Sunday, 23 November 2008

Another One Who Doesn't Know When to Retire

No one will ever accuse Edgar Bronfman of being a self-hating Jew. As this article from Ynet notes, he has spent most of his life fighting the good fight on behalf of our people. Despite not having much in the way of an actual Torah or Jewish education, he has felt a strong sense of connection and used his considerable personal resources to better our lot in society.
Yet like many good activists, it seems that in his old age he has decided that it is not time to sit back and bask in the glory his considerable achievements have brought him. Rather, having helpd secure some level of safety and prosperity for world Jewry, he has now turned his attention to attacking Judaism with the same zeal he had previously reserved for attacked its enemies. As the article notes:
The strict approach to conversions advocated by the rabbinic institutions in Israel and abroad infuriates Jewish billionaire Edgar Bronfman, the man who for nearly three decades led the World Jewish Congress. Anyone who declares himself Jewish should be accepted to the Jewish people, he says. Or else the Jewish people would cease to exist.
I have no difficulty with the first sentence in the paragraph. I, along with many others, have been infuriated by the Chareidi leadership's various efforts to delegitimize other Torah obsevant movements and their efforts to validly convert people to our nationality. It is his conclusion which is so bizarre and off base that I cannot help but question his mental status.
Open membership to the Jewish people based on a declaration of adherence? Is he serious? And the Jewish people would cease to exist if this approach, which is rejected by all Jewish movements except so-called secular Judiasm and the left side of the Reformers, is not adopted?
"Judaism belongs to every Jew," Adam Bronfman declares. According to him one does not have to belong to a certain religious denomination, believe in God or attend prayers. "Many of the Israelis who define themselves secular are in effect detached from their people's tradition. In Hillel we enable them to create a connection with their tradition in various ways."
Yes, Judaism belongs to every Jew. Mr. Bronfman is quite correct in that regard. But the right to become Jewish does not therefore belong to any person. It is one thing to reach out to those who are already Jewish and work towards bringing them back to the faith of our fathers. For this I said: kol hakavod. It is quite another thing to say that anyone who has a momentary hankering for gefilte fish can simply announce "I wanna be Jewish!" and join the club.
As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, zt"l, notes (somewhere) in his commentary on the Chumash, Judaism is not a religion, but rather a nationality. Because of our nearly 2000 years of exile, we have forgotten we are not Canadians, Americans, French, Germans, who happen to be of the Jewish religions. Instead we are Jews who happen to hold citizenship in various countries but who's primary citizenship remains that of Judaism.
The government of Canada demands certain things before it will confer citizenship on an immigrant to the country. Simply showing up at the border and announcing "I wants to be a Canad-jun, eh?" is not acceptable. Does Mr. Bronfman get infuriated about this?
Furthermore, an American who does not vote, doesn't particularly hold capitalism in high regard and doesn't like apple pie is not stripped of his citizenship despite his failure to follow the major values of his country.
Mr. Bronfman seems to be taking the path of other great Jewish political leaders and philanthropists who, after a lifetime of positive achievements, seem to relish in attack their own people and heritage. It's a strange syndrome but one that should be regarded with paternalistic sympathy rather than outrage.

P.S. For my sarcastic take on this article, check out the scholarly Daat Torah blog.

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