Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Towards a Subtler Nonconformity

Posted on | December 22, 2005 | By Guest Contributor | 62 Comments

Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
Jewish Heritage Center

The majority of the posts and comments on the conformity debate deal with standardization in dress and speech. The basic consensus is that swallowing hard and adopting a bleak conformity is just another of the many sacrifices that we make for integration into the Frum community. Unlike relinquishing, say, seafood this demanding sacrifice seems to reward those who make it with a lifetime of ambivalence. Here are some thoughts I hope will make us more comfortable within our own skins by recasting this never-ending and draining sacrifice as a labor of love.

We need to ask ourselves: “Do I yearn for nonconformity or individuality?” At times, nonconformity implies a grouchy contrariness simply for the sake of being contrary. It often indicates insecurity and low self-esteem that cannot be assuaged without gaining notoriety. The nonconformist may be subconsciously saying “If I can gain prominence by excelling at what I do and where, I am… terrific if not I will do so by deviating from the expected standards in obvious and attention-grabbing ways”. In short it often comes from an unhealthy place.

Individuality, on the other hand, expresses the central Human longing for self-actualization and the resistance to external oppressive forces that would squash it. It is a wholesome drive that unites rather than divides BTs and FFBs. It is born in a whisper at our innermost core that demands that we be who we truly are. Where nonconformity is reactive, individuality is proactive. The drive for individuality concerns itself not with modes of dress but with the personality being clothed, not with the language but with the message, not with affectation but with effects, not with mannerisms but with middos (character traits).

IMO, we often under valuate our lifestyle makeovers. In spite of the popular “Avrohom” and “Yisro” models for repudiation of the dominant culture, what compels a Jew to do T’shuva in the post-Sinai era is not a rejection of secularity or secularities’ excesses. These may serve as triggers to the process but they are not the key moving forces. Rather, it is the drive for individuality. A Jew is a Jew and can never hope for self-actualization without Torah and Mitzvahs i.e. living as a Jew. An eagle that has grown up among marching penguins does not take flight to spite the penguins and mock their black and white conformity. The eagle flies because that’s what eagles do. Even when both are at rest the eagle is qualitatively unlike the penguin. It need not behave differently to be different. Yet, its very being compels it towards unique behaviors.

There is a Midrash about the cruelty of S’dom. In S’dom there was only one bed for wayfarers. When the forlorn traveler was forced to spend a night in S’dom they were made to lie down on a “one-size-fits-all” bed. If they were too short a rack would stretch them and if they were too tall they would be decapitated to fit the bed.

The dominant culture with its tyrannical egalitarianism is the heir to the mantle of S’dom’s bed. While ostensibly celebrating nonconformists by allowing for some superficial dissimilarities it is a culture that demands leveling and conformity between men and women, between old and young and between criminal and victim. Many a soul has been stretched to the breaking point or constrained and crushed by this harsh and unreal steamrolling.

Paradoxically, the outward uniformity of frum societies proffers the blessing of true individuality. It is precisely because so much external uniformity is expected that people must dig deeply to discover what makes them unique and irreplaceable individuals. In analyzing both the sacred avodah of Hagrolah (the sacrifice lottery) on Yom Kippur and Shoshanas Yaakov, the anthem of Purim, Rav Hutner Z”tl explains that once we posit that two things are, in fact, different it follows that the greater the number of layers of external similarity they share then, perforce, the deeper and closer to their cores will be that which actually differentiates them.

Chazal describe Hashem as “the peerless Artist” because every piece of His work (human beings) is a one of a kind creation. Our aching to be unique is a paean to the Divine Artist. It is nothing less than the ultimate, logical conclusion of imitatio dei (Mitzvah of Divine Imitation:clinging to the ways & middos of HaShem). Just as He is Yochid (singularly individual) so shall you be! Individuality ought to be embraced and celebrated in spiritual, sophisticated, deep-seated ways that flow outward from the core of our values and our beings not relegated to some quirks at the outer limits of our most public personas. Such quirkiness represents little more than a clichéd, shallow conformist’s losing touch with their individuality by “going with the (nonconformist) flow”.

Comments

62 Responses to “Towards a Subtler Nonconformity”

  1. Gershon Seif
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 10:13 am

    That was just beautiful!

  2. Bart
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 11:26 am

    Excellent “dressing down” of “dressing up”!

  3. Mark Frankel
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 12:09 pm

    Very nicely written.

    I think most people would agree that the central Human longing for self-actualization is better fulfilled by working on inner traits than by wearing attention attracting apparel or by displays of wealth.

    However in the Frum community it often seems that the ideal paths for actualization have been narrowed. On the male side, excellence in learning (and sports for boys) are the only currencies really valued. Striving for greatness in personal chesed, serving the community, davening and character development are given lip service at best.

    So although the external means have been somewhat devalued, the valid trails for self-actualization are not all opened. Perhaps this is why the pain of comformity is sometimes so strongly felt.

  4. yvonne pennink
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 1:51 pm

    Often, when I read discussions like on this blog, I ask myself: Being jewish is a fashion statement? Because, either way, whether you conform to a certain dresscode, which in itself stands out, or you express yourself with unique adornments and clothing, you will draw attention to something physical, rather than to something intrinsic. Being a jew is intrinsic. It is what you are. It is not what your parents did or did not do, or are or are not. My father was a non-practicing jew, my mother was not jewish. We were not raised jewish. Yet, my sisters and I are jews, always have been, always will be. I was not aware of it, until a series of events took place. I did know that I was perceived and also felt not to belong in the gentile society. I know my identity now, and I am learning still, at age 71! My instincts are on target, even if I do not know all the buzzwords and inner circle conventions. Making oneself too precious and special on the outside, even though expressed in specific conformity may stand in the way of real conformity, namely that we are all made in His Image. When we realize that it becomes a little easier to try to be like Avraham, and act like him. It appears that he never met a stranger! His tent and heart were open to anyone. Light is energy and warmth, it radiates outward. We are to be a light to the world. We draw the light and energy from Torah and Hashem. When we thus are conduits people come up to you and will want to know who and what you are, and what you stand for. It is simple physics, of course, and it works, just try it. We say Shema, twice a day, hear, open yourself up. It is not the individual, conformity or non-conformity, or a dress code. Be aware, or you might even miss a dramatic event as Lazer Brody describes! Hashem is immanent and transcendent. We get cold soup when we chatter too much and too long.

  5. Lawrence M. Flait, Esquire
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 3:00 pm

    Reb Dovid Schwartz captures the essential question of every person, Jew or otherwise, Orthodox or lost. The sine qua non of all religion is that if I am made in a divine image, and am human, does the logical consequence induce me to sojourn my existence as an apologist, with bowed head, stained glass prayers on my knees and praying in muffled tones – or does one individually capture that which is divine in oneself, stand erect in celebration of however small the quantum of the divine that dwells within us, pray at the top of our lungs, and shukle in ecstacy that I have a spark of the divine within me. (Did the divine ever compose such a run on sentence???)

    At length, our prismatic diffusion of the light of H-shem into the purity of our own orientation conforms to a tradition that is thousands of years young!!

    Lawrence M. Flait, Esquire

  6. David Kelsey
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

    The utilization of Sodom as representative of the modern secular world is both revealing and a pathetic attempt to make the frum world look good in comparison.

    So the frum world is better than Sodom. Well, congratulations. This is certainly a big victory for Individualists everywhere.

    And nice going as well for suggesting that anyone who doesn’t fit into the frum “mold’ (and oh, yes, that term is the frum world’s term, not mine — there is indeed a “mold”) is not individualistic, but rather a “quirky non-conformist.”

    Sincerely,

    Quirky Non-conformtist who is obviously only concerned with superficial dress and mannerisms since he doesn’t buy into every last frum idea and doesn’t wear the same black hat all the Haredim do so it’s a sure sign I am not an Individualistic person.

  7. Gershon Seif
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 4:28 pm

    David,

    I suggest you slow down and read the post again. It seems to me that you missed the whole point – unless of course your intention was to just kvetch. I see you’ve got a blog called “The Kvetcher”.

    I recall wearing my worn out Levi’s back in the 70’s (not the fake pre-faded kind theyhave nowadays. I earned every hole & patch!)and not feeling so indivdualistic as I watched every other “individual” who was dressed just like me… Are there any people who dress in ways that aren’t uniforms in one way or another? The stores we buy our clothes from, are selling clothes that some designers far away, decided we should consider wearing. Uniforms mean very little. And as this post was trying to assert, sometimes having a uniform gives people a chance to concentrate on the the real things that matter.

