A Ban on Bans

Shavous is the Chag of Matan Torah.

The symbolism is plentiful – staying up all night learning Torah, decorating the home to resemble Har Sinai, eating dairy meals.

Most important of all is the Torah reading of the Aseres Hadibros, The Ten Commandments. If you have been fortunate to spend Chag Shavous in Yerushalyim and experienced tefilah at the Kotel at netz hachama with tens of thousands of fellow Jews, the experience is truly inspiring.

The Torah was given 3300 years ago.

A fundamental precept differentiating Judiasm from other religions of the world is the permanency of our Torah.

The 613 mitzvos (commandments) conferred upon us eons ago have not changed over time. The Ten Commandments have been probed and interpreted by our sages for thousands of years in oral dissertations and in countless manuscripts. Even so, the fundamental 613 mitzvos remain intact today as they were to our parents, grandparents and to the hundreds of generations preceding them.

What is especially difficult to understand is the nature and number of new bans with which our community has recently become inundated. They are heralded weekly as a new Do Not. From education to recreation, shidduchim to transportation, headgear to footwear, our youth and families are advised and implored, directed and expected, to comport themselves Just So.  It has become very difficult to distinguish between the time-honored traditional bans that are an important ancillary to our Torah teaching, from some new bans of today that can be viewed as anathema to our beliefs or agenda driven.

The Chofets Chaim wrote in his Sefer Hekatzer nearly 100 years ago, 371 of the 613 mitzvohs cannot be performed in our time. These mitzvohs relate to bringing sacrifices in the Bet Hamikdash, which we don’t have today, and other customs and rituals that can only be fulfilled upon Mashiach’s arrival.  This leaves 242 mitzvohs we can direct our focus upon and observe correctly. This sounds easier to accomplish than climbing the 613 mountain.  Why are we creating more difficulties and adding to the challenges of our service to G-D with new bans by the week?

The very foundation for Jewish Life is imparted on the two tablets of the Aseres Hadibros – belief in G-D, respecting your parents, respecting your fellow man by not stealing, killing, coveting.  Our sages have added a dose of “love your neighbor as thyself” to our frontal lobe as a corollary.

A person’s natural tendency is to respond to positive reinforcement. Reward over punishment has held sway since time immemorial in the home and the workplace.  Relationships that rely solely upon criticism are not as bound as those premised on positive teaching and encouragement.

The bans adopted through our mesorah are important even when not completely understood. At times though, new bans are not taken seriously enough when bans, ban.

About the Author
David Mandel is Chief Executive Officer of OHEL Children's Home and Family Services in New York