Thursday, November 08, 2007

To be Shtark, or to be Emet (True)

It happens all the time. You know you do it yourself sometimes. We all sometimes do something which looks religious in order to look “Shtark”. “Shtark” is the yeshivish word used to describe what someone does when he does something which looks religious.
I have a big problem with this reality we live in. I have a big problem with the fact that many religious people today worry more about looking “Shtark” then about their personal relationship to God. They worry more about being the “Shtark” kid then being the kid who does most for Am Israel. They worry more about being “Shtark” then connecting to the land of Israel.

Why does being Shtark even matter?
Since when is the Jewish religion limited at what looks religious?

This has become ridiculous. I know many people who wear a black hat and go clubbing at nights. Why not? A Black Hat is shtark. True, its not halacha. True, there is probably no requirement to wear one. But its still Shtark! (Don’t get me wrong, I never criticize the fact of wearing a hat… to each its own. I am criticizing the reason for which SOME wear it). Clubbing is a sin on so many levels – girls dancing, girls touching, girls not dressed tsniout. But you can still look shtark with your nice black hat, so who cares?

A beard makes you look shtark – the longer the better! (Note: I do let my beard grow, so again, not criticizing that fact, just criticizing the mentality behind some people who do it). Yes, learning torah is much more important. But its so hard to learn a daf of gemara. I can always let my beard grow and look shtark and my learning… well…. No one really knows how much I learn anyways.You know what? Even the learning people do is defined by that. How many people will refuse to learn any Machshava (Jewish Thought) because if someone sees them learning this, its almost “bitoul toyreh”! True, the GRA wrote some books in Machshava, and he probably wanted some read it. But no, I’ll what the GRA wrote in the gemara because its shtark. Learning his machshava books is not shtark! The rambam did write moreh nevuchim, shmona prakim… But no, I’ll just learn Mishnei Torah in my Iyun seder because that is what is Shtark!
Last but definitely not least. How many Shtark people who are careful to follow all the houmrot of halacha live in Chuts Laaretz? They ignore the fact that according to many, they are going against a Mitzvah Mideoraita. Even according to one of the most lenient opinion who says the mitvah of Yishuv Haaretz is a mitzvah Kiyumit (only a mitzvah when you do it, but its not a requirement), this is also true of Tsitsit! Do you know any of these shtark guys not wearing tsitsit? No, but that’s different! Wearing Tsitsit (and preferably long ones) is shtark. Living in Israel, being Zionist, not so shtark. You know what? Rav Kook has said, about 100 years ago, that the reason why people are leaving the religion is because they were looking for truth, and all they found in the jewish community was a superficial practice of this truth. 100 years later, in chutz laaretz and in some places even in erets Israel, the problem is still the same! How can you expect someone looking for truth to join a community where one needs to change his kippah in order to get a better shidduch? How can you expect someone who looks for truth to be a part of Todays “Shtark” community? How can you expect someone who walks half naked (untsniout) to impress her friends to change her ways and start walking with the “shtark clothing” not because it is right and emet (true), but because it is “Shtark”?

If someone wears a black hat, let him do so but not because it’s Shtark, because he believes its Emet! If someone lets his beard grow let him do so but not because its shtark, because its Emet! If someone starts dressing tsniout, let her do so, but not because its shtark, but because its Emet! Instead of caring about being shtark, lets start caring about our relationship to God!

The assimilation in today’s world is our problem: Not just because we care of other jews, but because we, the religious community, are responsible for it! The world is asking for authentic Judaism, they are asking for Emet, and all we provide them with is “Being Shtark”

Stop caring about accepted norms. Start looking for the real truth! Hopefully, our brothers and sisters who are not religious can see past this “Shtarkness” and understand the truth is really found deep into our torah, even if we, as religious jews, are not good ambassadors for this truth.

To be Shtark, or to be emet… Its your choice!

NOTE : I got 2 comments on my this post basically saying that someone who starts practicing Judaism for shtarkness can evolve to practice it for the right reasons. “Ma Shelo Lishma Ba Lishma”. I want to make it clear. I am not telling people: “Stop being Shtark, be secular”. I would much rather you be Shtark than secular. Keep being shtark if the only other option is secularism. What I am doing is encouraging you to take the next step. To live Judaism not just to practice its religious rituals which make you look shtark, but to internalize the deep principles of Judaism in a way which will let your Jewish practice be an expression of these principles and every mitzvah you do be a an step towards a deep relationship with God. Hope I made it more clear this time. more...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I would like to start off by saying that i have been reading your blo now for over a year and have never made one comment, even though i feel like most of what you write is borderline kfira, and that your possible love for the jewish people is completly tainting any amount of yiras hashem that you may have. i began to wear a black hat 7 years ago when i was going clubing and doing all the sins in the book, deorisa and mederabanan. However once in a while the fact that i had my hat on and my LONG tzitis waving by my side(or tziziT as you would call them),helped me refrain from commiting more avairas. this went on for several years until i finally came to what our sages teach us as מה שלא לשמה בא לשמה what starts out as SHTARK ends up out of EMES. and now b"h i have grown tremendously in my avodas hashem. As shallow to you as it might seem I really do feel that this is due to the fact that seven years ago I began wearing my hat and tzitzis. so what i am trying to say is that yes i am a regular reader of your blog and yes i think you are very one sided when it comes to your views on eretz yiroel and am yisroel but this is your blog and and you are entitled to your own opinon. however when it comes to telling other people what to do and telling them to refrain from something that YOU feel is wrong and doesnt help YOU connect to the one above because you are on a higher madrega than other people, now this is something that i can not and will not be silent about.

Dan said...

I appreciate your comment
Someone made a similar comment on the facebook note I had for this (Although he was much less adversarial thats for sure).

That being said, this criticism comes from a misunderstanding of the message I tried giving over. Maybe I wasn't clear enough, I am not sure. I didn't mean someone needs to do all or nothing. When you put on ure black hat and tsitsit (even though I dont believe a black hat is necessary), you probably did it for the right reasons. What I was criticizing was this reality in the yeshiva world (in ALL yeshivot) where the ONLY reason to become more religious is to be more shtark. If you don't see it around you, then u should say baruch hashem. But this reality is what I believe to be the main reason why people are turned off from judaism because it always stays completely superficial.

That being said, I must say I don't appreciate you calling everything I say Kfira just because you disagree with one post of mine (or all of them even). From what I read in your comment, you are probably not zionism but do I call you a kofer for that reason? No. I respect your views.

I never said I'm on a higher madrega. I never told anyone to refrain from doing anything...

I could go on to respond to every sentence you wrote but I don't think its worth it because I'm not about criticizing people just for fun. I just outline my personal views on this blog which has (to my own surprise) helped a lot of people get closer to God. If you are unhappy/disagree with its content, don't visit. No one is forcing you. Thank God, he did not make me a missionary and I only provide these torahs to thoses who seek them.