Does Torah Observance Make You Happier?

Dear Beyond BT

I’ve seen many people say that Torah Observance makes you happier, but I’m not sure whether it’s observable. It seems that there are many people in the Torah community who aren’t noticeably happier than their non-observant counterparts. Many Torah Jews also seem to have the same material strivings and keeping up with the Schwartz’s attitude.

Has Torah observance made you happier?
Are you always happy? If not, what leads to that state of not being happy?
What additional ingredients are necessary for Torah to make you happy?

Originally Published Feb 05, 2008

65 comments on “Does Torah Observance Make You Happier?

  1. Both Micha and “Zenscientist” seem to make sense. I admit, I had to scan through all 64 comments to see what I had said on this post years ago.
    Now, a few years later and with a few more grey hairs in my beard, I think that, as Micha, wrote, “religion is not the pursuit of happiness”.

    Being constantly aware of the importance of Mitzvos and having an active relationship with our creator is a good way to stay happy. It also helps to keep one inspired.

  2. Observance of the Jewish Tradition does not guarantee happiness. IMO, That is not its ultimate purpose or goal. However, if observed authentically and wholeheartedly, it can be provide a life of meaningfullness and holiness to one’s existence. The by-product of this experience therefore may be that one feels joy and happiness when performing a Halakhic act or reciting a Brachah. But we are all aware there are frum people who are miserable with their lives. So, it is clear observance alone cannot bring one happiness. Happiness ultimately comes from within oneself.

  3. R’ Yonason Goldson writes:
    Chazal’s formula is familiar but deceptively simple: Who is rich? One who is happy with what he has.

    I’ve often pointed out to my students that the sages did NOT say, “One who is SATISFIED with what he has.”

    Actually, I would argue that “simchah” is the long-term happiness that does come from contentment. Because, as RYG later says "The cause of much unhappiness in the world is dissatisfaction" — meaning, one needs to be satisfied o be happy.

    However, what I would note that it does not say is “with what he has.” Rather, it’s “bechelqo”, his portion. A person’s portion is not what they have at any given point in time, it’s the entire path of their lives (and beyond). Thus, Ben Zoma is telling us a rich person is someone happy with the process. Not with any one point along the way.

    And this is the pragmatic problem with selling frumkeit as a path to happiness. Happiness is the path, not the destination. We are happier anticipating the new iPad and setting it up than once we get used to it. As soon as we’re acclimated with the old toy, we start craving a new one. People want to be on the move, and simchah is the happiness we see increasing success in our progress.

    This promise, “be frum and you’ll be happy” is what comes from kiruv run as marketing rather than education.

    The philosophical problem is that Judaism is about being good, being holy, refining the image of G-d, cleaving to Him, giving to others, etc… Not about being happy. If we turn religion into the pursuit of happiness, we are making it all about ourselves. An avodah zarah of narcissism.


    Sidenote: People should be made aware that if you are of Litvisher Jewish descent (ie you have ancestors from the Lithuanian / Northern Poland Jewish gene pool), you are actually more likely to be genetically predisposed to depression. That sounds like a riff on a common stereotype about Litvaks, but I saw an actual paper on a genetic study proving this claim. (IOW, I’m serious, not teasing.) There may be a real reason why we who have Litvisher blood have a harder time looking at the cup as half full, and being happy. It’s a useful thing to take into account, if it applies to you too.

  4. I think it should.
    I’m a “torah-observant jew”, and unhappy frequently, and usually that’s a sign that something’s wrong.
    I’m not being as much of a “torah observant jew” as i should be. Either I’m letting myself be in an environment that’s not good for me (if i can’t leave, it’s time for me to find ways to minimize my time in that environment and increase my time in another environment) or i’m letting myself get trapped in thought patterns I shouldn’t be, or maybe I’ve just gotten lazy…

    unhappiness is a warning signal that you’re doing something wrong. (not “wrong” as in “immoral”, wrong as in “no, the square peg does not go into the hole that way)

  5. Peg, over and over, it seems as if the problems you have are synagogue based. Maybe that’s where the men get the attention, but once you leave the building, the field evens out. Women deliver shiurim that inform and inspire – I’m sure you’ve heard women such as (and the list is way to long to name everyone) – Esther Jungries, Tzipporah Heller, Shira Smiles, Tehilla Jaeger, etc etc. Women take prominent roles in their communities, leading chesed projects, fundraising, organizing, leading. It’s not all baking challahs and lighting candles (nod to JT) by far!

  6. Ora –
    “Sometimes it’s more important to give each person/group what they need than to treat everyone exactly the same.”

    This is definitely true. No way should I treat all my children the same. It would do each of them a disservice. But (you knew there had to be a but coming), I know all my children as individuals and can tailor how I treat them to their own needs. (Sometimes I even manage ;-) ). In Orthodoxy, *all* women are treated the same, and *all* men are treated the same. And I’m not so sure that women’s needs are all so similar that we should all be lumped together like that. People just seem more complex than that. I could see an argument that the traditional Orthodox woman’s role fits a mother actively raising children. I’m not sure I completely accept that argument, but I can see how it’s worthy of consideration. And a long time ago, girls married young and women generally died early. So the great majority of women probably *were* mothers actively raising children. But today, mothers actively raising children are probably *not* the great majority of Jewish women. There are lots of women who are single or divorced or widowed, or whose kids are grown. Whereas a long time ago a girl could expect to spend most of her adult life childrearing, today that is not necessarily true. And I think it is tougher to make the argument that the Orthodox woman’s role meets the needs of women at these other stages of life.

