Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Commonsense morality - Why is this missing from many frum people?

I decided to make this comment into a guest post because it clearly addresses the problem. One young woman I recently talked to about this said that in her Beis Yaakov days (10 years ago) the teachers made an effort to teach midos and sensitivity. She said from what she has heard about the current generation there is much more emphasis in grades and academic issues and the concern for midos development has been pushed to the side.
guest post Allan Katz [This was a comment to Commonsense Morality]

I haven't been following the discussions closely, but I wonder – why is there a problem with the lack of common sense morality among frum people. Imho , part of the problem is the educational system which does not really focus on the moral development and moral thinking of the child. Kids are never asked – what do you think about the story, or reflect about moral dilemmas. When it comes to discipline or behavior kids are taught to ask – what will be done to me if I do this, What will I get if I do this , in other words – what's in it for me. Consequences are important – not what will happen to me , but how my actions impact on others and how I can engage in the moral act of restitution to help make amends and do teshuvah. Moral thinking and internalization of values is not important. As long as we can get a ' behavior ' and ignoring the child himself = his feelings and motives , who cares , does it not say m'toch she'lo lishmah ba lishmah.

This reminds me of kids who made a bonfire directly opposite a home , in my neighborhood here in Israel. I told them it was a problem as the smoke and ashes were going in the direction of the home and doing damage. The kids said there is no problem as she is a ' goya'.( She is not frum , but Jewish ). When I began to put out the fire , the older yeshivah bochurim accused me of taking away or preventing people from doing the mitzvah of tashbi'tu . I then covered the
bonfire with sand.

It is one thing not to do something because God said so , but we need to be moral people who would not act so, even if God did not command us to do/do not do - we should act in a moral way. Because, as R' Nissim Ga'on says, we were given the power of logic and an understanding heart to act in a moral way.


  1. If this boy believes that it is moral value in Judaism to act against Goyim or non-religious jews, he was right. So the dispute is really about the contents of jewish morals...

  2. This boy thinks it is important to show contempt - and it isn't. There is a big difference between feeling you are superior as part of the chosen people - and showing contempt for others.

    He is basically feeling superior because of his demeaning of others - and not because he feels that being a Jew is superior. That approach to superiority is wrong

    The Yerushalmi says that one who strives to achieve a feeling of superiority by degrading others - has no Olam Habah.

  3. I think there are sources that say you can treat an apikores with disrespect...

  4. Aside from the immorality, even under Halachic norms it is probably Ossur to cause damages to a gentile, just as it is Ossur to steal from him (מזיק is a form of גזל). Also, the חילול השם here is huge, ר"ל.

    Besides which, the attitude of calling irreligious Jews "גוים" is disgusting (quite apart from the תינוק שנשבה issue).

    If people would be more commited to keeping the Halacha in its totality, including the issues that I've mentioned, then their sense of morality would be stronger, not weaker.

  5. More sources

    משנה מסכת אבות פרק ד

    איזהו מכובד המכבד את הבריות שנאמר (שמואל א' ב') כי מכבדי אכבד ובוזי יקלו:

    ספר מסילת ישרים פרק כב

    החלק הד' הוא חילוק הכבוד לכל אדם, וכן שנינו (אבות פ"ד): איזהו מכובד המכבד את הבריות, ואמרו עוד (פסחים קי"ג): מנין היודע בחבירו שהוא גדול ממנו אפילו דבר אחד שחייב לנהוג בו כבוד וכו', ועוד שנינו (אבות פ"ד): הוי מקדים בשלום כל אדם, ואמרו עליו על ר' יוחנן בן זכאי שלא הקדים לו אדם שלום מעולם ואפילו גוי בשוק. ובין בדיבור ובין במעשים חייב לנהוג כבוד בחבריו, וכבר ספרו ז"ל (יבמות ס"ב): מכ"ד אלף תלמידי ר"ע שמתו על שלא היו נוהגין כבוד זה לזה. וכמו שהבזיון הוא דבר מתיחס אל הרשעים, כדבר הכתוב שזכרנו, בבוא רשע בא גם בוז, כן הכבוד מתיחס אל הצדיקים, כי הכבוד שוכן עמהם ואינו מתפרש מהם, ואומר (ישעיה נ"ד): ונגד זקניו כבוד.

