Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Uncle Why Answers More of Your Jews Questions

Hi, boys and girls.

Uncle Why is back and, in this episode, Uncle Why is immediately going to answer one of your Jews questions.

This one comes from Rachel somewhere in the UK.

--Hi, Rachel ---

and it was posted as a comment in my previous post. Rachel writes:

Dear Uncle Why,

So, if someone believes completely in the 13 Principles of Faith, but does not keep shomer Shabbat (for whatever reason) - where do they fall?

Well, Rachel, they fall into a very deep hole where nobody wants to go...

Okay, okay. I think I need to shed the "Uncle Why" personna - for now - and get serious (no easy task for Uncle Why me).

Before I go on, I think it is important to know a few things about our questioner, Rachel. Rachel is an exceedingly sincere, passionate and conscientious individual. Her heart is definitely in the right place. She is also left handed, so her brain is definitely in the right place. And she is striving to embrace Judaism. So her soul is definitely in the right place. Sadly, she is from Britain, so the rest of her is definitely in the wrong place :-(. Rachel has come across my book and has actually written a glowing review which is available on her blog (available HERE) and I am very grateful to her for that (if only you would upload the review to Amazon!). If I had to guess why she liked the book, l would say it's because I wear tefillin on my right arm just like she does. I wish Rachel much bracha and hatzlacha and hope that she merits to become a true ger tzeddek (I don't know how to say that in the feminine).

Now, let's deal with her question.

You must know, Rachel, that you compromised your question by adding those three innocent looking words in the parentheses - for whatever reason. If one professes to believe in the 13 Principles and still does not observe Shabbat, it makes a whale of a difference what the reason is.

It goes without saying that, as a rule, the truest indicator that one truly adheres to one's beliefs is that they maintain a lifestyle according to those beliefs. So in a typical case, one who is not Shomer Shabbat is essentially demonstrating that s/he does not truly believe in all 13 principles. Nevertheless, for this to be conclusive, there are a number of criteria that must be taken into account. 3 in particular come to mind.

The first and most relevant to your situation is:
Where is the individual coming from?

Now here is the rub. Although belief in thought and belief in practice are interdependent in the final analysis, there is a maturation process (much like the fine Scotches that your Northern neighbors produce). In almost all cases, the two components - religious conviction and religious practice - do not come to an individual at the same time.

Jews such as myself were born observant. This means we were taught to observe Jewish rituals and avoid prohibitions way before we were intellectually mature enough to fully believe in why we do them. But by experiencing the splendor of these practices together with studying their source and their meaning, most of us eventually come to internalize the principles of belief as well. This is one of the methods of synergizing religious practice with religious belief and I wrote about it expressly on pages 259-260 in my book in the chapter about Kids at Risk. I called this the Naaseh V'Nishma approach.

Sadly, there are those who come to question and reject the beliefs and fall away. Some of whom, though they claim not to believe, even maintain the practices for social reasons and have recently coined a term to express it: Orthoprax.

The second method works exactly the opposite direction. And it applies to Jews who were brought up non-observant as well as to people like yourself, non-Jews who enter the covenant of Judaism. In this method one first adopts the beliefs and through the beliefs, one comes to sowly but surely take on the Jewish lifestyle. I called this the Atta Yadati approach that was introduced by Yitro, the first convert to Judaism from the time that we were given the Torah.

Just as the Naaseh V'Nishma approach does not necessarily occur overnight, neither would the Atta Yadati method. It may take some time.

So to answer your question, if one professes belief in the 13 principles and after a substantial period of time - let's say 5 years or so - still cannot observe Shabbat properly, I would question his level of Emunah. But for one who is in a transitional phase, it is no contradiction if the two components - practice and belief - have not yet blended together.

The second criterion to examine is how are we defining "observe the Shabbat".

You see, there are two aspects to the mitzva of Shabbat: Zachor and Shamor.

Zachor means to commemorate the Shabbat by saying a Kiddush on wine as well as lighting candles, wearing special clothes, and eating special foods (Cholent???). The part about not turning on lights, watching the telly or the computer, and not driving as well as all the other forbidden activities is all wrapped up in the Shamor part. It goes without saying that it is much easier to observe the zachor aspect than it is to observe the Shamor aspect (unless you prefer to sleep all day long).