    I also want to respond to your other paragraph about Chazal. I do assume that the Rabbanim truly loved and respected all their fellow Jews and were searching honestly for Divine will. I certainly don’t think that they were trying to stick it to women, and there is plenty of evidence of just the opposite. However (again), they *were* products of their own times and cultures. Even Tzadikim are human. Thousands of years ago women were looked at in, yes, a more sexist way than we are today. This probably seemed completely natural and immutable to people living back then. They would probably be shocked at the changes in gender relations even within frum communities. So it seems reasonable to me to think that Chazal enshrined sexist attitudes in Jewish law, even when they were trying to search honestly for Divine will. Furthermore, there were almost no women in this group. So I also question how much they could understand women when women weren’t even represented. (And the women who were represented may not have been so representative either). In other words, I figure that the Rabbanim had good intentions but were still sexist. I guess you would disagree. (!) If so, I’m interested to know how you think the Rabbis *were* able to get beyond their own time and culture and innate biases.

    I agree with this that you wrote, that my kind of attitude “doesn’t exactly lead to a desire to follow rabbinic law, whether on issues related to gender-based observance or something completely different.” But what to do, this attitude does make more sense to me than the idea that the Rabbanim were able to get beyond their culture and time and make laws that would be appropriate for cultures and times they couldn’t imagine.

  7. I am finding this conversation thought-provoking and valuable. Thank you to Ora and Ruth and Charnie and Ron (in no particular order) for sharing your perspective. This comment is a response to Ruth’s comment.

    You wrote that you didn’t used to think it was as good to be an Orthodox woman as an Orthodox man, but that now you feel differently. Would you mind elaborating and sharing what changed for you?

    Your friend’s experience with her former egalitarian shul doesn’t match mine. In the very egal shul where I’ve been davening for years, men are very involved, at least as much as the women and probably more. No doubt, the women do have more of a balancing act when we take public roles. It has certainly been a balancing act for me. I don’t know if that is good or bad – probably both.

    At any rate, I am not so sure that watching my husband take public roles would be nearly as satisfying for me as taking the public roles myself. The truth is that I am much more exacting in reading Torah and leading davening than he is, and I carry a tune better. He has a lot of terrific qualities, but he’s not especially talented in this particular area.

    You wrote, “I find that frum women who are comfortable in their role have no problems letting their husbands get the honor and take the credit. Their attitude is generally, ‘Let him think he’s in charge. We know who really runs the show.’ And, usually, I think it’s true.”

    To me this sounds so condescending to men! It sounds like when my 5yo feels good because I tell him he is very big and strong. How can these women feel respect for their husbands with this kind of attitude? Or am I missing something?

    Anyway, maybe the cause and effect is reversed. Maybe it’s not so much that being comfortable in her role makes a woman content to leave the credit and honor to her husband. Rather, some women seem to enjoy and are good at letting men think they are in charge. Maybe it is these women who find themselves comfortable and satisfied in their roles. Maybe being a “successful” Orthodox woman demands this kind of approach? Perhaps women who aren’t good at it or don’t have patience with it or see it as game playing find themselves less satisfied in the role of an Orthodox woman. Honestly, to me it just seems undignified for both parties.

    Another thought: these comfortable frum women feel they’re letting the men *think* they’re running the show. But men are still making the rules, in the sense that Poskim and Rabbanim are men. So maybe these women are fooling *themselves* into thinking that *they* really run the show. Maybe it’s the men who are letting the women imagine that they’re really in charge, and the women are the ones being “taken in”.

  8. Squarepeg–
    I think “equal in value” is all you’re ever going to get when it comes to gender relations. Given the physical, mental, and emotional differences between the sexes, I don’t see how opportunities could or should always be exactly the same (when I say mental differences I don’t mean one sex is dumber, but researchers have found differences in the way men and women process directions, relate to physical space, etc). I wouldn’t say men and women aren’t equal in orthodoxy b/c men read from the Torah in public and women don’t just like I wouldn’t say they aren’t equal in secular life because women can’t join most IDF army units (b/c they are unable to pass the physical tests) or because women get paid maternity leave. Sometimes it’s more important to give each person/group what they need than to treat everyone exactly the same.

    IMO questioning Chazal on these issues is equally problematic for both sons and daughters. The basic assumption behind many concerns over sexism in Jewish practice is that Chazal and later great rabbis were, as men, sexist. Not only is this more than a bit insulting to men–not all men are automatically biased against women–it doesn’t exactly lead to a desire to follow rabbinic law, whether on issues related to gender-based observance or something completely different. I’m not saying we need to accept everything every rabbi said without questioning, questioning is good. But we should at least assume that they truly loved and respected all of their fellow Jews and were searching honestly for Divine will. IMO too few people do that when it comes to gender issues.

  9. As a frum woman, I think it is just as good to be an Orthodox woman as an Orthodox man. I didn’t always feel this way, but I’ve come to appreciate the Torah’s wisdom. Part of the problem is public vs. private. The man’s role is to shine in a public setting and the woman’s in private. This, of course, goes totally against secular values, where Tznius is just not something to be praised.

    I find that frum women who are comfortable in their role have no problems letting their husbands get the honor and take the credit. Their attitude is generally, “Let him think
    he’s in charge. We know who really runs the show.” And, usually, I think it’s true.

