I Personally Don't Hold By That

I wish I had a dollar for every new chumra and another fifty cents for the passive-aggressive ways those chumras (did you know we're not supposed to live on chumras by the way?) are propagated to the innocent faithful.
"You can go by that shechita but I personally wouldn't. I just don't hold by that, but you can do what you want." 
"You can go on social media but I personally wouldn't. It's not very bekovodik of a bas melech. I just don't hold by it, but you can do what you want."
Someone said to me: “You’re so spiritual. You're always talking about this stuff. Why aren't you just religious already?"

I guess you could say that I am religious already, that there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah and that none of us keep all of them.

You could even go so far as to say that I accept the primacy of halacha and as such "am religious."

But I personally don't hold by that.

Because I was raised religious and I understand that there is a difference between conceptually agreeing that halacha is right and actually dedicating your life to its observance.

I understand that if you aren't actually an observant Jew, meaning you don't really care what the rabbeim have to say about a topic and instead choose to just do your own thing, then halachically you have gone to the other side of the fence and should not be regarded as "religious."

My feeling on this is that after nearly 50 years and many internal discussions and debates about this (meaning debates with myself) I have no real likelihood of changing very much. But that doesn't stop me from being a good Jew.

  • I can be very proud of being Jewish, and open about it. I can support my people and promote ahavas Yisrael.
  • I can "call a spade a spade" and specifically speak out when individuals wearing the mantle of a religious leader commit bad acts while hiding behind the authority Torah gives them - this disgusts me.
  • I can support other people who do want to be religious by telling them the truth of halacha as it is, at least insofar as I know it, including the correct hashkafa as I learned it from genuinely sincere, committed and educated teachers.
  • I can offer a supportive attitude, support, and anything else I can do for my family to contribute to their positive growth as Torah Jews.
  • I can give Tzedakah.
  • I can go to shul.
  • I can contribute through writing to the general elevation of Torah in our world and to its genuine observance.

About ten years ago I did not feel this way. After many years of feeling forced into religion, shamed if I was not perfect about it, and judged by just about everyone, I had had enough.

I told one of my aunts, who I admire very much for her intelligence. She said to me, in this very calm and rational way, "At least you owe it to yourself to explore your heritage first."

You would think that this calm and rational, nonjudgmental approach would work, but it did not, at least not for me.

Fast forward about five years and I started seeing the number 613 everywhere (and I do mean everywhere--license plates, house numbers, numbers on packages, amount of email, even a roll of three dice randomly). I've written about it before and so has my husband, but the bottom line is it reached such a point that my father had to go to the rebbe, who pointed him to a kabbalist. My father drove at night, in the rain, to meet with him for two hours.

The net-net of that conversation, as far as I got it from my dad, was that either I was going to do a few things or HaShem was going to pull me back where I came from. Those things included keeping kosher, keeping Shabbos and going to shul with my family. (Somehow the kabbalist knew that I was driving to Barnes & Noble every week instead of going to shul).

You would be forgiven at this point for thinking that my father was engaging in some kind of 4D chess kiruv by telling me that the kabbalist said all this stuff, without having actually gone anywhere or spoken to anyone.

But the truth is, nobody knew that I was going to Barnes & Noble on Shabbos, including my dad. So he could not have made that detail up.

In any case, in the intervening time, I have changed quite a bit. You could say that HaShem "held the mountain over my head" in order for me to voluntarily accept the Torah, and that would be true, and I am fine with that.

I also understand, in a way that many people will not admit, how important it is for observant Jews to hold the line. Very often people will rationalize their non-halachic behavior as somehow "OK," and they will say and do anything to get the rabbis to go along with them so that they feel less bad about their behavior.

(One of my kids calls me "Lazy Orthodox" for admitting this fact and yet not going full-blown halachic as a result.)

However--and this is the key point--it is not okay to constantly move the goal post when it comes to halacha, either.

And ever since Sam Heilman published "The World of The Yeshiva" several decades ago, it seems to have become the fashion to make everything that well-intentioned people do somehow "not good enough."

The skirt isn't long enough.

A strand of hair is showing from the tichel.

You have to wear thick black stockings to "cover up."

You shouldn't wear the color red.

You can't have that type of shechita.

All television and movies are a bad influence.

Cellphones can link you to a world of trouble.

On, and on, and on until everything is somehow scary and only a few people in the tightly knit "trusted" community are the go-to advisers on everything.

You don't need me to tell you that this is fertile ground for abuse.

It also isn't halacha.

Like my father once said to me, "VeChai Bahem." Jewish law is something to live by, in a healthy way, and not drown in because you're so submerged in minutiae.

My mother puts it more plainly: "Well that's just a bunch of bullshit."

But you don't need us to tell you anything.

The Rambam himself taught us that moderation is the way.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Creative Commons image source via Pixabay.

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