Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Nazir and Flipping Out

A recent post from Rav Harry Maryles became controversial despite being of a rather mundane nature.  In it, Rav Maryles offered some observations on the well-known phenomonen of "Flipping Out" in which a young man or woman go to Israel for their post-high school year of learning and come back far more Chareidi than they left:
One of the most frustrating situations for Orthodox parents is what happens when their children go off to study in Israel for a year or two (or more) after high school. What parents send in does not come back the same way. Many call this ‘flipping out’. A parent will send to Israel a son or daughter who has absorbed by osmosis values instilled in the home and when they return find to their dismay that many of those values are gone – obliterated by the Yeshiva or seminary their child attended.
‘Flipping out’ was addressed a few years ago by authors of a book that studied the phenomenon and found that in most cases these young people did not in fact flip out, but just became more committed to Halacha. They observed that this was a good thing. If the story ended there, I would agree. Unfortunately it does not end there. This was highlighted again last week in a Jewish Press article by Cheryl Kupfer.
What seems to be happening is that the Rebbeim and teachers at these institutions fill these young minds full of mush with heavy doses of Charedi Hashkafa.
Nothing terribly earth shattering there.  Most of us have met one or more folks who left for Israel with a suede or small knitted kippah on their heads and came back in a black hat and suit speaking fluent Yeshivish.  It can be frustrating, especially if the parents are Modern Orthodox and Zionist to suddenly have a child who rejects the family hashkafah but what else could they have expected when they sent their child to be immersed in a specific environment with a specific outlook for an entire year?
However there was a surprising angry response to this post from Rav Yosef Gavriel Bechofer, a talmid chacham of first rate standing out of YU and universally recognized as a RSG (really smart guy):
am deeply disappointed by this post.
"Flipping out" is a derogatrory term (that I admit I use because of its prevalence) for any change for the better in Talmud Torah and/or Yiras Shomayim.
It is not intrinsically linked to Charedism, and its use is pernicious.
And, buying a hat when one returns, say, from one's first year in Sha'alvim is not a sign of a sea-change of any sort. I know, I did it.
If this post contributes to one bachur not "flipping out" lest he be termed "Charedi", ר"ל, its effect will have been horrific.
RHM, you should not be responsible for such a terrible outcome.
Take it down.
Rav Maryles responded to this with bewilderment.  He noted that he had not mean to be derogatory and had differentiated between the positive and negative aspects of getting frummer.  In the comment section Rav Bechofer accepted the clarifications and fortunately this means the conflict is (hopefully) over.
However, I think there is a perspective on this that ties in with this parasha and might explain better the reason Rav Maryles wrote what he did initially as well as Rav Bechofer's passionate response.
Chazal note that the Torah calls a Nazir both kadosh, holy, and a sinner.  On one hand, the nazir reaches a level of holiness shared only by the Kohen Gadol.  On the other hand he has to bring a sin offering at the conclusion of his nazir vow.  Well, which is it?
I think that it might very well be both.  The Sifri tells us a story of Shimon HaTzadik meeting a nazir and rejoicing in his completion meal because he was so impressed with the young man's dedication to holiness.  On the other hand, the same story tells us that Shimon HaTzadik assiduously avoided participating in nazir completion meals in other cases and that he clearly made an exception in this case.  Why?
It seems to me that there are two reasons a person would take on a vow of nezirus.  The first reason is to shore up one's religious commitment.  Chazal tell us the reason that the section on nezirus follows the section on the sotah is so that people seeing a sotah in all her gory disgrace would take a nezirus vow.  Perhaps they had suffered from improper thoughts or behaviour and the sight of the woman swelling up and exploding made them think that they needed to engage in some form of chizuk to shore up their yetzer hatov
However, it is easy to see that others might take on nezirus because of the perception that it made you "frummer".  Yes, you'd got your regular slate of mitzvos to perform each day but that can be so pedestrian when you've been doing the same thing for so long, just like everyone else.  How is a person to stand out from the crowd?  How is he to show he has a superior level of dedication to God and Torah?  Why not take on extra obligations so one can say "See, I'm that much more religious"?
People taking on nezirus for the first reason could be the ones the Torah refers to as holy.  Certainly the story of Shimon HaTzadik would reflect this as the young nazir in question had specifically vowed nezirus because of what he felt was a slipping personal level of holiness.  For him it wasn't about being superior or adding to one's religious performance but about maintaining one's level against the incitement of the yezter hara.
This would mean that the second reason is what the Torah is referring to when it implies that a nazir is a sinner.  Such a person is taking on these vows because the regular routine of Torah observance isn't enough for his ego.  He wants to be a "big shot", a super-frum and this is the way his desire has found expresion.  This misappropriation of God's mitzvah might be enough to justify the sin offering.
When children come back from Israel with a different look or attitude, one can also conjecture that one of these two reasons is at work.  A child may be looking for a deeper level of commitment, a more intense sense of a connection to God, and this desire may be the reason for the new outfit and garbled pidgin language.  It may be a sincere desire to be a better Jew.  This person corresponds to the first type of nazir.
But then there are those for whom how frum you are is based entirely on externalities.  One starts wearing a black hat not because one feels a stronger connection to Torah and mitzvos but because wearing one means you're genuinely religious, not like those losers in the knitted and suede yarmulkes.  One avoids watching television not because of a lack of interest in it but because watching television is a sign of a lower religious level.  One comes to see the observant community as the authentic (just like him) and unauthentic (the ones who don't conform to what his rebbe and rosh yeshiva told him is authentic).  This person is like the second type of nazir.  It's not about God and Torah, it's about "look at me and how holy I am".
From Rav Bechofer's description of his own experience, he is clearly in the former group.  Unfortunately Rav Maryles has met too many people in the latter group and it is those that most of us know and form the impression for the group which is why "flipping out" has the derogatory aspect to it that, while it doesn't reflect the entire cohort, does apply to a significant part of it.


Anonymous said...

Trying to make people think you are frummer.
All these litvish RYs who regularly come late to davenning and seem to 'catch up'. But when it comes to the brochos on the Torah, they make sure they take their time on it. As if this brocho is any different.
The only way to show your frummer is by learning more and better. Not with a thicker gartel, or high boots like in skver. The black hat is slightly different, I also never used to wear one, but now its either that or none at all. Children have to be taught that just because a RY is a good speaker does not make him a tsadik to be revered. He has to have other qualities as well.

Netanel said...

I can't find your email address on the site anywhere, and I'd like to get in touch with you. Please send me an email when you can to ng(at)

Pesky Settler said...

Chazal note that the Torah calls a Nazi both kadosh, holy, and a sinner.


Israel Rising said...

The issue isn't about being Chareidi or not Chareidi. If a kid goes away and gets to become more genuinely close his/her pat then that is great. The true problem is what Rav Wolbe always termed the beast of Frumkeit and this is the issue, because it is a change that lacks sincerity and will fizzle in time.