While davening at the local shul the other day, I was reminded of the term "Frobot" (an abbreviation for Frum Robot). This term is typically used to refer to those people who perform all the Jewish ritual they were raised with, but are lacking any understanding of the meaning or purpose. Many continue performing the rituals because they have become so accustomed to them that they are uncomfortable with changing their routine. For others, it is the social pressure of being in a community, and the potential repercussions of dropping the routine. Please don't get the impression that I don't practice Judaism. I do, but only because I have finally learned the meaning behind (at least most of) what I do. Ritual in itself is a very flimsy word to describe the practices of a religion which you believe in. "Ritual" washing of the hands is only "ritual" washing if the only reason behind the performance is the fact that your parents did it. When an action has a meaning and a purpose behind it, it ceases to be a "ritual". Washing your hands after a heavy gardening session obviously cannot be called a "ritual", for it is only being done to remove the dirt and grime which has stuck to the hands of Jesus (that's pronounced Hay-soos, not Gee-zus), our heroic gardener.
I was reminded of the sad presence of "ritual" while finishing up Mincha/Maariv at the local shul recently. I cannot remember the last time I sat through a Mincha/Maariv without hearing the ringing of a cell phone. I am irked tremendously every time this happens. I know cell phone carriers love to nickel and dime their customers to death, but do they have a "vibrate fee"?? If davening was anything more than a ritual, this wouldn't happen. People don't forget to set their phones to silent mode during important business meetings. After enduring another minyan punctuated by the ringing of cell phones, I noticed a new type of robot. He had long payos and was wearing an expensive Chassidishe hat. During Aleinu of Maariv, I watched as this guy typed up a text message on his phone and headed for the shul door, all the while mumbling something that looked (based on my incredible lip reading skills) strangely like Aleinu. I decided that this type of human robot needed a new name. After a moment of thought, it came to me. Based on the fact that this species of robot wears large Shtreimlech (fur hats) on Shabbos and Yom Tov, I decided to call them Furbots. Although many Chassidim are wonderful and sincere Jews, there are, unfortunately, a large number of Furbots among them. Furbots are the ones who are likely to hurl large or smelly objects at you or burn garbage bins because you fail to live up to their "religious" standards. This robot is (in my opinion) more damaging than frobots are, because not only does their shallow observance provide a weak foundation for the future observance of themselves and their children, their fiery misguided zeal and idealism further disenfranchises the nonreligious and makes the religious youth more likely to drop their Judaism, because it makes Judaism look disgusting to them. Those who understand the beauty and meaning of Judaism, regardless of the style of head covering, contribute to the continuity of Judaism. Those who don't are robots. I believe we need to commit robocide by erasing the "rituals" and replacing them with meaning. When this happens, hopefully by the time the next generation grows up, we will see the end of mindless Furbots and Frobots burning dumpsters, hurling large objects at their "religious" opponents, sending text messages while mumbling "prayers", and maybe even a complete mincha without the ring of a cell phone (or whatever gadgets are popular in the year 2500).