  8. Steve Brizel
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 5:51 pm

    R Dovid Schwartz has excellently summarized the end results of no-holds barred egalitarian liberalism and feminism, and the politically correct assault on values, etc. In my opinion, the new Spielberg film on Munich is a classic exhibit of this assault.

    With all due respect to R Dovid Schwartz, non-conformity is a sign of intellectual and spiritual greatness that includes a rejection of the then prevailing intellectual, societal and cultural norms both in the outside world and the Jewish world.

    I would also add the following very telling anecdote with his depiction of Sdom. It is well known that R Chaim Brisker left Brisk in WW1 and spent some time in the nearby city of Minsk-a city well known for many Talmidei Chachamim,etc. During that period, many refugees from other cities fled to Mink. However, the residents of Minsk refused to take in these refugees except to let them stay in a local shul. R Chaim felt that that conduct was exactly the same as Midas Sdom and secreted himself from the residents of Minsk because the only way to avoid their bad influence was to act as if he was in a desert with no contact whatsoever with the residents of Minsk. One can contrast in a very positive way how the Jewish communities of Memphis and Houston reacted to Katrina as opposed to the municipal and state authorities.

    I know of a shul/shtiebel in our neighborhood that had a major problem with noise during Shabbos davening. One Shabbos, the rav of that shul locked the doors and informed his mispallelim that he would not let anyone in that Shabbos because of their propensity for talking. In a small way, that decision was a supreme act of rebelling against talking in shul.

    Of course, teshuvah is an individual process.Yet, Chazal and Rishonim also emphasize that the teshuvah of a tzibbur is also equally important, Indeed, a communal fast that does not include Tzadikim, Benonim and Rishaim is not a Taanis Tzibbur.

  9. Kressel Housman
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 6:01 pm

    BS”D

    Yasher koach for the divrei Torah and divrei chizuk. I think that was my favorite post here so far. I especially like the concept that our dressing uniformly (though we women arguably have more leeway) is what forces us to define ourselves as individuals.

    And yes, of course, ultimately we all became BT because of the pintele Yid within us.

  10. David Kelsey
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 7:53 pm

    This is pure fantasy. A strict dress code is never about encouraging indiviudualism; it is about enforcing conformity. This was the underlying admission in the chosen debate between R. Schwartz’s choice of non-conformism vs. Individualism.

    So why not just admit it? Ultra-Orthodoxy does not value Individualism, and more than other groups which insist on a very strict dress code, such as: the military, China duuing Mao’s Great Society, or a Hashomer Hatzair Kibbutz back in the day.

    But why pretend you value something you don’t? Or pretend you are encouraging something you’re not?

  11. David Linn
    December 22nd, 2005 @ 10:04 pm

    David K.

    I’m glad to see that you were able to circumvent the Word Press bug.

    If you would have the pleasure of meeting our bloggers you would immediately realize that you are lumping us all together under one big black hat. The funny thing is that many of us don’t wear hats (well sometimes Yankees’ hats)and many of us wear kippa srugahs, leather yarmulkes, etc. So your first mistake is addressing us all, lump sum.

    Second, I don’t think Rabbi Schwartz ever made the point that the reason for conformity in dress is to promote individuality. He said that when there are less external differences, there are generally more internal ones. I think the point is one that applies across the board and is not limited to frum circles.Take a look at one of your own examples, the military. When my brother was in West Point, the first day we were allowed to visit, his own mother couldn’t pick him out from among the marching cadets. They all had the same uniform, hat, haircut and even eyeglasses. When we finally met my brother, he was no different than before and when meeting his seemingly cloned friends, all of us were intrigued to hear about their differences vis vis hometowns, hobbies, interests, etc. Indeed, the clothes did not make the man.

    Finally, you not only pretend to know what Rabbi Schwartz believes but what he pretends to believe. I’d venture to say that you’ve never met the man. Nonetheless, you choose to group him with some amorphous group of insidious individuals seeking to suck in unknowing souls by deceit and trickery. I find it ironic that someone who professes to be an opponent of “groupthink” would resort to “groupbash”. If you have an axe to grind, so be it. Just don’t use people you don’t even know as a grindstone.

    The first rule of debate is to attack the issue not the speaker. That’s pretty much all we’re asking for here.

  12. Yaakov Menken
    December 23rd, 2005 @ 12:12 am

    Someone once asked, “have you ever noticed how all the non-conformists non-conform the same way?” Gershon Seif has made the same point — in one generation it was long hair and faded jeans, now it’s spiky hair and pierced eyebrows, but it’s no more an expression of “individualism” than drinking water. How you dress is an expression of group identity, not individuality.

    At least the charedim (whom David refers to by the pejorative term “ultra-“Orthodox) conform with a dignified standard of dress — and one that doesn’t change every year in accordance with what a group of Parisians have concluded is du jour.

    That negativity aside, Rabbi Schwartz is to be commended for a brilliant post. A new Ba’al Teshuvah must conform to the “normative” standards of the Orthodox community that he or she wishes to join. We are all affected by our peers, and the BT needs to be part of, and reinforced by, the frum community. It is, again, not a matter of squelching individuality, but identifying with a new group.

    Once that is accomplished, it will not be long before he or she is expressing his or her individuality in ways that are respected within and outside our community, rather than looked upon as “wierd.” Well, I don’t think some of my friends will ever think eating sushi is normal, but you get the point. :)

  13. David Kelsey
    December 23rd, 2005 @ 12:33 am

    David Linn,

    Your rebuttal was the more interesting one. I think I made it clear I was directing these comments specifically to Rabbi Schwartz’s points, though I certainly have issues as well with the other posts in regards to the numerous flawed ideas about conformity that I have read on this site by numerous authors.

    The issues of West Point is not a contradiction at all, though. The military seeks to reduce the issue of individualism through dress code, not “promote” it. Just the opposite. Just like the ultra-Orthodox. That’s their choice. No need to pretend otherwise. Unless you’re say, attemtpting to apply a pseudo-Intellectual defense of something which is ‘just the way it is’ in that world.

    Yaaokiv Menken,

    Nice of you to visit a blog that blows yours away. Very menschlach of you. But your point brings up another one.

    Those faded jeans and “spiky hair and pierced eyebrows” just proves again that the favorite ULTRA-ORTHODOX comparison of secularism is, if not Sodom, the secularism of an adolescent, not the adult world, which you and Gershon hilariously, (yes, hilariously), seem to equate the secular world in its entirety with.

    That’s great that that was your experience. For at least some of the rest of us, it changes into something much more, well, mature.

    Sorry if you never made it or even interacted with it to that degree, but it’s quite different than the high school or early college experience that you appear to restrict it to, not because that’s obviously when you guys “becmae frum” or anything as anecdotal like that. If you need sources to prove it doesn’t end there, I will be happy to provide them to you and Gershon. Just email me, Rabosai. “Tzurich Eyan Gadol.”
    ;)

  14. Alter
    December 23rd, 2005 @ 2:23 am

    I am don’t see why everybody is so afraid to say that we, as Orthodox Jews, encourage conformity. As some previous commentors mentioned, the whole world conforms to something. Whether it be the hippies, geeks, greeks, or Jews. We happen to conform to emes. I am proud that my children will wear black not because its black but because it represents a group of people whose ideals are to serve Hashem, nullifying their own desire for the expense of the klal. I am not commenting whether or not the “Ultra Orthodox” accomplish that on an individual level, after all the Torah was given to man, not angels(ie. we aren’t perfect), however, it is definitely our motto. That isn’t to knock other halachic groups. There are 70 faces to the torah, as long as they fulfill Halacha, they are fine. However, my personal choice for myself and I hope for my kids is to be trying to be “osek” in serving Hashem 24/7,365. Everything we do is supposed to be a kiddush Hashem. That requires kavanna. When you go to work and you do it with kavanna, you are fulfilling mitzvahs. Now back to conformity…We are so afraid of what the world will say as if conformity is such an intellectually “bad” idea. It isn’t bad if it is the right conformity. Torah encourages individualism within the conformity such as chiddushim in learning, scholarship-writing,etc.. Beautiful judaica art gives the artist expression. Beautiful Jewish music gives the musically talented their ability to express themselves. However, everything in its right measure. Unfortunitely society around us is a sewer. You can have cognitive dissonance about that all you want but a fact is a fact. That society pushes this whole concept of you need to be an individual. That is one reason why it has gone down hill so much.Think about it for a minute. What does being an nonconformist mean-I will do what I want, when I want. I will do whats best for me. I see it as another “ism”. Ism’s like feminism, save the whales, communism, etc are totally against torah. They are l’shem ism and not l’shem shamayim. What’s my proof? Just look at most people who were in these isms. They float from one ism to another. There are so many people that are in the Green movements that are rabidly anti Israel. Most of them couldn’t even find Israel on a map let alone what the real facts are. They don’t care. It is another Ism for them. Is that Torah? I think not. We need to take our strong urges for nonconformity and channel them by using them for the good of the klal. Like pushing for spirituality, tsnius where there isnt, reform in the schools when needed and the ability to stand up and be counted and move to Eretz Yisrael.
    Shabbat Shalom.

