Thursday, July 24, 2008

Breaking The Box

I've had it with labels. They don't mean anything. You can classify people all you want - there will always, always, always be shades of gray. And as long as there are shades of gray, official 'labels' hold very little weight. Take the label of 'Modern Orthodox' for a moment. How many people do you know who call themselves MO? Are they all alike in their hashkafa? Are they all alike in the way they keep halacha? Chances are, not. I have friends who are Modern Orthodox and, for example, they wear pants. I don't wear pants. In this respect and in others, we're not the same and yet people would group us together. But if someone met me and then expected my friends to be just like me because we all call ourselves 'Modern Orthodox,' they would be disappointed and confused.

So why group anyone at all? The more labels we give, the more we segregate people into groups, the more separated we become as a Jewish nation. And, when it comes down to it, isn't it really all about being shomer Torah u'mitzvot? If we have to call people names, it only spurns more names, more labels. "Well, within Modern Orthodoxy there are different spectrums, of course, so let's separate it out into...hmmm...Left Wing Modern Orthodox and Right Wing Modern Orthodox." Okay, hooray, more labels! And you know what? People aren't going to be happy with that either because guess what? There's still lots of gray in there! Quick, quick - more labels! We must get rid of the gray! We must define everyone! Right Right Wing MO? Left Right Wing MO? Right Left Wing MO? Left Left Wing MO? Just keep adding Rights and Lefts to everything!

You know what? The gray still won't go away. It won't. Because we're individuals, we're not clones. As similar as we can be to one another, we don't all fall neatly into little packages. People will divide and divide and divide until, you know something? Each person will just have to be their own label. Sure, when it comes down to it, there will always be groups of people who have extremely similar hashkafas and ways of practicing halacha, but we'll all still be individuals. There will always be tiny things that make each of us our own unique person.

Holy Hyrax and I were having fun with an online quiz that attempts to tell you in which branch of Orthodox Judaism you fall (of course, it can't really tell you that, but it was fun to see what it would say). I took the quiz twice. My results the first time around are not important but when I took it again (because I wanted to see what would happen if I changed around a few of the answers I had been debating between the first time around), this is what I got:

The Orthodoxy Test
says that I'm Huh?

What does it mean?

I give up. What are you?

I'll tell you what I am. I'm Erachet. And I just officially stepped out of the box and broke it. Ha!


RaggedyMom said...

I think that in order to make the labels less significant really requires working on our psyches so that the distinctions the labels classify are less significant.

As I get older, it's not that I feel like the labels themselves are the enemy. They have their (limited) use because without them, you simply wind up using lots of circumlocutions in describing someone. It's that I have truly begun to internalize emotionally what I knew intellectually - that another person's level of observance need not make me feel threatened, or superior, or inferior. We are all going to be who we're going to be.

Sometimes people ask me to describe my siblings. One of my brothers became chassidish, and the other is very MO, and then there's us in the middle somewhere, though closer to the latter I suppose.

I do have to refer to the labels regarding my brothers if anyone's going to understand the basis of how we're different religiously.

It's tricky when people are less easy to define (I like those people a lot), and then I wind up just saying, "They're like me." And that goes for most of our mutual chevrah. Not necessarily because they are exactly like me and my husband in all ways, but because it doesn't really seem to matter (anymore).


Erachet said...

RM - I agree. I think labels do serve a purpose to some degree because they allow for general descriptions of what someone is general. I think the real serious issue is that people put so much weight on these labels and give them a lot more importance than they require. Everyone is so hung up on what label they are and what label other people are. A person should not be defined by a label. Labels are useful in describing where in the general area of Judaism a person might fall, but, like you said, if we all change our mindset to understand that labels are not definitions, merely loose adjectives, things would be a lot better on that front.

SuperRaizy said...

Speaking of labels (well not really, but I needed a segue) can you explain why you call yourself Erachet? Is it teacher, scrambled?
(I know that I'm late to the party here and everybody else probably knows, but I don't.)

Moshe said...

E - Great post.

Superraizy - That's what i USED to think, too.

Erachet said...

Superraizy - It's a secret :) But feel free to keep guessing! And don't feel badly - a lot of people don't know! :P

Moshe - thanks :)

Liz said...

I've also found, interestingly enough, that most people within the vague framework of MO consider anyone frummer to be right-wing and anyone less frum to be left-wing. (It's rather like driving). So the labels aren't even objective.

I took the quiz as well - it's on my lj. That being said, I thought the quiz was fascinating because it really looked at questions of orthoDOXy - as in doctrine as opposed to practice. And I think a lot of the differences in MO are really difference of practice - people think similar things but interpret them and apply them to their own halachic observance/practive whatever in different ways