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Are Modern Orthodox Jews Really Orthodox?

By Tzvi Fishman
6/29/2009, 12:00 AM

Of course they are. But like with everything in life, there can always be improvement, as the verse says, “There is not a righteous person on earth who does good and never sins.”

One of the areas in need of improvement is summer vacation. Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, spoke about this in the weekly Torah class that he has been conducting since his father, former Israel Chief Rabbi, Rav Mordechai Eliahu, fell ill last year – may he have a complete and speedy recovery. What follows is a summary of his warnings, teachings, and advice.

One of the mitzvahs that parents have is to educate their children and keep them from away from harmful influences. During the year, parents, to a very large measure, entrust this mitzvah to their children’s teachers and schools. But come summer vacation, the mitzvah falls back upon the parents in all of its force.

Do you know what your children are watching?

One of the ways a parent must guard his child from negative influences is by keeping him or her away from the television. Leaving the kids in front of the TV screen for hours on end is a sure-fire way to fry their brains and their morals, since television shows are permeated with, and glorify, all kinds of immorality, violence, and perverted, non-Jewish values. It is forbidden for a parent to leave a child in front of the television, and think that the resulting damage is not their responsibility.

Regarding the Internet, the fact is that pornography receives more clicks than all other sites, and Jewish children (and their parents) are not immune from the temptations. Therefore, installing a filter is an obligation upon parents so that the junior surfers at home can’t get into forbidden sites. While Rabbi Eliahu recommends the filter, Internet Rimon, for people in Israel, there are many effective filters which can be downloaded, often free of charge, by doing a simple search for anti-pornography filters. And a good way of repenting for having entered immodest sites in the past is to warn friends of the danger and advice them to download filters too.

A parent must remember that someone who looks at erotic material on the Internet is violating the Torah commandment, “Thou shall not stray after your hearts and your eyes which lead you astray.” A person may be Orthodox, yet his heart and eyes may be totally polluted by making light of this commandment.

Judaism-Lite

This is called “Dati-Lite.” A person can be is dati (Orthodox) in most aspects of his life, but when it comes to having a TV at home, or unlimited Internet access, or going to mixed swimming pools and beaches, he pretends that the Torah doesn’t forbid these spiritually polluted activities.

The Rambam lists this transgression as one of the twenty-four things that stand in the way of repentance: “Someone who looks at sexually immoral images and tells himself that he isn’t doing anything wrong, saying, ‘Did I actually fornicate or caress her?’ He acts as if gazing at forbidden things is not a serious sin. Yet this brings a person to actually committing sexual wrongdoing.”

Someone might protest, “Who can live like this? This means that you can’t even walk down a street where you might encounter women in immodest attire!” This is not so. If a man has no other way to get to his destination than to pass though an area where he knows women are to be found immodestly dressed, it is considered that he is acting under compulsion, having no other choice. If he averts his eyes and goes on his way, he is not considered a transgressor. But if there is another way to reach his destination, yet he choices to proceed via the route where immodesty is sure to be found, even if he averts his gaze from looking at the immodest women, he is considered a wicked person (Talmud, Baba Batra, 57B).

It is obvious from this ruling that going to mixed beaches and swimming pools is forbidden. This applies to watching TV, surfing the Internet, or reading magazines where immodest imagery is prevalent. For no one is forcing him to watch TV, or click onto the web, or read the magazine or newspaper. Not going to mixed beaches and swimming pools is not just some super “Haredi” ultra-Orthodox over-precaution, but a clear ruling of the Talmud. On this, our Sages have stated, “Someone who gazes at a woman with the intention of deriving pleasure from the sight has no portion in the world to come.” But if he is on his way home, with no other route to take, and he sees a woman in immodest attire and turns his gaze away, he is not to be faulted for this.

A G-d fearing person must also avoid attending concerts and other types of musical performances where there is mixed seating.  While music has the ability to raise the soul to the heights of spiritual inspiration and religious devotion, it can also lower a person the depths of immoral passions and unrestrained behavior.  The main thing is the intention behind the song and the intention of the musicians. Thus a parent must examine the nature of any upcoming concert before he lets his child attend what can turn out to be a sordid excuse for an orgy of unbridled emotions.

Concerning summer camps where boys and girls have separate activities, but are housed in close proximity, this is certainly not conducive to holiness and should be avoided. But if the choice is between sending a child to such a camp, or to leave him free to go to mixed beaches, the option of unsupervised days at the beach is far worse.

It may be luxurious, but is it Jewish?

From the outset, everything should be judged in the light of holiness. This applies to choosing a resort for a vacation holiday as well. Is the dining room really kosher? Can a gueat really keep the laws of Shabbat? Does the swimming pool have separate hours for men and women? Are dress codes up to the standards of modesty, or relaxed because of the summer heat? Will his room overlook the swimming pool? For even if he doesn’t look at the women there, he is putting himself in a forbidden situation to begin with, as noted above.

So before you make your vacation plans, do a little research before you make reservations. Remember, you can take a vacation from work or from school, but you can’t take a vacation from the commandments of the Torah.