Now you seem to indicate from your writing that you do keep a lot of Shabbat, just not "all of it". Is this to say that you are not Shomer Shabbat?

So here I would recall the first criterion and say that much has to do with where you are coming from. For one who was raised to observe Shabbat and all 39 categories of activities, refusing to observe some of them may be enough to consider the individual as a Mechalel Shabbat (violator of Shabbat). But for one who was brought up with no knowledge of Shabbat, even a partial observance of Shabbat may be considered a bone-fide Shomer Shabbat in the initial stages.(Don't hold me to this, it's not really up to me.) Incidentally, I once heard one of my mentors, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, ZT"L, say in a lecture that if one is used to smoking 30 cigarettes/day and on Shabbat he decides to only smoke 25 in deferrence to Shabbat, he has attained some level of being Shomer Shabbat (don't try this at home, boys and girls).

The third criterion is, as I indicated above, to examine why it is that the individual is not completely Shabbat observant.

The mitzvot are meant to be challenging. If they were not, there would not be much merit in keeping them. We are all subject to temptations and pressures and it is not necessarily a breach of faith for one to succumb. Still, the argument can be made that if one firmly believes that he is being tested, and that he has the ability to withstand the "test", and that withstanding the test will eventually bring immeasurable reward (the Joseph Syndrome), he would not succumb and thus it does indicate a lack of faith. Yet, we cannot put transgression under duress in the same category as transgression without any duress.

Many of us are aware that in the early 20th century United States, it was virtually impossible for any person who was not self-employed to obtain Shabbat-free employment. This affected thousands upon thousands of pious Jewish immigrants. There were a few who stood firm in their observance (see the story about my great grandfather ZT"L on page 274 of my book) but the majority gave up Torah observance entirely. Yet I have heard of a number of pious "Shabbat violators" such as one individual who worked a graveyard shift (midnight to 8 am) in some factory 7 days a week. His peers thought he was forced to take the graveyard shift out of desparation but he said that he actually volunteered in particular for this shift. This is so he can go to shul and daven on Friday night, go home and make Kiddush and eat, and then go to work, get back in time for the morning davening, go home and make kiddush again and go to sleep. In this way nobody has to know that he is Mechalel Shabbat.

The point is that we can assume that this person kept the Shabbat properly for all the time he did not need to work. We can also assume that if he reached a point where he could forego this factory job, he would resume full Shabbat observance. He only put the Shabbat into "temporary suspension" for the time it was necessary. He did not succumb to the "all or nothing" mentality that caused so many others to give up Torah observance entirely once they could not keep Shabbat for part of the day.

So, to summarize and to put it all together, Criterion 2 says to us that partial observance of Shabbat may be considered as a "full" observance of Shabbat if there are inhibitions which prevent full observance for the time being and the individual would resolve to be completely Shomer Shabbat when these inhibitions no longer apply. Those inhibitions may be inexperience (Criterion 1, hailing from a non-observant background) or pressures and temptations (Criterion 3). Thus, if one believes that G-d created His world in 6 days and that he commanded us to observe Shabbat to commemorate it AND he is not plagued by these other inhibitions, he will be fully Shomer Shabbat. But one who is not fully observant and has none of these inhibitions standing between himself and the observance of Shabbat can only be sufferring from a lack of Emunah.

Thank you for writing and thank you for your review (don't forget Amazon!) and good luck to you!


shavuatov said...

Agh. Blogger just lost my (rather long) comment. How frustrating.

The essence was:

(1) Thank you (for the post)
(2) You're welcome (for the review)
(3) Amazon - good idea, but it will have to be the British version
(4) Your post made a huge amount of sense and I am very grateful for it. I think my practices/beliefs will take some time to align fully, because as you know, I am a freshly minted Jew and I wasn't born into observance, of any kind. The determination to be fully, fully shomer Shabbat is definitely there, but it is going to take a huge amount of change in my life (I can't even tell you how much). But it will happen. I have changed everything that I can, for the moment. I am hoping HaShem will be understanding.

I feel a bit of blog-linkage coming on. It's not every day I inspire a whole post!

Thank you so very much.

Kol tuv

shavuatov said...

PS - feminine is giyoret tzedek... :)