    A friend of mine used to daven in an egalitarian Conservative shul. She has now moved to an Orthodox one. She noted that the men in her former shul were happy to sit back and let the women do all the work. They were much less involved in the shul than their counterparts in the Orthodox shul, because they didn’t feel that they had to do anything. My friend is happy that her husband is forced to participate in the services (and is starting to enjoy them) because he can’t rely on her having a public role there.

    The character traits that the Torah values are those that are more common to women. So it is easier for women to live up to those guidelines than men. Is this bad or good? Is it better to be an FFB than a BT? There are pluses and minuses to both.

  10. Ora, I read in many places that women and men are equal in Orthodoxy. But I don’t see it in reality. If you define “equal” narrowly, as meaning “equal in value”, then yes, women and men have equal value in Orthodoxy. For that matter, a 5yo child is equal to his parents under that definition. But I see that as misleading, because when most people say “equal” I don’t think they mean “equal in value”. They mean “equal in respect and opportunity.” And I just don’t see that women and men are equal within Orthodoxy according to that definition.

    Here is another example: Shelo Assani Isha (The blessing men say expressing gratitude that they are not made as women). It certainly stands out as rubbing a lot of women (and some men) the wrong way. I have read several explanations for this blessing, but the most common explanation is this: men are obligated to do more Mitzvot than women, so men thank God for being the sex that gets the greater number of Mitzvot. In other words, despite the claim that women don’t have these Mitzvot because we don’t need them, it’s still better to have to do the Mitzvot than to not to need to do them. In other words, it’s better to be a man in Orthodoxy. This hardly takes the sting away from this blessing!

    Plus, it contradicts the idea that the sexes are equal in Orthodoxy. If they were, then men wouldn’t be glad they have more Mitzvot. Why should they be glad they weren’t created as women if it’s just as good to be an Orthodox woman as it is to be an Orthodox man?

    There are many examples like this. When I see clearly bright people putting forward arguments that make no sense or making claims that don’t have much basis, it doesn’t seem intellectually honest to me.

  11. Definitely, Charnie. I have one daughter, 13yo, and four sons younger than her. The boys don’t seem too affected by their mother’s sudden-seeming change, but I’m sure it confuses my daughter. For twelve years I taught her one set of values and beliefs, and for the past year I’ve been questioning them and wondering if I should trade them in for a different set. I can’t blame her for being confused; I’m confused myself! It certainly makes me more motivated to find answers that I can believe in. If I could find such answers, I would share them with my children. In the meantime, I just keep plugging along teaching my kids the things I have always believed in and trying to make observance enjoyable for my raised-observant kids.

  12. We live in a world which place importance in materialism, ambitions, success. So Jews are naturally influenced by the greater society. It depends on how much of it you value. Life is a roller coaster, there will be ups and downs. Someone will always have a bigger house, car, better job, more of everything. Is what you have ever enough? Some essential ingredients to happiness is
    (1) gratitude for what you have
    (2) recognize that others are not so fortunate
    (3) stop complaining or be envious
    (4) surround yourself with happy, loving friends & family
    (5) do some chesed for others

    If you occupy yourself with these things, I don’t think you’ll have time to be unhappy.

  13. Hopefully your doubts will not be picked up by your children (especially daughters), because then you’re in a bind.

  14. Ora, I agree with you that accepting Orthodox belief about Oral Torah (in a broad sense) makes it much easier to accept aspects of Orthodox practice that might seem disturbing. And as you’ve probably guessed, I’m not there yet in terms of belief. I haven’t found any really convincing reason to think that the Orthodox approach is correct. I examine these things very much from a position of “how does this theory play out in practice?” I’ve more or less left Conservative because empirically I see it hasn’t worked. The theory sounds good to me, but in practice it hasn’t managed to sustain observant communities, certainly not over the course of generations.

    For me it is a given that I want my children to be observant and committed to teaching their own children to be observant. Clearly the Orthodox do a much better job of that the Conservative. But I examine Orthodox belief similarly to how I examine Conservative belief; that is, how does it play out in practice? And I’m not so comfortable with certain major aspects of Orthodox practice. If I accepted the practice then I would probably be more comfortable with the theory. If I accepted the theory, I would probably be more comfortable with the practice. But neither one really makes sense to me. And yet, serious Jewish observance is pretty limited to the Orthodox world. So you can see I’m in a bit of a bind!

    I will try to respond later to the rest of what you wrote.

  15. SquarePeg–
    My point (if I can explain it clearly this time) was meant to be something along the lines of: if someone accepts Torah, Oral Torah, and Chazal’s rulings, then learning more about prayer issues tends to lead to acceptance. If they still aren’t at peace with Orthodox belief, it means the problem goes beyond gender issues and into deeper issues of belief in the Torah, acceptance of Chazal’s rulings, etc.

    I would say the issue of prayer is a bit more complex than that, b/c there are differences in opinion regarding what exactly a woman can or can’t lead, and to a certain extent regarding the reasons for certain rulings. I wish I could give more specific examples, but I never really learned this beyond a relatively quick overview. I do know that some orthodox women will (for example) lead women’s prayer sessions, read the megillah for other women on Purim, learn Gemara, and lead certain other prayers/readings, while other orthodox women don’t do those things.

    In general you’re right about the overall orthodox position, at least according to what I’ve learned. What part do you find less than intellectually honest?

  16. Ora, thank you for your perspective. When I refer to “Orthodoxy”, as opposed to Conservative, I mean differences in practice *and* differences in belief. I don’t know how I could separate them, anyway.

