Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Because We Care And They Don't

Despite the divide between frum and non-observant Jews there are plenty of places the two groups interact.  In university settings, at public functions and in the community there are lots of opportunities for the two to meet with one another.
What seems to be frustrating for the non-religious is that after these meetings there is a tremendous sense of disbelief.  According to Reformative philosophy, Orthodoxy is a doomed, archaic practice destined to shrivel under the harsh light of enlightenment and modernity.  Our continued persistence, growth in numbers and strength and rising influence in Israel and golus confound the "great thinkers" and atheoskeptics who, in their closed-minded way, cannot conceive of a reality different from what they think it it.
Hence this mild rant from The Times of Israel:
The New York Celebrate Israel Parade was easy to spot. With Israeli flags blowing in the wind and an excess of Jewfros, I couldn’t have missed it. As I got closer to the meeting spot, I found myself surrounded by kippa-wearing guys and girls with knee-length denim skirts. The crowd appeared to be very Modern Orthodox. And I was in the section for university groups — not Jewish day schools.

The Forward reported that about half of the marchers came from Jewish day schools, and the overwhelming majority of these from Orthodox day schools. I would dare to venture that many of the synagogues and youth groups that were marching were also Orthodox-affiliated. The younger generation is the future, and between 5th Avenue and Madison, the future looked very Orthodox. There were a couple gay pride flags, but other than that, the crowd seemed less diverse than usual.
To be fair, the author is more annoyed with her own community than with us.  Ms. Dolsten even admits that - gasp! - Orthodoxy should be examined for the reasons for its success.  The thing is, those reasons aren't a secret but rather quite out in the open.  However, like the old saying about none being so blind as those who will not see, those reasons are so unpalatable for the Reformatives that they cannot acknowledge them.
Years ago the secular Jewish community in North America sponsored a major demographic survey and determined that amongst the non-religious assimilation was rapidly taking a dreadful toll.  "Jewish continuity" became the watchword of the day and these organizations held meetings and conferences to determine how to encourage that continuity.  Orthodox community leaders and major rabbonim were, of course, not invited.  In the end lots of ideas including the Birthright boondoggle emerged from those meetings.  And in the end none of them made much of a difference when it came to overall intermarriage rates and sense of identification with the Jewish people.
What's the difference for Orthodoxy?  Well firstly we accept that we are a people different from all the other peoples on the face of the Earth.  We have special rules about pretty much everything and it is those special rules, the mitzvos, that ensure our continuity.  It is the learning of Torah, the observance of Shabbos, the avoidance of those tasty snacks at the food truck near work that define us as Jewish.  For us tikun olam is about fixing potholes, not ecology.  A bar mitzvah is about the assumption of an adult legal status, not a sweet-13 party.  Survival relies on difference, not assimilation and while the Reformatives have done everything they can to turn their version of Judaism into bland secular liberalism with an impotent all-approving godhead, we embrace our distinctiveness and feel no need to dumb it down.
Secondly, we note our connection to history, specifically our national history.  We are not just another ethnic group like the Italians, Irish and Somalis.  We are a nation with a proud 3500 year old history.  We stood at Mt Sinai and received the Torah from God, the first and only time such a Divine revelation ever occured.  It is that connection with the Divine that stands at the centre of our identity, not a love of bagels and lox.  And because we see ourselves as a nation we see a connection between one Jew and another that is stronger than a connection to the Gentile standing beside us.  When there is a pogrom in France it concerns us.  When a Jewish soldier is killed in Israel it concerns us.  We worry about the future of the Jewish people and fighting assimilation.  They worry about gay marriage.
Ms. Dolsten is a good writer with a lot of passion for Reformative Judaism but on her side of the fence she is the exception. For us commitment is the rule.  Commitment to a religion that runs its guidelines like Baskin Robbins runs its flavour of the month is difficult to achieve.
Why is Reformativism falling behind Orthodoxy?  Why do we survive when all the enlightened folks think we shouldn't?
Bottom line: we care, they don't.  And that's the difference they're missing.


frum single female said...

when it comes down to it our observance of the mitzvot is what keeps us jewish

SJ said...

Bottom line: orthodox reproduce, brainwash, and then go on welfare to support the kids. XD

AztecQueen2000 said...