  6. As we twist and turn and try to figure out what god wants and does not want, we only need to understand that there is no god and begin to act morally because it is the right thing to do in a social society as ours is.

  7. OK- So for starters, which society should we base our morals on?

  8. Reread Rav Kook's two statement in the original post about commonsense.

    It is not about a particular society but simply not to let our intellectual reasoning, education and personal needs - destroy the sensitivity to the needs of others.

    This is a very common theme in the Mussar movement

  9. I know that- I was objecting to Lee Spanner's claim that we need to understand that there is no god. He sounds very much like John Lennon, who was a very moral person as we all know...

  10. "Imho , part of the problem is the educational system which does not really focus on the moral development and moral thinking of the child. Kids are never asked – what do you think about the story, or reflect about moral dilemmas."

    Dear Mr. Katz,

    Do you have any educational institution that does not ascribe proper character development as an integral part of their education? Which institutions, and how many?

    There are a bunch of different middos programs that schools institute with their students. Beis Yaakov high school students are encouraged and required to do a certain amount of chesed per week. I have been a beneficiary of it. And yes, they helped more than their required time. There was a sincere appreciation to helping others, both in attitude and giving extra time.

    As for as the bonfire vignette is concerned, we need to take children's comprehension into account.

    An average child, who has had the most minimal experience with fire is unaware how the smoke and ashes can cause damage to a house that is more than a few feet away. That takes life experience to discover.

    Their answer about the owner being a goya reflects this. Would they ever consider physically breaking an item that belonged to this goya? Probably not. After they heard your concerns, they thought that this was a "mishigaas" thought up by some adult. They then tried to dismiss it with a cocky excuse.

    I do wonder how they would have reacted had someone calmly and lovingly explained to them how the ashes and fumes are harmful to house and what ashes really are. If it would have been taught in a way that kids listen, how would they have reacted?

  11. I don't think this is true of Chabad education -- they focus very much on middos.

  12. Lee Spanner is better at playing rugby than Spaner is at lucid arguments.

  13. There are instances in which Chabad branches have tried to misrepresent and sabotage their local non-Chabad "kiruv competition".

  14. I support parents, teachers and principals implement the Collaborative
    Problem solving model and other constructivist educational principles. I share
    my learning on 2 blogs - parenting is
    learning and parenting by the book

    The end of my post should read if God did not command us to do/do not do
    we should act in a moral way. There was an experiment done with Hamish kids –
    they were asked for eg why don't you
    steal or should Sunday be the day of rest ?
    If they answered God said so , they were asked if God did not say so ,
    what do you think. While God's commandment add an element of Divine
    intelligence and we engage in avodas Hashem when we also fulfill mitzvos between man and man as well, we need to
    engage our own intellects and moral reasoning and connect to our inner core and

    Most schools do talk about midos and character , but it is top-down and
    kids don't participate with teachers in constructing a pro-social agenda in the
    school. Kids become caring and responsible when they engage in discussions and make decisions , not when they just follow
    instructions. The mitzvah mivtza'im = campaigns usually come along with
    stickers and other incentives , while discipline is driven by rewards and
    consequences. These programs are more about indoctrination and compliance.

    An alternative can be found in the writings of Alfie Kohn, Marilyn
    Watson from the center of spiritual and ethical education – the child development
    Project. Alfie Kohn's book –Beyond Discipline , Moving from compliance to
    community helps kids ask how their actions impact on the school as a community
    of caring learners and makes them more committed not only to their individual
    values but also to group values. But we need a learning environment in which
    competition and ranking students is absent and in its place is cooperative
    learning. We need a learning environment where kids are challenged to do the
    thinking and talking. Deborah Meier says – that teaching is essentially
    listening and learning is essentially
    talking. When for eg kids are having a problem coming on time for minyan
    , the teacher can ask ( not what we can do to x to help him come on time ) but how can we work with x to help him come
    on time? There are schools that have each grade involved in a project in
    service of the school community as a whole.