    For me the problem is broader than just issues of public prayer, although that is a big issue in itself. It seems like women are not equal within Orthodoxy in a lot of ways, not just in public prayer. I am open to being convinced that this is not true, but this is how it seems to me. When I read, say, feminist Orthodox writing, it seems intellectually honest to me. More traditional Orthodox explanations of differences in male-female roles seem less intellectually honest to me. I wish it were otherwise.

    Regarding public prayer, though, I am curious about your suggestion to study the Halachot in greater depth. I thought the argument is as follows: Men and women are different spiritually as well as physically and therefore they have different roles. One of the differences in roles is that men are commanded to do certain Mitzvot that women are either not obligated to do or that women have a lesser obligation to do. Since men have a greater obligation in these areas, (prayer, for example), women cannot help men to fulfill their obligations, by, say, counting for a Minyan or leading prayers. That is what I understood the Orthodox position and reasoning to be. Is it more complex than that? This might sound like a strange question, but I am asking it seriously: is there so much more to learn about the issue?

    I’m not sure I understood your point about women who like participating actively in public prayer finding peace with their inability to do that within Orthodoxy. I can see that there are women who do accept Orthodox belief after studying it in detail. But presumably there are also women who study it in detail and come to the conclusion that they are really not at peace with Orthodox belief. So it’s not clear to me that studying this necessarily leads to agreement with it or acceptance of it. Or did I misunderstand your point?

  17. Squarepeg–
    What do you mean by “orthodoxy” (as opposed to conservative)? Are you referring to differences in practice/synagogue service or to deeper differences in belief?

    IMO (I will not say that my opinion is that of a highly intelligent Jewish woman, but I’ll offer it anyway), women tend to be dissatisfied with their role in orthodox prayer services when they haven’t fully accepted the related halachot/rabbinic rulings. In my experience, even those who really liked leading services, reading from the Torah, etc, find peace with their inability to do those things in the frum world once they understand and accept why those things aren’t done (although there are women’s prayer services in many communities, and I have ex-Reform friends who make it a point to lead Rosh Hodesh davening or to read the Megillah–it provides them with somewhat of an outlet for their need to lead prayers). It’s the feeling that leading prayers and reading from the Torah is/should be OK for both sexes that keeps people frustrated.

    IMO the best way to deal is to seriously study the topic, more than once if necessary, and then to find a community that holds by the opinions you hold by, whether that be the traditional orthodox model or something that allows for more female participation (within the bounds of halacha).

  18. Jaded–
    “Rabbis that issue decrees that make it harder to be observant make me even grumpier ( did you hear the latest decree about mikvah and umarried women, what on earth could that rabbi be thinking ?)”

    Rabbi Metzger’s ruling was hardly new. I’m guessing he was thinking approximately what leading Ashkenazi rabbis have been thinking for several centuries. It probably involves something about weighing the importance of maintaining certain societal mores and Torah values against the importance of promoting observance among certain individuals. Not an easy call, IMO.

    “And here I was actually trying to research the concept and understand it, why would I even care now ? … Why would I even think about caring about mikvah if there are rabbis doing decrees like this.”

    Why would you cut off your nose to spite Rabbi Metzger’s face? Also, if you haven’t researched and understood the concept yet, then with all due respect (really), why are you so hostile to his ruling? How do you know that with a bit more research you won’t understand where he’s coming from, even if you don’t agree with his opinion?

  19. I think the torah is the truth mostly, I say mostly cuz there are some passages I just haven’t gotten over yet and need a better explanation for. I don’t care if understanding before accepting is not the correct way to accept the torah supposedly. I think trying to understand is also a good thing .

    Whenever I come across a fascinating concept in neuroscience/law or gemology I find myself wondering what the torah has to say too. Not that I’m smart enough to know what the torah has to say mostly but its the thought that counts sometimes…….

    Observance/musty must do’s/rigid rules and regulations makes me grumpy and not happy in any way.

    I think many of the orthodox leaders in 2008 are having a little difficulty knowing what is the absolute truth in the biblical sense too.

    Rabbis that issue decrees that make it harder to be observant make me even grumpier (did you hear the latest decree about mikvah and umarried women, what on earth could that rabbi be thinking?) And here I was actually trying to research the concept and understand it, why would I even care now ? If a woman actually cares enough to dunk before, how could a rabbi mess with that ? Its like they are setting up the orthodox system for rigid adherence or failed sinner. Why would I even think about caring about mikvah if there are rabbis doing decrees like this.

    Rabbis that have innately inane/ archaically arcane/ and super subtle like insane perspectives regarding woman and their connection and contributions to Judaism make me puke as do their quaint antiquated antics and insights. What exactly are these leaders trying to accomplish? Its just not very clear.

    And the orthodox rebbiztins with their heartwarming chicken soup cookbook for the jewish womans neshoma insights are not my cup vodka in any way. An innate understanding of complex and baffling concepts/prohibitions/must do’s and must never do’s with regards to woman and judaism would make me happy. That’s if I can get past all the barriers (subjective and objective) preventing me from understanding these concepts,& lord knows I tried.

  20. Peg, I appreciate your point, but really I did mean what you mean. If one does not find her place, then she has no place, right?

    IJ, my wife is indeed super smart and highly credentialed, and is a BT. (That doesn’t mean she can handle me! ;-) ) She is also a lot more frum than I am in terms of that internal life I referred to. Beyond this, I must say she prefers to keep her life off the Internet (see?), but it’s fair to say she shares my view on this: We know what side we’re on, we have learned to live with paradox, and we are determined to build ourselves and our children into what we — in the application of whatever spiritual insight we have developed with the help of our God-given talents — believe define, for us, complete Jews and menschen regardless of what is going on around us!

