Elster's World

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Out of the Box

I was recently J-blog hopping when I stumbled here (you need to scroll down 2 posts). It seems that blogger Eli7 was lamenting how she failed to fit into any of the supposedly neat categories of Orthodox Judaism – Modern Orthodox, Chareidi and Ultra Orthodox all failed to correctly and completely define who she was. She decided that she was somewhere in the supposed “middle ground” of Judaism, but then wondered whether one can “straddle the fence” between the categories as it were.

I had replied to say that there is no such thing as a ”middle” ground, because in almost all cases, wherever one is religiously, they are in the middle of something. There are so many subcategories within the categories, the groupings themselves are almost valueless. Besides, I argued, the better way to view orthodoxy is as follows:

Within the world of orthodoxy, there is a giant box. This is the Box of Acceptable Halacha (Jewish law) and Hashkafah (the way a Jew is supposed to live – for lack of a good way to explain it) – a/k/a the Box. Within the Box lies all that is acceptable within Orthodox Judaism. Whether you are Chareidi, Yeshivish, Modern Orthodox or however you so choose to classify yourself, you must be within the Box. The Box , then, represents the entire religious framework. Where, exactly you fall within the Box is about personal choice. Anything outside of the Box is, well, outside the accepted framework.

The good news, then, is that while it is difficult to be a complete individual in Orthodoxy, you can be an individual within the Box. Sure, you still must eat kosher, observe shabbos, etc., but this explanation defies the idea that Judaism is a cookie cutter religion of conformity.

The bad news, though, is that over time, the lines around the edges of the box have become severely frayed. Somewhere and somehow, black and white has become more and more gray. In both directions. Eating certain foods in non-kosher restaurants, a common practice among many “very modern” people (especially in work situations) may very well be outside the Box. But to so many, this is an acceptable balance. “I only eat the fish” is synonymous with, “I don’t eat trief”.

On the other side of the extreme, setting aside rocks to throw at cars on Shabbos? Um, outside the Box.

So, both at the edges of the Box (and worse, in it’s middle), we seem to have lost our way. There is such animosity between the “groupings” that we have all lost sight of the fact that we are all joined by the Box. Instead, the right and the left refuse to admit that the other is credible, everyone calls each other “them” and “they”, as though talking about sub-human form beings. The level of sinat chinam has reached dangerous proportion.

And the simple question is why? Why can’t we be accepting of our practices within the Box, even when they differ from our own? Why can a modern orthodox man be more understanding towards the plight of the black man than he can be towards his Chareidi brothers? At the end of the day, while I wear jeans, listen to more rock n roll than Yeshiva Boys Choir, while I watch tv and see movies, all the hallmarks of, gasp modern orthodoxy, yet I still feel a greater connection to the strange looking dude in the peyos and streimel than I would ever feel with my (seemingly more like me) co-workers.

Why is that? Because me and Streimel Man are both within the box. The co-worker who I can talk to about what happened on Lost last night? Out of the Box. End of story.


  • I think that that's a great way of looking at things. I'd like to look at each choice that comes along and identify only if it fits...does it make sense or not. Forget all the things I've been tought to judge and just see the person and where they fit in to our box. Then the gray areas are clarified and priorities are not just intact, they are in the front of our minds.

    I also like your point about Jews who look like you, but are out of the box, and those who seem far from where you are, but are actually much closer than they appear.

    Great post, it leaves me thinking.

    By Blogger Sara, at 5:30 PM  

  • I think many people straddle the line between MO and charedi, and fit neatly into neither category. I posted extensively about this last November. As I explained in detail, the issue is as much about cultural differences than differences about ideology.



    These posts earned me 6th place in the JIB Awards best series category, the closest I have or will ever come to blog honors.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 5:38 PM  

  • Interesting post.

    I feel that I'm neither MO nor yeshivish but in the middle. but I also agree with you that it really doesn't matter what we call it and that we are all in the same big box and just choose a certain area within.

    By Blogger Lvnsm27, at 5:26 AM  

  • Sara - Thanks

    Joe - The reason why people fit nicely into multiple categories is simply because they are all within the Box.

    lvn - Amen

    By Blogger Elster, at 2:31 PM  

  • Wow. You've done something I never thought I would ever see/hear--you've made the dreaded Box sound good.

    By Blogger Scraps, at 10:57 AM  

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