Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stop! It Feels Good!

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So I'm at my office browsing the internet and I come across this advertisement for one of the recent incarnations of artistic 'borrowing' and parody to come out of the world of religious Jewish music. On one of the few Orthodox blogs that I ever-so-silently read, some of the commenters were offended by the import of the picture. Apparently, some frumme people don't know what Yiddishkeit is all about. If they did, they would find the ad amusing enough to be ossur as well. The humor of it all is telling.

As youngsters, we would joke with each other when faced with a sha'alah (question of Jewish Law) as to whether or not a certain act was muttar (permitted) or ossur (forbidden). In the absence of a Posek (qualified rabbinical authority), we would simply ask each other "Did it feel good?" If the answer was 'yes', then we knew for certain that the action was proscribed. Truth is, physical and mental pleasure is only to be experienced under very rigid and controlled circumstances. Jews are not raised to be physically or passionately indulgent and even necessary functions with pleasurable side effects are guided by rules and regulations to keep the pleasure side in check.

I encountered two schools of thought in this regard. One, was made up of those who believed that anything that wasn't explicitly deemed as permitted was, by default, forbidden until someone of recognized authority declared it permitted. It makes sense. After all, better safe than sorry when it comes to Jewish Law. The second group, to which I belonged, felt that to make the unknown forbidden without any knowledge of it being so, implies that we take on the mantle of an authority we are not authorized to use. If I am going to say that an act or object is ossur for myself, then I am also implying that the issur is upon others as well. Besides, nine times out of ten, when it comes to these sort of religious dilemmas, the problem is at the tail end of a long chain of chumrahs (stringencies) and there are likely to be half a dozen poskim who permit it.

I am not saying that the rules are bad or mean or misguided. I am certain that a learning a little bit of restraint goes a long way into refining a person's character. Life is not a free-for-all and self-indulgence can become a very slippery slope. It is, however, somewhat odd that many of those living the Orthodox lifestyle would not get the joke straight away.

Kol Tuv

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