    And without getting too personal, again, I will say this: It is much easier to dedicate oneself to these things when working from a position of “strength” in terms of the mazal and brocha that one is working with in life. God forbid a person who comes into the world with superior endowments — and these can take many, many forms of course — judges another person without realizing what pek’l that other one is carrying.

    On the other hand, I think, woe to him who does have “everything” — and this, too, can be something very different from what an adolescent might consider a “fantasy life”; quite a little thing could, for the right person, be “everything” — and squanders the chance to be what he can be. The shadow of wasted potential hovers over so many of us, including those of us who can do just a little for someone else to give them, perhaps, the “everything” they have only ever needed…

  21. “The theme of dissatisfaction among highly intelligent Jewish women, who are passionately connected to the Jewish people and to Judaism, about what the frum way of life has to offer them is certainly a consistent one here, and in other threads.”

    Ron, is your wife a BT or FFB? How does she handle this? Anyone who can handle you on a daily basis has got to be highly intelligent, of course!

  22. Ron, I appreciate the humility in your response and that you tried to understand. For me the problem is not really with finding my place within Orthodoxy. The problem is deciding if I *want* to find my place within Orthodoxy.

    I started this search in earnest about a year ago. I had always thought that Orthodoxy gave women a lesser role or less respect, and I decided about a year ago to check this out and see if it is really true. I thought that I might be making assumptions that I didn’t need to make. Maybe the claim that men and women are equal in Orthodoxy really was true? I was hopeful, because I guess I would like to be convinced that Orthodoxy is True. Since I was giving up on Conservative as not providing enough of a framework for raising my kids observant, I hoped that Orthodoxy would prove to be a positive alternative.

    Unfortunately, over the past year I haven’t been convinced. I wish I could say that I’ve seen that men and women are equal in Orthodoxy. But I haven’t. So I get very frustrated by my choices.

  23. Charnie, thanks for your response and for picking up on my frustration. I think I may have been unintentionally misleading when I said that I’ve pretty much been Conservative. I have, but I think I meant something different than you seem to have understood.

    I’ve always been observant. I never had to decide to raise my kids observant; it was a given. We observe Shabbat, Kashrut, Taharat Hamishpacha, etc. My kids go/went to the local religious public schools and preschools (I live in Israel). What was “Unorthodox” in my practice was how we conducted ourselves at home and at shul regarding women’s issues. Our shul is egalitarian (Conservative) and made up of mostly observant people, and our home life was run egalitarian too, mostly. So when I said that I was considering Orthodoxy, the main difference in practice is with women’s roles. For me that is a big barrier.

    I wish I really did see a light at the end of the tunnel. Actually I’m even more confused and frustrated than I was when I began this search in earnest almost a year ago. Anyway, thank you for your words of encouragement.

  24. “Doesn’t Judaism command sacrifice of everything including ones happiness and ones children?”

    We’re still going round and round here about what “happy” is, or should be. Some people are happy doing the right thing even under really confusing, painful circumstances.

    This is the ending of the the book of Habakkuk, which is also part of the haftarah for the 2nd day of Shavuos
    (JPS 1917 translation):

    For though the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no food; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls;
    Yet I will rejoice in HaShem, I will exult in the G-d of my salvation.
    G-d, the L-rd, is my strength, and He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and He maketh me to walk upon my high places. For the Leader. With my string-music.

  25. I’m sorry there is only one good reason to be an Orthodox Jew – because it’s true.

    Any argument of happiness, sociology, raising children may be nice – some may even be currently be accurate (though none of the above were accurate 60 years ago). But is that what you base your fundamental beliefs on? Doesn’t Judaism command sacrifice of everything including ones happiness and ones children?

  26. I think real happiness is inside and deep. It’s usually only visible to others when it’s not expected. For example, I know people who have experienced tremendous suffering, yet their faces always radiated happiness and contentment. Some were BTs others FFBs. I haven’t seen this in non-frum Jews.

    Many people are happy when everything is going their way, when they have money and a good family life. But when things don’t seem to be going right, I don’t see how we can be happy unless we have Someone we can trust to have our best interests in mind. If we relied on our looks and they fade, our health and it fails, our job or friends and they betray us, what’s left to make us happy unless we have One who will never betray us. Then we can still be happy. But that necessary Bitachon is not automatic, it takes work. We have to learn mussar and integrate it.

    Not every frum Jew has done this and not every frum Jew is happy when times are tough. There is a lot that could be done to raise our levels of Bitachon, on a collective and individual basis. But I think if we see our setbacks as challenges and work on ourselves, we can all reach a level of real happiness.

  27. The theme of dissatisfaction among highly intelligent Jewish women, who are passionately connected to the Jewish people and to Judaism, about what the frum way of life has to offer them is certainly a consistent one here, and in other threads.

    For all my glibness I do not have particularly good answers to these “issues.” I would only say that even men in white shirts, dark suits and black hats — and getting the aliyos and the kibudim, etc. — ultimately must build their own place in the “system.” It took me a good ten years to realize that while I was (and am) committed to the what I consider to be perhaps Torah’s “side” in a life-or-death culture war within the Jewish people, and that I would therefore identify myself with that side, ultimately I would have to still be plain old Ronnie Coleman from the block to find a way to make a lot of things — things that will never feel intuitive — work. I came to peace with the fact that my internal life would never look like that of the Chazon Ish, and that the whole thing must be regarded as a work in progress.