  15. Alter
    December 23rd, 2005 @ 2:45 am

    As a quick update to my previous comment. Wearing black and white makes getting dressed in the morning a lot easier. No agonizing thoughts of which shirt to wear with which pair of pants.
    Shabbat Shalom.

  16. David Linn
    December 23rd, 2005 @ 8:57 am

    David:

    I think you might be missing the point. Neither I nor Rabbi Schwartz said that the reason for conformity in dress is to create individualism. The point is that conformity in dress highlights individualism in other areas. There is clearly a difference between saying that something is undertaken for the purpose of producing something else and saying that when something is undertaken the result is something else. That is the very reason I employed your example of the military. No one is arguing that the reason that the military insists on uniform dress is to promote individuality. There are good reasons for the uniformity, chief among them: security. That does not negate the fact that such external uniformity highlights (if not encourages) deeper, less superficial differences. Instead of being the guy who wears brown square toed shoes and polo shirts, you’re the guy who reads Proust (not my cup of tea but I’m sure someone in West Point reads him) and like Jazz.

    The point being made by Rabbi Schwarts is that when speaking of conformity vs. individualism, the debate should not be limited to mode of dress. I don’t think Rabbi Schwartz is on a crusade to get everyone to dress like him (and trust me, I for one couldn’t fill his shoes).

    As I sit here in my black courdoroy trousers and blue striped shirt one would probably think it incongrous that I am supporting Rabbi Schwartz’ position. That is the difference between black and white and shades of gray, David. And that is the difference between being open to the possibility that someone else’s ideas can contain truth even if I don’t agree with them on all issues at all times. And that is the difference between pre-judging an individual based upon your perceptions of some sort of agenda and taking each person as an individual. I guess that’s really the crux of the conformism-individuality debate. A debate which you lose before starting when you reveal, at the inception, that you simply wish to discredit what you term as “ultra-orthodox judaism” regardless of the issue.

    Again. I’ll ask you politely to refrain from using the blog to deride others. That’s not where we want to go.

    Good Shabbos

  17. Yaakov Astor
    December 23rd, 2005 @ 11:25 am

    I remember in college reading Shakespeare’s sonnets. At first I hated them; they were so restrictive: they had to be a certain number of lines, be in a rigid, highly specific meter and so forth. Then I had a breakthrough reading them — and, my goodness, how different they were from each other, and how great each was in its own unique way.

    In case any of us have lost the forest in the trees on this blog, that’s my experience in becoming frum. It’s about finding the unique individual within a specific set of halachic norms.

    And it’s a struggle. A struggle, however, that is not exclusive to the observant world. Jung called it “individuation.” The process of discovering and becoming the unique individual that we each are is life’s tallest challenge no matter who you are and what cultural norms you identify yourself with.

    (This is what I was tryin to convey in my blog here, “Who I Am.”)

    Halachic norms — and then the varied cultural expression of those norms within the O world — do not unto themselves stunt anyone’s ability to individuate. I have problems individuating. I’m a human being. But it is not because of the halachic norms. Or, even if you want to argue that it is at times, the gains are at least equal to and IMO usually outweigh the losses.

    Shakespeare didn’t find the rules of making a sonnet contradictory to creating unique expressions of a profound spectrum of human feelings. The rules of halachic living are similar. It’s not they, unto themselves, that restrict individuation. At least as often, they abet it, as Rabbi Schwartz eloquently explained, by reducing the emphasis on the external.

    The process — and challenges — of individuation are not unique to Jews. But Torah is a set of norms deigned to bring out and enhance a certain type of individuation — a Jewish individuation.

    May we all be zocheh to succeed at this great process.

  18. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 23rd, 2005 @ 12:45 pm

    Pro and, for the purpose of honing the debate, especially con- I am very gratified by the fiery response to yesterday’s post. I thank all of you for taking the time to read it and for the most part, if the comments are any indication, to think it through.

    As it is a short Friday I can’t respond as thoroughly as I’d like to. Still for those who have been following the repartee and may still take a peek or two at the blog before Shabbos I’ll try to address a few points.

    Mark-It would be futile and disingenuous for me to deny your sobering analysis of which currencies are valued in your territory within Frum society (the same one that I happen to occupy). But let’s not lose sight of the fact that frum society is not monolithic and in spite of your personal experiences there are streams within frum society that place tremendous stock in Chesed, Davening, Music, Chibas Eretz Yisroel, Kanous, Secular Academic excellence, tsepeeya Liy’shua, and/or philanthropy.

    More fundamentally (wow is that a loaded word choice!) as much as we would all like societal approval and validation for our strengths and contributions I think that weaning ourselves away from this need is part and parcel of the movement “towards a subtler nonconformity”. Being true to ourselves and making the most of the hand our Creator dealt us ought to be it’s own reward. I’m no expert of Jung but if I understood Yaakov Astor correctly this sensibility is essential to the individuation process. Perhaps I didn’t make the point clearly enough but whether one is looking to scandalize or to evoke admiration and approval, being reactive is characteristic of nonconformity rather than individuality. (Maybe not according to Webster’s Dictionary but in my formulation.). To carry a controversial (see David Kelsey) simile a step further, the same eagle that did not take flight to spite the penguins while growing up among them, does not fly to impress the other eagles even after discovering that (s)he’s an eagle and is soaring among them.

    Speaking of metaphors and similes I do regret one thing in my post and that is the metaphor of the S’dom bed. It is a loaded word that caused several of the commenters (and I suspect that they are representative of many more readers who did not comment) a lot of angst. IMO it also deflected their attention away from the point that I was trying to make. I knew that there is a corollary concept in Greek mythology but could not recall the name. Before posting I should’ve done what I did moments ago (googling). It is called Procrustes’ bed (see http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/procrustes.html) and had I substituted the word “S’dom” with the word “Procrustes’” I would have generated more light and less heat. If the administrators see fit I have no problem with them making that edit now.

    Speaking of administrators Yasher Koach for creating and maintaining this illuminating blog. I, for one am learning and growing from it. I sometimes forget that the deepest and most complex sugya of them all is that of the human neshoma and psyche. Beyondbt.com reminds me.

    Hope to continue early next week. Gut Shabbos everybody!

    P.S. Mrs. Housman please send my fond regards to Rabbi Dov Housman, my Mesivta classmate.

  19. Mark Frankel
    December 24th, 2005 @ 7:46 pm

    Rabbi Schwartz – I agree that Frum society is not monolithic, however communal focus sometimes obscures some Torah acceptable paths. To my understanding it is the responsibility of the community to prioritize those paths. So this seems to me to be a real issue.

    Do you think our actions should in any way be evaluated based on how our communities view of them? And although serving Hashem should be our primary motivation, that doesn’t seem to negate the fact the values of our community play a part.

    For the record, my vote for proper priorities would be headed by Torah, Tefillah and Gemillas Chasidim and in theory our community agrees. But like many things in life, there is room for introspection and improvement.

  20. Kressel Housman
    December 24th, 2005 @ 10:06 pm

    BS”D

    You went to school with my brother-in-law? That’s so exciting! I’ll most certainly send your regards.

    But why should you change what you wrote about Sodom? Isn’t that a Medrash?

  21. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 24th, 2005 @ 11:41 pm

    Mark- Everyone must walk a fine line between “Where there are no men strive to be a man” and “Do not seperate from the ways of the congregation”. Between “If Iam not for myself who will be for me” and “When I am only for myself what am I?”. Except for people of true ethical and intellectual genius and prodigious leadership qualities it is often hard to discern if the rugged individualist is a forward thinking visionary or a delusional person for whom radical noncomformity is a synmptom of being unbalanced. For every Kotsker Rebbe and Sora Schnirer there is an Acher and a Shabbetai Zvi SRY. From your first post I didn’t get the impression that you were talking about paths and emphasis that arouse serious communal censure. You were merely expressing the frustration and dissapontment that comes from a community paying pro forma lip service to ideals that supposedly ARE valued and approved of. A kind of “For crying out loud, I AM doing what’s right (and expected of me)! How about a little love (or at least respect)?” It is regarding this type of frustration that I wrote what I did in my last comment.