I'd say your answer is a little simplistic (and I speak as one who spent six years practicing non-Orthodox Judaism). First of all, there are passionate Conservative and Reform Jews. However, their approach to Yiddishkeit is more universal and less parochial. To them,caring about the suffering of others (which is part of the Torah) outweighs the minutiae of kosher laws (which can be used as a wedge between Jews and other Jews, unfortunately.)Secondly, the non-Orthodox world, at least outside of NYC, cares a lot less about what the Orthodox do than the Orthodox care about what they do. Third, if you read the Nevi'im, there are statements over and over again about the importance of treating our fellow human being decently. How are we treating our fellow human being decently if we are constantly telling him/her that s/he is not good enough, not Jewish enough? This approach will repel more people than it attracts? Fourth, the same Torah that commands scrupulous observance of Shabbos and kashrut also demands that we not lie, cheat or steal. Unfortunately, too many of us have made headlines doing just that.

SJ said...

Yeah comeon garnel stop acting like half the orthodox community wouldn't go OTD if they had education and good jobs and wasn't locked into marriages with children from when they were young.

Clearly, a significant percentage of the orthodox operates as a total cult.

Anonymous said...


You are pretty much right. The fact is that Jews were once at the forefront of modern thinking. Leading the way.

Now most Americans are pretty modern. I remember that Cahill book “The Gift of the Jews” made this point.

His idea is that the average well educated American basically has a Jewish outlook.

As an aside, I have a friend who is a born again Christian person – and sounds a lot like my cousins who are BT Ultra-Orthodox!

Now, it is the frum Jew who is perceived as “regressive,” and not modern. It is like the Jews taught the world about compassion, Justice, the equality of man – and now to stay Jewish, the Orthodox have taken a few steps backward (from the modern perspective.)

The BT and the FFB will grow in number and will represent the only Jews outside of Israel.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if Israel will be considered a “Jewish value” down the road. Luckily, the Christians seem very committed to Israel – so good news there!


Adam Zur said...

i wrote some answer to you yesterday but did not post it here because it is not PC and also too long. But today I thought I should at least present it for thought:It occurred to me that if the Jewish people would want one text that would articulate the Jewish faith properly that we only have the Guide of the Rambam (or some other medieval authorities). Part of the problem is that after the Middle Ages philosophical thought became full of fallacies and circular reasoning. Halacha thought is not too far behind either. So we are definitely left with a small choice of people that wrote during the Middle Ages. The problem however with the Guide is that it is the most disturbing book ever written. For every problem it solves, it brings up a thousand more. And it is highly based on Aristotle. There are a few good commentaries but they don't help much.
What the Jewish people need is a commentary on the Guide for the Perplexed which takes into account the problems with Aristotle and and (-how better can I say it?) brings it up to date. There are plenty of issues which need to be addressed in the Guide. Kantian types of issues. Issues about Representation, about Universals lots of questions that are hinted at there but no one deals with. No one can write a better book so we should not try but at least a commentary is necessary. The other book which is great in Jewish thought is the Lekutai Moharan of Rebbi Nachman but I have a whole set of reasons why I think that it can't replace the Guide as the definite book of Jewish theology.
Even though it is in fact as deep as the Guide. I admit that the anti-science approach I find problematic. But his tirade against philosophy is on the nose.
and rabbi Nachman understands people. The rambam understands halacha and theology. Each book seems to have its particular forte

Rav Kook from what i can tell had some good ideas. I just simply cant accept Hegel or anyone basing himself on Hegel so I can't really accept Rav Kook. Though some of the Marxist Hegelian critique on peoples motivations is right on. The Rabbi that made Yeshiva university was an existentialist. He though you can undermine second level ethics without undermining first level ethics. I.e. you must keep halacha even though morality has no objective basis. You first will it, and then you keep it. This makes as much sense as teaching chemistry while denying that there are chemicals.

Come to think of it the same thing applies to the Rambam. The only halacha book that is worth much is that of the Rambam. (The Shulchan Aruch as a commentary on the Rambam is interesting but how great can a book be that was written in order to be politically correct and not true Halacha as Rav Karo writes in his introduction.
So the only logical rigorous book in Halacha is that of the Rambam (and of course the Rif.) But what about the fact that it is not a perfect system. What is wrong with even the most perfect Halacha system? Simple. Let's us say --just in theory mind you--that many rabbis would be liars and thieves. What would stop them from taking power? And lets us say that some of the followers of these not perfect rabbis would be also liars and thieves. Then what is to stop the rabbi from telling them to hang anyone at random their dress is not long enough. Nothing. A system that does not take into account human wickedness is not a system at all.
[Without some way of updating the Mishna Torah of the Rambam it loses much value. It does not deal with problems of human freedom and human rights. The Rambam was great but not infallible.]