Are labels necessary?

Everyone is judging everyone all of the time, whether it is based on the clothing they wear, the community or place they live, what kind of car they may drive or where they buy their groceries. Judaism is no different when it comes to judging and labeling. Everyone uses labels on a daily basis to decide whether or not they want to move to a certain community, send their kids to certain school or eat at certain people’s house. We, orthodox Jews, love to judge and also hate the judging, but in my mind we kind of need the labels, maybe not to the extreme that they exist, but to me it seems that without labels there would be huge issues.

I have heard so many people say that they just want to be Jewish. I would love to just be Jewish, but so many issues would arise without labels like frum, modern or Chassidic. As much as we love to hate the labels, they do serve a purpose. Though I don’t think the judging serves a purpose, other than as providing entertainment, the labels themselves do serve a very valid purpose.

Imagine for a second that you wanted to erase labels, think of all the problems that could arise.

How would people date if they didn’t know anything about the person’s religious level beyond the fact that they were Jewish? How would these people know if the prospective date kept kosher or kept shabbos without labels? When you say someone keeps kosher you label them in my mind.

What about sending your kids to school? Lets say that you want a modern school, but can’t say such things, so you try and describe what modern orthodoxy is. The problem is everyone has a different opinion as to exactly what constitutes modern orthodoxy. I have many friends who wear black hats that are modern orthodox, and friends who wear “regular clothes” who consider themselves yeshivish. Without these labels, people would spend all of their time trying to get places without saying exactly what they wanted.

It seems as if having labels is like having a necessary evil. We love to hate them and hate to need them, but what would we do without them? Some people cannot be labeled, that’s true, but you can place yourself in favor of a certain label. I wouldn’t know how to properly label myself. I dress and look modern orthodox; I like the yeshivish mussar movement and I have an affinity for chabad, even though I didn’t place myself in one category it was easier than explaining all of my affiliations.

One of the beauties of Judaism is that there is no right way to practice, everyone does their own thing. But how on earth would we be able to categorize these Jews without labels. Or is there really no need for categorizations?

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