighting a very little known but important fact in tanach about King Solomon. I have my own theory why tanach is deemphasized, particularly when you consider most of chazal had most or all of tanach committed to memory! But Menachem’s statement is 1) a compliment to his ulpan teacher and 2) an empirically true statement.

    Menachem, I like your post very much. It oozes maturity in synthesizing those awkward first stages of BT’dom, while showing how far you’ve come (geographically as well as personally) all without bragging or lecturing. That really impresses me. It’s by far one of the best posts I’ve seen on any blog. yasher koach.

    PS- I second Dan Goetz’s sentiment, you should post that somewhere.

  6. Menachem,

    Thank you for writing that – it was excellently written echoes a similar pattern in my own outlook.

    You accurately distilled several key points into a concise article.

    Besides a yasher koach, I want to ask/encourage you to send this as an article or letter to some of the major jewish newspapers (both wider Jewish and the frum ones).

    Thanks!

  7. J,

    That was not my intent at all! It was stated as a kal v’chomer and really is a compliment to FFB yeshiva kids. The whole point was to show how much this chiloni woman knows, i.e. she knows more than EVEN FFB yeshiva kids in America. I guess the FFB was somewhat superfluous, but it certainly was not meant as you took it.

    Also, I have 4 FFB Yeshiva Kids of my own!

  8. Just to put my two cents in: I am neither BT nor FFB. I did not take the comment about the Ulpan teacher that way. It may be the teacher is especially gifted.

    I thought the comments nicely non-judgmental in all directions. We all struggle with inconsistencies. After reading the post, I thought of my discouragement towards my daughter’s day school. It is neither fish nor fowl. It is not really religious, nor secular. I was becoming frustrated with this fact and inwardly judgmental towards some of the families that send their kids there.

  9. I’m always saddened to read negativity from BTs in reference to FFBs with comments such as this: “My ulpan teacher knows tanach better than the vast majority of FFB yeshiva kids in America!”

    Perhaps you are not saying this in a judgemental or negative manner, though it seems to come across that way.

    While BTs DID choose their way of living, many FFBs struggle with living their religiousness as it was a part of them they were born with.

    I ask that you be sensitive to that.

  10. Well said. Too often, many of us feel the need to worry about how someone else is falling short of God’s requirements. It’s a tough test to pass and, it seems to me, the more time I spend subjecting others to the test, the less likely I am to pass it myself.

  11. Menacham – Thanks for sharing your growth in this area. Leaving the tally of merits to G-d is sound advice.

    It seems that beginning BTs are often very idealistic and excited about the beauty, intelligence and truth of Judaism. When we see that the practice differs from the theory, we get frustrated, angry and judgemental.

    It’s probably when we start to plateau a little bit after a few years, do we appreciate the struggles of those who have been Frum for a longer period of time. Perhaps we’re more understanding in judging someone else’s shoes, when we’re actually wearing a similiar pair.

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