Thursday, June 23, 2005

Siz Shver Tzizein Ah Yid

There is a famous Yiddish expression, which, like all Yiddish expressions, is more of an emotive groan than a declarative statement: "Siz shver tzizein ah Yid--It's difficult to be a Jew." The expression may not be ubiquitous today, but decades ago it was a catchphrase of American Jewry. It is said that Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, recoiled when hearing the expression; he felt that the attitude it presented led many Jews astray.

Rav Moshe believed that the joys and privileges of Judaism were being ignored by well-meaning parents, who did not understand why what they saw as noble sacrifice was viewed by their children as fruitless toil. Children, hearing their parents krechtz over their religion, were being trained to view Judaism as a burden. From there it was a slippery slide down the slope of assimilation. After all, who in their right mind would want to embrace a burdensome life? This was America! Consequently, these parents were rewarded with non-Jewish grandchildren.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Judaism does present its difficulties. But what are they? Not working on the Sabbath Day--which was the ultimate test for an American Jew in the 1920s and 30s--is no longer one of them. Neither, for that matter, is keeping a kosher home. With the proliferation of hundreds of thousands of kosher products over the last thirty years, it's more difficult to avoid kosher foods than to embrace them.

So what's our problem?

The following is a list of the five most difficult charges that a Torah Jew faces:

1. Limiting, delaying, or otherwise squelching sexual urges: According to Maimonides, "there is nothing in the entire Torah that is more difficult for most of the nation than separating from arayos and illicit sexual encounters. The Sages teach that when the Jews were prohibited from arayos, they cried and accepted the command with trepidation and tears."

2. Being completely honest in all financial dealings: Robbing banks is not the only method of stealing. If you run a business or work in a sales capacity, you are constantly faced with gray areas. Did you give the discount as promised? Does the quality of the product meet its advertised standards. But it’s not only businessmen; everyone is confronted with corner cutting—especially on April 15. The mishnah states that one may wear kilayim to avoid appearing before the tax collector laden with goods. The commentaries all rush to point out that the mishnah must be referring to a disreputable collector, because one is not allowed to cheat the legitimate taxman, as "Dina demalchusa dina—The law of the land is the law." Yet, how many of us agree to get paid "under the table"—and then talk about it as if it's a legitimate way of making money? How many times has a store owner told you, when you pull out your credit card, "If I take that I have to charge you tax." I remind them that they have to charge me tax when I pay in cash as well.

3. Avoiding Chillul Hashem. You don't need to commit fraud or molest children to give Jews and the Torah a black eye. Whether it's cutting someone off in traffic, acting rudely in public, or simply forgetting to say thank you, your behavior reflects on the G-d of Israel. When you wear a yarmulka or a long skirt outside, you are advertising yourself as a member of the Chosen Nation, and you need to behave accordingly.

4. Praying. I don't know about you, but I find prayer to be one of the hardest mitzvos to perform properly. Here I am talking to G-d and I'm thinking about everything from movies to business to the phone call I have to make once I've taken my three steps back. A person of my educational background ought to remember that "Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven." When praying, one ought to pray. And sincerely so. Do you really believe that your life is in G-d’s hands and that you are talking directly to Him? I once heard a rav explain that one's day doesn't begin at 9 a.m.; by 9 a.m., it's effectively over—the die has already been cast through your morning prayers. Phoning in your prayers is not only a worthless exercise, it's also damaging because it's so disrespectful.

5. Not speaking loshon hara. We have seemingly come a long way on this one, what with the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation and all. Certainly this prohibition has been taken seriously by the education system. Nonetheless, the proliferation of communication devices, from telephone to internet, has created endless opportunities for chatting. And chatting leads to chatting about people. Other people. Combined with a secular culture that revels in trash talk and gossip, the sin of slander doesn't always impress us as the evil that it is. One solution, however, when confronted by such discussions is to do what I do. Simply say, "I’m sorry, but I would much rather talk about myself."


