A Question For Today


Why isn’t Derech Eretz important any more?

To understand why I post this question, you should first read Westbankmama’s post Are There Other “Normal” Frum People Out There?; that is if you haven’t read it yet. The question is raised by Westbankmama herself in the comments.

Since it is a question I regularly ask myself -and not only in the context of separated buses – I thought I would post it and see what other people think.


23 thoughts on “A Question For Today

  1. The word “normal” always sends me – I always assume whatever normal is, it must not be me.

    I was drawn in by the fact that Michael’s link is written by someone in Northern Jersey (home of the last of the MO thinkers, perhaps) and Westbankmama lives, well, where she lives. Two different realities.

  2. Thanks Ilanadavita, I actually learn something new today, it is the first time I have heard of Derech Eretz. 🙂

    It seems that I must be very ignorant of Judaism because I just do not understand why there is such a push against egalitarianism. It has been my experience that many other religions are doing the same. My question is, is this what G-d wants for use or is this our own human condition dictating this? I person consider my wife as my equal and I would be highly upset if she had to sit separate from me or from anyone on a bus.

    For me, I am not saying what is right or what is wrong here. I am just confused on why G-d would ask this of use.

    I guess I am just dazed and confused. 🙂

  3. I wish I had an answer, but it does seem to be the truth. I always wonder if G-d really cares so much about the details, rather than the fact that we all treat each other so poorly and are very much lacking in basic “derech eretz”.

  4. James, in a positive light, one might consider this separation of the sexes as “Separate but equal.” Women are still the only ones who can give birth or breastfeed, so by nature certain tasks fall to them.

    The extremes of the separation, however, are problematic. And some people prefer absolutes and extremes; others, like most of us (all?) who write on Ilana-Davita’s posts, would like the boundaries to include people being civil to one another.

  5. Hi Leora, the “Separate but equal” analogy is definitely a good one, which I agree with.

    As for the second paragraph, I am unsure of how to take it. I am not by any means anti-tradition. Therefore, I hope that no one feels that I am questioning tradition (only the problematic extremes referred to in this post).

    I am definitely a person that believes in being civil to one another. That is why I feel comfortable posting here too. 🙂

  6. Most of my readers are civil with their comments, and like Michael, some are “quirky”. But, then again, we all have our quirks or idiosyncrasies.

    I dislike the word “normal” also, within the context of what westbankmama stated.

  7. I’m not sure how to define “normal” in Jewish terms. Jews tend to subscribe to the notion that “Anyone to the right of me is a fanatic and anyone to the left of me is a heretic.” I don’t think anyone knows what Hashem’s intentions for us are, so it’s left up to people to decide.

    I’m not comfortable with separate seating on buses, but there are some people who are much happier that way. It comes down to who’s paying for the buses. If it’s Egged or Dan, and they want to run extra buses for that clientele, that’s their business. What I never liked was riding buses that were not designated as separate and being subjected to wild choreography for the first 10 minutes of the bus ride (between Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem) so the haredi majority on the bus could sit next to someone of the same sex. I sometimes wanted to scream, “I don’t want to have anyone’s baby; I just wanna sit down!”

    It seems to me that there are Jews who are looking for more things to do to keep themselves occupied. Many of these things involve focusing on women’s (real or perceived) sexuality. In my opinion, these people live in fear. I, on the other hand, do not. I think it’s good for men and women to be around each other enough for them to be used to seeing the other as humans, not just sex objects. Living in Beit Shemesh felt stifling to me, since there was a lot of attention paid to “modesty” and separation of the sexes. (Efrat is a mellower place to live; people do what they want and no one says anything.)

    When my family goes to the beach in Israel, we usually go to Tel Aviv. I didn’t expect it, but I did find that going to a place completely secular, surrounded by scantily clad people, was a breath of fresh air. No matter how I dress, no one is going to stare at me because there are much more attractive people to look at. It is a completely no-stress environment.

    I find living in Israel to be intense on so many fronts–politically, religiously, societally. After two years, I am really looking forward to a little vacation in the Diaspora. The sight of some pasty-faced, blond goyim with flat accents will be a nice change.

    • Shimshonit, I much enjoyed your comment.

      It seems like almost a form of OCD. They so desperately want to be in control of their environments, that they invent new humrot to keep themselves busy.

      Moreover, Professor Haym Soloveitchik in Rupture and Reconstruction notes that it is a result of a psychological need to be the “other.” Traditionally, Jews were quite clearly an ostracized minority, living their own distinct lives in their own distinct social bubble. But following the Emancipation and the migration to Western Europe (socio-economic Western Europe, not geographic), Jews ceased to be such a distinct minority. Professor Soloveitchik says the acculturation can be in such things as subtle as the way your body subconsciously beats to music. Therefore, the Haredim are struggling to find ways to distinguish themselves from society, because they have a desperate psychological need to be an oppressed ostracized outcast minority.

      I’m reminded of something I read from Rabbi Dr. David Berger:
      “[T]here are many Jews who are very uncomfortable saying anything good about non-Jewish attitudes toward Jews. It somehow becomes an article of faith that all Christians have to hate us, that Esav sonei es Yaakov is some sort of necessary, metaphysical reality, and that it’s somehow un-Jewish to limit it in any way. It’s a very strange Jewish characteristic; Jews become uneasy if you tell them that it’s not the case that every non-Jew has always hated all Jews. Somehow it makes Jews happy to hear that they have always been hated by everybody, which is not a good sign in terms of Jewish psychology.”
      (See the rest of Berger’s article there as well; it’s worth the read.)


      “I think it’s good for men and women to be around each other enough for them to be used to seeing the other as humans, not just sex objects.” — That’s why I love what Rabbi Yuval Cherlow said, that ideally, men and women would be so inured to each other in social settings, that sexual tension would be absent, and the laws of tzeniut would be irrelevant. This ideal is perhaps impossible to achieve, but it is nevertheless the ideal, and the closer we get to it, the better. And see The Ten Curses of Eve where the author quotes Rav Kook that ideally, the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’reakha kamokha would have men and women interacting in society without segregation. Rav Kook, however, says that unfortunately, sexual attraction and the laws of modesty demand that the mitzvah of v’ahavta be put aside for a different mitzvah. However, the author of that piece then notes that in any curse from G-d – whether pain in childbirth or growing crops by the sweat of your brow – is something for us to overcome with human ingenuity. The logical implication is that it is our task to overcome the “curse” of men and women not being able to properly fulfill the mitzvah of v’ahavta with each other.

    • I like your honesty here, Shimshonit. On my first trip to Jerusalem and subsequent trips, I felt too much of that intensity for me to fall in love with the city. I prefer parts of Israel were I feel more comfortable, usually in the North where my cousins live.

      “sight of some pasty-faced, blond goyim with flat accents” – can’t imagine ever missing that! Read some John Cheever stories. I read his short stories on my first trip to Israel.

  8. Thanks Shimshonit and Michael for your comments, which pretty much answers my questions.

    Thanks again ilanadavita for posting this, it has been helpful.

  9. I did neglect to mention one thing: If by some chance someone on the beach in Tel Aviv WANTS to check me out, God love ’em.

    Thanks for your “bon voyage” wishes, Ilana-Davita. I think the alteration of one letter of your comment would be apt: “Have a sane trip.”

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