Jerusalem - Soon, it will no longer be necessary for charedi men to walk around while covering their eyes with their hands to avoid seeing women.
Recently, a new start-up company has begun marketing and selling special glasses in charedi neighborhoods such as Meah Shearim. The purpose of the glasses is to prevent charedi men from seeing immodestly-dressed women.
The glasses contain blurry lenses that obscure the wearer’s vision and do allow men not to see more than three meters. For those who already wear glasses, the company has designed stickers that can be affixed to the existing pair of glasses which will obscure the vision.
Yedioth Ahronot reports (http://bit.ly/OH1udI) that the glasses, designed for the charedi community, are intended for charedi men who must go to places where women will be present. The new patent cost the inventors only NIS 25. The patent includes non-prescription glasses and the obscuring stickers. The glasses with the blurry lenses contain perforations at the bottom of the lenses enabling charedi men to look down at the ground through the perforation and still see where they are walking.Sounds like a joke, right? I'd even consider it Onion-worthy. But as far as I can tell, it's legit. Sad, but true.
That same friend pointed out that this is straight out of a Gemara (Sotah 22b) we once learned. Ordinarily, I'd find myself paralyzed by the numerous directions this blog post could take (and believe me, there are many). But I think I'll just content myself with citing the text of the Gemara, drawing the connection, making a few observations about the facts - without attempting any grand theories or explanations - and calling it a day.
Prushim Plagues Ruin the World
In order to fully appreciate the Gemara, we need to see it in the context of the Mishnah, which appears on 20a. The last clause of the Mishnah reads:
[R' Yehoshua] used to say: a chasid shoteh (foolish pietist), a rasha arum (cunning evildoer), an ishah prushah, and the prushim plagues - these are the ruiners [or alternatively: "destroyers"] of the world.The Gemara proceeds to explain that each of these terms refers to a specific type of person. For instance, "chasid shoteh" refers to a man who refuses to save a the life of a drowning woman because he feels that it is improper to gaze at women. (Don't jump to conclusions yet; the Charedim in the article fall into a more specific category than that.) Rasha arum refers to a person who explains his position to the judge before his fellow litigant arrives. The ishah prushah is a machlokes.
We will focus on the last item in the list: "prushim plagues," which is somewhat related to the first. I think it will be beneficial to read the Rambam's commentary on this Mishnah, since he gives us a better idea of the types of people we are talking about. The Rambam first explains the term "chasid shoteh":
The Talmud explains that this refers to an individual who exhibits an exaggerated level of [halachic or pseudo-halachic] precaution and scrupulousness to the point where he becomes disgusting in the eyes of people, and he does actions which are not obligatory. It is as if the Mishnah said that he is "shoteh b'chasiduso" ("foolish in his piety"). The Sages said in the Gemara Yerushalmi that anyone who is exempt from something and does it anyway is considered a hedyot (ignoramus, probably related to the Greek idiōtēs).Next, the Rambam addresses the ambiguity of the term "prushim" (lit. "those who are separated"). The difficulty is that"Prushim" (with an uppercase "P") refers to the Phraisees who opposed the Sadducees during the era of the second Beis ha'Mikdash, whereas "prushim" (with a lowercase "p") means "ascetics." The Rambam first explains the origin of the term and then how it is used in our Mishnah and the accompanying Gemara:
The Sages, of blessed memory, called themselves “Prushim” on account of their separating themselves from vices, abominations, and the pursuit of the worldly matters which preoccupy the rest of mankind; instead, they turn towards life in the World to Come and hidden matters.
However, there is another type of person who decorates himself with these things and makes himself appear in other people’s eyes that he has separated himself from these lowly and abominable things, while at the same time, these very same things permeate his character, and he only separates himself from them on account of some worldly matter.
This is what the Sages are referring to when they say, “there are seven prushim,” and they enumerate anyone who makes himself seem pious, due to one of these worldly motivations – for example, so that people should honor him, or that Hashem shouldn’t cause him to lose his money and bring harm to him. In the opinion of the Sages, there is no true parush one who serves God out of love, like Avraham Avinu; the other six are despicable, since they add onto their preexisting obligations and exaggerate externalities in order to deceive people.
Thus, on account of the fact that they add to the Torah and make it despicable, they are nicknamed “plagues” and the Sages refer to them as “the plagues of the prushim.” The Sages said that they are the “destroyers of the world” or “ruiners of the world” because these things are harmful to man’s existence.
Someone who is extremely frum or devout is known as a frummer.
"Frummer" can also have a negative connotation similar to "Chasid Shoteh" (pious idiot), which is how the Talmud (Sotah 21B) describes a man who sees a woman drowning but refuses to save her for, he says, "it is not proper to look at her, and rescue her." A frummer in that sense is a person displaying a disproportionate emphasis on technical aspects of religion at the expense of worldly or practical concerns.
"Frum" can be used in a negative sense for: "hypocritically pious", "holier-than-thou", "sanctimonious"; or in a positive sense for: "pious", "devout", "God-fearing" and "upright". A combination is sometimes used to describe someone as "frum and ehrlich", which captures all the positive attributes of these words and would roughly mean "upright" or "righteous" (tzadik).
