In Defense of Mediocrity

A few weeks ago I received an upsetting call from a concerned admirer. They wanted to inform me that someone within my sphere of influence was engaging in behavior which is Halachicaly prohibited. They expressed a disappointment in Nachlaot, pegging it as a permissive and wishy-washy place Halachikaly.

I have to say that I thank God every day for Nachlaot, perhaps for the very same reasons they do not. The Torah world has created this idea that everyone has to have the same standards, frankly I find that a bit silly. Part of living in a normal society is that different people have different priorities, and will make different lifestyle choices. What ever happened to the idea of a mediocre “working” class who simply do their thing without seeking religious rigor or refinement? Since when is perfection the standard by which everyone must be judged?

That is not to say that I do not hold Halacha up as the way to be close to God, and build a Godly society and world. Indeed that is how I choose to live my life. But I do admire the Sefardi shul’s acceptance of those whose kippot live in their pocket, those who will be at the soccer field after teffilot. There is simply something normal and natural in that acceptance. In our shuls judgment and insularity prevail, and the outsider smells it immediately and most often squirms.

I wonder if it coincidence that the segment of society which seeks to impose absolute standards on everyone is the same segment of society which is least involved in the grist of running this country. Rav Kuk’s appreciation of the non religious parts of society was deeply connected to his understanding that it takes all types to create the multi faceted society required to build Israel. He viewed the return to the land as part of a process, culminating in an absolute return to God only when the time comes.

This was my response to my caller. The individual referred to is in process. I believe that they are moving towards God, and one day this particular behavior will shift as well. For now they need me to respect their autonomy to choose their place in society and validate their right to define their relationship to God on their terms, not mine.


2 Comments to “In Defense of Mediocrity”

  1. Hi Aaron.
    I would like to give a different perspective – that from a Jewish born but Atheist by choice married to a Christian wife in the UK and two brothers in Jerusalem – one of which strives for the Halachik perfection you talk about. The theme of acceptance (and I think compromise) extends beyond Jews to Jews. Let me give you an example. My eldest brother refuses to recognise my twin baby girls as mine due to me marrying out. Now I of course understand that from a Halachik perspective what I have done is one of the gravest things possible. Yet from my perspective, I have a wonderful wife, family and life. Unfortunately I cannot accept my brother’s inability to accept or compromise in order to keep the relationships going. And sadly – what I thought was a fundamental part of Judaism – family – has broken down completely and we haven’t spoken in nearly 2 years. My point here is this is just one example where the Halachik standpoint results in both sides losing out for what? So that should there be a God he will judge you on your excellent efforts to strive for perfection regardless of the consequences? There are many more examples, not just within the Jewish religion where a lack of tolerance between faiths causes conflict, where in fact if people just looked for the good in each other and accepted things the way they were, there could be a whole lot more peace in the world.
    I applaud your article; it is refreshing to see and helps me show my wife that there are religious Jews out there that have both common sense and a broader perspective on things.

    (happy for you to post this on facebook)

  2. Jes,

    Thank you for your note, I feel your pain and frustration. While the halacha may require that we express clear disapproval of intermarriage, I do not believe it demands that we completely disengage relationships. Yes, I would agree that the approach I presented above is relevant to your story. I appreciate your response and feedback.


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