Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Proximity and Religion

I have this theory: you're only as frum as you are close to NYC modified by your proximity to a large US city. So a typical conversation I had last year was:

Random Ortho: Where do you live?
Zev: Philadelphia.
RO: Oh, I have a cousin in Philadelphia. Do you know the butcher there? He is really good...

This year it's:

RO: Where do you live?
Zev: Ann Arbor.
RO: Oh.
or alternatively:
RO: Oh, that's near Detroit, isn't it?

My speculation is that there exists a presumption (which in itself makes it true, in a sort of way) that you need community to be frum. The largest community in the US is NY, hence one can be most frum in NY. Inversely, if you do not live in NY you are less frum.

That is if you fail at the above game. If the interlocutor can locate another frum reference point in your community you may still participate in the larger doxus-community. The presence of this reference allows others to ascertain the religious environment of a particular place and thereby ascribe an in/out distinction or level of commitment to you, the non-New Yorker.

Judaism, unlike Protestant Christianity, is really predicated on community in a ritual sense. What is interesting is people probe at this (by talking about their nephew Chaim Straussman who lives in Philly) without even knowing that that is what they are doing.

1 comment:

Yehuda said...

Zev, You should be aware that not everyone sees New York as the Jewish capital of the world. I, for one, feel more religious the closer I get to Athens, Georgia; but everyone has his central axis, as Mercea Eliade used to say.