Thursday, July 27, 2006

Where People Get Some of Their Weird Ideas

Instead of a whole explanation of everything that's been going on lately, I will just jump right in with a real post!

I was very fortunate to have attended a serious learning program after I [became religious? became Orthodox? This is a topic for another post but anyway...] I truly believe that I wouldn't have genuinely been mitzvah-observant had I not taken detailed classes on halacha and Tanach. I would have had no framework for knowing the halacha. So I do understand why there are so many BT people who really don't know anything and just ask a rav questions on every single thing without understanding the process behind the answers, and then they do things that are weird.

One big example is, how do you learn the laws of Shabbos without taking classes? A lot of people seem to pick up pieces of information by spending time in the homes of frum people and doing "watch and learn." Which is certainly a component of learning what to do. But the problem is when you don't understand what you are seeing. And I am not just singling out BTs for that issue - people raised in a frum home don't know what parts of their home rituals are halacha, community custom, family custom, etc. unless they have formal halacha instruction as well.

Anyway, I chose to write about this topic because I recently had an experience that illustrated this situation. My husband was raised by BTs who had NO formal halacha instruction. They certainly have their own understanding of a number of things, many of which my husband does differently because of his learning, though there are things that he also has changed more recently as he learned differently. (I am trying to say this in a repsectful way and asked DH's permission to say this.) Anyway, there are a few things that come up that I see DH do/not do on Shabbos that are different than my understanding of the halacha. I almost never bring it up because they are minor things. (I am focusing on hilchos Shabbos only because this is the area that we studied in depth - when it is in other areas, such as holiday observance, I will assume that I am the one who is incorrect because he certainly has way more learning from sources in those areas.)

So after five years of marriage (!), I fianlly asked him what was the deal with putting towels over the pots on the stove erev Shabbos. And he said, "It's to keep them warm." I really thought all this time that it was some halachic thing for him. And I happened to know that it wasn't really halacha. But it gave me a reminder of how other people without that knowledge would approach things they see at people's houses - especially if they either didn't get a chance to ask or the person they asked also didn't know and gave them an incorrect answer. They might go through life believeing, for example, that you had to cover your pots with the kitchen towels, and may even either make up extra chumras about it (like what thickness of towel) or make actual halachic errors -- like not realizing that you actually can't do the covering after Shabbos starts.

Sadly, we personally know a really nice couple who are this type. They take everything that one particular rabbi says literally - even when they admit that it makes no sense to them. The wife does not have any formal learning as far as I know, and the husband is in the "learn Gemara all the time" mode that this rabbi subscribes to, rather than a broader base of halacha and Tanach. Their rabbi has chumras about kashrut so they stopped eating certain KOSHER things. (This rabbi handed out a list of acceptable hechshers and crossed off KSA). Their rabbi told them something about baby care on Shabbos that we believe they totally misunderstood and is now making their life difficult. The husband repeats ideas that he clearly does not understand -- it's like "here's word-for-word what the rabbi said in shul" rather than "I heard a great idea from the rav that I really liked and I want to explain it."

I have a related funny story on the topic of Learning to Daven from "Rabbi Art Scroll" but I will save that for tomorrow.