    Mrs. Housman-To the best of my knowledge it is a Midrash. Yet as it is undeniably also an idea that was co-opted by world culture (like the Arthurian Legend of Excalibur being a takeoff of the staff of Adam that only Moshe could extract from the stone where it was lodged in Yisro’s garden, the Phoenix bird (once again both in chazal and Greek mythology) or the Cinderella story as a variation of Shmuel HaNovie thinking all the other sons of Yishai were King material rather than Dovid. My point was that based on some comments I read people “saw red” when I used the word S’dom and took it for a blanket dismissive putdown of the dominate culture in toto, when all I meant to symbolize was the specific, albeit wide-ranging, feature of our culture to warp people by demanding egalitrian uniformity.

    I hope to elaborate and clarify. I just hope that this debate dosen’t become yesterdays news before I’m able to!

  22. Kressel Housman
    December 25th, 2005 @ 10:55 am

    BS”D

    David Kelsey,

    All arguments aside (I hate flaming), I’m very interested to know how non-conformity plays out post-high school and college. I’d imagine it has something to do with conforming to the work world, but you can fill me in on the details.

  23. David Kelsey
    December 25th, 2005 @ 1:05 pm

    Kressel Housman,

    Of course it is related to the work world. There is simply less of it (non-conformism). People go to work, and that changes everything. I would argue that at that point, dress signals the activity more than anything else.

    It’s hardly about making big bold statements, even if not nearly as restrictive (or Non-conformist, for that matter) as say, the Haredi and Hasidic dress.

    Quite frankly, I think the biggest non-conformist in adult groups in New York are the Hasidim and the Muslims. They insist on constantly declaring who they are through their dress, with their quirky and non-conformist cultural allegiance to Hungary/Yemen, instead of a more subtle non-conformism focused on how to be a good Jew/Muslim in the work place.

    I think the American workplace generally prefers a more subtle non-conformism, as it allows people to focus on skill sets and work issues, not “identity.” There is plently of time to wear your hair “spiky” and faded blue jeans and with holes, or alternatively (and still the same idea) wear your favorite beaver hat and silk black bathrobe after work.

    Yes, I think I would like to see a more subtle non-conformism in the Orthodox Jewish world.

    Excellent idea.

  24. David Linn
    December 25th, 2005 @ 1:23 pm

    David,

    I think your point about the general workplace placing less emphasis on non-conformism in order to accentuate focusing on skill sets and work issues is dead on. I also think it is the precise point that Rabbi Schwartz is making, to wit, conformity in dress often accentuates and allows for focus on more internal and crucial individualism.

    Is it possible that the two of you are in agreement on that issue?

    Happy Chanukah to all!

  25. David Kelsey
    December 25th, 2005 @ 1:59 pm

    No. It doesn’t seek to promote individualism in the work place. It seeks to focus on and maximize production.

    I am not saying that is a bad thing. I am saying it is different.

  26. David Linn
    December 25th, 2005 @ 3:34 pm

    David

    OK, so we’ll agree to disagree. At least we’re doing so agreeably.

  27. Mark Frankel
    December 25th, 2005 @ 3:44 pm

    Rabbi Schwartz

    On a personal level, my community has been very supportive, appreciative, loving and respectful of almost everything I do.

    But I see young adults who may not be cut out to sit and learn for many hours a day. They seem to be without a clear path to follow in their service of Hashem. To some extent this is because chesed and davening (on the boys side) are not strongly emphasized. Thus the emphasis and values of the community effect their potential paths of actualization.

    My biggest question on your beautiful piece for BTs is that you seemed to have waved away the issue of conformity and non-comformity with a call for individuality.

    When I mentioned the issue of conformity to Rebbetzin Heller recently, she commented that conformity cuts you off to some degree from your past, while non-conformity cuts you off to a degree from your community.

    From a BT point of view, there are some things in the past that need to be cut off. But there are others things that can be integrated. The Conformity/Non-Comformity arena is the area in which this growth occurs. The call for individuality while certainly a Torah value, does negate the Conformity/Non-Comformity struggle.

  28. Marisa
    December 25th, 2005 @ 4:57 pm

    Dear Chevre,

    Just want to thank you all for continued support and friendship during my painful divorce. You should all know that my ex did not leave me because I left Yiddishkeit, I left Yiddishkeit because my ex left me.

    I want to thank you all for the shabbos invitations. Thank you for your phone calls and for offering words of encouragement during the two years I was without a Get.

    I hope you will never know the pain of mourning a broken bais ne’eman for it is a million times more painful than almost any other type of mourning. The pain of knowing their will be no more shabbos or yom tov tables after you’ve tried so hard to create beautiful ones in the past.

    Thank you for thinking of me now that I am very much alone. I forgive you if my situation frightens you, but it frightens me more.

    I will continue to remember the good times with all of you .

    Shalom,
    Marisa Levy

  29. Kressel Housman
    December 25th, 2005 @ 8:25 pm

    BS”D

    David Kelsey,

    So essentially you’re saying that in the secular world, once people leave college and enter the work place, non-conformity vs. conformity isn’t an issue anymore. Why then did you criticize us for defining non-conformity in terms of styles we saw in our high school and college days?

    Furthermore, why should dressing in accordance with custom interfere with our performance in the workplace? I would think the rules of productivity apply to any worker regardless of how he or she dresses. If you can do your job, you get to keep it. If not, you lose it. It’s that simple, and dress doesn’t enter the picture.

  30. David Kelsey
    December 26th, 2005 @ 2:08 am

    Kressel,

    I was saying that the issue of non-conformism described in adolescent terms by two of the commentors above are not the general reality in the adult world, and so it is disingenous to bring them as the alternative, unless you are speaking to teenagers or others dressed in such a manner, or actually think that’s how you would go to work if you weren’t religious.

    My point about traditional dress was to note that perhaps it was the very religious Jews and Muslims who seek non-conformity through dress more than others in the adult world most of us inhabit at some point. I personally am not all that interested in whether or not a person is wearing a “spkey hair” or a bekeshe. My point was the issue of chastising those who dress a bit different to display their identity was a bit like the pot calling the kettle, er, black.

    My biggest issue with aspects of the dress of the ultra-Orthodox is that it is not utilitarian. The black hats do not keep you warm in the winter — in fact, they tend to not do terribly well in wind of any sort. In the summer they are terribly hot.

    I personally think this is an undue burden for Jews from a secular background. I didn’t do it (even back in the day) and remember a social cost to my utilitarian inspired “non-conformity.”

    I should note, those two examples of dress I took issue with were not given by Rabbi Schwartz himself, and I would also like to express admiration that he is a big enough person for having explained and retracted his employment of “S’dom.”

  31. Kressel
    December 26th, 2005 @ 9:11 am

    BS”D

    I still don’t understand your objection to the use of the teenage examples. In my own post on non-conformity, I state that the period of my life when I remember it being an issue was in high school. You likewise said that once people enter the work force, non-conformity disappears as an issue in their lives. What then is wrong with using teenage fashions as an example?

    Also, how do Ultra-Orthodox clothing place an undue burden on secular Jews? It seems to me that we do our thing and you do yours.

  32. Chava Ashkenazi
    December 26th, 2005 @ 1:31 pm

    Marisa,

    Life doesn’t have to stop because our married life has….growing through the pain and confusion and loneliness can bring one to claim gifts and qualities that lay unused and dormant. Hashem loves us and only wants good for us – We need to figure out how to use the experiences He’s sent us to grow and become greater people. And then to live it.

    From one who’s been there…..
    Chava

  33. Kressel
    December 26th, 2005 @ 2:40 pm

    BS”D

    I think the posuk most germane to this discussion of non-conformity vs. individuality is from Mishlei: “Educate a child in his way and when he grows older, he will not depart from it.” Whether it is the education of a child or a new BT, education works best when it is tailor-made to the individual. When it is not, it may not last, and rebellion may even result. Of course, rebellion is not necessarily a tragedy. If the individual takes a few steps backward that will help him to eventually push himself forward, then it’s just a matter of correcting the initial miseducation.

  34. David Kelsey
    December 26th, 2005 @ 5:55 pm

    Kressel,

    I was talking about when Ultra-Orthodox Jews eventually pressure (and oh yes, they pressure–oh yes they do!) baalei Tshuvahs to start dressing like black hatters, implicitly or explicity.

