Sep 29, 2012

Our Evolving Headspace

Years ago, I read an interesting article called, "Replacing Secular Values with Torah Values" in which the baal teshuva author wrote about her struggle to adjust her thinking to Torah values:

"When I first came to Israel ... I was already technically religious—I kept Shabbat and kashrut and wore mostly modest clothes—but my values and beliefs were still half-and-half. It took hearing a real Torah perspective on certain issues (mostly relating to Eretz Israel and Jewish morality) to shake me up and help me see that while my behavior had begun changing to be in line with Torah, my thinking still had a ways to go. I resolved to work to change my thinking as well as my behavior, until both would be according to Torah.

"I found this second round of changes to be more challenging than the first. After all, in order to keep Shabbat, you just have to not do work. It might be difficult or frustrating, but in the end, it’s a simple physical act. Even when I felt like turning on my computer on a Saturday morning, I could just force myself not to. When I found myself thinking something that clearly came from my old perspective and was not in line with Torah values, I couldn’t force a change. I had to be patient and spend a lot of time learning and growing before those thoughts would be replaced by something better."

This got me thinking about what secular values and ideas have crept into the minds of those who have grown up with a Torah education.  In discussing this with others, we came up with a long list:

feminist ideas such as women are wasting their lives if they are only raising their children

what I do defines me and gives me value (as opposed to working solely to support oneself)
vegetarianism as a philosophy
emphasis on appearance (ex. "body sculpting," fashion)
the packaging (chitzoniyus) is all important
when anything is wrong, therapy/medication is the answer
life should be easy and comfortable
compassion for the wicked
the inherent value of secular education (not merely as a means to earn a living)
secular humanism
democracy (when no, parents and children are not equals, and yes, there is a hierarchy among Jews according to Torah)
youth worship
it's not my fault (it's my genes, my parents, my background, my brain chemistry)
happiness is the goal ("Whatever makes you happy")
romance, falling in love and living happily ever after, love conquers all
esteeming oneself

I deserve, I'm entitled
questioning the sanctity of life
questioning the blessing of having numerous children
independence as a value (we should be feeling utterly dependent on G-d)
that feelings are sacred (If I feel something, then who are you to tell me I'm wrong for feeling that way?)
"it's none of my business" "live and let live" (when applied to ignoring wrongdoing)

It's interesting that many of these concepts were not even prevalent in the secular world until recently, and are still not prevalent in certain parts of the world.  Today, some of these ideas can be found even within sheltered frum communities.  They sometimes appear in our frum publications and in lectures given by frum speakers.  If we can mentally step back and look around us with some measure of openness and objectivity while also reading memoirs and other material which convey the mindset of Jews of decades and centures past, it can be enlightening to see how we've changed.  It is eye-opening to see what we take as "givens" which were not "givens" in a previous generation.  It can be illuminating to examine how we think.


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