Nowadays, we have all different types of orthodoxy: modern orthodoxy, ultra-orthodoxy, centrist orthodoxy, open orthodoxy and, relatively recently, social orthodoxy. A few weeks ago, someone introduced me to a different type of orthodoxy, “angry orthodoxy.” What is angry orthodoxy? Though it may have been said somewhat tongue in cheek, “angry orthodoxy” is an apt description for the sentiment among orthodox Jews who believe that all those to their religious right are so close-minded that they give Judaism a bad name, and everyone to their left may call themselves orthodox but follow halacha only superficially. Indeed, such Jews are angry at all versions of orthodoxy other than their own.
I believe that the Torah addresses this type of orthodoxy. One who takes upon himself the laws of nazir, who separates himself from wine, tum’ah and from shaving and haircuts, does so as a form of anti-social protest. Drinking wine is often done in a social context and attending funerals is also a sign of connectedness to our community. But the nazir does neither of these things, and letting one’s hair grow is often viewed as an anti-social statement geared towards separating one from other people. The Kli Yakar explains that this is why the Gemara compares a nazir to offering a sacrifice on a bamah, which is a private altar. The individual who builds the bamah wants to serve God but he wants to serve God not in the Beit Hamikdash with the entire nation, but he wants to do so away from community, in his own backyard. The nazir, through his abstinence from wine, separation from tum’ah and his free-flowing hair, makes a statement that he wishes to be non-conformist. Perhaps, as Rashi suggests, he has seen certain sins that have been committed by members of the community and he sees flaws in his community, so he wants to separate from the community.
How does the Torah feel about this behavior? It seems to me that the Torah allows it and may even find it beneficial to react in an extreme manner like the nazir does, but with at least two caveats. First, the nazir is not a metzora, a leper. He doesn’t completely remove himself from society. He restricts himself from certain social behavior, but he remains in society, unlike the leper, who lives outside society. Why does the nazir remain in society? Perhaps it is good for society to see this bizarre behavior of the nazir, prompting them to ask themselves why the nazir is protesting and to reflect on their behavior that led to this form of societal protest. Perhaps, though, the message of the Torah is that the nazir may protest and withdraw from some societal practices, but he can’t completely disengage geographically. Additionally, the Gemara rules that if one makes a vow to become a nazir, he becomes a nazir for only thirty days. This is unusual because normally if one makes a vow not to eat meat, for example, then he may not eat meat forever, unless he proactively annuls his vow. Why don’t we rule that once he declares himself a nazir then he is permanently a nazir until he proactively annuls his vow? Perhaps, again, the message of the Torah is that if I want to engage in the behavior of the nazir to protest society, it must be limited in time because if this protest has no limit, then it becomes more than simply a behavior that I practice. It will begin to define who I am.
It may be okay to be angry about certain decisions or certain behaviors that take place within an orthodox community. But we must never let it develop into an ideology of angry orthodoxy, where I am always right and I always give myself the benefit of the doubt and nobody else knows what they are doing. Social protest in the form of nezirut can be very productive. Indeed, anger itself can be very productive when appropriately placed and exercised judicially. Social protest and anger can motivate change. Challenge, confront, and advocate for what you think is right, as the nazir does. But throughout, let your activism define you, not your anger.