"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Friday, December 18, 2009

The sins of befriending non-Jews and learning their culture

Torah study—“Our life and the length of our days;
we will meditate (on its words) day and night" (Evening liturgy)”

The sins of befriending non-Jews and learning their culture
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

“The sins of the Jewish people in the time of the Greeks were: befriending the Greeks, learning their culture ... ”[1]

Just a minute, an outsider might ask. It’s a
sin to befriend a non-Jew?! Isn’t Judaism a religion of peace and love? If anything, that should be considered a Mitzvah, no?

Well, no. Jews should not be “buddy-buddy” with non-Jews. It’s not that we dislike them. We just know that we ought to ... keep a distance from them. Ours is “a nation that dwells alone.”
[2] We have our role in the cosmos, and they have theirs. When we draw too close, those lines become blurred.

A friendship is a two-way relationship. You influence him, but he also influences you. A non-Jewish friend will naturally share his values and feelings with you, and precisely because he is your friend, his company will influence you with his non-Jewish attitudes and culture. We don’
t want this because it may weaken the Jew’s devotion to Torah, and even bring him to abandon it altogether, G–d forbid. Thus, we find a concern in Halacha that a close friendship between a Jew and a non-Jew may lead the two to make a deal to marry off their children to each other (known as chasnus), which the Torah considers a normal outcome of a very close friendship. (Along similar lines, a religious Jew should even take care not to overly befriend a not-yet-observant Jew—see here.)

In general, although he may do business with non-Jews, a regular
ehrleche (fine) Jew is not tempted to befriend non-Jews, and the reason is not just that that he can’t discuss Tosafos with them. He simply can’t relate to them, because he doesnt live in their world. The cross-cultural divide is too great, and that is a good thing.

However, this is not to say that a Jew should act in an unfriendly or rude manner toward non-Jews, G–d forbid. On the contrary, since non-Jews are created in the image of Hashem, they deserve to be accorded the utmost respect, and even cherished.[3] This is also not to say that one should not have any form of contact with non-Jews; rather (in addition to maintaining contact for the purpose of shared business interests, or the like), one should do so where necessary, but with a clear awareness of the purpose of the interaction in mind. The nature of the relationship between Jew and non-Jew is one of teacher and student, with the Jew inspiring the non-Jew indirectly through his fine moral conduct and wholesome family life, or directly, by teaching him the Noahide laws.

However, the second item mentioned in
HaYom Yom, learning secular culture, is a temptation that is lamentably all too common in our times.

frum people feel that they must read the newspaper every day, follow the sport, politics, and even gossip, and generally be “up with the latest” amongst the non-Jews. Many immerse themselves in study of secular topics purely for the sake of knowing them, and send their children to schools with a very good record in secular studies even if the Torah studies there are poor; they then insist that their children go to college, and not just in order to earn a good living (despite the severe dangers that their children are exposed to there), but in order to “be a man amongst men” by being au fait with the culture of the western world, finding their
prestige from secular academic recognition and titles, and the like. Many indulge in “entertainment” by exposing themselves to supposedly “neutral” novels, television shows, and movies, despite the fact that doing so involves violating the prohibitions of exposing oneself to heresy or immorality). And so on.

The numbers of such people are not small, and probably greater than we estimate. And although not all of the behaviors listed above are necessarily strictly forbidden (except when they involve consciously exposing oneself to heresy or immorality, as above), they are sins in the sense that these are not befitting behaviors for Jews.

” the advocates of
normalcy clamor, what’s so terrible with it? Why are you being so fanatic? It’s harmless!”

But it’
s not. These influences are saturated with subtle and not-so-subtle inappropriate messages that desensitize us to holiness, true refinement, and actualizing our spiritual potential. They may lead one to start adopting certain typically non-Jewish behaviors, which is in itself forbidden. Ultimately, when imbibed frequently and for a lengthy duration, such influences may entice the Jew to give up Yiddishkeit altogether, may G–d save us.

And above all, preoccupation with the non-Jewish culture, even the most supposedly harmless cartoon, distracts the Jew from what he should be really focused on if he has any free time—Torah study. The Torah is Hashem’s timeless wisdom. It is a
priceless gift from Above. A Jew has the constant obligation and privilege to study it, and neglecting it is considered a severe sin.

