My recent post on honesty and Orthodoxy generated quite a vigorous response. The number of comments was a record for this blog and, for once, most of them were not me commenting on myself.
What I found most interesting was the outrage from the non-observant commenters. My point in posting the excerpt from the Tana D'vei Eliyahu was not to try and claim that all frum Jews are honest. Rather, my point was to show that within halacha there is excellent support for those who contend that Torah law forbids the cheating of and stealing from non-Jews. In other words, those Orthodox Jews who contend that it's okay nowadays to do such sins are wrong when they say that the halacha permits them to.
But the response to that was fascinating. Instead of what I expected: "Yeah? Well then all Orthodox Jews are hypocrites because they break that law!", I got this: "No, you're wrong. Orthodox not only allows but tacitly encourages theft from and cheating of non-Jews". In other words, people don't want to hear about how we sin. They want to hear that we are just following our religion when we cheat and steal.
That led me to think about what people on the outside want to believe about Judaism, and it isn't pretty. For them Torah Judaism is a religion that is bigoted, hateful and deceitful. Never mind all the examples that I can bring to the opposite, they're prepared to dismiss all those proofs because it doesn't fit with their view of how the Torah should be (as opposed to how it is).
Why is that? I believe that it's to help with the justification of their own personal beliefs. After all, if the Torah is a moral system, then one must work hard to justify why, as a Jew, one does not hold by its rules. Not that there is not justification. Philosophy is a flexible enough field of inquiry to allow that to happen. But it's much easier to justify why one hates and avoids Torah Judaism if one can villify it in the first place. For those who have left "the derech" it seems essential to remember that derech as a path filled with hate and deceit. That the Torah itself is not that way cannot be acceptable.
To summarize: if there is a problem with Torah Judaism today, it is the fault of the people who are not carrying it out correctly or twisting it to fit their own personal agendae, not the fault of God's Torah itself. I am quite fine with people saying they stopped being religious because of a lousy high school rebbe or a bad experience within the community, but we must never allow people to misrepresent the Torah as the reason for their loss of faith. That's just not honest.