    In my particular case, however, that’s a lot easier (and yes, ego-gratifying) than it may be for Jaded Topaz or Barbara or SquarePeg.

    Who know, however, how any individual acquires his or her World? As long as the “work in progress” keeps progressing, there is hope for all of us… for happiness, I guess!

    Good Shabbos, chevra!

  28. There is so much pain coming from both your posts, Barbara and Squarepeg613. 

    SquarePeg, I think you definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel in your decision to try to raise your children as observant (your point #3), because unfortunately for all the Jewish people, the Conservative movement is not carrying forth to subsequent generations (as alluded to in my last posting). 

    The fact that you’re visiting this blog is significant, and I’ll be redundant in once again pointing out that, yes, there are people who would appear to be Orthodox who are a big disappoint as human beings.  Just this week I had just such an encounter with a rabbi who clearly lied to me about something.

    But I can look past him and see all the extraordinary people in my community, from our Rav who is such an inspiring a real person, to neighbors, fellow parents – so many people who exhibit wonderful middos in so many quiet ways.  This was clearly visible to the father of the girl I wrote about in the aforementioned post when he was sitting shiva in our community (at the home of his brother).  He kept talking about how amazed he was by our community, the outpouring of kindness, not just people coming to make shiva calls and/or attending minyans, but the constant chesed bestowed by friends of his brother’s.  Yes, there are many kind and good people who are not frum, and many who are not Jewish.  But the level of kindness and selflessness in a community like ours cannot be replicated in the outside world.

    And as far as going to shul, yes, it’s great if we can find a shul where we can feel comfortable.  But a woman can easily carry on all her mitzvahs without going to shul (this is what happens in communities without eruvs).  The mistake we all make about “Judaism in America” is believing that the synagogue is the essence of our religion, when in reality, the few hours on Shabbos morning is just one small component.

  29. Barbara, I totally hear you. The things that bother you in Orthodoxy are the same ones that make me hesitate to become Orthodox (I’ve always been Conservative). I am very much on the fence. That said, here are some thoughts of mine:

    1. No society, unfortunately, will have all (or maybe even most) of the qualities we would like to see. So the key is to pick what meets our needs best (or seems most true) and then try to be “one of the good ones.”

    2. The Mitzvot Bein Adam La’Makom (the “moral” Mitzvot) give a terrific framework for teaching children moral behavior. Obviously we can’t control what other people teach their children and what they hear in school. But *we* can use the Mitzvot to teach proper values, no matter what anyone else does. And I believe and hope that parental influence matters a lot.

    3. I think it is easier to fill in the values I want to from the left (when my children’s other influences are basically Orthodox) than it is to teach children to be observant when they’re not surrounded by it.

    4. Conservative seems natural and intuitively right to me. The problem is, it doesn’t seem to be self perpetuating. So maybe what’s intuitive isn’t Truthful. I really don’t know. I do know that I want my children to be observant and to want to raise their own children to be observant. I think that is a really tough task within the Conservative world.

    5. I really don’t get anything out of going to Orthodox shuls. The male-centeredness is just a turn-off to me. OTOH, I have my hesitations about my egalitarian shul. So I just don’t go to shul much. I guess for me the shul I don’t go to is still Conservative. I try to focus my efforts at home, on trying to make a life of Shmirat HaMitzvot attractive to my family. There is a lot I can do at home to do that, and it is also a positive religious expression, no less than going to shul and participating actively or passively.

  30. I personally would avoid statements along the lines of “Torah is necessary but not sufficient for happiness”. Assume that the listener or reader is not observant but is happy. You’ve just made a claim that they know to be false.

    I would agree that this might not be an appropriate statement in a kiruv setting, but the truth or falsity of the statement is dependent on the definition of happiness and whether that definition would (or could) be considered subjective or objective.

  31. I’m always leary of questions like this, because, as has been said, we can never really know if someone else is happy, or putting on a good front.

    I think it’s probably fair to say that for some people, observance makes them happier. For others, presumably, it makes them less happy (unless we think that people go off the derech and stay off the derech because they want to be less happy).

    I personally would avoid statements along the lines of “Torah is necessary but not sufficient for happiness”. Assume that the listener or reader is not observant but is happy. You’ve just made a claim that they know to be false.

    (Adding the words “For me” to the front of it makes it a perfectly reasonable, in my opinion, thing to say)


  32. None of these comments help me. When I was Conservative, I was so much happier about being Jewish, & felt extremely close to HaShem. Now that I’m observant, I feel completely disconnected from HaShem, resentful of being Jewish, anger at other observant Jews.

    We are told that Torah teaches us to be better people, but I don’t see it. Some of the most despicable behavior I’ve ever seen in my life has come from ‘Orthodox’ Jews. And it has made me most unhappy. If I didn’t have children, I would completely give up observance; however, I know that it would be too confusing for them to say “I know we’ve taught you this is the right way to live, but I’ve changed my mind.” So I live a life of pretense.

    People make a big deal that at Sinai, b’nai Yisroel said, “We will do & we will hear.” They say it means if you start following the mitzvot, eventually you’ll come to understand them & incorporate them into your being. For me, it’s been the opposite: the more I’ve lived a ‘Torah’ life, the less I believe in it at all.

