You Don’t Need To Give Up Your Common Sense To Be An Orthodox Jew

The desire to write this post has been building up for quite awhile.

The first time I wanted to write was when I heard about the incident of a woman being beaten up for not moving her seat on the “special” Egged lines for Charedim. For those of you not familiar, in some Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods there are busses where the men and woman are supposed to sit separately, the men in front and the women in back. This is supposedly because of the increased sensitivity to modesty in these neighborhoods. A woman refused to move to the back of the bus, and a man decided to beat her up for it. My first reaction was to write it off as one violent person, but I became very angry when none of the Rabbis in the Charedi world came out publicly against what happened (with the exception of Rabbi Horowitz, who lives in America). The laws of modesty, even for those who follow them to the extreme, do not preclude men looking at women in a public place – whereas the law of how one person should treat another is pretty clear – beating someone up is prohibited! Where is the common sense?

The second incident that almost made me write was when the story broke about Rebbetzin Keren, a very charismatic Orthodox woman who wears shawls, extra layers of clothing, and covers her face completely. She does so for various reasons, one of which is that she thinks this practice protects people in her neighborhood – although it did not protect her children from her emotional and physical abuse. What I found so appalling is how many women followed her in these practices (the layers of clothing, not the child abuse). Covering your face, and wearing many layers of clothing, is not normative practice in Jewish law, even in those Jewish communities that are very strict about modesty. Not only is the practice bizarre from a halachic point of view, but if defies common sense. If one layer of clothing covers your body, what does 7 do?

This past weekend I read an article in the Makor Rishon newspaper, (here in Hebrew)and I felt that I had to write. It seems that there is a woman, Sylvie, that started what is called the “Sheetat HaMegeirot” (the drawer method). I don’t really understand the method from the article, but it seems that how you organize (or in most cases, don’t organize) your possesions is a clue to problems you may have. Working with a counselor on organizing your things and analyzing yourself is supposed to help you in general, and in your spiritual growth. It seems that this method has become very popular, but the leader is somewhat of a nutcase. According to the article she compares herself to Moshe Rabbenu in importance, she verbally abuses her students and sometimes makes them wait for hours for a lecture, and she comes between husbands and wives. She has a theory that a man can have both a “physical wife” and a “spiritual wife” and she claims to be a “spiritual wife” to one of her student’s husbands. She even told her that she is holding him back and should leave him.

This woman is clearly off her rocker. What amazes me is the number of students who follow her. Where is their common sense? I understand the draw of a charismatic speaker – I enjoy them myself. I also can understand the emotional satisfaction that you can get from feeling part of a group that is working on a worthy goal, especially if there is personalized attention thrown in. But I cannot understand how people can think that they can learn about spiritual growth from a person whose personal characteristics are deformed.

What makes me angry and sick at heart the most though, is the Hilul HaShem (desecration of G-d’s name). I can imagine that there are people out there who may have some exposure to Orthodox Judaism, and may be thinking of taking on a halachic lifestyle (following Jewish law). What can they possibly think when they hear these stories?

So, here are my two cents (or, more appropriately, two shekels). You don’t have to give up your common sense to be an Orthodox Jew. If a Rabbi or a leader asks you to do wierd things, educate yourself! What he is asking may not be part of halacha at all. The more you learn the more you can discern. If someone who is teaching you turns out to show some troubling personal characteristics, or discourages you from asking questions and getting sources, find another teacher!

Don’t let the crazies make a mockery of my religion.


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jameel @ The Muqata
    May 19, 2008 @ 16:15:53

    Megeirot didn’t surprise me in the slightest. However, the problem is that If a Rabbi or a leader asks you to do weird things, educate yourself! Usually in a cult, it’s too late for a cult member to realize/appreciate that the leaders actions are “weird.” So many megeirot people are simply in denial.

    What’s personally bugging me is the Chareidi Leumi crusade against Revadim and ViShinantem — that really makes me insane.

    I’ll be blogging that one of these days.

  2. Jack
    May 19, 2008 @ 20:20:34

    It does seems like there are a few loose nuts floating around.

  3. Ezzie
    May 20, 2008 @ 05:32:11

    Great… essay, really.

  4. G
    May 20, 2008 @ 14:21:01

    You don’t have to give up your common sense to be an Orthodox Jew.

    Well…yes and no.

    Let’s be honest, there are plenty of things that you/me/we would never think of calling into question that anybody who actually thought about it for a minute would say go against common sense.
    This clearly applies to those things that fall within the area of “’cause the Torah tells me to, I do that too”. Additionally, there are those things which common sense would dictate we think twice about yet we don’t “’cause I’m a Jew, I do that too”.

    So is it any wonder that there are people who find it hard to draw that very thin line between when we act on common sense and when we do not?

  5. G
    May 20, 2008 @ 14:23:04

    Also, common sense is far too often not all that common…more is the pity.

  6. faith/emuna
    May 20, 2008 @ 20:18:37

    jameel – define ‘megeirot people’
    what are they in denial about? that they believe the leader may be a wacko but that the general method is still helpful? why is this concept so difficult to accept? maybe go undercover and attend a meeting. if you want to get down on the method after knowing about it then that would be fair.
    wbm – a man who hits a woman is touching her so you dont even need common sense on that one.
    and while sylvie is the founder of megeirot i think the majority of woman who have learnt megeirot have never met the woman. in the meetings i have attended we were treated with total respect and questions were welcome and answered .

  7. westbankmama
    May 22, 2008 @ 14:12:06

    jameel – you are right, when someone is emotionally invested in believing in one person, the “red lights” are ignored.

    jack – you get those by you too – or is Israel special?

    G – you are correct that some things in halacha “defy” common sense. But the halacha is clear for everyone to see – one person isn’t making things up. That is why people have to learn for themselves, and get many different opinions from Rabbonim if they can’t.

    faith – it seems that most women learn the method from counselors who have been trained. Either they haven’t been trained by Sylvie herself, or they ignore some of the problematic things she espouses. I think it is important for people to have their eyes open – and to be careful who they let close enough to them to have a serious emotional impact.

  8. G
    May 23, 2008 @ 14:31:20

    But the halacha is clear for everyone to see

    True…and what about those things that fall beyond the realm of halacha? Feel like giving sensical explanations for all the minhagim out there?

    I’m just saying that the lifestyle of orthodox judaism breeds this type of behavior so it is not so sirprising when things go too far…I’m sure there are people who would say that some of the activity that goes on in chasidus is not so different than what we see here.

  9. Trackback: Haveil Havalim — FrumeSarah-style « Frume Sarah’s World

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