Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Frum For Fun

As I've noted in previous posts, one of the advantages of living in a small Jewish community is that you don't have any of the judgemental frummer-than-thou nutjobs that make being not-Chareidi orthodox so umcomfortable.  In addition, our shul is more a community synagogue than an Orthodox one in nature (although we have the whole mechitza setup) and our day school is also community based which means our children learn how to interact with and respect non-observant children without being taught that they're this strange species of life.
However, there are limitations to living in such a small community.  The reverse side of the lack of nutbars is that there are very few dedicated "professional Jews" to serve as an example to folks looking to become more attached to their Judaism.  It also doesn't help that the local rav does whatever he can to downplay any sense of depth or commitment to the religion when attempting his special brand of kiruv.  As a result, some folks get presented with a version of "Orthodoxy" that would not be considered Orthodox in a larger community.  We are all aware of FFB's and BT's but this group is one I like to call "Frum for Fun" (FFF).
The basic dynamic of this group seems to be as follows.  When it's fun to "do Judaism" they are very involved.  This is the crowd that shows up for davening on Shabbos and belts out the tunes at the top of their lungs.  They're involved with shul projects, do lots to help out during the holidays and kiddush luncheons and are always enthusiastic participants when it comes to special events.  Their sincerity cannot be questioned and they bring an amazing energy to everything they do.
And then Monday morning minyan rolls around and... they're not there. 
See, the real challenge of kiruv isn't getting people out to some Shabbaton or Pesach seder.  Getting people to show up for programming is easy.  Ask any Chabadnik.  The real challenge of kiruv is getting these same people to see the importance of being at shul during the week when it's just the routine praying that's going on.  It's about getting guys to wear a kippah outside of shul and women to change how they dress when it's not Shabbos.  This happens in large communities because as people progress they see other folks still further ahead and realize there's a deeper commitment than what they're currently engaged in.  As a result, they continue to progress so that they can become part of that group.  In a small community there is such a need to be inclusive of anyone who shows some interest in helping out that no one wants to say the dreaded phrase: "If you want to be frum then you have to change the following:"  The fear is that a person will respond by heading out the door and that kind of negative outcome is to be avoided at all costs.  However, in order to avoid alienating we dilute the actual commitment.  The FFF's never progress beyond the beginning stages.
This works, of course, as long as these folks stay within the small community.  At some point, though, there is a danger in that a FFF might move to the larger community nearby and suddenly discover that what he/she thought was Orthodox "enough" isn't.  That disillusionment might be heartbreaking.
So what's better?  Making people feel welcome no matter how partial their observance for fear of harming their connection with Judaism, or showing them the line in the sand where real Orthodoxy begins and presenting them with the honest limits of what's "inside the pale" and what's not?


Michael Sedley said...

I like the expression FFF.

Having grown up in a small community it is these "Middle if the Road" Jews who pass torch onto the next generation.

As you mentioned, people that become frummer tend to move to bigger communities, and there are the large group of people who don't care and disappear entirely from the Jewish world.

Who is left - these FFF guys, and we should encourage them as much as possible - but I wouldn't be afraid to push people individually to make another step closer to comittment. If someone is comming to shul every shabbat, maybe suggest coming once a week to a weekday minyan or to a shiur - not a HUGE investment.

If someone is already attending a weekly shiur, why not encourage him/her to attend a second shiur, set up a Chavruta, or volunteer for a comittee. We all (including ALL levels of observance) have an area where we could make just a tiny bit more commitment.

Jennifer in MamaLand said...

Interesting perspective! I have had frustrations with our kiruv shul for years, which is very "accepty" and laissez-faire on one level. BUT we benefit immensely, I think, by the presence, 5 minutes away, of the Bathurst-Lawrence corridor and the mainstream Orthodox world.
There is also decent porosity, with mainstream rabbonim & families occasionally making it down here for simchas, and vice versa (people from the shul attending simchas & Shabbos/Yom Tov meals in that community). Folks here often subconsciously accept an "aspirational" Judaism that puts them on track to move into that world.
Still, many just don't get that message, for whatever reason, and I am astonished sometimes to bump into "machers" in the shul who look like us on Shabbos... with uncovered hair, pants or no kippah on a weekday.

OTD said...

You go to the Village Shul Jennifer, don't you.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I am not sure why you limit your category of FFF to only smaller communities. I think this group is part and parcel of large communities as well and it only expands as people become "frumer". The real question is why people make the further commitment that they do, especially in what you may term larger communities? I would postulate that it is just a change in how they define and find fun. Many years ago, I wrote an article entitled Spiritual Hedonism (there is a link to it at which basically identifies how many people may take on more religious practice because it simply gives them a certain type of pleasure. This is just another manifestation of what Garnel has termed FFF.

The challenge is what we may term the smorgasbord approach to Torah -- selling mitzvot one at a time without a perception of the overall holistic call of Torah. (On this, you may want to take a look at another article entitled The Gestalt at Its when the duty of Torah demands of a person to step outside his/her comfort level, challenges one to question oneself and enter into the storm with the only security being reliance upon Hashem that one is attempting to meet the true call of Torah. If you're not sweating at being frum then you are more likely a member of the FFF group even if you are a woman wearing your skirt 4 inches beyond your knees or a man waking up for k'vasikin davening.

Rabbi Ben Hecht