Fifty shades of Frum

Really low-tech graphic by me


For the past two months I have been trying to figure out a way to write this post without it seeming like I am: ranting, being hypocritical, ignorant, preachy, or being non-tzenu’ah (immodest).


There’s a line that we all have an option of crossing.  What and where that line is is usually based on our upbringing, education, spouse, acceptable standard within the community, Rabbonim, media (even Jewish newspapers/websites), and friends.  The term “fifty shades” refers to, from what filter-based-internet research I have done, the complexities and layers of a person.  No, I haven’t read any of the books, but I’ve heard about them.  They are in the news, on the radio and in the hands of people who are reading them, for a multitude of reasons.  That isn’t the point of this post, however.


Judaism may seems to be black and white, but grey does exist (although “grey” usually means that there are several opinions about something, thus giving you other options besides “A” and “B”).  Most people, well, at least this person, love being in the grey area.  Not because it exists in the form of a reshus, (something that isn’t an outright mitzvah, yet isn’t assur), but because I pick and define my own grey area.  I feel a sense of ownership of my self-defined grey areas.  Something a person may grey as reading a secular newspaper, listening or watching sports, listening to music of their youth, watching a movie with language that we would be shocked to hear from our children’s mouths, reading a magazine with articles that we would never let our daughters read, or spending our free time with friends doing things that we wouldn’t want to share on Facebook.  Grey may be the words we say, the things we smoke, the books we read, the liquids drink, things we wear, or the websites we go to when we fool ourselves into thinking that no is watching.  Grey is what we make it.


Grey is the new pareve, or so we chesbonize.  We wouldn’t ever think of mixing meat and milk, yet we all are big fans of pareve soy milk, creamer, margarine, dark chocolate, and pareve ice cream.  Pareve has as the luxury of not being milchig or fleishig.  I, all too often ascribe my grey areas the distinction of pareve.  Sometimes, though, they are not.  Heck, just this past Sunday on my bike ride I listened to three secular songs that are as clean as my kittel, yet they lacked the kedusha of that garment (on the level of why my kittel was manufactured and also in how my kittel has been used).  Grey is totally how we see it.


Many years ago I sold over 80 CDs and cassettes (when people still bought them).  I did this for mostly two reasons.  I wanted to “m’kadesh them, by selling them and using the money to buy seforim and also because I didn’t want them in my home, due to some of the lyrics (not necessarily profanity, but more based on the sub-culture of hardcore punk music).  Don’t fret, we still have a big handful of secular stuff sandwiched between Uncle Moishy CD, HASC Concerts, and Piamenta.  Most of it is grey music, of course (written with a smile).


Well over 20 years ago, I once joked with someone and said, “I’m a baal teshuva.  There isn’t any grey with me, only black and white.”  Relax, it’s not as harsh as it sounds.  What I then explained was that my view on things was simply either something is kosher (acceptable) or it isn’t.  Either it has value/k’dusha or it doesn’t.  Rabbi Yosef Yozel Hurwitz, the Alter of Novardok said it like this:  A utensil can be either michlig, fleishig, or pareve.  A person can’t be pareve, he must be one or the other.


I can try to make things as grey as I want them to be, but it is me who is making them grey and the world doesn’t really run based on the biased meanings and values that I give things.  Sometimes, I find myself taking what is clearly dark-dark grey and slowly rationalizing it.  With each thought, action, excuse or indulgence slowly dark-dark grey becomes, dark grey, then not-so dark grey, which becomes grey, which then becomes light-grey, which become light-light grey, which is really almost white.  Grey exists, and I’m cool with that.  Either what I may view as grey can be used to get me closer to Hashem and my mission as a Jew in this world or it simply diverts me from that goal.

9 thoughts on “Fifty shades of Frum

  1. MIghty Garnel Ironheart

    > Most people, well, at least this person, love being in the grey area
    I disagree. I think only exceptional people like being in the grey area. The grey area means you have to think, to balance, to not take things for granted or go with the flow. Most people want to simply be told what to do, what to think. They want things black and white because they can’t handle complexity.
    Everybody has their own Torah. Our relations with the KB”H is supposed to be both personal and communal. Some things we do because everyone else around us does them. Some things we do because we gain a sense of connection. The 50 shades of grey are a necessary part of worship.
    So kol hakavod and great post.

    Reply
  2. Neil Harris

    Thanks. I was very unsure about writing this (it actually went through 2 different incarnations) and I am glad you “got it”. The grey area is really how we view our hashkafa (if we have one).
    Obviously Hashem views obligated actions (mitzvos) as being on a higher level than non-obligated ones, but that doesn’t mean we can discount a voluntary action. As a close friend of mind tells his own kids, “How you spend our free time says much about who you are”.

    Reply
  3. Jack Dweck

    Great article!

    At the end of the day though – in my eyes at least – there is no such thing as Black, White, Grey; Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, etc. What we must ask ourselves is are we Torah Observing Jews and are we striving to love and know Hashem?

    As the saying goes – the rest is commentary…

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