    The problem with the high school examples, again, is when they are used to represent the secular world in its entirety.

    If that is the world you would be at if you weren’t frum — still in high school or early college some twenty years later or whatever– then fine. But in the off chance that a person wouldn’t still be in high school twenty years later–even if not frum–that isn’t the secular world your frum world should be compared to.

    Alternatively, take it still even more extreme. How about comparing and contrasting the rigor,structure, and meaning of the Orthodox world to nursey school?

    The frummies will win every time! What a tremendous victory over the Hefker and narcisim of Romper Room. Hurray! The Frum world is superior!

  35. Kressel
    December 26th, 2005 @ 6:45 pm

    BS”D

    As the “black hat” issue is in the male world, I wouldn’t know much about any pressuring there. My husband did tell me, though, that there was a BT who was becoming involved in our Chassidus and he was advised NOT to begin wearing the longer jacket because he should work on the internal issues of being a Chossid first. My husband doesn’t wear a shtreimel on Shabbos for a similar reason. He says, “If I ever reach my father’s madreiga, then I’ll put on a shtreimel.”

    But I still think there’s nothing wrong with using teenage fashion statements as examples of non-conformity since that’s when people work out their issues regarding conformity. But I did think of one example of non-conformity in the workplace. It involved a Modern Orthodox man, actually. He’s a computer programmer and in the midst of the dot com craze, his office was taken over by a big corporation. The “corps” as he called them began imposing rules, including a dress code. Men were required to wear ties. This guy resented it and though he complied by wearing ties, he chose the most garish and ridiculous ones he could possibly find. It’s not all that relevant to the present discussion, but it’s a cute story.

  36. BTA- Baal Tshuva's Anonymous
    December 27th, 2005 @ 2:21 am

    The point h
    “Paradoxically, the outward uniformity of frum societies proffers the blessing of true individuality.”

    This is wishful thinking. A person who grows up non-penguin, and then adopts that attire early in his BT-dom, is simply trying to force inward changes through superficial changes.

    It’s interesting that you choose birds as the metaphor. In the frum world, “birds of a feather flock together.” And there is surely a “pecking order.” At the top of the order are the gedolim with their streimlach and balck coats, and just imagine a godol without a long, white beard! Unthinkable.

    As a BT, people will constantly evaluate you for your emunah, and clothing is the way they can tell how willing you are to let go of the past. If you go to a BT yeshiva and then want to go to say.. the Mir- you’d better have your penguin suit ready to go.

    And, while you’re there, fitting in, don’t question the mesora whatsoever. Just conform, it’ll go better for you. Last, even after 20 years of being frum and wearing the penguin gear, don’t expect your kids to find shidduchim too easily.

    All of this is well known from the Ultra Orthodox/ chareidi world, where the BT’s get excluded from certain privileged schools and pedigree, er yichus, decides who’ll make it. Let’s face it- eagles and penguins can’t interbreed.

    “It is precisely because so much external uniformity is expected that people must dig deeply to discover what makes them unique and irreplaceable individuals.”

    Time line please? My close relative went to a super-chumra BT yeshiva in Monsey and was told to wear the penguin suit and black hat, eatin cholov yisroel only, within 3 months. He parroted (another bird) the rabbi’s words (If I joined a baseball team, I’d wear the uniform the first day on the job…) He’s never looked back. But he was an impressionable 17 year oild when he went there.

  37. BTA- Baal Tshuva's Anonymous
    December 27th, 2005 @ 2:27 am

    Btw, Kressel, have you seen Rav Gil’s post on the ubiquitous בס”ד

    http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2005/12/blog-post.html

  38. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 28th, 2005 @ 4:17 pm

    Last Erev Shabbos (Friday) I wrote that I would try to respond and elaborate, especially to the “cons.” With the many commenters who have expostulated at length that I will occasionally use a comment’s number for easy reference instead of / in addition to the comment’s author. Heeding 4’s advice that “we get cold soup when we chatter too much and too long” I will be breaking up my responses into smaller topically arranged blog-bytes. Here goes:

    The Penguins Metaphor

    I don’t know if this was willful or if you guys actually missed the nimshal, but both you and BTA in 36 seemed to think that my “penguins” symbolized frum Jews when, in fact, they symbolize the secular Jewish / gentile society that the pre-teshuva BT grew up in. Was it the use of a bird that is black and white, (similar to the frum male uniform) which caused the confusion? The whole point of my post was to propose an inversion of the conventional wisdom as to what constitutes conformity and what constitutes individualism. I really don’t care that multicolored wardrobes are the norm in secular society. I contend that if you rend the outer garment you will find the brothers and sisters to be mostly penguins under the skin/clothing. As Paul Simon put it, “And after the rain there is a rainbow and all of the colors are black (and white). It’s not that the colors aren’t there. Its just imagination they lack.”

  39. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 28th, 2005 @ 4:19 pm

    Middos and their phony twins

    David Kelsey- I would like to compliment you for your taste in blogs. I think that you’ve been an avid reader of BeyondBT.com since its inception. I suspect that the title of your sarcastic send-up of my post on your blog “of Eagles and Penguins” was a riff on Rabbi Horowitz’s December 16th post “of Eagles and Turkeys” and not of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

    I hope that you will agree that there can be genuine and ersatz manifestations of the same middah. This is true even in Middos that are generally recognized to be more homogeneously positive and less controversial than nonconformity. E.G. An Onov and one suffering from low self-esteem may share a lot of the same behaviors. A good litmus test to distinguish between the two is how the one manifesting an Onov’s manners reacts when insulted or frustrated by another. In a similar vein the distinction I was trying to make between the non-conformist and the individualist had less to do with what meets the eye (which may be nearly identical) and more to do with the source, direction and depth of the atypical behavior. Nevertheless, IMO gauging how the superficial and external the nonconformity is, is a pretty reliable indicator in telling the difference between the genuine (desirable) and the ersatz (and perhaps unhealthy) varieties of individuality. I really don’t understand your sign off in 6. I’ve never met you and have no idea whether you’re a nonconformist or an individualist. While it’s true that I was making a pro-frum argument in the relative merit of two cultures, I was not characterizing any individual proponent of secularism or religion. One may indeed be individualistic and not “fit the mold” in healthy ways. (Incidentally “fit the mold” are your words not mine. The Chazal that I cited that describes HaShem as “the peerless artist” says that unlike flesh and blood artists when He casts a die [re makes a mold] all the coins issuing from the mint are one-of-a-kinds!) My point was that that BTs needn’t fear that adopting the uniform in whole or in part is automatically tantamount to squelching individuality and that it may in fact amplify and deepen it. I intended to provoke thought and encourage struggling BTs with what IMO is emes, nothing more.

  40. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 28th, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

    Paying Lip Service to Individuality

    In 10 you ask “ Why pretend to value something you don’t? Or pretend you are encouraging something you’re not?” I am not pretending either. The Yiddishkeit I grew up in chock-full of colorful characters. A man who was unconventional and innovative and who took a customized approach to educating his students headed the Yeshiva I came of age in. Personally, I have always been most inspired by the life stories and works of great Jews who were ground-breaking originals e.g. The Kotsker and Izhbitser Rebbes and Rav Chaim Brisker and Rav Yisroel Salanter to name a few. I know full well that I am not a opinion maker in the Frum world and I don’t know whether my own positive take on individuality means that I am old fashioned or whether those who argue that individuality ought to be de-emphasized have allowed their Yiddiskeit to calcify. One thing that I do know is that to argue that Yiddishkeit is anti-individuality is as one-dimensional as maintaining that since the Torah recognizes predestination (which is far more negating of free will than conformity is of individuality) it must follow that it denies the very existence of free will or that since it acknowledges that bad things happen to good people it cannot possibly posit an omnipotent, omniscient, loving G-d. I am fully aware of the tension that exists within Yiddishkeit between communal/ Halachic norms and uniformity and the yearning for individuality. I think that was self-evident in the post. What I was trying to do was to provide an approach for coping with this tension. My perception is that the purpose of beyondBT was to do just that; help people cope and make sense of things. Its purpose is decidedly not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    In your blog you write that

    “In fact, there is plenty of misunderstanding between these two groups (FFBs and BTs), and plenty of contempt towards those BT’s who don’t tow the line sufficiently.” An observation that’s hard to deny (especially the reisha). But as all the angst coming over the blog demonstrates there is plenty of resentment even from BTs who do tow the line towards FFB’s who they perceive as having coerced them into it. All I was arguing was that both groups (along with the rest of humanity see 17) share the yen for individuality and that reciprocated recognition of this shared desire would increase mutual understanding and be an aid to unity.

