Mar 21, 2010

Who Are We? part 2

By now many of you may have read the NY Times article about the Polish Catholic skinhead who discovered he's Jewish and who has transformed himself from an anti-Semite to an Orthodox Jew.  Incredibly, the maternal grandparents of both he and his wife, also a former skinhead, were Jewish.

 He struggles daily with his new identity and with discarding his previous ideas. 

In a Mishpacha magazine interview with Rabbi Hershel Schachter of YU, he referred to the opposite situation, i.e. cases in which yeshiva bachurim discover that they are not Jewish.  This could be due to improper conversion somwhere along the line and/or adoption.

It boggles my mind just thinking of either scenario.  Finding out that your identity, that which defines you, is wrong, mistaken, like my "Partner in Torah" who realized she was in fact, not Jewish, because although she had a Jewish father, her mother's conversion was not according to halacha.  She could have opted to follow the Seven Noahide Laws but she unhesitatingly pursued conversion.

I heard someone describe a classrooom discussion in which frum students were asked what would they do if they learned that they were not Jewish.  It's really not a reasonable question because you can't truly imagine what it would be like to be something you are not.  You can't really imagine what it would be like to be a bird, rose or a rock because you are a human being and cannot think in those terms.  Likewise, if you have a Jewish neshama, you cannot possibly imagine what it would be like not to have that neshama.  You can only think about what it entails to be Jewish as far as the mitzvos we are obligated to do and what it might be like to be absolved of them.  And in fact, many students in that discussion loved the idea of not being bound to the dictates of halacha.  And that gets back to my theme of "who are we."  Is our Torah "lifestyle" an add-on or an expression of our neshama and its connection with Hashem?

Whether we are conscious of it or not, Torah and mitzvos are the essence of our lives as Jews.  When we see Jews who are not religious and doing as they please, the correct way of viewing their freedom is as avodas perech.  The Egyptians had men doing women's work and women doing men's work and this was called avodas perech, extremely difficult labor.  It is obvious that women doing physical labor in construction is extremely hard but why was it so hard for the men to do the women's lighter work? The answer given is that when you do something you're not suited for, that is avodas perech.  So too, even if not doing mitzvos looks easier, it is avodas perech because it goes against the natural inclination of a Jew. 

At this time year when we celebrate cheirus - true freedom, let's think about who we are and what makes us truly free.


  1. I think that what is hard is those "ad-ons" that are not really obligatory according to Torah but are expected of members of the frum community.

  2. I'm not so sure that people are differentiating and saying: I'm okay with the biblical laws and the rabbinic laws are all right, but it's those hiddurim that get to me ..

    But then I'm not sure why you are saying this in connection to the post .. ?

  3. I am not talking about hiddurim but what is expected socially of frum people such as expensive baby clothes. Much of frum society lives that way and to fit in means to spend to live that way and there are many pressures to fit in that are financial but not religious in nature.