The Rabbis have taught in a Braisa: There are seven types of frummies: (1) the Schemite Frummie, (2) the Scuffed Frummie, (3) the Bloodletting Frummie, (4) the Pestle Frummie, (5) the “What-is-my-obligation-that-I-may-do-it!” Frummie, (6) the Frummie from Love, and (7) the Frummie from Fear.The Gemara then goes on to define each of these terms. I will include the text of the Gemara, followed by Rashi's commentary in brackets:
(1) the Schemite Frummie is one who does an act of Shechem. [Rashi: they circumcised themselves not for the sake of heaven; likewise, this frummie's actions are for his own gratification - so that people should honor him - and they are not for the sake of heaven.]
(2) the Scraped Frummie: he is the one who knocks his feet together. [Rashi: he walks in a lowly manner, heel to toe, and he doesn't lift his eyes from the ground; as a result of this, he scrapes his toes against the rocks.]
(3) the Bloodletting Frummie: he is the one who causes his blood to flow against the walls. [Rashi: he makes himself like one who closes his eyes so as not to look at women, and as a result of this, he crashes his head into the wall and draws blood.]
(4) the “Pestle” Frummie: Rabbah bar Shila said that he is one [whose head is] bowed like [a pestle in] a mortar. [Rashi: he walks hunched over.]
(5) the “What-is-my-obligation-that-I-may-do-it!” Frummie: [Rashi explains this question to mean: "Teach me is my obligation and I will do it."]
[Based on this initial definition, the Gemara asks:] But this is a virtue?! [The Gemara answers:] No, for this guy says, “What further obligation is there fore me, that I may perform it?” [Rashi: "What more can I do that I haven't done?" - and he makes himself appear as though he has fulfilled everything.]
(6) the Frummie from Love [Rashi: out of love of the reward of the mitzvos, but not out of love for the mitzvos of the Creator]
and (7) the Frummie from Fear [Rashi: out of fear of punishment; instead, what is incumbent upon a person? - To do the mitzvos of Hashem, blessed is He, out of love, as Hashem, our God, commanded us, and the reward will ultimately come.]It would be very interesting to define each of these types of frummies and to understand the precise error in each case. It would be also be interesting to identify the modern day correlatives. Perhaps we'll do this in a subsequent post, if I can figure all of them out.
After mentioning the last two categories of Frummies (i.e. the Frummie from Love and the Frummie from Fear), the Gemara comments:
Abaye and Rava said to the tanna [who was reciting the braisa:] “Do not mention the Frummie from Love and the Frummie from Fear, for Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: A person should always involve himself in Torah and mitzvos even she’lo lishmah (not for their own sake), because from she’lo lishmah, he will come to involvement lishmah (for their own sake).”According to Abaye and Rava, it was a mistake to include a Frummie from Love and a Frummie from Fear along with the other five individuals mentioned in the braisa. They argued that although it is not ideal to keep halacha out of love of reward or fear of punishment, these are nevertheless valid lo lishmah motivations which may lead a person to eventually keep Torah and mitzvos lishmah.
What I find interesting is that Abaye and Rava did not say this about the other five types of frummies. Apparently, their motivations for keeping halacha are not lo lishmahs which can lead to lishmah. What is the basis for this distinction? I do not yet have an answer for this. We'll leave it as a question.
By the way, this is why I finally settled on "frummies" as a translation for "prushim." According to Abaye and Rava, those who keep mitzvos out of love of reward or fear of punishment are on the right track. To describe these Jews as "frum" is a compliment.
The last point we will consider in this post is about the retribution for this type of frum behavior:
Rav Nachman ben Yitzchak said: “That which is hidden is hidden and that which is revealed is revealed, but the Great Beis Din will punish those who wrap themselves in gundei.”Rashi explains "gundei" to refer to taleisim. He explains the Gemara as follows: "That which is hidden is hidden from people and that which is revealed is revealed [to people]; nevertheless, to the Great Beis Din, everything is revealed, and it will exact retribution from those who wrap themselves in taleisos and make themselves appear to be prushim when they really are not prushim."
The Aruch, however, learns that the word "gundei" refers to black cloaks. Apparently, even in the time of the Gemara, these types of "frummies" wore black in order to appear pious.
What idea is Rav Nachman ben Yitzchak teaching us in this statement? I can't say for certain, but I will take one speculative step. Why do Chazal need to reassure us that a certain aveirah will not go unpunished? Because it must be that on some level we feel that this aveirah will go unpunished. Why might we feel this way about frummies?
Perhaps the answer is simple: we are easily swayed by appearances. If we weren't easily swayed by appearances, everyone would easily see through the frummies' facades. Even those who know that wearing a black hat and a white beard has absolutely nothing to do with the state of a person's soul before God, it can sometimes be difficult to really feel that this is true. Perhaps this is why Rav Nachman ben Yitzchak emphasizes must tell us that our view is only partial: we only see the outward actions of these people, but not their inner state, and it is their inner state - their knowledge and their true values - which are the real basis of the Divine judgment.
Even if this is not what Rav Nachman ben Yitzchak had in mind, it is still a good message for people to hear. In my opinion.
There you have it: Chazal's diagnosis of the plagues of frumkeit. There is much left to think about. But if there's one point that we walk away with, I think it should be this: that these are not new problems. The same personalities we see in the world around us were also walking around in Chazal's time. Chazal knew about them, discussed them, and preserved their thoughts in writing. If we, as a nation, ever hope to remove these ills from our society, we would be wise to understand their teachings on these matters.