Yearnings of the Holy Hedonists

If winter comes, is Pesach far behind? The frost chills us, but the Pesach hotels set out the lures. From the ads, one gathers that it is the “truly frum” who are the targeted clientele. Some of the attractions include (a composite from various ads): special Shabbos key locks and Shabbos elevator; shmurah matzoh; 100 percent non-gebrochts; chalav Yisrael; chassidishe shechitah; and daf yomi. It’s a true smorgasbord of piety for Jews who are dedicated to uncompromising service of G-d, who reverently observe the minutiae of the Shulchan Aruch and maintain every halachic stringency. For such folks, those hotels provide a Pesach that is a foretaste of Olam HaBa.

But something perplexes. There is a second clientele being addressed by the same hotels for the same Pesach. For these guests — Orthodox but apparently not as frum as the first group — the very same hotels offer a pinch of Olam HaBa but generous portions of Olam HaZeh. Pesach laws will be kept, of course, but some of the attractions for the Not-As-Frum crowd include gourmet cuisine by famous imported chefs; Olympic outdoor pools; covered indoor pools; Jacuzzis; saunas; fully equipped fitness rooms; wi-fi throughout; vast selection of wines; lavish kiddush; and 24-hour, nonstop, round-the-clock tearooms.

I wondered: how will these two sets of guests get along when they mingle in the lobby? Or will management separate the two groups, so that the Truly Frum will not be made uncomfortable by the Not-As-Frum, who seem not so serious about their Yiddishkeit; and the Not-As-Frum will not be discomfited by the Truly Frum, who seem to be more serious about their Yiddishkeit? How could these two groups — the one preferring shmurah matzoh and chassidishe shechitah, the other fancying Jacuzzis and vast wine selections — ever get along with each other? This could try the ingenuity of the most creative of social directors.

It flitted across my mind that perhaps those ads were geared not to two different groups, but to one group only. But this, I quickly realized, flies in the face of elementary reason. For could it be that a Jew who was so otherworldly that he wanted chassidishe shechitah would also want a vast selection of wines? Would the Jew who was so spiritual as to insist on chalav Yisrael be tempted by gourmet cuisine? And the Jew who desires shmurah matzoh — would he also require a Jacuzzi? It did not compute.

But then again, these were mere surface matters. True, equal measures of spirituality and physicality in one person is incongruous and suggests a kind of religious schizophrenia. But a deeper probe might discover something more profound. Perhaps the Truly Frum would engage in a dynamic fulfillment of a key element of Judaism: to sanctify the material, to transform the permitted pleasures of the world into a vehicle for serving G-d; to eat food not simply to fill one’s belly, but as a means of recognizing G-d’s beneficence.

Slowly I began to appreciate that the Truly Frum were not trying to have their heavenly cake and eat it too. When they attend the lavish kiddush, their intention would be to elevate the vast selection of wines into a vehicle of worship. When they visit the 24-hour tearoom at 4 a.m., they would infuse the complimentary knishes and drinks with sanctity. When, nibbling their shmurah matzoh, they watch the exciting nightly entertainment, they would be bringing holiness into the comedy acts.

This exalted truth was captured by one resort’s placard: “Where gashmiyus and ruchniyus combine for the ultimate experience.” That banner, which seemed insensitive and offensive, was in reality a statement of classic Yiddishkeit.

Now I realized that the man lounging by the luxurious swimming pool (separate hours for men and women), sipping drinks and munching top-hechsher, glatt-mehadrin, chassidisheshechitah, non-gebrochts, Pesachdige petits fours while reading about the ascetic life of the Chofetz Chaim, was not leading a double life. He was elevating his afternoon siesta to the ultimate level of sanctity, with the Chofetz Chaim as his inspiration.