Blogger Veev said...

I wish most Frum Jews would find these aspects of religion as difficult as you do. Unfortunately, I have found that instead of treating them as "difficult", many of our tribe have simply tossed them out the window!

Fri Jun 24, 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Chai18 said...

in addition in many many communities there is that desperate need to be accepted, that feeling that you can hide your Jewishness

Fri Jun 24, 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Veev said...

I have been thinking about this post since I first read it, and I have one thing to add. Although all of your listed items deal with overcoming "taivos" or urges, I'd like to add two to your list.

1. Having babies right away and then continuing to "populate" the earth. I don't feel that everyone should feel the need to have 10 babies, (or one of each, or whatever) and I don't think Hashem does either. The enormous pressure to procreate is a big challenge to me.

2. Also, buying Yom Tov necessities, Kosher meat, and other Jewish items puts a huge financial strain on us as a group.

Fri Jun 24, 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Veev, I was hoping people would add to the list. I'm very interested in what people find challenging.

To point one, I would say that there are gedolim who encourage pacing yourselves when it comes to kids. Not that everyone is listening. But there is that view. You can't be pressured into doing things that are wrong for you. If this really is a personal challenge you should speak with a gadol--And I STRESS, GADOL--about it.

Two, the financial strain is definitely a factor, and unfortunately getting worse. A frum family needs to earn in 150K plus just to survive. That's THREE times the national median for income. I would, however, put yeshiva tuition and mortgage payments (remember, ten kids necessitates a bigger house) ahead of kosher food on the list of costly items related to being frum.

Fri Jun 24, 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

That is a good list. More often than not, davening is very tough for me. It is just a hard thing to do.

Sun Jun 26, 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

here's one I always wished would be the most difficult-- though I don't know whether we hold like this--

iirc the Vilna Gaon held that one should not even thinkabout Torah before reciting the brachos in the morning.

halevai thinking about Torah too early in the morning should be my biggest problem.

(sidenote: The phrase "lulei demistafina" was brought to my attention this morning, and I found your 'blog by Googling it. I am very favorably impressed-- [and a little sorry I didn't come up with that name first...])

Mon Jun 27, 02:18:00 AM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...


I think the biggest challenge for Torah true Jewry in the US, is to move to Israel. Forget "Zionism" - its mitzvat yishuv ha'aretz. Its a losing battle trying to fight western culture in the USA. There's no miztva to establish thriving Jewish communities in chutz la'arerz. Yes, there are LOTS of issues here in Israel, but think of the potential if hundreds of thousands of religious Jews would move here from the US.

HERE is where you can make a difference to mold a country into a Jewish country. Where every single second of the day, is a chance to be mikadesh shem shamayim. Every person you meet on the street -- you can positively influence the way they act.

We are not supposed to be a religion spread out all over the globe. There are so many mitzvot hateluyot ba'aretz, and they are being ignored by living outside of Israel.

All the issues you raised before still apply, but when they would be done in ISRAEL, it would be of much more value to Am Yisrael as a whole, and yourself as an individual Jew.

Mon Jun 27, 03:52:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Sara, your comment reminds me of a friend who claimed that he focused all his tefilos on Yom Kippur for the unpardonable sin of thinking Torah thoughts in the bathroom! This should be MY biggest problem!

Jameel, Excellent point. I think that Aliyah is a definite dilemna for many--myself included.

Mon Jun 27, 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Leapa said...

Excellent post!

I really can't add anything important, which is great. Not only your priorities, but your ordering of points is on target.

One great way to achieve concentration during davening is, unfortunately, to have substantial parnosa problems.

Mon Jun 27, 05:06:00 PM  
Blogger Shopaholic said...

Davening- def my biggest problem, you would think my life was all fine and dandy with nothing to ask for and noone to Thank....I hate that I have to make a consious effert to remind myself to actually daven and Thank Hashem for getting up!

Tue Jun 28, 12:32:00 AM  
Anonymous shanna said...

