Saturday, March 21, 2009

Every Day Is Judgement Day These Days

Often we hear people telling us that labels are bad, that judging is bad, that being open minded is good. The thing is - that doesn't seem to help. The very people who go around telling you to be open minded are often just as closed minded!

I can't even count how many times I've had conversations with people who argue that someone else isn't being open minded, when that person is not being at all open minded, either! Who knows - maybe I'm guilty of the same thing right now. But even if I am, I think it's wrong. Just because you don't agree with someone doesn't mean you should write that person off as stupid or say there is no value in what that person is doing. There is value in more than just your way of life. People who are different haven't turned their brains off. They aren't all idiots who haven't as yet been enlightened to your way of doing things. Sure, there is a herd mentality in any group of people. Any group of people. Including people like you! And in all groups, there are also people who really do think and who actually do believe that what they are doing is correct. Just because someone has different values than you doesn't mean that person has been brainwashed to an incorrect, ignorant, intolerant way of life.

I have been fortunate enough in my life to be close friends with people both more to the left of me and more to the right. Maybe I'm unique in that way. Maybe lots of people haven't had such an experience. Maybe too many people only know on a closer level their own brand of thinking but haven't seen, except from the distance, another way of life. Maybe they haven't heard people talk passionately about other values.

You don't have to agree with everything you hear and you don't have to change what you believe, but I think there is incredible value in being able to hear what someone's point of view is and see value in it. That doesn't mean agreeing with it. It means seeing value in another way of life. Yeah, sure, there are plenty of opinions out there that are downright idiotic. There are also plenty of beliefs that, though you may not agree with them, have a lot of value to the people who do agree with them and are still a Torah way of life, even if they are not your way of life. Don't knock people who do things differently than you do. Try and understand them. Understand where they are coming from. Understand why they believe what they do, why they practice the way they do. A lot of us think we know a whole lot more than we actually do and we certainly do not understand others on any helpful level.

I understand there is this need to feel so vehemently that your way of seeing things is the most correct - maybe even the only correct - way. It's safe to believe that because that justifies everything you do. It helps make everything make sense. Why would you believe a certain way and act a certain way unless you felt it was most correct to do so? Maybe people are too afraid of trying to understand others. Maybe they feel they'll get confused, not know what to believe anymore. I don't know. It's only a guess. But maybe that would be a good thing. Judaism is a religion in constant growth. We're constantly evaluating and re-evaluating, thinking, analyzing. That's learning, if you're going to talk about learning. Why learn if you're not going to think? That would be brainwashing. True learning means you're involved in what you're being taught. You're growing. You're actively engaging the Torah, Judaism, God.

So then why would Modern Orthodox parents be so afraid of their children going to Israel and coming back "so frum?" Isn't it also a kind of brainwashing if Modern Orthodox parents want their kids to remain forever the exact brand of Modern Orthodoxy as they were brought up? In some ways, everyone is brainwashed. Parents have certain values they believe in and they want to impart those values onto their children. That's fine. That's good! But then give your child room to develop on his/her own. There is nothing bad about a kid thinking about Judaism and deciding to have certain reasonable opinions. Of course, then you can get into a whole debate about what is considered reasonable, but that also treads dangerous water. There's a fine line between imparting values and not letting someone grow in his/her beliefs.

Beyond that, it's so dangerous to start judging other groups of people (specifically, other strands of Torah-Following Jews) without understanding them. On what basis are you judging? You don't like something they do, so don't do it. If it's not against halacha but is more stringent than how you would do something, that doesn't make it ridiculous! And the other way around - if someone is following halacha but is taking a more lenient (but valid!) approach than you would, that doesn't mean that person is "sketchy" or "not frum."

No, what I find ridiculous is how everyone feels he has the right to impose judgments on someone else who is not doing anything wrong. Just because there are flaws in one system of doing things doesn't make the entire system invalid! There are flaws in your own system too - whatever that system may be.

Fix your own problems. They maybe you can start worrying about other people's.