I'm always suprised how some posts manage to fall completely flat and others somehow elicit very angry feedback. A recent post on strengthening ties between the Jewish communities in Israel and the Golus somehow managed to upset a couple of people, one a regular to this site and another hiding under the name "Anonymous".
It seems that the idea of Torah-observant Jews stating that our version of Judaism is the correct one is offensive to some people. Okay, I can see why. After all, no one likes being told that they're bad or incorrect in what they're doing, especially when they're sincere about it and really believe they're doing the right thing.
And certainly we're not alone in that approach. Chris Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are quick to pour scorn on any foolish soul who might believe there really is a God, perish the thought. Even within the fold of the Jewish people, one must remember that the slogan of Conservatism was at one point "the authentic form of traditional Judaism". If that isn't exclusive and judgemental, I don't know what is.
Having said that, I would suggest the following:
One major difference between secular values and Jewish ones is the impact of good intentions. In the former, good intentions are everything. Even if a person is completely wrong about something, as long as he meant well everything is considered to be okay. In the latter, good intentions are only part of the package. Intention to perform the proper tasks at hand is the other part.
For example, I am sure that Eric Yoffe, the head of Reformism, does not wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and ask himself: "How can I be a bad Jew today?" Indeed, I could easily believe he asks himself the exact opposite question. When he doesn't put on tefillin and daven Shacharis, it's not because he is trying to anger God or deliberately go against the rulings of Jewish law. Instead, he probably spends his morning engaging in activities that he feels makes him a good Jew. He is as sincere, if not more so, than most.
The problem with this approach is twofold:
a) It leads to a complete lack of unity within the Jewish people. For Eric Yoffe, it is a positive expression of Judaism to address an organization known for its virulent anti-Israel stance. For me, supporting Israel unreservedly and standing against those who deny its right to exist is a positive expression of my Judaism. For some, environmentalism (under the incorrectly used heading of tikun olam) is a positive expression of their Judaism. For others, environmentalism doesn't rank as a priority. Where is the unity? What binds us together?
b) There is a complete lack of consistency in this approach. What passes for Jewish values in the non-observant world is essentially liberal values with a token godhead. Whenever prevailing secular sentiments change, so do the "Jewish" values that tag along with them. Fifty years ago no one at the Jewish Theological Seminary would have suggested that homosexual marriage receive religious approval. Today you're a reactionary facist if you don't approve. The only consistency is a lack of consistency.
Now, let me outline some basic principles. The first is that we live in a free society and that this is a good thing. Service of God, observance of His Torah, is meaningless when forced upon a person. The reason God gave us free will is to give us the opportunity to accept His ways upon us ourselves, of our own choosing. Therefore, people should not, and indeed cannot, be coerced into proper observance of halachah.
The second is to state the absolute position of the Torah-observant world: God presented us with his Torah, both the Oral and Written sides, at Har Sinai a little over three thousand years ago. The Torah we have today, in all its multitudinous volumes, is a direct development of that original presentation.
The third is to state that just as God is truth incarnate, the Torah is true as well as it is His Will revealed to us. Therefore, if the Torah says something is good, then it is good. If it says something is bad, then it is bad and this does not change because of fluctuating cultural standards.
The Torah defines "good" as observance of God's law, both the original and that derived by our sages since the original presentation. To intentionally not observe the law is therefore "bad". One can good the good or the bad (indeed the Torah encourages us to do so because of the need to use our free will in the service of God). However, it is intellectually and spiritually dishonest to choose the bad and then announce a process of redefinition in which the bad is suudenly retermed "good"!
Proper observance of halachah demands scrupulous observances of all the mitzvos a person is capable of following. This means both the ones between man and man and the ones between man and God. Giving charity and being decent to your fellow are as important as putting on tefillin and learning each day. It is true that many Torah-observant Jews stumble in this, emphasizing the external, showier mitzvos while neglecting the equally important internal ones but that does not change the nature of Torah. A bad messenger doesn't affect the underlying quality of the message.
I would conclude, therefore, with the following statements:
1) I am not trying to tell you how to practice your religious activities or how to live your life. My posts are expressions of my opinions, nothing more. I am, however, allowed to have those opinions and state them freely. For me, although there is much grey in the world, there is also black and white. There is a God, He gave us His Torah, we are obliged to follow it to the best of out ability. If you disagree, that is your right but to attack one who believes this is as unfair and closeminded as you accuse me of being.
2) If you don't like what I have to say, if being confronted with something opposing the secular wishy-washy I'm-okay-you're-okay ethic, why are you visiting my blog?