Neither, for that matter, is keeping a kosher home. With the proliferation of hundreds of thousands of kosher products over the last thirty years, it's more difficult to avoid kosher foods than to embrace them.

It all depends on where you live. In many parts of the U.S., to say nothing of the rest of the world, keeping kosher is truly a challenge.

As for adding to your's sort of related to your #1, but I think keeping taharat hamishpacha is one of the tremendous difficulties faced by observant Jews today. It's a major strain when there is no local mikvah. And, no matter where you live, people are so loathe to discuss the "side effects" that you often feel alone when something is particularly difficult. (Unlike, say, overcoming an urge for a cheeseburger or some shrimp, where other BTs may be more than happy to commiserate.) Finally, it's so easy to shrug off a detail of T"H as "unimportant" because it doesn't affect anyone else. You mess up with kashrut or Shabbat, and people won't eat in your home. You mess up with tzedaka, and you may feel guilt for not helping others. You mess up with lashon hara - obviously you are wounding someone else. But you give your spouse a hug at the wrong time of the month? Who knows, right? Who cares?

Tue Jun 28, 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Excellent points, Shanna!

Tue Jun 28, 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

How do I measure up as a mmeber of the Chosen People and an American Jew? I try, man, I try!!!! You set an excellent example.

Tue Jun 28, 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger muse said...

Wonderful post.

Judaism is the most complex of religions, because it combines the spiritual and the material/physical. Everything within defined limits.

Tue Jun 28, 10:52:00 PM  
Blogger porchwise said...

The chosen people? Are we mixing methaphors with the Evanglicals? And what in the world is 'requisite humility'? Was that what caused the Holocaust slaughter..being requisitly humble? Phoning in prayers? What about drive-in services? Lordy, lordy, miss Clawdy, seems like all religions have multiple clamity built right in.

Tue Jun 28, 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

If you are not born a Jew,...but think maybe Judaism is something you may want to look you have to be born Jewish to be Jewish? I mean, I personally, am happy with where God has me....but I sometimes wonder, reading the Bible. Hmm. Nonetheless, you're post intrigues me. Keep on keeping on. :)

Tue Jun 28, 11:21:00 PM  
Blogger Stx said...

Excellent blog! I've linked you.

And I'm looking forward to trying out that idea for evading loshon hara conversations....

Tue Jun 28, 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


According to the Torah, a person does not need to be Jewish in order to fulfill the Torah. A non-Jew must uphold the "Seven Noahide Laws."

I don't know of a website offhand that will give you ACCURATE information (I'm nervous to think what a Google search might bring), but I will be happy to get you more info if you are interested.

Years ago there was a story in the Wall Street Journal about a Noahide Congregation somewhere in Tennessee.

Wed Jun 29, 01:16:00 AM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Stephanie and Cloojew:

The best site and congregation to learn about is:

Founded by Dr. Vendyl Jones

The congregation is recognized by Rav Mordechai Eliyahu shli'ta - a past Chief Rabbi in Israel.

For some fascianting info about Dr. Jones, see:

Regards from the Muqata -


Wed Jun 29, 05:21:00 AM  
Blogger HaJew said...

Wow. Your sincerity is touching. I'm reminded of the story that I think about a lot. A man went to his Rebbe and said that he thought maybe he didn't believe in G-d. So the Rebbe replied, "Maybe there is no G-d." And the man freaked out and screamed "how can you say such a thing!!!" And the Rebbe said, "Don't worry, you're alright." The people that don't think about what's hard are the ones in such bad shape that they don't even know it. But if you think about what's challenging it means that you (at least part) wants to meet the challenge. maybe?

Wed Jun 29, 10:30:00 AM  
Anonymous yiddishe-kop said...

i'd like to add to the list:

i think one of the most difficult parts of being an american jew these days is having to endure all of the stupid commennts people make about israel (and there sadly seems to be an awful lot of them) because whenever we do anything to show our support for israel, there are always people out there to accuse us of dual loyalty and anti-americanism.

