Frum or Erlich

I highly recommend the essay “Frum or Erlich” by Dr. Yitzchok Levine. Teaser:

The American Orthodox Jewish community of today is drastically different from the community that existed in America 75 years ago. Orthodox Judaism circa 1930 was struggling to maintain its numbers due to mass defections from religious observance.

In these communities one increasingly hears such statements as, “He is so frum.” “That family is very frum; they don’t have or do this or that.” On the other hand, far too often one hears strong criticism of frum people. The source of this criticism is not limited to non-observant Jews or to non-Jews. One also hears condemnation of the so-called frum from Jews who are committed to Torah and Mitzvos. “He is supposedly so frum, and yet he does such and such.” Could it be that frumkeit is not the end all and be all of Yiddishkeit?

Years ago the highest compliment that one could give to a Jew was not that he or she is frum, but that he or she is ehrlich. The term frum is perhaps best translated as “religious.” More often than not it focuses on the external aspects of observance. It describes a person whose outward appearance and public actions apparently demonstrate a commitment to religious observance. The categorization of someone as being ehrlich, literally “honest,” implies that this person is not only committed to the externalities of religious observance, but also is concerned about how his or her religious observance impacts upon others. Frumkeit is often primarily concerned only with the mitzvos bein odom laShem (between man and G-d), whereas ehrlichkeit, while certainly concerned with bein odom laShem, also focuses on bein odom l’odom (those mitzvos that govern inter-personal relationships.)

Sadly, there are people who are frum who are not particularly ehrlich. Let me relate a personal experience that I had about a year ago. …

A Model of Ehrlichkeit, Reb Yisroel Salanter, ZT”L
The question arises, “If being frum is not the same as being ehrlich, then what does it mean to be ehrlich?” Perhaps the best way to get insight into what ehrlich behavior entails is by studying the actions of those who excelled in such behavior. …

Also of interest is his Daily RYS, a daily thought (often in the form of an anecdote) from Rav Yisrael Salanter. While touring his site, you may want to also see Prof. Yitzchok Levine’s essay “Are You Partially Responsible for the Shevach Scandal?“. I only agree with part of it, though. Here’s the part most relevant to the topics discussed in this blog:

There is another aspect of this scandal that is disturbing. How could a person who appears to be a Frum Jew do such a thing? Such actions are totally inconsistent with being an observant Jew. Yet, it happened, and it has happened before. I doubt that any of us will be surprised if it happens again.

Such an action, aside from being completely against Halacha, is totally dishonest. An honest person would never do such a thing. Therefore, it is most important that we instill honesty in our youngsters. Unfortunately, I do not see this being consciously done as part of the educational process that our children undergo.

I am convinced that every yeshiva should have an honor system. When people hear this, they often react with, “Good idea, but it will never work.” When I point out that I teach at a secular college that has had an honor system since 1908, they reply, “Well, it may work at your school, but is will not work in yeshivas.” I can only wonder why not. Is it because the culture of “dishonesty” when it comes to academics is so pervasive amongst our yeshiva students? If so, then we are in real trouble, because being dishonest in one area often spills over to being dishonest in other areas.

The slogan of the Stevens Institute of Technology Honor System is, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” Of course, we know that there will come a time when whatever we do will be found out.

Elul is here. Rosh Hashanah is not far away!

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  1. One of the greates Baalei Machshava of the 20th century is R. Shlomo Wolbe, ZTL. No one said it better than him.

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