Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Ritualistic Rituals

I've often wondered about the contradiction that is Reformism. On one hand, the movement has always functioned on a rejection of the authority of Jewish law as transmitted by our Sages throughout the millenia. On the other hand, a complete rejection means no sense of identity. If a Reformer doesn't want anything to do with Judaism, exactly how does he define himself as a Jew?

The head of the Reformers, one Eric Yoffe, seems to have noticed that recently. As carried in The Jerusalem Post:

"Judaism has expectations and demands, and in return it enriches your life. If it is just convenience, then it is not worth anything."

This sounds very nice, of course, and very un-Reform. Remember this is the movement that until recently referred to the Ten Commandments as the Ten Suggestions, a movement that tried to renew itself a few years ago but couldn't come up with anything actually authoritative because the whole basis of the movement is a rejection of external authority. Unfortunately, Yoffe's epiphany does not last much longer than the above quote thoughts. To wit:

"I am not asking that synagogue goers refrain from driving on Shabbat," said Yoffie. "Our congregants drive to get to synagogue so they are not going to give up driving. But I will ask them to pray Shabbat evening and Shabbat morning and to refrain from everyday work activities. "

"But we are not saying return to Jewish practice as Orthodox Jewry understands it. We are more selective of which of the 613 commandments we choose to keep. Many of those commandments reflected the values of the times in which they were made but do not reflect our times. We accept some and reject others. "

Right. So accept there are responsibilities to being Jewish but pick and choose what you want those responsiblities to be. Please explain then: If I'm choosing what mitzvos I want to practice and the final decision is up to me and no one else, how is this a real responsbility to Judaism? The only authority I'm accepting is myself and if I choose a different set of priorities tomorrow, I am just as free to jettison those mitzvos that I found so important today.

In the end, I still don't understand Reform except as a giant movement of convenient hypocrisy. May they see the error of their ways and return to the Torah fold speedily and in our days.

3 comments:

Kendra said...

They mean well, but sociologically and behaviourally they're just semi-Magisterial Christians without Jesus. I think that explains everything that is good and bad about Reform in a nutshell. Their founders were Jews who fled the traditional communities. They only held on to a sense of loyalty to their ethnicity, not to their religion. To honor that sense of kin tie, they imitated the nearest religious influence: the Christians. This was of course highly ironic. But it was not premeditated. Having disassociated themselves from the Jewish perspective on the divine, they picked up Christianity's major points osmotically.

Torah frequently says the punishment for infractions of the Law is to be cut off from the people. That is precisely what the Reform Jews did, ironically subverting their attempt to be loyal to their antecedent group-identity.

In the above process, Reform Jews accepted all the Christian hallmarks:
(1) Religion as a category in daily life, not the overarching organization of life
(2) Feelings over actions
(3) "Spirituality" inside rather than bringing holiness to what is outside
(4) the conviction that ethical rules only lead to unethical cheaters of those rules.

( Thus, they adopted the Christian world outlook that you will end up living ethically just by studying how good goodness is and wanting it badly enough. It is a sincere but profoundly naive standpoint. Obviously, to a degree, it works. The Chinese have no transcendental religion and their society is colder and more cruel than anything the Christians formed.

(of course, this point is an implicit rebuke to early modern Jews. (Regarding whom we have much written record of complaints by Jews about unethical religious Jews.) Jewish society was not operating to specs, and the Great Assimilation of the 19th and 20th Centuries was the punishment)

However, the following point taken with this idea leads to complacency, namely:

(5) Hope based on naked assertation that one must be hopefuly, rather than hope based on evidence and patterns therein.
(6) The belief that the basic struggle of living well is an individual one rather than collective.
(7) The belief that one's own interpretation of holy writ is as good as anyone's (formally, many Christian groups eschew such a belief, but in practice, the respect given to their religious scholarship is spotty at best. Notice how Catholics cheerful disregard their own Pope's rulings on many matters.)

I could go on. They're not bad people. But Reform Jews copy the Christian folly of regarding "what's in my heart" as being more important than "what plans I make to make sure what's in my heart is manifested in the world". Because the task of elevating and improving the world is hard and difficult and unrewarding. Who wants to feel they're part of a long drawn out, inconclusive process? The Modern world atomized, demoralized, and emotionally disempowered humanity _even as_ it delivered them material power beyond measure. Jews _living in Orthodox communities_ still feel some of this. How much moreso the lone reeds of Reform Judaism?

They do what they think is reasonable without realizing that is the essential difference between Jews and everyone else: a Jew always keeps one hand on the rock of Torah and Halakha to organize, balance and moderate "what I think is reasonable" so that the human consciousness is improved rather than taken as "good enough since we're all still alive". As well as to make sure the best ideas of the past are not lost. Or at least, that's how it works ideally.

Kendra said...

Of course, it's not all the Reform Jews' fault. (Though the consequences of "their stuff" are still fully on their own heads.) We are responsible for our brethern. And Orthodox Judaism is mired in either explicit hypocrisy or the letter of the law burying the spirit of the law. This is not exactly a persuasive counterargument by the deed to the intellectual Christian monoculture Reform Jews are stuck in. If you want to grab people out of the world outlook they're raised in, you have to do something dramaticaly and consistently _good_. Something which they cannot access in their normal experience. This demonstrates concretely that there is a lack and a gap in their outlook. This is very hard task. (Which is for me the reason that resonates most as to why to revere the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.) (Though of course, respect is due in principle. That's just the fact that hones the keeness of my own respect.)

Garnel Ironheart said...

Excellent thoughts, especially the conclusion! In the marketplace of free ideas that is the Western world, Orthodox Judaism cannot compete by demands adherence, especially if its prominent practitioners fail to exemplify the values they are preaching.
What Orthodoxy needs to do is work on creating an ideal community full of morality and love so that non-religious Jews looking for fulfillment in their religion will be drawn to it through interest, not coercion. Only in that way can we bring our disaffected brethren home