Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Leaving Orthodoxy Behind

From what I know of him, Rabbi Asher Lopatin is a profoundly decent man.  He's kind, well-educated and always willing to help folks in need.  However, while he might also call himself Orthodox his writings and actions over the last few years suggest that his understanding of the term is somewhat different from the standard version.  In one of his recent pieces on the Morethodoxy blog he made a bizarre observation - that the recent wedding of Chelsea Clinton to one descendant of Avraham Avinu named Marc Mezvinsky was not, as most people might have thought, a chilul haShem considering the use of Jewish symbols such as the chuppah and talis.  In fact, for Rabbi Lopatin it was quite the opposite.  It was a great thing, a kiddush HaShem!
And yet, how can you look at the pictures of Marc with his tallis - a wool tallis! - and his kipa with American royalty, Chelsea Clinton, and not say, quietly, hmm… There is something important here for Americans to see. Here was not a Jew who was hiding his identity, who was minimizing his Jewishness. No, what the world saw is that a fully attired - proud? - Jew could get right to the top of American society.
Bizarre!  Here was a man whose attachment to Judaism is clearly limited to a minimal sense of observance, whose knowledge of Jewish symbols is so lacking that he thought that a groom should wear a tallis at the wedding ceremonty and Rabbi Lopatin characterizes him as a proud, fully-attired Jew.
(Now, in order to qualify as fully attired, Mr. Mezvinsky would have to also be wearing a tallis katan.  What are the odds he was?)
In fact, there is really nothing positive to be gained from this wedding.  The idea that a so-called rabbi would co-officiate and use real Jewish rituals to supposedly bind a non-Jewish woman to a Jewish man is farcical.  Would Rabbi Lopatin like us to also believe that the blessings said were not berachos l'vatalah as well?  Had he been invited, would he have stood up and cheered mazel tov to the new couple?
As Winston Churchill once noted, when a man in his 20's isn't a socialist, you question his heart.  If he's still a socialist in his 30's you question his head.  It appeaers that Rabbi Lopatin's liberalism operates along the same line.  It's wonderful, when you're young, to dream idealistic but part of maturing is recognizing that there are standards and responsibilities in the world.  Certainly his follow-up piece demonstrates a lack of understanding of Jewish standards and what truly sets Orthodoxy apart from the other so-called streams of Judaism:
As a follow-up to some observations I made last week about the Mezvinsky-Clinton wedding, I want to offer so positive, real ways for all of us to help encourage Jews to marry Jews. Across the board, from Reform to Orthodox to Ultra-Orthodox, I think we can all agree that Jews marrying Jews is what we want. However, instead of a negative approach, which many people expressed, I think a positive, affirmative approach is much more productive. However, the positive approach might take a lot more effort - but worthwhile things usually do take more effort.
Unfortunately most of Rabbi Lopatin's suggestions are bland pap.  Find singles, then put them together.  Yawn.
The best and only way to guarantee that one Jew will marry another is by raising Jewish children to be observent of the mitzvos and to make Torah the centre of their lives.  By doing this, it will be quite difficult for the young adult to form a relationship with another person who isn't an observant Jew because the value systems will be too different.  The goal isn't simply to say "Whew!  At least sonny boy found a Jewish girl" but to build Jewish homes in which the learning of Torah and the observance of mitzvos are the key.  Rabbi Lopatin would seem to suggest that we shoot for the lowest common denominator.  I think we can do better.

3 comments:

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

The question must be: why does one want Judaism or Jewishness to continue? or, to phrase this differently, why does one want Jews to identify -- proudly identify -- as Jews? Is it solely to continue a ritual involving a talis (and when was the last time you saw a talis at a wedding?) or of wearing a kippah?

The ultimate reason for why one should want a Jew to marry another Jew is because the Jewishness that we value in continuing demands such a union. A mixed marriage cannot pass on that type of Jewishness. It is not to celebrate Jewish rituals at a wedding.


Rabbi Ben Hecht

SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

>> The goal isn't simply to say "Whew! At least sonny boy found a Jewish girl" but to build Jewish homes in which the learning of Torah and the observance of mitzvos are the key. Rabbi Lopatin would seem to suggest that we shoot for the lowest common denominator. I think we can do better.



I wish rabbis would have provided me with better answers for why follow the halachot than "we do things even though we don't understand it." The other big turn off was that it seemed that almost everything was interpreted into the Torah and not actually written into it.

However, take kasharut for example, now that I understand the scientific reasons behind kasharut i.e. preventing trichinosis, proper food combining to not stress out the digestive system, etc.; I have more respect for the dietary laws than I ever did.

Unfortunately at this point, there's no point for me to follow it though for obvious reasons.