Frumgirl 4: Greener Grass

Fair Warning: moderate use of language herein

I’ve developed a huge appreciation for the laws of Loshon Hara.

In my youth, etc, I never felt like people discussed me behind my back, nor wondered if someone was being nice to me when really they couldn’t stand me. Between having it pounded into our heads that gossip is wrong and two-facedness just as bad, I always knew that the worst case would be that someone was being nice to me as a chesed, because she thought I was friendless nerd. And you can usually spot those, because they’re a bit saccharine. And as for loshon hara… well, most of us have it down to the nitty gritties like “Oops, I made a face when her name was mentioned.”

So it was a cold slap in the face when I first partnered with Joe for a project and was introduced to many of his friends and associates. He’d smile, slap them on the back, ask how they were doing, talk about a movie, promise to see them later, and then say, “That was Rolf. He’s a bastard, but good for a game of football,” or “God I hate her. Such a selfish bitch.” Or, “He’s so goddamn annoying. He kept hanging around me yesterday talking about how he didn’t have any lunch, until I gave him 20 bucks and told him to treat himself. I paid him to leave me alone.”

“What do you say about me behind my back?” I asked one day. He looked at me blankly. “Why would I do that?” I don’t think it even occured to him that he was talking about people behind their backs.

Which could explain my minor paranoia. If I say something, and there’s a slightly longer than necessary pause after, I wonder “Oops, did I just say something stupid?” If there’s an exchange of looks that I don’t understand I think, “Time to fade out…” I never feel like I really know my position in things. I don’t need to have friends in college – I have plenty elsewhere, and my self-esteem is healthy enough. It just makes me uncomfortable to not know where I stand. This keeps me on my best behavior, and it keeps me aloof. The nice thing of which is that when you’re aloof people have to seek you out, which is a sure proof that they’re not just being nice. But it also reminds me that these are not my people, and these are not my real friends. And it helps me appreciate those who are my people and my real friends – the ones who might make faces behind my back, but nothing worse.

I sometimes joke, “The farther I get from Jews, the more I like them.” When you’re immersed in a community, it’s easier to see its faults. But from a distance, it’s easier to see the positive traits. One thing I have definitely gained from my college experience is an increased appreciation for Jews and Judaism.

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 11:32 AM  Comments (8)  

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  1. Oh man I know exactly what you mean. When I worked with non-jews, I never knew whom to trust. Whereas when I went back to a frum place, I felt like we were all on the same side. Of course, there are exceptions in both groups but still I feel so much safer with the frum people.

  2. Great point.

    I’m also wary when everyone around me is guffawing their heads off and I haven’t the foggiest what they’re laughing at. I always go back to what I just said and wonder if I’d unknowingly made some really stupid remark or something. And I also wonder what my classmates think of me when I’m not there. But it could also be that nobody even thinks of me when I’m not around 😉

  3. Well, this was one big problem I encoutered when I entered the charedi world: people would talk behind my back, but not ask me to the face, in order “not to hurt me”… I hated it.

    I grew up not jewish, but very naive, with almost no lashon hara, believing that everyone really meant what they said. It was a quite tough learning process to adjust to the chareidi world, where people will ask “references” behind your back of very simple questions they could also ask yourself. Now I laugh about them, sometimes I love to shock them by answering the questions they did not ask, by saying aloud what they think in their hearts.

  4. PS: What I am trying to say is: I think there are different value system as to what is lashon hara and what is not.

    And in general, people feel at ease in the reference system they learned in childhood, and it comes as quite a shock when they enter into a different value system as a stranger.

    In general, differing value systems are not opposed, they rather have different priorities. This means that themes important in one culture are just non existent in other ones. That’s what makes it so difficult to adjust. You cannot just say: ok, I do the contrary of everything I did so far. The differences are often so subtle, that it takes quite some time to notice them. And once you noticed, you cannot speak about it to anyone, because to the people who belong to your new culture, it is so self-evident, that they never reflected it.

    So you always end up comparing things that are not comparable (being born into a culture vs being an adult newcomer).

    It could be that you would not perceive that it is lashon hara to ask your friend “is she divorced?” when you first meet a single woman with a sheitel.
    That’s the kind of things I mean.

    But on the whole, I personally perceive chareidi culture as one who speaks a lot of lashon hara and also as a culture where people are terribly afraid of lashon hara (what will people say? It could damage your/your siblings/your children’s shidduch perspectives, etc.)

  5. Being a lone Jewish kid at a college that had only a couple dozen other Jews, I did what any observant Jew does when at a loss… retreat to Chabad(it was within what passed for walking distance, rather it was the only thing in what passed for walking distance

    I was by them for Shabbat and sitting at the table and the Rabbi and Rabbinit began discussing various people in the community. Mostly their negative traits. As time went on I was horrified that they were going through just about everyone in the community. Some of whom were their very good “friends” and supporters. So after a while, as I was silent from shock the Rabbi asked me what I was thinking. I don’t know if he hoping for something semi-profound, but my answer was, “I just wonder what you say about me when I am not here.” It was like a silent bomb went off. For the next ten minutes at least there was a palpable tension in the room, and everyone just stared at their plates without a word being said.

  6. I know exactly how you feel. I am always paranoid in college, wondering what everyone is saying to me behind my back. At least at my Bais Yaakov high school, everyone was too aware of lashon hora to badmouth each other. One thing I learned in college is how often students seriously badmouth teachers on Facebook. I am too naive to understand how they can then go back to class and sit there, participating and laughing at the teachers’ comments after they b*tch about the teacher for 20 minutes.

  7. It’s not just non-Jews that are so obsessed with gossiping, its the secular world in general.
    I am also in college and do not enjoy sitting in the kosher cafeteria listening to constant gossip, often from people in kippas but more usually from the Atheists wearing their Birthright shirts.
    It has become something that people just DO. When becoming religious this was (and frankly remains) a hard thing for me. My friends and I didn’t do much besides sit around and talk about how lame everyone else was.
    Stopping lashon hara is much harder than starting to keep kohser or keeping Shabbos. You have to basically change your way of thinking .

  8. I think that the chareidi world is more obsessed with lashon hara than the secular world.

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