And now I suddenly understood how Bnei Brak’s Rechov Rabi Akiva and BoroPark’s 13th Avenue— in the centers of chareidiness — could also be centers of high-end fashion and high-end luxury. Obviously, the temporal was here being infused with the everlasting. Only a jaundiced eye could fail to see that the hotels were addressing a single clientele that yearned to bring holiness into hedonism.

Once upon a time I wondered: For the Truly Frum, when spirituality meets physicality, which gets the right of way? Now the answer is clear. All it takes is some probing beneath the surface.

This article first appeared in Mishpacha.

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14 Responses

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    Every year, Orthodox Jews spend millions of dollars on kosher cruises for Pesach
    and kosher hotels for Pesach, and many more millions of dollars for
    kosher hotels and kosher cruises for the rest of the year.

    Simultaneously, many yeshivahs are in continual debt,
    and some teachers have not been paid in years.

    Simultaneously, kiruv rechokim is tiny fraction of what it should be.

    Simultaneously, anti-missionary organizations are so small that
    they almost do not exist at all, even though the threat of
    deceptive missionary cults is increasing rapidly.

    Simultaneously, many Orthodox synagogues are struggling with
    large expenses for: heat, electricity and water.

    Simultaneously, the kosher soup kitchen in Flatbush cannot afford to
    open on Shabbat or Yom Tov, even though there are Jews who could use that.

    Simultaneously, some Orthodox families are “skipping the Dentist” to make ends meet.

  2. Dovid says:

    Rav Amital zt”l said that he once spent a Shabbos (or maybe it was Yom Tov, I don’t remember)in an American hotel, where you could request any hashgacha you wanted, but, in his view, the guests had no concept of what ma’achalos asuros is all about – moderation, discipline, etc. The gluttony was just revolting.

    I recall seeing a notice put out by a kosher fast food joint in Brooklyn advertising a hot dog eating contest it was hosting. The piece emphasized that all the restaurant’s food meets the highest standards of kashrus. I wondered: is there anything kosher about stuffing hot dogs down your mouth as fast as you can? If this does not violate kedoshim tiheyu, then I don’t know what does.

    When people complain about Orthodox Jewish conspicous consumption, they speak mainly of lavish homes, luxury cars, expensive vacations,ostentatious simchas, etc. But לענ”ד we must also address overeating (I plead guilty), which is not only unhealthful and financially wasteful, but also completely against the ru’ach ha’Torah.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Maybe we have here a kind of schizo multitasking where the guf does its things while the neshama does its, and the two don’t interact much.

  4. joel rich says:

    Yet if these individuals are giving tzedaka etc. per halacha might one argue that they should be free to spend their disposable income as they please? In the past I’ve argued that it’s a macro tzniut issue with implications past the individual but that we have become so focused on the micro halacha (e.g. kashrut standards for the broad community) that it’s hard to argue in specific instances (e.g. weddings) that people should be conerned on the macro if specific halacha allows their micro. Just a thought

  5. Dan says:

    I wonder why we need to attack those that go. Don’t we have anything better to work on?

    Yes, prishus is a good middah, but keep in mind that one can be a tzadik even without it (zehirus, zerizus and nekius are the reqmt’s for a tzadik). All the more so that if a man splurges for a week in a hotel with good food, it doesn’t mean that he is not a porush the rest of the year.

    Also, going to a pizza shop is as much of hedonism to a poor man as eating gourmet food for a wealthy man (since he’s used to better food in general), so very few of us have the higher moral ground to attack people for occasionally splurging.

    And, Mr Cohen, we pasken like takanos usha that a person shouldn’t give more than 20% of his income to tzedaka, and he’s certainly not mechuyav to give that much. What he does with the other 80-90% is none of our business. Having an ayin hara will not make you a penny wealthier, but your words can certainly cause pain and discomfort to people who are doing nothing wrong by going to a hotel on pesach.

    Disclaimer: I’ve never been to a hotel on pesach, I don’t plan on going to one and I do not have any immediate relatives that do so.

