Sunday, July 09, 2006

Frum Criminals?

One of my rebbeim in Israel would often say that a murderer is not Orthodox. That guy on the front page of the paper, arrested for stealing or embezzlement? Not frum, hat or srugie notwithstanding. Sure, he davens next to you in shul, his kids are a year ahead of yours in the same school, he may even have semicha. But frum? Nope.

The idea made sense to me at the time, but soon I began to question it. Finally, yesterday, in a conversation with Miriam, I realized that it doesn't make sense.

Man sins, he errs. If man was perfect he'd be God, and since there's only one God, man is out of luck.

Can you really tell me that someone who committed a murder isn't frum? Anyone that sins isn't Orthodox? If that's true, I challenge you to show me a single person that is Orthodox or frum. Doesn't go to minyan? Or learn? Isn't shomer negiah? Charging your neighbor interest? Loshon hara? Did I leave anyone out?

So then what is Orthodoxy? Not a simple arithmetic formula. Constants like dress, geographic location, and political leanings fall away, they're not central, like constants when you take derivatives in calculus. Its closer to beliefs than actions. Believing in one God (or at least not acting on a belief of no God), committing to torah and mitzvos, even if you have some that you're ignorant of, negligent in, dismissive of, or just succumb to.

Maybe there's a deeper understanding of what that rebbe said, whether he intended it or not. The guy on the front page is Orthodox. But he's also an example of what can happen if you decide not to improve yourself. A reminder. A midrash.

But its still not a very satisfying answer to the question.