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One of the most difficult standards to judge or even define is what is considered normal behavior. We all aspire to a sense of normalcy and in fact we wish to live him a society that is considered normal. The problem is how do we judge normalcy?

What was abnormal or even abhorrent behavior just a few decades ago is today within the realm of acceptability. So, there is no doubt that any definition of normalcy is relative to the society and times in which we live and function. However, Judaism does establish parameters for acceptable behavior. These are encompassed in the traditions, customs and values that the Torah presents before us.
What is normal and what can be considered deviant is rendered to us in absolute terms and not necessarily subject to relative interpretation. This idea of absolute values and of a standard of normalcy is itself considered to be abnormal in our current Western society. All lines of difference and behavior have been erased. Because of this we are inundated with all sorts of physical, moral, sexual, monetary and political scandals.
But, a scandal is a scandal only if there is a baseline of normalcy by which it can be judged. If there is no such measure of comparison, then how can there be any type of behavior that can be called scandalous? This dilemma lies at the heart of much of the confusion that exists throughout the Western world today. We all want to do what is correct but we no longer have any clear idea of what is right and wrong.
In the book of Judges we are told that there was a period of time in Jewish society – a very considerable period of time – when there were no standards of normalcy present. Every person did whatever was right “in their eyes." A society that has no standards is doomed to chaotic splintering and manifold problems and disasters.
The idea that humans are entitled to inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the basic credo of all modern Western democratic societies. However, Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote those words, never dreamt how far the doctrine of “inalienable rights" would be extended. Certainly he could not recognize the standards of normalcy and abnormality of his time as compared to those standards in today's society.
This is not necessarily a negative thing because we are always looking for improvement that will benefit the larger society. However, the very loose definition of normalcy that exists today is linked, ironically, to many difficulties and unforeseen problems in the general society and in the Jewish world as well. Much of the tension and even violent struggles that exist in today's world revolve about determining what is the basic understanding of normalcy. It is a problem that affects all faiths and all levels of society. And there is no general agreement as to what the benchmark should be and therefore every group attempts to inflict its definition upon everyone else.
In the Jewish society as well, normative traditional behavior and standards have undergone great changes over the past decades. What was acceptable and normal Jewish behavior for centuries is no longer allowed. In certain areas of Jewish life, the rulebook itself has been rewritten, with previous opinions and scholarly debate expunged and new ideas presented. This rarely resembles what the old Jewish normalcy looked like.
Now, times change, circumstances change, different challenges arise and new dangers appear on the horizon. The previous world of Eastern European Jewry cannot be created again. Therefore, the standards that prevailed in that place and at that time are really no longer applicable to our situation.
We have adapted to our new circumstances and created new standards and definitions in Jewish religious life. All of that is valid. But what is invalid is that somehow we have rewritten the past in order to make it fit our current normalcy.
Doing so is dishonest and dangerous for it creates a world that never existed and gives false answers to the problems of previous generations. It excuses their failures and prevents a clear assessment of our current challenges. Only an honest appraisal of the past and of its standards, can create the inner strength to deal with our problems and the necessary behavior for progress and accomplishment.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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