You may have met them: very pious Jews, who meticulously follow the letter of Jewish law. However, some of them are a good example for everyone, while others went astray and don’t even do Judaism. How to tell the difference?

First of all, the living saints. They are humble and meek, and when you talk with them, you feel honored if not loved. They may stride like an emperor / empress, but when you connect, they behave as a friend.

They might demonstrate to protect the interests of their insular communities, but they won’t throw stones or hurl insults. At a Shabbat demonstration against traffic through their neighborhood, they typically will invite the drivers to their Shabbat table. They will continue to love and honor their children when they go a different way.

But then there are these Jews who dress meticulously  in accordance with the highest norms of Jewish law, and seem only busy with holy endeavors, but somehow they are different from the righteous people mentioned above. And yes, they are! This gives them away:

  • They do not seem to serve G-d but rather they serve Stringency. They don’t know proper, only the most proper. Since they don’t serve G-d, they serve the idol of perfection, or rather just themselves and their tastes, their own exaggerated norms. (Bringing an alien fire that He had not commended them – Leviticus 10:1, from the weekly portion that this year we read three times before and three times after Seder Pesach.)
  • They must let out that they go by the highest norms. They can’t muster the humbleness to say: Some go even further …. They feel driven to divulge: I go further, but no one needs to. It’s my stringency.
  • They don’t weigh their stringency against other things. If they won’t eat something, it plays no role how that inconveniences or hurts another.
  • They hyper-focus on connecting with the Divine, making them blind to needs of others.
  • They can’t help making disparaging remarks about Gentiles and Jews who behave “less” than them. When you call them out, they’ll say that it was “only” an in-between word.
  • They are obsessed with what would enter their mouths (is it kosher enough?) and not concerned what gets out of their mouths (rudeness, insult, anger, judgment, slander, lies, untruths, pretence, etc.)
  • Their take away from learning is always very absolute, knows no gray, only aplomb all-or-nothing statements, spoken with great certainty, but when you check their sources, it doesn’t say at all what they claim.
  • They don’t smile, don’t say hello, and you feel judged and pushed away by them. When they feel threatened in their immovable positions, they immediately go on the attack or give you the silent treatment, convincing themselves that they are right and it’s no use talking to such low lives.
  • They do not change in one blow. It’s more like an infection, slowly taking over their whole functioning. So, it’s a condition that gets worse over time, in the name of “being consistent.” They deny what they did last year which they now call “too light” for them.
  • They also infect others, but only people who are vulnerable by preexisting blemishes (impoliteness, arrogance, selfishness, coldness, unfriendliness, angriness, judgmentalness, dishonesty, fakeness, etc.).
  • They flourish in their wickedness in judgmental communities. They compete with each other or try to keep up with the warped norms around them. Their loyalty is conditional and they’re very lonely.

Now, don’t judge, despise, hate or condemn them — that’s part of their playbook. They too do the best they can. You stay mild.

But also don’t feel pushed away from Judaism because of them. This is not Judaism. They’re trapped in idol worship, as I mentioned above.

Never consult such a rabbi. He will not look you in the eyes but rather look in the books, for answers from his one-size-fits-all semi-Judaism.

If they’re in the family or around at work or for another reason you don’t want the connection to be broken, keep it nice and friendly. If they say anything, don’t argue. If they get upset, try to calm them friendly, without reasoning. Remember that they are lonely and would love friendly non-threatening company.

Don’t confront them. That would only make them feel more above you. Rather, seek out Jews and communities that do real traditional Judaism. Eventually, their children will join you. If their loved ones come for help, help them without confronting the bullies. But if you would fear for your life helping them, secretly call the police and stay out of it.

Reb Shlomo Carlebach says: How do you know if you’re getting more or less religious? If you’re getting closer to others you’re getting more religious; If you’re getting farther away from others you’re getting less religious; even if some people tell you the opposite.

When we contemplate at the Pesach seder what to do with the rebellious child, this time don’t just think of Jews who do not follow the letter of the Law (who know what Commandments they follow that are considered minimal, like greeting everyone with a smile) but think of these fanatics who completely lost their way.

Or maybe they are the child who doesn’t know to ask. They can’t, because they (think that they) already have all the answers.