Jewish Norms

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


  Unforeseen Expectations / Unanticipated Consequences


As Jews, what do we expect from each other, our brethren, our families, our children and grandchildren?

We expect a “Lev Tov”, a good heart; some religious convictions; to do mitzwot / good deeds; to give Zedakah; to marry within our faith; to honor one's spouse; to raise Jewish children; to honor our parents and to follow the ten commandments.  We honor our teachers and that includes rabonim, since we learn morality from our clergy, as well as, of course, from our parents.  To a young child, whatever the parent does or exhibits must be right; therefore, as very young ones we love our mothers and fathers, want to emulate them and follow in their footsteps.

We teach our children to attend synagogue, to learn from their experience and be able to read the Hebrew in the prayer book, the siddur.  We make their experiences meaningful and celebrate the holidays with our fellow congregants who are to be our secondary family and we are to feel a kinship and be comfortable and find peace in their presence.  We celebrate the Bar and Bat Mitzwahs with “bekwone” (joy and wholeheartedness) to give the young man or woman a good feeling that he or she belongs, is worthwhile and important; gets gifts and praises marking the event.  We make the temple participation important and joyful and we anticipate such holidays as Simchat Torah, Succoth, Purim, etc. with food and special dishes.  We make ourselves and each other feel unique as well as collegial and united, a place and time where we are accepted and understood.  We expect to be welcome and feel that our brethren will help us if the need should arise.    All of the above comprise the expected norms as we come into this world and follow the tenets of our Jewish culture from the proverbial cradle to the grave.

Let us look at the reality, the possible consequences, the disappointments when the norms are ignored.  When raising our children we become lax.  We give in to their avoidance of anything that is difficult and not to their liking.  We take the “easy way out” and send the young ones to Sunday school, drop them off in the synagogue and do “our own thing”.  We do celebrate the Bar and Bat Mitzwahs in elegant style, spending more than we can rightfully afford, and do not place the emphasis on learning but on pure hedonism.  The child looks forward to such celebrations but knows next to nothing is expected of  him and life is momentarily good – he can get whatever his heart desires without having to exert any effort.  His very respirations are rewarded, making a taker of our child.  He has to give nothing but a smile in return for what is given and feels free to criticize the gifts that have been bestowed on him.  Such children grow up marrying outside of their religion and have no problem with their impulsive decisions.  They care not for the chastity of marriage and break their marriage vows indiscriminately if their physical or sexual impulses take precedence over stability and morality.  They feel no compunction as far as loyalty is concerned  for any potential individual that might come along during their search for instantaneous “happiness” and physical gratification.  Loyalty does not exist for them.  Their narcissism is endless.  They only know their old parents if something more can be gained from them materially. 

If the teacher or  Rabbi does not practice morality, what happens then?  The Rabbi is our teacher.  We look up to him since he knows what is good and what is not, that which is ethical and that which is not.  When the Rov breaks from that norm and those role expectations,  he can no longer be the example, the one we ask for answers, the one we should be able to lean on in good and bad times. In short we can no longer trust him.  Breaking the trust of those who depend on the Rov and the man himself has its consequences. The teacher / rabbi has lost his status and is easily transformed as a troubled being, no longer a role model but a persona non grata.  That which is lost can not be undone. What happens to us when we walk into our congregation and instead of receiving love and comfort we are shunned, not greeted and treated with disdain by one or more of our brethren?  What does occur is that we no longer want to attend, to be made to feel hateful toward ourselves!  The proverbial “Looking Glass Self”, described by a famous sociologist, so aptly pointed out that situation.  We look at ourselves as others see or receive us.

Let us as a people do all that we can to restore our moral and emotional well being to not have to suffer from breaking our own and our cultural norms; bring joy and comfort to one another; and practice that which we feel in our “neschome” is healthy and worthwhile for our life’s path as Jews.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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