  33. Wow, I’m seeing this at a time of spiritual crisis/plateauing. There are days when I wake up and almost sing Modeh Ani. Then there are days like this one – feeling discouraged. There’s no doubt I have greater tools and potential for happiness as a Torah-observant Jew. But then I look around at what I (privately) call the “pants-wearers” (i.e. non-Orthodox women) and I see their contented complacency. If I were still one of them, wouldn’t I be more in tune with my non-observant husband?

  34. It’s interesting how this subject corresponds to the recent discussion about dropouts from frumkeit. One aspect that we all neglected to mention is that some people become frum because they are seeking happiness in their lives. Sometimes, nebich, these are the same people who’ve sought out cults for the same purpose. When they find out that frumkeit is not “instant nirvana”, they’re out of here.

    To me, peace of mind in knowing that everything comes from Hashem is a type of happiness. That Hashem does not give us any test that ultimately we cannot overcome.

  35. I’ve been a BT for so many years that I couldn’t even assess if I’m happier being Torah-observant. Heck, I can’t even remember that far back. But one thing I’m pretty sure of: in observing and hearing about the lives of the students I counsel in the kiruv high school yeshiva I work at (most of the families who send their kids there are not frum), I don’t find anything terribly attractive about the lives they lead in 21st century America. Society has so deteriorated that I’m grateful I chose a life of Torah and mitzvos.

  36. Ron-When Tannaim, Amoraim and Rishonim define a halacha, mitzvah or fundamental element of hashkafa, that is meant to be relevant for all Jews in all generations. When we are told that Tefilah means to be aware of God’s presence and that we should be aware of the Divine Presence when we learn Torah, eat in a Sukkah, hear the blowing of the Shofar and eat matzah on Pesach is hardly an arduous task. Feeling the Divine Presence in the interpersonal realm requires more effort, but is an attainable goal. To say that man cannot strive for such a definition speaks excessively IMO of Katnus HaAdam instead of thinking as well of the Gadlus HaAdam.

  37. Ron -Lifnei HaShem is a phrase that is defined by the Talmud and Rishonim as simply being aware of the Divine Presence. What is so advanced or lofty about that?

  38. Being observant makes me responsible for my own happiness–I know that when I am feeling discontented, their is something off in my relationship with Hashem.

    Before I was religious (and for a few more years before my insides caught up to my outside affiliation), I looked for external means to secure my happiness: people, experiences, products.

    I am happy because I am living the life I am meant to live. And when I’m not happy, I can examine that life and make adjustments.

  39. The comment by Steve Brizel of
    February 5th, 2008 23:17 20 leaves me confused, although not unhappy.

    That is, it asks how we define happy, but doesn’t quite supply the answer—unless feeling HaShem’s presence is the halachic definition of happy. Is that what you meant, Steve?

  40. How are we defining happiness in this context? Lifnei HaShem has a definite Halachic meaning of being before God or in God’s Presence, as opposed to some pyschological definition of happiness. Of course, one can go through the motions ala rote as defined by the Neviim and the Ramban , but a Torah observant life in its most fulfilling manner, regardless of the hashkafic label, requires you to feel God’s Presence-regardless of your psychological state of mind.

  41. Simply, I’ve never known HaShem like I do as an observant Yid.

    I can think of nothing to make me happier.

  42. Yes, I’m much much happier. Night and day.

    I’m unhappy when miscommunicating with my husband, or when I try to control things beyond my control. I’m unhappy when I try to be perfect, which is Hashem’s job. Perfectionism leads to time crunch, which trggers frustration. Not good.

    As Rabbi Lazer Brody says: ‘If onlys’ are followed by ‘so whats’. The grass is almost never greener, so why wait around to be happy?

  43. “I think people know deep down when their happiness is real and when it’s not, but it’s much harder to know that about someone else.” -Excellent Point Bob.

    I don’t think it’s all about observance, rather than understanding the values from the torah. As someone who loves to learn torah, I find myself more much aware of real meaningful happiness and fake happiness, which is soo easy to get caught up in.

  44. In brief, I think that a thinking Torah OBSERVANT Jew is one who realized what is truly makes them happy. When one can see use benchmarks based on society (either frum or non-frum society) it’s easy to see what makes us happy…following the direction your neshama was directed to follow. Easier said than done, I admit.

  45. The thing is, the whole idea of being a BT is tied in with improvement. So, if I want/need to be better tomorrow, that implies I have shortcomings today—duh! Do I view these as reasons to be unhappy, or do I happily consider them to be opportunities to take positive steps? We should not allow dissatisfaction of this type to make us unhappy. When I worked in TX, my boss for a time was a former US Marine in charge of Quality Assurance. He said that QA professionals loved to walk into situations where many problems had to be fixed; these he called “target-rich environments” in the military sense. That may be the way to look at our many needs for self-improvement; we have many areas in which to shine by fixing problems.

    Similarly, we want our surroundings to be better tomorrow. Our micro-surroundings may lack the kind of communities, shuls, schools, etc., we want to be part of. Our macro-surroundings are subpar by definition if we’re not living in Israel, or even if we are living in Israel, prior to our final redemption. This causes frustration that can lead to unhappiness, unless we consider that HaShem is in charge and has given us today’s strange-looking playing field for His own purposes and our benefit.

  46. I have tossed this question around a lot. In high school, when I became frum, I was 100% my life was better and I was happier than my non frum, shallow counterparts. As I got older, it got harder. People grew up and found meaning in other places. For example, the kids that got drunk every night without a care in world, were suddenly living seemingly meaningful and sucessful lives as well. But, I have just come to accept that Torah does not equal happiness, but it does equal truth, and I believe only with truth will there ever be real happiness. While I certainly have tough times, the bottom line is those tough times would have been a whole lot tougher without my faith in God and my observance of Torah.

