`218 Hashkafa is a Meshugas
Chananya Weissman

August 11, 2022


The overwhelming majority of Jews who obsess about “hashkafa” have little more substance to it than the giddy prattling of seminary girls. Their hashkafa – if one can even call it that – is invariably rooted more in social considerations than careful study and deep personal reflection. They would be far better off obsessing over their middos and avodas Hashem, which should really be the baseline of any personal hashkafa.

It's notable that the very term hashkafa is a modern invention, particularly as it is applied today to reflect irreconcilable differences within Torah-observant Jewry. Who started it, anyway?

The actual Torah – both written and oral – emphasizes recognizing Hashem and keeping His laws, not subscribing to any particular hashkafa. Indeed, even before the Jewish nation really began with twelve distinct tribes, our patriarchs and matriarchs served Hashem in different ways, based on their unique personalities and circumstances.

What is the correct balance between learning Torah and working? How much education outside of strict Torah study is appropriate? How much involvement should a Jew have with the secular world? Nowadays Orthodox Jewry is divided into rival factions based primarily on their “answer” to these questions, then splintered into an endless array of rival factions based primarily on the style of head-covering and other minutiae. The hashkafa of most Jews consists of little more than their identification with a particular faction, which is based more on coincidence and convenience than scholarship and reflection.

Ah, but once Jews identify with a particular faction they will defend it to the death! Or, more accurately, they will rail against the other factions, shining a spotlight on their every wart and blemish with glee. They rarely look in the mirror, only out the window.

All of this is based not only on the lowest of character flaws, but on a fundamental fallacy. The proper answer to the “hashkafic” questions above, and so many like them, is “it depends”, followed by a long discussion particular to the individual. There are general guidelines that are suitable for most people, but that's it.

The fact that we have so many different communities, shuls, and yeshivos all catering to a particular “hashkafa”, in which those who see things slightly differently would be rejected, is tragic on many levels. The yeshiva system is based not on raising healthy, fulfilled, God-fearing Jews – each in his own way – but on producing an archetype. This is also the standard on which children are accepted to educational institutions (unless the parents are wealthy, in which case different rules apply). Do they fit the mold? Are they moldable? Will they bring glory and funding to the school down the road?

Children learn very quickly that the most important thing is to conform and keep up a certain image. Their minds and souls might be destroyed in the process, but this is an acceptable growing pain so long as they are outwardly compliant with social, pseudo-religious, and quasi-religious norms.

The shidduch world operates on the same principles. Orthodox Jews who fit comfortably in a certain box can date and marry people in the same box. Orthodox Jews who don't fit comfortably in a box pretend that they do, “for shidduch purposes”. This is the basis on which most marriages are formed and families are created – keeping up appearances and following the script. (This surely has a lot to do with the burgeoning number of failed marriages, though the standard procedure is to blame external scapegoats, rather than take responsibility for our own communal failings.)

Orthodox Jews who don't fit into a box at all and don't want to are pretty much doomed, unless they marry a convert who hasn't yet learned to play the game. They would have a better chance of getting married if they stopped being observant (as many older singles do), and, perversely, they would be more likely to marry a Jew if they weren't Jewish.

Think about that and let it sink in.

I don't know when hashkafa first became a “thing”, but it's high time we started talking about whether this clannish, pseudo-religious identity system has brought us more harm than good. If you need to display your political and religious beliefs on the type of yarmulke or hat you wear, then perhaps there is something deeply wrong with you. If you even can display all that on a piece of fabric, how sophisticated can your beliefs really be?

If you need to take one look at a Jew and instantly know whether he is a friend or foe, one of yours or one of them, do you think Hashem is happy with you? Are you bringing Moshiach closer or keeping him away?

I'm not necessarily recommending that we go to the other extreme. It would be impractical to abandon all pretense of philosophical differences within the strict boundaries of the Torah and just lump everyone together.

But you know what? If we did that, even temporarily, we would be far better off.



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