Feel-Good vs. Direct Approach  

Posted by inkstainedhands in

I was thinking recently about the different reasons people might have for following certain Torah commandments. When a person -- a speaker, a writer, or just a friend -- is trying to convince another to follow a commandment, there are two different tactics one can use. One can either state the reason given by the Torah or by respected Torah authorities whose knowledge has been accepted for centuries, or, the other choice is to give reasons that will make the person you are trying to convince feel good about the whole thing. For instance, if you are trying to convince a person to be shomer negiah, you can either give the halakhic reasons or you can speak about the powerful effect of physical contact.

As a teenage girl in a religious school, I mostly hear the feel-good reasons. How special you are, how you should not make your body cheap (although it was never quite explained how shaking someone's hand can be making you 'cheap'), how if you are shomer negiah now you will be happier later when you're in a meaningful relationship (meaning marriage), and so on.

Now, I am not trying to discount these reasons. They have a lot of truth to them and some of them are quite logical, but why are they the main focus? What happened to giving halakhic explanations? Now, I know that for those who could not care less about the black-and-white of halakha or want something that appeals to their emotions more, such explanations will do the trick, but what about the others? What about those that don't subscribe to all this feel-good stuff that gets thrown at them by books, speakers, and teachers? What about people who want something more than that, who want an actual source?

Of course, if you only speak of sources and halakhic explanations in a school for girls or in a book that is aimed at teenagers, you will get nowhere. It is important to explain it in a way that will appeal to them, but at the same time it is necessary to also talk about halakha using a frank, direct approach so that girls should not think that they only need to follow the halakha for as long as it makes them feel good.

I once approached a friend of mine who was reading a book for teenagers about shomer negiah, and I remarked to her that although it is good that she is reading it and I hope that she gains something from it, she should keep in mind the halakhic reasons and she should also realize that we do not keep shomer negiah because it makes us feel all good inside but because G-d issued His commandments and we follow them. Otherwise, if you are only shomer negiah because you think you will benefit from it or it makes you happy or will prevent regrets, what happens if one day you give up on that and decide that it in fact does not make you happy and you do not see any immediate benefit in it?

Once you bring things down to the human level and think about the Torah in terms of your emotions and how you feel about its commandments, you are in dangerous waters. If you only do what makes you feel good, who's to say you will follow halakha? I mean, if you need the feel-good reasons because they will encourage you in your Torah observance, then by all means, go ahead! But they should not be your only reasons. They should complement, not supplant.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 22, 2010 at Thursday, April 22, 2010 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I agree with you. Part of being observant is sometimes to accept mitzvos simply because God said so.

April 23, 2010 at 12:15 AM

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