I am a non-denominationally affiliated Jew. I am not frum, but I am constantly working on observing more mitzvot and find myself enjoying different things about Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox communities. I want to know what the stance would be on me wearing a tallit katan. Up until this point I have not because I feel like it would be misrepresenting myself (I already wear a kippah and that alone often leads people to think i'm Hareidi even). It is not that I am offended by being seen as Orthodox, quite the opposite - I don't think I deserve to be viewed as that observant when I am not. I do not want to do something akin to chillul Hashem (or rather.... hillul frum communities? if that makes sense?) if I were ever to do something not-frum while donning them. However on the other hand I hold a firm belief that the mitzvot are not dependent on each other, and that every little step is progress. I also think that if a mitzvah or custom is going to make me better and has a meaningful significance to me, then it is appropriate to observe it. What are your thoughts, either on the points I mentioned, or new points all together in regards to a more "liberal" Jew wearing a tallit katan? Thank you for your time and knowledge.
First, I deeply appreciate your sensitivity. It is very inspirational.
In a way, you just about answered your own question, probably much more eloquently than I will.
Let’s begin with a simple observation. There is really no such entity as Orthodox Jew, Conservative Jew, and Reform Jew. We are all Jews, period. We may differ in the degree of our embrace, but we do not need adjectives in front of the status as Jew. These artificial subdivisions create problems that we do not need.
Further, any mitzvah fulfillment that you take upon yourself genuinely represents what you want to do. What conclusion others jump to should not concern you. That is their problem.
You are absolutely correct that the mitzvot are generally independent of each other. For example, it would be absurd to tell someone who eats non-kosher food that they are not allowed to observe the Shabbat. On the other hand, there is a problem with a thief praying before God, but that is the subject for another discussion.
True, better that we all embrace the full package, but we never have espoused the “all or nothing” approach.
Your putting on a Tallit Katan is a wonderful idea, specially as it comes from such a considered and caring soul. By all means, GO FOR IT! And God bless you.
My first reaction to your thoughtful question is that each of us is a work in progress and through our actions we strive to be more holy and we do so through the medium of the mitzvot and rituals we follow. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, In this world, music is played on physical instruments, and to the Jew, the mitzvot are the instruments by which the holy is performed. (Man’s Quest for God, page 111). By wearing tallit katan, as with every mitzvah, we have the opportunity to strive for a way of life which helps us to explore our relationship with God, engage in our faith and to be a better person. Judaism is not an all or nothing faith, in fact we are taught to question in a way that will deepen our understanding of the rituals that we do observe and as appropriate add more mitzvot and rituals.
Ask yourself, by wearing Tallit Katan, what am I accomplishing for myself? Have I deepened my understanding of the mitzvot in some way? Am I striving to be a person more engaged with the mitzvot because the tallit katan provides a daily reminder? By wearing tallit katan, am I striving to be a better person? A more holy person?
I started to wear Tallit katan as a college student living in Israel. I saw it as a way to be more “religious” in practice. Since that time, I have come to see wearing tallit katan as a daily reminder that I am striving to be a better person in my faith and in my community. I observe the mitzvot and wear tallit katan not because of what others think but of my covenantal relationship with God thus I keep the tzitzit tucked in under my clothing because that relationship is deeply person and private.
To echo the instruction in Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Sages), one mitzvah may engender another and another. And if our tradition is, as a colleague suggests, a lifelong course in finding deity in every activity, I applaud your "experimenting" with this mitzvah, as well your sensitivity that your practice, or lack thereof, may create some confusion for observers and distress or anger for the observant.
Nonetheless, as part of liberal Judaism, I appreciate and encourage your efforts to explore kedushah/holiness in every activity. You may know the story linked to Franz Rosenzweig, who was once asked if he "laid tefillin." His supposed response seems of the moment. "Not yet," he said.
The overwhelming majority of American Jews may well have the same response. I, for one, am delighted that you are pushing your own boundaries and are aware that undertaking may have consequences, including negative ones, for others. More strength and mitzvot to you.
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