All or Nothing

I once saw a jewish Dr who was surprised that I came from such a frum background. The Dr said to me “It amazes me how many of my patients are from a frum background and they give it all up. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.”
I thought about his comment and I explained to him that we are brought up to either do everything right or not do it at all. We are taught that if you want to fast on Yom Kippur you can’t put anything in your mouth. If you even sip one sip of water (without a rabbis permission) then your fast isn’t counted. So you may as well eat a burger too.

If you switch on a light on the sabbath, then you have desecrated the  sabbath so you may as well drive your car too. Don’t bother lighting Shabbat candles if you can’t do it on time. Then you are desecrating the sabbath and there is not point. If you eat a piece of non kosher bread you may as well be eating non kosher meat too.I could go on forever, but I think you get the idea.

Having gone to an ultra orthodox school and after being brought up in an ultra orthodox home, I knew that there is no middle way. You either do it all or don’t bother doing anything. If you struggle to keep all the commandments then you may as well drop them entirely. You can’t half keep a commandment.

When I met my amazing husband he showed me a whole new approach to judaism. My husbands family “keep kosher” by refraining from eating pork and shellfish, everything else is fine. My husband will fast as best as he can on Yom Kippur. On friday night they have beautiful meals, where everyone is in jeans and drives and they light candles at any time they choose to have the meal. It’s so enjoyable, as there is no rigid time restrictions, we don’t need to live as though we are in the old ages, we can be ourselves and have a beautiful family meal.

All of these ways of keeping judaism were totally foreign to me. I did not know that people kept judaism in such a form. I knew that there was liberal jews and conservative jews but I never heard of these type of jews. I have to say that although I enjoyed all the shabbat meals with my husband, it never meant anything to me spiritually. It has been so engrained in me that the right way to keep the sabbath is to not use electricity, no mobile phones, definitely no driving and the meal had to be at a certain time after sunset. Therefore although friday night meals had a deep spiritual aspect to my husband, it was a time where they made a bracha for challa and benshed after the meal, due to my extreme religious upbringing this meant nothing to me.

I think its such a pity that there is no middle ground. That ultra orthodox jews who can’t cope with all the rigid rules of the religion are not given any other options. Many who can’t keep all the commandments just give it all up, or put on a show cos they are too embarrassed to not keep it publicly.

Teenagers who can’t keep all the laws are thrown out of their homes or sent overseas to try to “fix them” and force them into keeping all the commandments. For any one who is brought up in the Frum lifestyle there are no shades of grey, its just black or white.

For someone who is being “mekareved” (being brought closer to ultra orthodox judaism), it is totally acceptable for them to keep as much or as little as they can. They are praised for every little part of a commandment that they keep. They are invited to shabbat meals even if they drive and don’t dress modestly. They are praised for buying kosher meat even if they cook it in non kosher pots.

Meanwhile someone from an ultra orthodox background who is keeping commandments at a similar level is usually shunned from their family and community, while their parents are usually welcoming strangers into their home to try and “mekarev” them.

This common phenomenon saddens me deeply. Shouldn’t family come first? Shouldn’t these parents praise their own children the same way they would praise a stranger who is from a non religious background? Isn’t there more to a person than what commandments they appear to keep? Why can’t frum people see that not everyone can cope with so many rigid rules? Why can’t frum people give ultra orthodox jews who don’t want to keep everything some middle path? Why are ultra orthodox jews being brought up with an all or nothing mentality?

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3 thoughts on “All or Nothing

  1. Anon

    So what is your opinion on the “modern orthodox” lifestyle. There seems to be a middle ground there. Most modern orthodox people keep kosher meat but will eat out Vegetarian. They can wear whatever clothing they want and don’t need to pretend to be modest. Orthodox girls have a reputation for dressing slutty- yes they are wearing a skirt, but it is so tight and short that it leaves noting to the imagination. Also modern orthodoxy encourages people go to university and mingle with new people (not only religious Jews). They can have girlfriends/boyfriends and don’t need their parents permission to date or have to wait to be set up.They lead an easy going lifestyle where they can go the movies, listen to non-Jewish music and go to bars/clubs without having to lie about what they do or being ashamed.

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    1. frumless Post author

      Yes the modern orthodox lifestyle is a very good way to practice religion. my question is why isn’t this balanced lifestyle presented as an option to ultra orthodox people? It’s not taught in ultra orthodox environments. modern orthodox is considered not frum. ultra orthodox people do not consider this a way to practice judaism properly. I would love if modern orthodox practices were presented as an option to ultra orthodox people who can’t cope with all the laws. Unfortunately this is not the case. In ultra orthodox judaism there is an all or nothing mentality. Ask any ultra orthodox rabbi and they will tell you that modern orthodox ways of keeping commandments are not considered keeping commandments in accordance to jewish law.

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