Wed Jun 29, 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

This post of yours is one of the most honest, genuine and informative ones I have seen with this kind of information on all the Jewish blogs.

Thank you for enlightening us.

You have given me something new to think about today.

Wed Jun 29, 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Semgirl said...

Im surprised to hear you say that about Tefila. I find it to be the easiest and most meaningful.

Wed Jun 29, 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Sem, I'm glad to hear it...but it seems from all the comments above it's one of the most popular problems!

Wed Jun 29, 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

yiddeshe-kop: You can always move to Israel and make your life that much easier :-)

Thu Jun 30, 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Rolling hills of green said...

Great Blog. It is nice to read something of qaulity out there.

Thu Jun 30, 08:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rolling hills of green:

"My idea, therefore, is to post once a week, every week, no more, and hopefully, no less"

Thu Jun 30, 09:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cool Jew, excellent post.

there are many things that are hard to follow. I think shmiras haloshon is one of the hardest things to follow(both speaking and listening).

the thing that we should all remember is that the mitzvos nourish our soul and later we will be greatly rewarded.

Thu Jun 30, 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Hoezentragerin said...

"Children, hearing their parents krechtz over their religion, were being trained to view Judaism as a burden. From there it was a slippery slide down the slope of assimilation. "

That's one way of looking at it.
On the other hand, the attitude I'm confronted with much more these days is that, "hey this or that halache or obligation is really tough."
People are under the impression sometimes that being a frum Jew was meant to be easy, and it was not.

Fri Jul 01, 02:04:00 AM  
Blogger Veev said...

ClooJew, I linked you on my blog:


Fri Jul 01, 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I wrote about this a while back.

The problem is still the krechtzing that we as parents do in front of our kids.

But pretty much everything we do is observed by the next generation and processed through their own little filters. We have to be cognizant of the impression we make with our every day actions.

Thu Jul 28, 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

I think tefilah is difficult because we can't see or hear Hashem, and yet we're trying to forge a relationship. I have been learning from a sefer called Shaarim B'tefilah (Rabbi Pincas a"h) with a group of friends. I find that studying the subject and learning different ways to focus and sharing ideas is very helpful for me. The more preparation and effort you put into it, the better you appreciate the value and privilege of davening.

Fri Aug 26, 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't see how you can find tefilah so difficult. It may be difficult to find the time, and it may be difficult to say Ma'ariv when you are tired, and it may be difficult once in a while to focus on praying due to a specific situation. However, usually, on a regular basis its not that difficult for me to actually be caught up in my davening. I use a schottenstein edition translinear siddur. This has the English words written dirrectly underneath the Hebrew words. It took a small amount of effort, but after davening often, I ended up memorizing the meanings of the Hebrew words and now I don't really need the book that often. I think the main obstacle to prayer is that many people don't actually know what the words they are saying. If you do know what you're saying, and you don't rush through Shemonei Esrei, then it shouldn't be that hard to daven a heart felt Amida to G-d. Also there are better books than ever before on prayer such as Shaarim b'tefilah (Hebrew), or RAv Schwab on prayer, or Shema-by Norman Lamm, or Worship of the Heart by Soloveitchik.

Tue Dec 26, 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Asher said...

I found this blog really insightful, but I would like to add one more thing that unfortunately has been forgotten by so many Jews and that is that there is a mitzvah to set aside time for torah study. This doesn't just apply to guys learning in kollels. The gemara tells us that torah study is the way to fight the yetzer hara, and that could aid with all of the above problems. Unfortunately, I have seen the correlation between observance and torah study very clearly in many of my friends as they entered the "real world" and had little time to focus on their learning. Fortunate for me, I am still living a "sheltered" lifestyle. It is not necessarily easy, but a little learning really does go a long way to strengthen someone spiritually.

Tue Jul 17, 11:05:00 PM  

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