My intention in this article is: to clear up the confusion I see arise around the word frum and in the process to have you take a look at what the level of your commitment to halacha is.
Here’s a one paragraph summary of the article: frum = giving your word and committing to what God wants, i.e. halacha (if you believe that) as a whole system. It does not correlate neccesarily to behavior or how much you do but rather whether you’re comfortable being known as someone who is committed to halacha.
So many observant jews I know detest the term ‘frum’. I do too at times. It just seems that no label could exist that would do justice to the complexity of people’s relationships to Judaism, God and Halacha.
As one of my readers wrote to me in response to my last post:
“As I told a Rabbi a few months ago, I’d rather be browsing the internet on a Saturday as opposed to sitting around a Shabbos table where gossip is being consumed along with Kiddush. Nuff said.”
Is someone who breaks Shabbas but is absolutely given over to not gossiping and engaging in lashon hara as a direct result of their commitment to halacha, are they “frum”?
Maybe they’re even better than someone who keeps shabbas but gossips at the shabbas table! After all, the Gemara says that lashon hara is like murder, adultery and idol worship?!
But after all is said and done, I think there is value in the term frum. And I think there is a definition of that term that would capture that value.
Frum = someone who is committed to halacha as an actual commitment. Meaning, someone who has given their word, literally given their word to God to respect and honor the boundaries that halacha sets up.
Now, this doesn’t mean that a frum person doesn’t have lapses, even serious lapses in their performance and observance of halacha. But their lapses are seen within the context of a breakdown in performance and adherence to halacha and are recognized as issues to be worked on.
Take me for example. Most people would consider me a frum person right?
Certainly I look it with the beard!
And yet, I have serious lapses and failures in performance. There are days I don’t wear tzitzis…there are days I don’t daven…days I come close to trimming my beard…days I speak lashon hara… Mondays and Thursdays I don’t hear kriyas hatorah (notice the jarringness of the earlier examples and the relative casualness to my “confessing” I speak lashon hara occasionally – how interesting)…BUT all these lapses are seen as issues and real problems, and when they occur, I engage with them from a place of how-can-I-ensure-this-won’t-happen-next-time type of thing.
I.e. frumkeit is a place to come from, a position you take, a platform of commitment. It does not correlate necessarily to behavioral actions or to how much, i.e. the quantity of things being observed. Instead it is a contextual thing. It is a notice of where the person is coming from. AND it is an ease with being known as a halachic jew, one who is committed to being there for God, a comfortability with what you are. Have you ever heard a black southern baptist preacher talk or met one? Let me tell you, they’re at ease with who they are and being known as someone committed to their church.
IT’S CRAZY that frum people don’t have that! And I think it’s because we think in terms of behavior.
“How can I say to this stranger, yes I’m frum when I missed maariv last night.”
Instead of, “Heck yes, I’m frum and proud and I’m committed to God and halacha. Yes I have lapses. So what? WHO I AM is built on what I’m committed to, not on my weak moments, my failures, my foibles!?”
Just think about a husband who clearly tells his wife, “Every Tuesday, consider us unmarried. I will not be there for you and any commitments I gave you, are not commitments for me on Tuesdays.”
Or a husband who says, “When it comes to finances, you’re on your own and I will contribute nothing to you.”
We would say there is something fundamentally lacking in his “marriedness” in his commitment.
And yet, a husband who doesn’t say that but instead, often (maybe even more than once a week like in the above example) is not there for his wife, is not fundamentally lacking in his marriedness.
To be sure, there is a serious issue with his performance but the wholesomeness and integrity of his commitment is solid. He is coming from the place that he should be there for his wife every day, in every issue.
Yes, he often isn’t. But those lapses are seen as failures of performance and will be addressed to the extent he is able to in the current moment (depending on his character and what he is currently dealing with in life).
That is like me not wearing tzitzis or not davening. It doesn’t alter my commitment to God, it doesn’t alter my belief in how important, even vital, these mitzvos are.
This also works within various groups of Jewry. A modern orthodox woman who keeps everything her posek says, even when its not convenient or uncomfortable may be frum, even with her wearing pants and not covering her hair, while the litvak who gossips and doesn’t even see it as an issue, or the chassid wearing two pairs of tefillin but who talks during kriyas hatorah as a matter of course without even being committed to changing that, indeed doesn’t even relate to it as an issue, are both not actually frum.
Their failures are not lapses in performance and are not even seen as such. Rather, they’re committed to parts of halacha but not to all of halacha.
I think this is an important distinction because it has value in clarifying where someone stands.
You know, I rarely wear a kappote, and yet, in my mind I am totally a kappote-wearing chabadnik, I have a commitment in the matter (though I have serious lapses here). Yet, someone else might in actuality wear a kappote much more often than me, and yet, declares that he is not a kappote-wearing chabadnik, he has no commitment to it and thus is not a kappote-wearing chabadnik even though he wears it more than I do!
P.S. Here’s what I’m NOT SAYING:
I’m not saying what you hold valuable in your heart is more important than what you do (though I might believe that).
I’m not saying that it’s a free for all and that as long as you have a system of halacha that you commit to, you’re frum. I.e. there are poskim beyond the pale (an obvious example would be reform, reconstructionist etc…)