  47. I think Kiruv organizations (you probably could name one or more) often push the Torah=happiness approach.

    I think it is correct in that Torah is necessary but not sufficient for happiness.

  48. I remember when I wasn’t frum yet, I used to worry what happens to someone once they die. Is that it, it’s the end of you? Becoming religious for me gives me alot of comfort from those kind of worries.

  49. I’ve been looking at this subject for quite a while and it is amazing how many differing opinions there are in the Torah world. Not only is happiness elusive, but the definition itself is elusive.

    I tend to agree with today’s Torah thinkers who say that most people are not happy. It’s possibly because Desire, Honor and Envy are taking us out of this world of potential great happiness.

    Where does that leave potential BTs who are not so philosophically attuned to assessing absolute truth, if today’s Torah Jews are not really achieving happiness?

  50. Chazal’s formula is familiar but deceptively simple: Who is rich? One who is happy with what he has.

    I’ve often pointed out to my students that the sages did NOT say, “One who is SATISFIED with what he has.”

    The cause of much unhappiness in the world is dissatisfaction: I don’t like the way things are, so I’m unhappy. The sages want us to understand that happiness and dissatisfaction are not incompatible.

    Yes, I want more respectful students, more polite children, a more appreciative community, more inspiring davening and, of course, more money.

    But not having these does not prevent me from being happy, if I understand that by leading my life according to Torah and mitzvos and cultivating my own spiritual development I am doing what is truly meaningful.

    The hard part is integrating that awareness into true conviction.

  51. The secular world measures “external” happiness – and by that I don’t just mean material happiness, but happiness that is evaluated in respect to others.

    Being religious gives me a sense of purpose that is internal. It simultaneously makes me important as an independent individual, and gives me a deep connection to my community.

    So the “happiness” – maybe the better word is “satisfaction” – of being religious is qualitatively different.

  52. It is a struggle, both financially and timewise to be frum but we do look at some of the lives that our secular friends are leading, and it makes us very happy (not jumping up and down happy) to have a different meaning to our lives. I hope that does not sound pompous, but it does seem that some people’s happiness can be simply based on the Giants winning the Superbowl.

  53. “I think people know deep down when their happiness is real and when it’s not, but it’s much harder to know that about someone else.”

    Bob, you made my point better than I did.

  54. Some people have a naturally sunnier disposition than others. That is not really the topic here, which is more like “finding ways to be happy according to the Torah definition, even under trying conditions and even against one’s own predispositions”.

    If we really knew and appreciated all that HaShem is doing for us all the time—including when He upsets our carefully laid plans!—our happiness would be less episodic. We ought to review our past from time to time, to appreciate this better.

    I think people know deep down when their happiness is real and when it’s not, but it’s much harder to know that about someone else.

  55. Happiness is s slippery concept. But I cannot imagine a better formula for contentness and satisfaction than developing an understanding of what things give life meaning, and that these things may be achieved. I believe the Torah, and mitzvah observance, provide these things.

    These are the tools for building happiness. Living life and making choices, including choices about our attitudes, are still up to us.

  56. “I’m not sure whether it’s observable. ”

    IMHO, while miserableness is very often observable (and rarely a front), in many (most?)circumstances happiness isn’t. There are, I’m sure, plenty of happy people who do not appear so and plenty of people who appear happy who are not.

    I’m happy, here’s proof >>>>>>> :)

  57. As far as my secular family goes, and will ever know, torah observance makes me happy. They think we’re meshugga for giving up the big house and the money and moving where we live and “suffering” (from their perspective, all that we’ve given up, all we are now forced to do) in our Torah lifestyle, so with them, I’m upbeat, and on the few occasions when they visit, they won’t know from any of the struggles. I don’t want to sound like we’re lying to them, but I do think in a sense that it’s our responsibility to try to assuage their worries and fears about the path we’ve chosen, and to show them that this path brings us a lot of meaning and joy.

    Privately, my husband and I have talked often about how many unhappy Torah observant people we’ve met, and how it seems as if money is a big part of that problem, a quandary that we haven’t figured out how to solve ourselves. You want to be happy and follow Torah and raise happy kids, but now that you’ve made this decision, you are constantly worried about how to pay the bills. (Trust in Hashem, yeah, I know, but still, it’s a struggle and it definately eats away at the happiness quotient to have a huge mortgage and high yeshiva bills). My husband is working so hard ( and so am I), and the constant fatigue and stress of work sometimes really gets to us, but we never think about giving it up, I think, because instead of happiness as our yardstick of success, we feel a responsibility as Jews in our secular intermarried family to raise up jewish kids who will want to marry jewish and raise their kids in the Torah way, and that we see in spades from our commitment.

    Our life is more meaningful and purposeful, for sure. Our family is closer ( kids who actually want to be with their parents on friday nights!), and our marriage is much closer too. Happy? They say that those people who win the lottery usually end up more miserable than before. G-d, test me. I’ll prove them wrong.

    Azriela Jaffe

  58. Abraham Lincoln said people are just about as happy as they want to be.

    For me, the difference in being observant is that we are commanded to have simcha (joy), and to be grateful for what we have.

    If we work on trust in God, simcha, and being satisfied with little, we have a three pronged approach to lifetime happiness, but it takes work, like any other good character trait.

    <<What additional ingredients are necessary for Torah to make you happy?

    “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me… a Mercedes Benz…” ;)

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