  41. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 28th, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

    Apologetics

    In your blog you describe this one as “an apologist BT blog.” This implies that BTs, and by extension all Torah-true Jews have loads to apologize for. I am not a regular contributor and certainly not the official spokesman for BeyondBT. But there is a distinction worth making between apologizing and defending. As many a criminal defense attorney will tell you, the defendant need not be contrite nor show remorse in order for a successful defense to be mounted on his or her behalf. In fact, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In her 12/21 post “The Parent Trap” Shaina laments “Why are we always placating, mediating even apologizing?…Why do we always have to explain how its really not so hard or different to do things our way?”

    She was no doubt posing rhetorical questions. Yet I think part of the answer might be that more often than not, the parties being placated by BTs are smug, self- righteous, and dogmatic. One can accuse BTs of many things, but living an unexamined life is not one of them. Thomas Edison nailed it when he said, “Five percent of the people think; 10 percent of the people think they think; and the other 85 percent would rather die than think.” As one can easily tell from the many post and comments here on the nonconformity debate, BTs do not possess an instant on-off button in their souls to stifle the nonconformity (re individualism) that motivated them towards Teshuva in the first place. Similarly, no such on-off switch exists to end the questioning of conventional wisdom and accepted orthodoxies that got them thinking in the first place. The mere fact that they are still conflicted and continue to struggle with the social and theological aspects of their new lifestyles does not brand them as apologists. It merely means that they are, thankfully, not Hofferian true believers. If their faith was as rock-solid and unshakable as some other people’s lack of faith is, we wouldn’t be seeing all these heartrending and heartwarming posts and comments. IMO there are few people more intolerant, insufferable, and dogmatic than your typical progressive liberal. To paraphrase Alter (15) there is a certain comfort and ease in getting up frum every morning in that one need only squeeze ones minds into 13 postulates, whereas progressives and so-called freethinkers have scores of dogmatic truisms that they must maintain on a daily basis. While there may be many alleged frum Jews who have a lot to do teshuva for in their interpersonal relationships, particularly vis-à-vis geirim, the secular, and freshly minted and veteran BTs, Torah true Judaism has nothing to apologize for to any other belief system. To G-d, yes; to other systems, no. Contact me immediately the next time another civilization produces a Rav Akiva Eiger or a Hatzolah volunteer EMT organization. No doubt you feel the same way about the Frum but I don’t know if you realize how “no-need-to-really-explain-myself-since-I-hold-the-truth- of-my-occupying–the-moral-high-ground-to-be-self-evident” many of your comments sound. I think it would really elevate the dialogue if all parties just dropped the sanctimonious posturing.

  42. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 28th, 2005 @ 4:27 pm

    America and S’dom

    A few more words about S’dom: I disagree with the general tone of comment #8 favorably comparing the frum response to Katrina vis-à-vis that of society in general. While both the federal and local governments may have badly mismanaged planning and rescue, I think that the overall response of American society (as something distinct from the power bearing entities that govern it) was magnificent. From the helicopter operators and rescue workers pouring in from all over the country to the tsunami-like infusion of funds into the various charities, I think that the response bears out Rav Moshe, z”l’s contention that the USA is a medina shel chesed and that the Jewish experience within the American Diaspora is unique in Jewish history. In particular during Chanukah, a Moed established for praise and Thanksgiving, we ought to ponder our relative good fortune to be living in a medina shel chesed . I heard a recording from Rav Y.B. Soloveitchik in which he said that although extremes of poverty and wealth both represent tremendous tests for society, Jewish societies have historically done much better with the test of poverty, whereas non-Jewish societies shine in times of great material wealth.

  43. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 28th, 2005 @ 4:30 pm

    The equation of Frumkeit and childishness

    DK, in comments 6, 13, and 34, (and to a lesser extent BTA in 36) you equate frumkeit with immaturity. Apparently, you feel that your former love of Torah true Judaism was nothing more than an adolescent crush that you were fortunate enough to outgrow. It doesn’t follow that by your pronouncement and fiat this makes it so for all BTs. While many did in fact become frum while they were young and impressionable they found enough growing profundity and complexity in the Torah and in mitzvah observance to meet their maturing and more discerning spiritual needs. (FYI among the FFB population I believe the “become frum while they were young and impressionable” rate runs at hmmm let me guesstiamte here… 100%. Why limit the critique to Kiruv Yeshivas and Organizations? Perhaps we should pillory all frum parents for corrupting their children’s impressionable young minds by providing them with infantilizing role models and education?)

    To illustrate; suppose a vegetarian stopped being a carnivore at the age of 12 when the most sophisticated fleishige fare they had ever sampled was a McDonald’s dollar menu meal. You cannot automatically presume that that their vegetarianism is a vestige of their adolescence merely because they never tried dining in a Kansas City barbecue grill or a fine French restaurant. The difference between the various fleishige meals is one of degree, not of kind. Once one has decided that meat is not for them, it is a bit condescending and patronizing to tell them that they are damaging themselves by surrendering to an immature and uncultivated palate. The mere fact that some of the commenters choose spiky hair and other youthful manifestations of secular nonconformity as examples does not betoken their arrested development. It may merely indicate their age when they checked out of secularity.

    While children are great mimics who both learn and seek external validation by imitation, and while the compulsive need to conform (imitation raised to the societal level) may be a sign of lingering immaturity (see Chovas HaTalmidim Chapter 7 D. H. Eeesa) truth be told there is a holy form of immaturity as well. Children meet new phenomena with a fresh sense of wonder and awe and possess an obsessive drive for all kinds of growth. The Ba’al Shem Tov and his school used to advise “Der Gantsa Kunst iz nisht alt tsu veren- that the whole trick (to life/Avodas HaShem) is to resist getting old ”. At times maturity comes with too steep a price tag. The topic at the blog has now moved from nonconformity to plateauing. The despair in anticipation of plateauing is synonymous with the fear of aging without continued growth. All people yearn to recapture various facets of their youth. Incidentally this anxiety exists in the corporate world that you place on so high a pedestal (23, 25) as well manifesting itself in mid-life crisis. In any event your persistent attempts to infantilize all frum Jews (Theists?) with a broad brush may not be as scathing a put-down as you intended. Because while it may be true that the Pesi (credulous) may believe everything it also seems that the hyper-mature and sophisticated not only believe nothing but also are suspicious of everything. It’s hard to know which is the bitterer of the two fates.

    David K- based on your familiarity with the NY scene (30) you may still live here. I think that we’ve got a lot more to discuss than just nonconformity whether it be of the subtle or in-your-face variety. I’m in Queens. How about we do lunch sometime? You can get my contact info from the administrators if you’d like.

  44. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    December 28th, 2005 @ 4:36 pm

    BTA- you write (36) “My close relative went to a super-chumra BT yeshiva in Monsey and was told to wear the penguin suit and black hat, eating cholov yisroel only, within 3 months. He parroted (another bird) the rabbi’s words (If I joined a baseball team, I’d wear the uniform the first day on the job…) He’s never looked back. But he was an impressionable 17 year old when he went there.”

    To me the pivotal question is not whether or not he’s ever looked back but whether or not he’s ever looked IN!

    You also wrote: “It’s interesting that you choose birds as the metaphor. In the frum world, “birds of a feather flock together.” And there is surely a “pecking order.””

    I see the pecking order/ hierarchy with its attendant clearly defined roles as a mostly positive thing. It represents the inversion of the tyrannical egalitarian monotony that IMO characterizes the dominant culture. But that’s a shmooze for another post.

    Ah lichtig’n (Illuminated) Chanukah!

  45. David Kelsey
    December 28th, 2005 @ 7:57 pm

    Rabbi schwartz,

    You misunderstood my complaint about the adolescence comparison, and quite frankly, I am surprised. I never meant to suggest that those who became BT’s were immature. My issue is when a straw man argument is brought, which happened here a few times, of equating the secular world in its entirety to the limited adolescent sceular world, which I feel is not a fair example of the secular world, and intentionally so. It is, what a sociologist might call, selective retrieval, and I try to be sensitive to those sorts of things.

  46. David Kelsey
    December 28th, 2005 @ 8:20 pm

    You wrote,

    “IMO there are few people more intolerant, insufferable, and dogmatic than your typical progressive liberal.”

