Monday, May 10, 2010

Frumkeit - self-centered religious instinct

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol 2):On the narrow path to Truth in serving G‑d there is a major impediment which is called “frumkeit” (religiosity) – a term which has no clear and exact translation. “Frumkeit is the natural urge and instinct to become attached to the Creator. This instinct is also found amongst animals. Dovid said, “The lion cubs roar for their prey and ask G‑d for their food” (Tehilim 104:21). “He gives to the beast his food and to the young ravens who call to Him” (Tehilim 247:9). There is no necessity why these verses should be understood as metaphors [and therefore they will be read according to their literal meaning]. Animals have an instinctive feeling that there is someone who is concerned that they have food and this is the same instinct that works in man – but obviously at a higher level. This natural frumkeit helps us in serving G‑d. Without this natural assistance, serving G‑d would be much more difficult.

However this frumkeit, as in all instinctive urges that occur in man, is inherently egoistic and self-centered. Therefore frumkeit pushes man to do only that which is good for himself. Activities between people and actions which are done without ulterior motivations are not derived from frumkeit. One who bases his service of G-d entirely on frumkeit remains self-centered. Even if a person places many pious restrictions on himself – he will never become a kind person and he will never reach the level of being pure motivated. This is why it is necessary that we base our service of G-d on commonsense (da’as). (Study Sotah 22b lists 7 types of activities which it labels as foolish piety. Each one of them is a manifestation of frumkeit without commonsense). Commonsense has to direct our service of G-d. From the moment we desert commonsense and act only according to frumkeit, our Divine service becomes corrupted. This is true even for a person on the level of a Torah scholar. [...]


  1. Interesting quote, comparing how animals behave to those obsessed with frumkeit who, as recent events in the news continue to remind us, act like animals themselves the holier they think they are.

  2. Fascinating. From which chapter is this quote taken?

  3. I've long noticed, and remarked on these very pages, that I'm pretty sure I've seen a consistent inversely proportionate relationship between 'frumkeit' level and middos. Am I the only one who sees such a relationship? (As a self-proclaimed truthseeker, I can't discount fully that perhaps a personal bias is at work.)

  4. His definition of Frumkeit is not the definition used in normal conversation. The other point is that defining Frumkeit as the primal religious feeling that is the lowest instinctive urge towards the metaphysical leads unsurprisingly to the conclusion that higher order behavior requires more and other motivation. I see that the other comments on the blog seem to ignore the first point to use the quote as ammunition against frumkeit in their definition. They can enjoy themselves but that is not what he is talking about.

  5. A quick Google search led me to the chapter in the book entitled..."Frumkeit." Of course. :P

  6. See Rabbi Karlinsky of Yeshiva Darchei Noam

  7. Dovy, as a baal teshuvah, I have observed that there is a negative correlation between Jewish population density and middos.

    I have concluded that the reason why is as follows: In the rest of the world (the nonJewish world), one can get seriously injured for acting without middos. For instance, in Israel people cut in line all the time without fear. In the rest of the world, it is dangerous to do this. Hence, you don't see much cutting in line in the nonJewish world, at least not in America where I live.

    The Jewish way is not to fight for one's place in line, but to bear indignities - savlanut. Hence, in a Jewish society like Israel, cutting in line is tolerated and nobody fears doing this. It is not only tolerated but expected.

    You have to look at the root cause for why Jews tend to have worse middos than nonJews. It's all rooted in the chesed of the Jewish people. It's a real crazy paradox, but if you think deeply about it, it makes sense.

  8. This is so gevaldig, Alei Shor is awesome

  9. And who is going to give Jews -- already often reviled and/or hated by many -- that benefit of doubt (Even if you could convince someone as to your theory)?

  10. Dovy, I would expect that the rest of the world and probably many Jews would consider my conclusion to be apologetics. Nevertheless, I am required to be dam l'chaf zchus, so I give Jews the benefit of doubt.

  11. Oh, but r"l it is!

    This is why we would never think of someone who fails to keep kosher or taharas hamishpachah as frum, but someone who rips off his customers is a member of the community. And only when embarassed will we pull a True Scotsman argument and say, "well so-and-so is not really frum."

    Thanks to the rise of non-O movements, we focused on the values we didn't share with those movements. Until recently, that was primarily ritual, not ethics. And so we warped the community's definition to be about ritual mitzvos. Rather than derekh eretz qodmah laTorah, or Hillel's or Rabbi Aqiva's summaries of the Torah.

    Pre-War observant Jewry spoke about the ehrlicher Yid. A Jew who know the lack of spots in his esrog was part of a discipline that centers on ve'ahavta lerei'akha kamokha.

    We lost that. To some extent, O went OTD.

    (I intentionally avoided the complications of "mechalel Shabbos befarhesia", which is used as a test for who is a maamin. But for reasons other than our topic.)


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.