Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Frum and Normal - A Reason for Hatred?

At the onset of this blog, my purpose was to vent/rant about things that annoyed me about living in a frum community for the first extended period of time in my life. Because of Ner Israel, Baltimore is naturally a bit more right-wing (religiously) than the average frum community. Therefore, it makes sense that most of my annoyances and peeves about the frum community stem from the ring-wingedness of this community. However, while as a general rule Baltimore is more right-wing, that doesn't mean there are left-wing (religiously) groups of people. To show that I am not necessarily anti the right-wing, I will discuss an issue that bothers the hell out of me regarding some within the so-called "left wing".

It seems as though there are some (and I do not intend to say that this is all, or even a majority) in the religious left-wing that express anger when their peers, who previously may have been on an equal (lower) religious observance level, become more religious and observe more mitzvos. It may very well be the case that the person, when becoming more religious, ignores or loses touch with his/her friends. This always bothered me about people becoming more frum – alienation from that which they knew before. In this case, I would agree that the friends would have what to be upset about. However, it seems that in situations where this isn’t the case (ie, the friend is not spending less time with friends), some still get upset when their friends become more passionate about their Judaism and make it a more meaningful part of their life.

This may be because to the left-winged friends usually view those more to the right of them as being “not normal”. Thus, when their friend moves a bit to the right, it would make sense that they would become less normal in the mind of the friends. Therefore, feelings of anger or discontent arise when people feel as if their friends are becoming less normal. However, a lot of times those that move a bit to the right do not become less normal. Anyone that knew me 5 years ago knows that I have definitely taken a turn to the right religiously. However, most would tell you that interpersonally I have changed little – or at least I hope. What is mind-boggling is that there are those that think that one cannot be “frum and normal” at the same time, and this in unfortunate. Just because I drink a couple of beers every once in a while doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to have chavrusas, and just because I’m on time to shul Shabbos morning doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to be an avid UMD basketball fan. Unfortunately, to some, frumkeit and “normalkeit” are two mutually exclusive things. I’m sorry that I smoke hooka here and there, yet also attach meaning to my Judaism.

Persaonlly, I think this is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. Leon Festinger posited that individuals have cognitive dissonance when people’s thoughts and actions are not line. The classic case is of a smoker who is aware that smoking is bad for them – their thoughts (smoking is bad for you) and their actions (they are a smoker) are not in line. Festinger said that in order to alleviate this dissonance, one must either change their attitude (convincing themselves that smoking isn’t really as bad as people say it is, etc.) or their behaviors (quitting smoking). In our case, I believe these religious left-wingers with these ideas have conflicting thoughts and actions. I would like to think that they believe that doing mitzvos and attaching meaning to their Judaism is the right thing to do. However, their actions do not match this belief, as they are not interested in becoming more religious (learning more, davening, etc.) nor attaching meaning to what they do. Therefore, according to Festinger, they must change either their beliefs or actions. Obviously, since they are not interested in growing religiously (ie, changing their action), they are forced to change their attitude. Their new attitude tells them that growing religiously is not the right thing to do. Thus, when they see their friends going against this new attitude, they are upset.

This is just a theory of mine, and it could be way off base. Whatever the case, some people spend so much time focusing on how upset they are about others religious advances/demises that they miss out on the opportunity to grow themselves. I hope to see the day that becoming frummer, while staying normal, doesn’t piss people off.


Anonymous Jake said...

If its any consolation, I never thought you were normal. But good use of that Psych degree- Murnane would be proud

10:38 AM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous donny said...

I have always understood what you just described as being what drove the members of Blue Fringe to write the "Flipping out" song.

When these guys attended their respective yeshivas in Israel, they witnesses many of their friends moving to the "right" while they personally did not necessarily make significant changes in their lives.

They therefore chose to write a song about how ridiculous it is for one to "frum out", so they could happily live with the choices they made.

Many people say, "hey the song is only a joke", but i see it as being rather harmful.

Today, you hear many kids say, "I want to go to Israel after High School, but I definitely don't want to flip out!"

Pretty dangerous stuff for some guys who just couldn't live with the idea of making changes with their lives.

11:20 AM, May 30, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Donny, First of all - thanks for reading.

While I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with what you're saying, the "flipping out" phenomenon coined in the Blue Fringe song is not what I am referring to here. I am referring to someone who stays normal interpersonally (ie still talks to all of his/her old friends, etc.) but moves to the right religiously. One who "flips out", by definition does not stay normal on an interpersonal level. Definitely a good topic for a future post...

Furthermore, I think it's bad to go to Israel with preconceived notions in either direction. That is, to go to Israel saying "Man, I'm totally gonna flip out", I believe, is just as unhealthy as going to Israel and saying "I'm gonna be the same person that leaves this yeshiva as the person who walked in."

11:45 AM, May 30, 2006

Blogger Jewboy said...

Donny-"Flippin' Out" is probably my most hated song of all time. It makes a caricature out of being frum. What the hell does "girls are gashmius" mean? Makes no sense. I largely agree with your sentiments, but the term flipping out did exist even before the song.