    So what? I am not on this blog to complain about that type of person. That is a straw man argument. No one on this blog is such a person you describe, and those are not the only two options — dogmatic liberal, or full-blown BT.

    You may feel that I lose credibility when I get nasty, but understand, I expect nothing but continous straw men arguments from this site, and roll my eyes knowingly when I get them. I can go to cross-currents for that nonsense. No offense to anyone, of course.

  47. TantaMylanta
    December 29th, 2005 @ 2:39 pm

    In regards to dressing in a chareidi or yeshivish or whatever style…
    i feel closeness to G-d whether i look like my frum neighbors or not. i actually feel closer when i choose my clothing depending on how i feel, not how i think Devoirele next door will view me.
    I feel this is underlying a lot of “frum” decisions. black and white is a social statement. saying in black and white (pun intended) that you agree and follow the mode of dress, clearly. but you can do the same without the garb. some people need it, some don’t. i dont think the issue is as “black and white” (sorry, pun not intended here! :))
    as people think.
    The ikkar and tafel seem to get confused a bit, and here the ikkar is being part of the community that serves Hash-m. the garb is up to you, whether you want or need it or not.

    any questions? comments?

  48. Mark Frankel
    December 29th, 2005 @ 2:47 pm

    Tanta Mylanta – although getting closer to Hashem is the Ikkar, part of the process is living in a community with a set of Communal norms. The nuance, tension and ultimately growth comes in finding that proper balance between oneself and ones community.

  49. David Linn
    December 29th, 2005 @ 2:55 pm

    Tanta Mylanta – I think you hit the nail on the head regarding this being a personal choice. I think Rabbi Schwartz’ position has been, from the onset, that different people will choose how they will conform (or not) but that if one chooses to go “black and white” that does not make them a lemming (to introduce a non-ornithological metaphor for once).

  50. TantaMylanta
    December 29th, 2005 @ 2:58 pm

    for sure. however, one is ikkar and one is tafel, i believe. and if the community is doing something not so important, or even wrong (choose any problem in the community today- chinuch, shidduchim, shalom bayis problems) we should address the issue and not continue the problem by conforming.
    one is either part of the problem or part of the solution.
    the first step to not being part of the problem is to ackowledge it and perhaps doing things a little differently. nothing insanely different…just slightly. and in terms of dress specifically, the ikkar i believe is you. you dress you (women probably appreciate this more than men in general.) the shulchan aruch’s standards are a part of that, a large part, then it’s ur own personal style and of course weather-approriate.
    another ingredient added to the mixture- society’s mode of dress- can be added if needed, but i feel is optional and not completely 100% necessary for everyone. the other fractions of the “recipe” may be enough for that person.

    >

  51. todd
    January 2nd, 2006 @ 5:12 pm

    David Linn, who made you spokesman for Rabbi Schwartz? Who is this “we” you keep on referring to in your posts? Try standing on your own two feet and not hiding under the skirts of those people who actually have something to say. Individuality does not just mean parroting the words of your rabbi or your fellows.

  52. bps
    January 2nd, 2006 @ 6:19 pm

    Rabbi Schwartz, your posts on this subject are brilliant. Reading them has given me hope that at least a tiny bit of the content of this website might be more than a group hug. There is seemingly an unspoken but consensual reticence on this website towards actually taking a good hard look at what needs to be changed in the frum world, and maybe if we are lucky there will be more contributors like you who have something to add.

    That being said, I think that perhaps you are overstating the importance or even the praiseworthiness of individuality in the frum world as it exists today. Torah Judaism has always punished those who deviate from its circumscribed boundaries of acceptable conduct and ideology with a sharp stick. And now that the secular world is becoming more and more pervasive and alluring to Torah-observant Jews, the Orthodox establishment (our gedolim and communal leaders) have seen it fit to draw those lines around what is acceptable and what is not with a stiffer arm and a sterner hand.

    I would very much like to believe what you are saying that individuality is alive and well in our frum society and that it is a positive. But where is this individuality of which you speak? Please tell me, because I can’t seem to find it. You specifically talk about individuality in ideas, but I can’t see what you are seeing. The Orthodox establishment certainly does not encourage individuality in this arena and will severely punish anyone who dares to stray from the flock. Witness the recent excommunication of Nosson Slifkin’s book for espousing an understanding of creation that in previous generations was considered hashkafically acceptable and perfectly legitimate. It is hard to argue that individuality is a good thing in frum society when we see what happens to those who try to express a different point of view.

    I believe that mindless conformity in our frum culture is seen as an unmitigated, unblinking positive. I find the culture to be intellectually stifling and dangerously narrowminded. It is easy to point the finger at non-Orthodox Jews and gentiles (who we should be careful not to lump together in such a cavalier way as you did in one of your posts) and call them conformists and meanwhile pat ourselves on the back with how enlightened and different we are from them. People often say that baalei teshuva are brainwashed, and I think that is true, but not any more than those people who remain secular. However, before we start celebrating our superiority we should take an honest look around us at the frum society in which we live.

    Many people, perhaps most people including most frum people (BTs as well), are content to be told what to do and how to do it, and that includes what to think, not to mention how to dress, walk, talk, etc. For those of us who like to think, however, where does that leave us? Where can we express the healthy individuality you speak of? It seems that to be a successful member of the frum world in which we live you have to agree to give up thinking outside of strictly limited areas. I would like to hear more about how we can actually pursue individuality in our lives as frum people, because looking around I just don’t see it.

  53. Rabbi D Schwartz
    January 2nd, 2006 @ 10:55 pm

    BPS-

    Thanks for reading, and being m’ayain, in this debate/sugya. I thought that by now the more recent posts had shifted all the bloggers attention. If time and energy allows I hope to respond more adequately in the next few days. For now, as a shorthand answer to your question(s), you might wnat to take a look at the 12.21 post on HaGaon Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l.

  54. bps
    January 3rd, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

    Hi Rabbi Schwartz. I am looking forward to reading your answer.

  55. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    January 10th, 2006 @ 1:56 pm

    Hi BPS-

    First I apologize for not responding sooner and hope that you haven’t given up on me. I have been swamped lately and I hope that you are still checking from time to time for my response. In part the tardiness of this response is also because I wanted to try and give your comments the thorough answer that they deserve that I found it hard to make the time for it. (Being a hunt-and-peck typist doesn’t help either)

    You raise many important and thoughtful issues in your comment (52). These issues are informed by the pain of someone who sincerely wants to go on loving after the loved one has wounded them with a blow whose pain is compounded by its pettiness. As such my heart goes out to you.

    As a bit of a bad fit (dare I suggest fragile individualist?) myself within the contemporary Jewish scene (see comment #40 “I am not a opinion maker in the Frum world and I don’t know whether my own positive take on individuality means that I am old fashioned etc.”) I can sincerely say that I commiserate. I can only hope that my mind and pen (re word processor) will be equal to trying to make some sense of it all and ease the pain. Once again I want to break it into a few topics (although I’ll keep it all as one comment) for easier readability.

    Where to find individualism?

    I once went on a job interview where the interviewing principle asked me about my views on Yom HaAtzmaut. Mine were decidedly different than his. After I responded he told me that IHO we had nothing more to talk about. I said “Rabbi ____we agree on what we ought to be teaching and emphasizing to the students the other 364 days of the year. Can’t we agree to disagree on this one point?” I’m not in denial. I realize that conformity of thought is demanded in certain (some would argue many) areas. But IMO these certainly do not comprise the majority of Yiddishkeit. Walk into any yeshiva and see the bnai yeshiva spiritedly debating almost any point that comes up in a sugya, or perspiring without physical exertion to clarify a machlokes rishonim/ achronim and you’ll soon discover that the THE message of a classical yeshiva education is that Da’as Torah is not a monolith, that “these and those are the words of the Living G-d”. This message is constantly reinforced in Yeshivas by the high regard accorded to fresh and innovative approaches AKA chidushei Torah and to the students’ developing ability in detecting subtler differences that truly differentiate. The whole system is essentially based on refining one’s ability to compare and contrast. In a monolith there is no room for subtleties and contrasts. One of the great goals in Torah Study is to make the Torah yours- “L’bsof na’aseh Toroso”. For those of us no longer in yeshiva or who never had the benefit of attending one a similar peek into the heart of Torah can be glimpsed by studying any text with an array of commentaries.

    See also my comment to Mark Frankel (21). Hatzalah, Shattnes testing, Dor Yeshorim (dare I include the BeyondBT.com blog?) and a myriad of innovative g’machs were all started by individual Jews responding in unscripted ways to personal and/or communal needs and really thinking out of the box to invent something that were expressions of their own individuality.

