…אם אין קמח

אם אין קמח אין תורה אם אין תורה אין קמח
If there is no sustenance [literally flour], there is no Torah.
If there is no Torah, there is no flour.

Pirkei Avot 3:21

Rashi comments on this perek by noting that one cannot always be studying Torah – if one does not eat, then one can’t learn. At first glance, one might assume that this means that there are times when you should take yourself away from Torah… ahh, but of course, that’s not the case. Those rabbis were tricky fellows. In short, what the rabbis are getting at is that there are multiple paths to Torah. Or for those who believe that there is a singular path of Torah living, the rabbis are noting that each person who travels it is unique. No two people walk down the same physical road at the same pace, on the same path, or with the same stride. It would be foolish to think the same of the path of Torah. Thus, the time you spend feeding yourself and taking care of your personal needs is part of paving the road of Torah. Without food, it would be a pretty bumpy ride.

To be sure, just before the above quoted line, it is written “Where there is no Torah, there will be no good conduct; where there is no good conduct, there will be no Torah.” The Hebrew for “good conduct” is derech… literally “path,” or “way.”

Now you are likely asking yourself why Jesse has suddenly delved into a drash on Pirkei Avot and Rashi. Especially after a blogging absence that Mark Swick would label “a shanda!” The answer, folks, is quite simple, and can be summed up in one word. A word which, in fact, is perhaps the single word which can be used to describe our current socio-cultural-political zeitgeist.


That’s right. Facebook. Rashi, Pirkei Avot, and Facebook are now having a party together. And I’m sure that somewhere in the Facebook universe there’s an invite that hasn’t been sent to me.

This evening, through the marvellous wonder of the mini-feed, I happened to notice that a person (who shall remain anonymous) had listed their religion as “Torah Jew.” Having long ago withdrawn the limits of what one could list their religion as, we’ve seen many things filled into that magical space on people’s profiles. From the oft pervasive secularism of the theatre crowd to my own listing as “Frum Reform,” I do believe that the customizable space is a great benefit. I’d be the last person to suggest that you can pigeon-hole something as expansive as religious beliefs into a small box on Facebook.

But this notion of Torah Jew – a phrase I’ve heard repeated many times before – suddenly troubles me. If there are Torah Jews, it naturally implies that there are Jews who don’t get to have the distinction of Torah be a part of their Jewish identity. Are some Jews more observant of the Torah’s laws? Most certainly yes. Are some Jews more involved in daily Torah study? Of course. But does answering yes to these questions make such people any less entitled to the Torah? Has the Torah withdrawn itself from them? Is the Torah entirely absent from their lives? Can it be said that there is any Jew that is devoid of Torah? I challenge you to answer yes to these questions. No human has the right to deny Torah from another. By titling oneself a Torah Jew, it intrinsically – and arrogantly so – serves to snub those who aren’t classified as such. It is yet another elitist tool of certain members of the Ortho-aristocracy. And worse, it is a silent and subversive tool.

The Torah teaches that Moses was not allowed into Eretz Yisrael because – similar to much of (but by no means all of) the current generation of Orthodox Jews – he did not speak gently to the people and tried to impose his authority via arrogance.

To quote an anonymous commentator of some ha’aretz article from while back:

This is the great failure of this generation of Orthodox Jews: instead of leading the wider Jewish people to Torah, they have decided to isolate themselves in arrogance and in judgement…

I challenge the Orthodox Jews to attract Jewish children to the Torah with the same or greater strength that they are attracted to Harry Potter. This should be their mission. Not accusing the non-Frum Jews of their failure.

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