  6. ShlomoH says:

    Yes, the gap between the “haves” and the have-nots” gets wider and wider. It is easy to demand that the “haves” do more for local charities and spend more in support of the mosdos hatorah. Many do, others need to do more. But, the mosdos need to do a better job at financial transparency. Where does the money go? Financial accountability is a precursor to demanding that the “haves” donate more.

  7. Jewish Observer says:

    “kiruv rechokim is tiny fraction of what it should be”

    – based on what measure?

  8. Liora says:

    Nobody says it like Rabbi Feldman.

  9. cohen y says:

    And, Mr Cohen, we pasken like takanos usha that a person sThouldn’t give more than 20% of his income to tzedaka, and he’s certainly not mechuyav to give that much. What he does with the other 80-90% is none of our business.

    A wealthy person is supposed to give more (Gitin.)The wealthy I am familiar with, give much more(and refrain fom spluges).

  10. Mr. Cohen says:

    Jewish Observer said:

    “kiruv rechokim is tiny fraction of what it should be” / “based on what measure?”


    Based on the fact that more than 4 out of every 5 American Jews do not observe Shabbat.

    Based on the fact that in many places, intermarriage with non-Jews is over 50%, and steadily increasing.

    Based on the fact that half of American Jews under age 30 never attend synagogue, even on Yom Kippur.

    Based on the fact that many American Jews affiliate with: Reform “Judaism”, Conservative “Judaism”
    and Reconstructionist “Judaism,” all of which officially recognize homosexual and lesbian “Rabbis.”

    Based on the fact that in Israel, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jewish girls have married Arabs,
    and their children are being raised as Muslims.

    Based on the fact that for every $1 spent on kiruv rechokim, Fundamentalist Christians
    spend over $1,000 to persuade Jews to believe in Jesus.

    Based on the fact that over 300,000 Jews have converted to some form of Christianity since 1950.

    Based on the fact that 10% of all American converts to Islam have Jewish ancestors.

    Based on the fact that in more than a few USA locations, cults like Hari Krishna
    and the Reverend Moon’s Unification Church have around 50% Jewish membership.

    Last but not least, I sugget your read JEWS FOR NOTHING by Dov Aharoni Fisch, Feldheim Publishers

  11. Mr. Cohen says:

    Halachah normally limits our charitable donations to 20%.

    However, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan taught that there is no limit to
    the amount of money that can be spent to prevent a Jew
    from abandoning Judaism completely.

    For example, a Jew can spend every dollar he owns to prevent
    any Jew from converting to Christianity, Islam or Hinduism.

    Also, I was told by a very big Torah scholar that a Jew can
    donate more than 20% to charity to atone [kaparah] for his sins.

    I apologize for not giving exact sources, but right now I do not
    have time to find them; hopefully someone else from this blog will
    seize the honor of finding the exact sources.

  12. Southern Belle says:

    Funny, but when I opened cross currents to read it today, I saw a popup ad for Pesach hotels and a banner ad for a ski program. My guf craves it, my neshama knows its pleasures are fleeting, and my pocketbook sighs wistfully. Rabbi Feldman, within each person, whether “frum” or “not-so-frum”, sometimes there are many voices. May the best voice win!

  13. cvmay says:

    There are various reasons that families/individuals choose to spend Pesach in vacation settings. Many reasons are justified. Gluttony, lavishness, overindulgence are available in your own home during Yom Tovim also.

  14. Meir says:

    I left Orthodoxy for a number of reasons. One of them was my disgust at the nivul bi-reshus Ha-Torah I saw in these hotels. Gluttony, wastefulness, superficial davening, and above all tons of self-love (perhaps papering over real internal misery) and self-righteousness. And in talking to these people, I, who came on aliyah, work in Jewish education and have willingly adopted a much lower material standard of living, would get lectured because of my sympathies to egal minyanim etc. If this is the machaneh I am out, and will try to work on my avodas Hashem among people I can respect.
    Like I said, there were other reasons, but this was a powerful one.

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