    But on a more basic level I suspect that you may have missed the point of my original post to wit; true individuality is an inimitable internal drive and movement that neither needs nor seeks external validation, notoriety or for that matter scorn. Polish Chasidim used to say Hisbodedus (isolated contemplation as a means and method for Avodas HaShem) does not mean running into a forest to be 50 miles away from the next closest person. That kind of Hisbodedus is no kunst (trick) Hisbodedus means attending the Rebbe’s tisch in a packed Bais Medrosh along with thousands of others and yet being utterly alone with your thoughts and his! The truest answer to the question of “Where can I find individuality?” Is this: Only in the deepest recesses of your own neshoma. If you’re talking about group allegiances i.e. a sub-community within the larger community of K’lal Yisroel that’s another issue. More on that later. But as for individuality, look in baby, just look in.

    Punishment for Deviation

    You write:
    “Torah Judaism has always punished those who deviate from its circumscribed boundaries of acceptable conduct and ideology with a sharp stick.”

    Or, as in the case of Korach, a topographical orifice and conduit towards a living hell. Or, as in the case of Benedict Spinoza’s pantheism, excommunication. “Deviation from circumscribed boundaries” doesn’t constitute individuation or expressing ones individuality within the diversity of Torah. It is as YOU wrote ”out-of-bounds” and beyond the pale. There is a marked difference between trying to hew one’s path within Torah Judaism and falsifying and counterfeiting Torah Judaism. I think (hope) that you would agree that a Messianic Jew for J ought not complain about Orthodoxy’s narrow-mindedness or lack of tolerance. The rub is that one-man’s (godol’s) innovative thinker is another mans heretic. Ever since the dissolution of Sanhedrin there are not as many clearly defined parameters for what constitutes a zokain mamre. Absent Sanhedrin who becomes the arbiters for what is an acceptable, if minority, opinion/ outlook and what is a heresy? Certainly, the answer goes, Gedolei Torah. But ah what happens when there are wildly divergent opinions within that rarified fraternity? (I personally have always felt that this is a major kavvanah we ought to have in the brocha of Hosheevah Shoftainu K’voreeshona). Again, I think that you’re conflating the concepts of individuality and group identity. One wouldn’t expect to find a lot of receptivity to the Satmar Rebbe’s ideas in Mercaz HoRav nor, realistically, should they. I don’t believe that Rabbi Slifkin’s ideas have been universally condemned. There are hashkafic streams within Orthodoxy where his ideas are welcomed and championed. Perhaps your frustration and feeling of oppression stems from finding yourself within the wrong camp and feeling too invested to switch allegiances? You ought to look at the December 20th, 2005 post “A Helpful Eitzah for BTs” by Rabbi Mayer Schiller that talks about “noshing” from various traditions. In any event I would be more concerned if there was some internal idea that you arrived at yourself or talent that was squashed when you tried to express it.

    Stiffer arms and sterner hands

    (I write the following by way of defense, not of apology)
    The ACLU did not invent the concept of the slippery slope. I believe that credit for that goes to ChaZal who taught us to make fences around the Torah and that the Yetzer Hora wages a war of attrition. What but a slippery slope sensibility could’ve resulted in proscribing Shabbos horseback riding lest it come to branch breaking= the melocha of kotser (harvesting)? The extremity and scope of slippery slope caution is commensurate to the danger being avoided. A parent will go to much greater lengths to avoid their kids mixing with a crowd that may lead them into recreational drug use than with a crowd that may lead them to skinning their knees. To the ACLU state sponsorship of religion is the moral/ethical equivalent of a nuclear holocaust, to Chazal it is, among other things, Chilul Shabbos. I think part of the bad rap that Gedolim and communal leaders take for ostensibly draconian responses that brook no controversy or dissent stems from their heightened sensitivity Vis a Vis the rest of us towards what any individual aveira, much less the diminution or total abandonment of observance, actually is.

    Social criticism

    The hardest part of your comment for me to grasp was one in which you seem to cast me as a social critic who is “taking a good hard look at what needs to be changed in the frum world,” I am not tech savvy enough to know if 5 or 5000 people are reading my comments here. In any event posts or comments on a blog are not the most effective means for initiating sea changes in a society. What is disturbing is that my comments came across as potshots or condemnations. I will have to be more prudent in the future because the last thing that I want to do is be meorer dinim on large swaths of the Jewish People. The habit of tsadikim, which I would hope to emulate, is to employ whatever rose-colored-glasses are available to them to justify and exalt the ways and habits of the Jewish people.

    Moreover I am a firm believer in the ethos promoted by the following anecdotes: An audience member once noticed that Rav Yisroel Salanter was looking down at his shtender/podium during a Mussar shmooze. When asked why he did this he said “I have a small mirror on the shtender that I look at while giving the Shmooze. Who am I to reprimand anybody else? I am reprimanding myself. If others would like to listen in that is their prerogative!”

    The Chofetz Chaim said “when I was a young man I thought I’d have hashpoah (be impactful upon) the whole world, then I grew wiser and figured I could have hashpoah on my small home town of Radin, that didn’t work either so I worked on having hashpoah on my family. Ultimately I realized that the only one I could have any real hashpoah on is myself. Once I accomplished that things began to change and the scope of my hashpoa increased” and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. The moral of both stories is that all meaningful change begins at home/self.

    Self-Congratulation

    You observe that (I paraphrase) “the content of this website is no more than a group hug.” Although I think there is plenty of room to debate this point let me for the sake of argument concede it as fact. I maintain that, by and large, this is a good thing. The psycho-spiritual pandemic of our era is insecurity and low self-esteem (see Rabbi Lazer Brody’s post December 26th post “Believing in Yourself”). BTs, in particular, endure such withering criticism from so many directions; parents and coworkers who think they’ve gone off the deep end, FFBs who sometimes agree with the above assessment while by turns saying that they haven’t conformed or come along fast enough, Mentors, Rabbis and Rebitsins who scrutinize their every move like another new set of Jewish parents. Worst of all many BTs internalize all of this and even when the external suppliers of critique and comment are temporarily silenced they become their own worst critics. What’s the crime in creating a safe house in cyberspace where one finds acceptance, approval, reassurance and encouragement? Lord knows that there are enough sarcastic, hypercritical (is snarky the correct word?) curmudgeons already plying their vituperation all over the blogosphere. Why can’t we have some virtual refuge cities for wandering Jewonks? The novee Isaiah 41:6 says, “Every one helped his neighbor and said to his brother ‘Take courage’”.

    Yet I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how much I admire your passion. Your tone reminds me of a story they tell about the Chidushei HoRim (the first Gerrer Rebbe) when he left Reb Moishala Kozhnitzer to become a disciple of the Kotsker. He was a child prodigy and had been highly esteemed and treated with kid gloves in Kozhnitz. When he left he declared, “I’m not looking for a Rebbe that will stroke my cheek, I’m looking for a Rebbe that will flay the skin off my bones! ” Maybe you and he OBM share a common soul root!

  56. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    January 10th, 2006 @ 5:09 pm

    To Mrs. Housman in comment 20

    The Chazal about the one size fits all bed appears in Tractate Sanhedrin 109B, second to last narrow line.

  57. Tonta
    January 11th, 2006 @ 12:01 am

    The Chofetz Chaim story/ quote in comment 55 appears in Ezzie’s blog Serendez in the name of Rav Yisroel Salanter. Others there said it is Alduous Huxley. Go figure

  58. Beyond BT » Blog Archive » The Power of the Group Hug
    January 11th, 2006 @ 1:10 pm

    […] In response to the comment that this website was not more than a group hug, Rabbi Dovid Schwartz responded: You observe that (I paraphrase) “the content of this website is no more than a group hug.” Although I think there is plenty of room to debate this point let me for the sake of argument concede it as fact. I maintain that, by and large, this is a good thing. […]

  59. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz to bps
    January 12th, 2006 @ 6:28 pm

    bps-

    If you’re still out there and reading please tell me if you saw the response that I wrote to you (#55 in this thread). Gut Shabbos

  60. Ben
    February 2nd, 2007 @ 9:32 am

    Nicely done. Koyach.

  61. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
    February 2nd, 2007 @ 11:20 am

    Boruch tihyeh. You can enter my name into the search bar to read some other posts that wrer published on this site if you’d care to.

    Ah Gutten Erev Shabbos

    RDS

  62. Chaim G.
    December 19th, 2007 @ 11:07 pm
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