Ben Avuyah

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Use it or Lose it

Sitting around the Yom Tov table with my wife’s family, a casual truce is struck between her hyper-religious Lakewood based cousins, and her hyper-secular Israeli Uncles, via the very same policy the military employs: Don’t ask, don’t tell.

And so there is little chance of anyone prying into the actual details of anyone’s life in an area which religious judgments could be rendered.

And what, pray tell, is an area where religion has not intruded upon, from which table conversation might sprout?

Alas, there are precious few islands of banality about which to chatter, and the silent stretches between requests to pass the brisket become quite maddening, making one feel they are participating in some dour Pre Victorian banquet, save the corsets and wigs.

I therefore found it surprising when one of the Lakewood hosts, led off with what must have been her interpretation of uncontroversial material!

The method, by which, she attained food stamps on a regular basis by never having “married” via US civil documents, but by religious means alone. Thus her status as a single mother of 8, provided for the food on the table.

These details were relayed with vivid instructional prose, as if hoisted from some hidden volume of, “Lakewood governmental fraud for dummies”, to a young maidel of nary eighteen who absorbed them from across the table with unblinking eyes as this miraculous fountain of “how to” opened up in front of her.
Now the concepts of fraud in ultra orthodox communities are tired, and old hat to this here veteran blogosphere we all live in. But it was the contrast that got to me.

That tiptoeing through the potential mousetraps of a family with such diverse and strongly held beliefs, that this girl found this to be the “safe” territory she could fall back on. I think this is revealing of her own mindset in more than one way. And that not only did she not find her actions reprehensible but she projected her tolerance upon every other person there, assuming the reflection of her inner psyche would essentially be identical to the others at the table.

It reminds me of atrophy. Look at a stroke victim, look at paraplegic. The unused limbs shrivel to thin caricatures of their former selves…stick figures, stick limbs.

Is it possible that a neglected moral compass withers, and at long last no longer points in any particular direction? Does relegation of all moral decisions to a cryptic code that must be digested for you by a Rabbi and then communicated via a statement of, “you need to do this”, condemn the minds moral musculature to fade away?

Is this the unbidden side effect of Orthodoxy?

Is this the central theme..the goal of Orthodoxy?

Tzorech Iyun.

20 Comments:

At 7:40 PM, Blogger Lubab No More said...

It's hard to belive these folks think they have a rational to their thievery. Are they thinking it's OK to steal from goyim? Or maybe they recognize Jews pay taxes too and they see it as 'Jews should support frume Yidden.' Chalk up another win to 'anything goes so long as you're doing God's will.'

 
At 3:21 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Actually, lubab no more, there was no rationale offered.

that's what started me wondering if the mental machinery used to deal with this type of problematic behavior was unused and under a dust cover in some locked storage closet of her mind.

 
At 3:40 AM, Blogger Warren Burstein said...

Tzarich article in the mainstream press about the number of children being born out of wedlock in these communities.

 
At 5:45 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

WB, I don't know if anyone has performed a census looking for this particular detail, or if it is even widespread enough to show up on one.

This is not my point, I am not looking to make sweeping proclomations about what the lakewood community is or is not doing.

My interest is in the effect of the Orthodox system on innate human morality.

 
At 9:22 AM, Blogger Chana said...

That's pretty unfortunate and happily, not true Orthodoxy.

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Hmmm, chana, you might be right, but it sounds a bit like "no true scotsman" to me ;-)

 
At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anon said...

You should direct her to the footnotes on page 1057 of her Artscroll chumash. It might prove enlightening on the issue of how one relates to non-Jews in financial matters. You might want to further ask her why the gedolim gave haskamot to such a chumash, since clearly, she knows better.

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger SS said...

Warren: They aren't necessarily being born out of wedlock since there might be some kind of commonlaw stipulation if couple "live together" for a certain period of time...but I get the point. I also think, though, that it is counterproductive to be malshin.

Ben - Whoa! you mean there might be a flaw with daas torah?!?! Also, even if she didn't offer a rationale (because she doesn't think), presumably those who instructed her to do what she did, did, no? Even if it was mistaken/complete BS, whatever...

 
At 3:41 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

I'm not saying there isn't a rationale out there..I'm just saying her moral thermometer seemed broken.

 
At 2:06 AM, Blogger Moshe said...

ben,

I think your over critique has basis. it is by the way a critique that you hear with in the orthodox world as well.
however, ultimately it obscures the complexity of the terms "morality" "halacha" and there relationship between the two.

further, i am not sure that in the particular case you presented your diagnosis is correct.

here I think the issue is the long standing tension between universalism and particularism in Jewish ethics. to what extent do our ethical obligation extend to those beyond our "in group" of jews or even observant jews? Much of the charedi world tends towards a more exclusivist position, which at times leads to behavior which is in violation of normative halacha. however, i would wager that when comes to dealing with members of their own most upstanding members of that community are in possession of a of a set of moral navigation equipment that is at least as sensitive and well calibrated as those in society at large. This is in no way a justification of such behavior, merely a different understanding of the root of the problem.

A lot of this gets back to my persistent argument that the notion the ethics is a simple vector that can be calculated through a "compass" is highly problematic.

keep up with the moral angst,

moshe

 
At 9:29 PM, Blogger KateGladstone said...

That "single" food-stamps mom of 8 reminds me of the frum-from-birth high-school girl I once met (during my own high-school years) who organized a very effective cheating-ring to steal and distribute statewide standardized exam-papers in math, science, etc., in order to enable her fellow frummies to excel on statewide standardized academic-subjects tests. Neither she, her customers, their family members, nor (as far as I could find out) their rabbis saw anything at all wrong with this, as the stolen tests covered only math, science, history, English, etc., and not "real" knowledge. (Like the welfare-fraudster you describe, she and her friends felt absolutely no shame about publicly describing their actions; it didn't even occur to them that anyone, anywhere, might care about something as "not real" as a secular exam.)To the frummies involved — as far as I could understand their words and behaviors on the subject — it seemed that anything and anyone outside the "frummie universe" didn't really exist except as some kind of cloudy dream or inconsequential delusion, almost like fiction or cartoon characters: but in any case just as a not-too-important backdrop for the "real" people (the frummies).

Quite literally, they did not regard non-frummie things (or people) as actually REAL entities ... so they felt no more shame or guilt over theft, cheating, etc. (when practiced only in relation to non-frummy people/things) than you or I would feel shame or guilt over having a dream in which we told a lie to (or committed a theft against) some imagined character such as Mickey Mouse.

 
At 11:37 PM, Blogger rebecca said...

Jingle, Bells

(1)

Dashing thro' the snow,

In a one-horse open sleigh,

O'er the fields we go,

Laughing all the way;

Bells on bobtail ring,

Making spirits bright;

What fun it is to ride and sing

A sleighing song tonight!

(Refrain:) Jingle, bells! Jingle, bells!

Jingle all the way!

Oh! What fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!

(2)

Now the ground is white,

Go it while you're young;

Take the girls tonight,

And sing this sleighing song.

Just get a bob-tailed bay,

Two-forty for his speed;

then hitch him to an open sleigh,

And crack! You'll take the lead.

~~~by aoc powerlevewling

 
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