As the Mishnah exhorts us: “Ben Bag-Bag used to say of the Torah: Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it. Pore over it, and wax gray and old over it. Stir not from it, for you can have no better rule than it.[4] Everything a Jew could want to know is in the Torah, and it is what should preoccupy him whenever he has a “spare” moment.

[1] HaYom Yom, 29 Kislev.
[2] Bamidbar 23:9.
[3] Avos 3:14.
[4] See Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry, 11:1
One may not follow the rites of idolaters, nor imitate them in dress, hairstyle, and the like. As the verses say: “And you shall not follow the rites of the nation that I evict from before you”;[a] likewise, “And do not follow their rites”;[b] “Beware lest you be lured by [their ways].”[c] The import of all these verses is the same: We are warned not to imitate [non-Jews]. Rather, a Jew must be separate from them and distinguished in his dress and in his other affairs, just as he is different in his doctrines and beliefs. As the verse says, “I have separated you from the nations.”[d]

[a] Vayikra 10:23.
[b] Ibid.18:3.
[c] Devarim 12:30.
[d] Vayikra 20:26.
[5] ibid. 5:22.

This post was dedicated by Rabbi Shmuli Markel and family (Shmuel Leib ben Esther and Sara Rochel bas Chaye Nechomoh).

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  1. I mostly agree, but...

    I know a rabbi who give beautiful shiurim in Chassidus and oftentimes uses mosholim from the science. It is embarrassing: every single moshol he gives is wrong (not in the sense of moshol–nimshol relationship, but as far as the basic facts). This man is very famous and has ingenious mind. And what he is doing can lead to potential chillul Hashem.

    I was sitting at one shliach’s table a few nights ago, and the shliach was answering some guy who said he had problems with science–Torah conflict. The shliach’s answers were also embarrassing. He could’ve given answers that would really bring the guy to yiddishkeit, but because he was completely ignorant in inyonei ha’oilam ha’zeh, and the guy was quite educated in them but not in Torah, the guy left unconvinced.

    Plus the children who live in the world, where secular knowledge bombards them with information from all sides. It doesn’t take much for an intelligent child to start asking questions. OK, you can raise your children behind a wall. Is this Lubavitch way?

    Besides the fact that the way the world “is” is EIbeshter’s Will. Etc.

    As far as not having deep relationship... how can you influence people with whom you have only superficial relationship? All the successful shluchim that I’ve seen “lowered” themselves to the point of forming strong bonds with the people they tried to mekarev and to the point of caring about these people’s majors, secular interests, personal lives, etc. Those shluchim that pretend they are still in yeshiva and don’t care -- the people coming to their Chabad Houses sense this.

    Also, where do we draw the line? Should chassidim not have deep, friendly relationship with non-chassidim? What about chassidim who belong to particular “party” with those who belong to another “party” (as is happening). Etc., etc.

    I think there needs to be a balance... better yet, maximization. We have to be absolutely part of the world and absolutely frum. We have Chabad Chassidus to guide us and give us internal strength, not the strength of walls.

  2. 1. Indeed, those who give mesholim from secular topics should do more research first. That's neither here nor there.

    2. It is not for rabbis to answer questions about Torah vs. science (though they should and generally are basically familiar with the issues). It is for the Torah-observant scientists. Rabbis need to know a lot of Torah, and most people accept that and don't expect them to be something that they're not. If you overheard a conversation where a topic was discussed about which you had more knowledge, you should have piped up.

    3. Yes, I hate to break it to you, but the kelipos of the big bad world, and secular studies, should not be a part of chassidishe child's life and chinuch, to whatever extent possible. That's the concept of chinuch al taharas hakodesh.

    4. Yes, children will ask questions. So what? Did anyone say not to answer questions? The fact that questions may arise does not mean that the approach to chinuch is wrong. It means that you'll answer the questions as they come!

    5. Lot's of things are Hashem's will. There's mud on the street, that's also Hashem's will--that doesn't mean I need to go stick my face in it.

    6. When did I say not to have a close relationship? I just said that there's a limit to it, and that it's a relationship of teacher -student, not equals (although one may also learn from one's student when appropriate).

    7. Showing a basic interest in another person's life and interests out of a sense of concern for him is fine. Immersing oneself in those things oneself is not. I believe that the distinction is clear.

    8. I disagree; we don't have to be "absolutely" part of the world. We need to vest ourselves in it to the degree necessary in the individual circumstance, and no more. The rest of our energies (which is often not much) should be devoted to Torah and tefilla.


Thank you for your comment! :)