11:47 AM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous hanging low and to the left (wing) said...

Speaking on behalf of "the left wingers" its not so much of the religious growth that I take an issue with, its much much more about what you aluded to briefly about "normalkeit." In my experience I have seen a pretty strong correlation between becoming more religious and losing personality and fun. One old friend for example used to be the most quick witted and energetic people I know, but now unless its about abaye or a good ritva, there isn't much of a conversation that can occur. Of course I'm proud of him for enjoying the learning and becoming such a sage, but I also am disgusted that his personality got lost in the sefarim. And that is my own and I think many "lefties" frustration. Go ahead have chavrusas but remember how to interact in the real world with people who don't exactly share your same lifestyle.

1:00 PM, May 30, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Mink, we are in 100% agreement. These things bother me as well. I am referring to people who stay normal while moving to the right. I would like to think I haven't lost my personality in the Ritva.

1:04 PM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous Donny said...


Like the blog. You make a good point, and if a guy really was acting all condescending and patronizing to his old friends the way that Blue Fringe sort of alludes to in their song, then there is indeed a problem here.

In my opinion though, I think many interpret the changes that the "flipper outer" guy has made to his lifestyle as being "condescending", even when they are not. Just because a guy has decided to move to the right in his religious practice, doesn't mean that he thinks "you" are now bad/shaigetz/goyish etc. Those who feel the need to put this guy down have insecurity issues.

If a guy doesn't want to watch movies anymore or talk to girls, yet he is still a mentsch and fun to interact with, why put him down?
He has made a difficult life decision and he should be commended for it.
Basically in summary, I am agreeing with you but I am adding that I think the Blue Fringe guys were referring even to the type of guy you originally brought up, not only the "jerk flipper outer."

Hanging Low,

Would it then make sense for your frummy friend to say that he appreciates your wonderful personality but he is "disgusted" at the fact that you don't have as many chavrusas as he does? It is a two way street.

If you want him to be accepting of your more liberal interpretation of religious judaism, you need to be more open to some of his personality changes.

1:12 PM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous hanging low said...


I don't remember asking anyone "to be more accepting of my more liberal interpretation" my only point was an overall frustration with a personality change that makes it impossible for others to interact with such a person about anything non-yeshivish.

And as to your question, no it wouldnt make sense for there to be an appreciation for a nice personality combined with an overall disgust with a lack of chavrusas. But essentially that is exactly what is going on. Disgust may be a strong word both ways but it absolutely is the barrier between two people like this.

I appreciate the musar though.

2:56 PM, May 30, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Donny, we are in agreement. If when a person takes turn to the right they remain "fun to interact with", kol hakavod. I think hanging low is saying that this isn't always the case.

5:54 PM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous YWannabe said...

I have seen this happening in so many different environments and cities with so many different kinds of people. I'm not sure why the lefties of the MO community are so petrified of someone becoming more frum. I have met a few exceptions. Amazing young guys who still go to their co-ed schools or summer programs and manage to be friends with everyone.... an their yarlmulke is velvet, or they still keep up with shnayim mikra. Yet, these people are exceptions. Exceptions which can show those "ignorant lefties" to open up their eyes a little more. You have to be an extremely strong and special person if you want to show them lefties that they're wrong, but it's not too hard.

ALso, most people who are believed to have "flipped out" nowadays are more likely to stay somewhat socially the same (at least towards members of their own gender). That's why the song is such a problem, because it is such an extreme exaggeration.

10:22 PM, May 30, 2006

Anonymous Donny said...

hangin low,

The way I look at it, there has to be consistency. If you are someone who is open to having your "suddenly-frummy" friend make statements like "did you go to shachris today? did you remember to wash negel vasser? etc." , then you have all the right in the world to have issue with his changed personality. If he is going to question your actions, you can question his.

However, if he is making the conscience decision to not bombard you with the ways you can improve your yiddishkeit, then you might need to find some new topics to discuss with this guy.

In the way you are saying that is difficult to find something to discuss with this guy, he is probably thinking the same thing. You may be thinking, that he has changed so now it is his fault that I have nothing to talk about. He is probably thinking, "hey, we went to the same schools and were brought up similarly, why hasn't he embraced yiddishkeit the way I have?"

Basically, I wasn't trying to give mussar. I was just saying that it rolls both ways and we need to be aware of that.

Personally, I also find it annoying when guys completely change their personalities. It's a real inconvenience to me. But then I think to myself, hey he is doing what he feels he needs to do to stay on the right path. Maybe you and I can go to the bar on the weekends and still make sure to keep our sedarim, daven three times a day with a minyan, and constantly work on our personal spiritual growth. That doesn't mean it's just as easy for him. He is making a sacrifice so he can stay on the right path.

9:11 AM, May 31, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Wait, you mean, there are other people that daven with a minyan, learn, and go to bars? I thought I was a das yachid.

9:15 AM, May 31, 2006


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