    As I said in the OP , discipline that focuses on behaviors and not the
    child promotes egoistic and not altruistic mindsets . A kid can choose to share some candy with a classmate
    for at least 3 different reasons. He may want to have some of his chocolate -
    he has been taught that if you want kids to share with you, you must
    share with them,- or he shares in the hope that his teacher will
    notice and praise him for it, or he shares simply out of concern for his
    friend who did not have any candy. A teacher responding to the behavior
    with praise is trying to reinforce the behavior and in the process strengthens
    the kid's dependence on adult approval. A teacher focusing on motives will ask
    why he decided to give his friend some candy and ask did he see his face, he is
    really happy with that candy. Isn't he? Here the teacher helps the sharer
    experience the impact of sharing and to come to see himself as the kind of
    person who focuses on community and wants to make other people feel good –
    irrespective of verbal rewards. Instead of focusing on behavior and competition
    - focus on motives and community.

  15. There are many instances where Chabad have done the opposite of moral behavior. Are you not aware of the child abuse problems with Chabad in Sydney? Have you never read any of the posts about Chabad in Vienna with regard to the Schlesinger twins?

    Chabad as a global movement is very far down on the moral spectrum. It is a shame that the Chabad leadership is destroying it for the few Shluchim who are genuinely good people.

  16. The words " ours is" pin points me in the New York State area, living in the USA. In Monsey NY.

  17. Why does living in Monsey NY make it right to adopt the moral values of Monsey? Maybe I would prefer to live in Iran and adopt their set of values. And why should we undertand that there is no God and then act morally because it's the right thing to do. Maybe we should understand that there IS a God, and that He expects us to act morally because it is the right thing to do.
    And why do you say that to act morally is the right thing to do in a social society such as ours. Do you mean to imply that if we didn't live in a social society such as ours, acting morally would not necessarily be the right thing to do?

  18. The answer may be the growth of formalism.

    Some schools, it seems to me, use massive social pressure from parents and.teachers to ensure students remain observant. It's become mainly about tye outward trappings: making sure the student appears to be doing well by making sure they dress a certain way and move from one grade to another and that they graduate..

    When this fails, whether while the child is still in school or when they graduate, "professionals" are brought in.The student may even be given drug cto take to ensure conformity.

    To me, this demonstrates the failure of the system of education.

    When I work with kids, I try to get them to the point where they are self-motivated to develop their Midos on their own without the social pressure and/or drugs. As you can imagine, some in the community reject me for that.

  19. The roots of the problems are
    1) An emphasis on bein adam l'makom and a disregard for bein adam l'chaveiro. The guy who shoves you aside because he wants to be at the front of the line during hagbah and when you protest, gets angry because you're don't understand his need to do "the mitzvah" properly.
    2) An emphasis on conformity. If you want to be "frum" you must look, speak, and act a certain way as a sign not just of observance but also loyalty.
    3) An emphasis on written texts. People will justify their behaviours, however egregious, with "But it's written in..." and when you counter with a common sense answer, they will say "Who says that?"
    Thus your bonfire story. The boys want the mitzvah. The needs of the people around them are irrelevant and any attempt to point that out to them fails.

  20. Also, commonsense morality is often missing from non religious people.

    The difference is that it is the religious/frum people who preach and look down on secular or reform etc and call them animals who live without morality and according to their taavehs.

    the problem is that conditioning in the frum world by the oppressive halacha/ mussar and repression and psychologically unhealthy lifestyles , as well as dishonesty in every aspect of life, all contribute to this kind of behaviour.

    It is also possible that some or many frum people are just born into the family business, and go along with the whole shtick, becoming career rabbis etc, perhaps even etaching snippets of mussar but not living it in their own lives.


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