Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ethnicity Or Torah

One of the main differences in approach between religious and non-religious Jews is how they define a "good" Jew.  For religious Jews it's based mostly on personal practice and the regular learning of Torah.  For the non-religious definitions are based more on an ethnic basis.  Just like someone can be a good Italian simply by accident of birth and a like of ravioli, one can be a good Jew if one has even just a Jewish father and a liking of blintzes on Sundays.
Neither approach is entirely satisfactory.  While the Torah approach has more legitimacy since religious practice and learning has been what has kept our nation strong and distinct from the surrounding cultures for the last 3000 years it is foolish to assume that it can be the sole defining feature for what makes a Jew.  It fails to account for not only those legal differences in practice between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, for example, but also the cultural things that give each group its special flare. 
Why does this matter? Shouldn't Torah be enough?  Shouldn't we simply define our comradeship based on mutual appreciation of learning and practice?
I would venutre to say that it is not enough for a couple of reasons.  As keeps getting demonstrated almost daily it is quite obvious to state that Torah learning and personal practice does not a mensch make.  In fact reading the news out of Israel you sometimes sadly get the opposite impression, chalilah.  Based on my personal feelings it is sometimes very difficult for me to walk down the street in Bene Beraq and feel like I have anything in common with some of the folks on the street there.  This is not a good situation.
Another reason concerns the greater good of the Jewish nation.  Although, nebich, most Jews are not properly Torah observant (if at all) that does not make their innate status of Jews less valuable.  They have their place in God's grand scheme of things even if their personal level of practice suggests they don't agree.  We have enough enemies willing to reduce the size of our population.  We need not assist them through disenfranching our co-religionists.
What's more, despite their lack of observance there is much we Orthodox Jews can learn from them.  ON one hand an ethnically exclusive approach to one's Jewishness leads to Howard Wolowitz - a stereotype that amuses the gentiles who watch while causing those who know what real Judaism is to cringe.  On the other hand might someone like Howard, befriended by frum Jews, have turned out more involved religiously, more conscious of his Judaism and its obligations?  
There is also a general sense of nationhood to consider.  If I meet another Jew I am not just meeting someone who puts matzoh balls in his chicken soup for taste.  I am meeting someone whose history goes back 3500 to yetzias Mitzraiym and beyond.  It doesn't matter if he's from Israel, Russia, South Africa or China.  When I see a Jew on the news he's one of mine.  This sense of camraderie is one of the factors in our survival after all the hardships we've been through.  And that sense doesn't necessary come from personal practice and Torah study.  How many ultra-Orthodox Jews are quite dismissive of Ethiopians because they're the wrong colour or demand that Sephardim wear Orea cookie outfits if they want to be considered properly observant?
Look at Israel right now, the conflict between the seculars and the Chilonim in particular.  With the language flying back and forth you'd think mortal enemies were about to clash. We are talking about Jews against Jews.  Shouldn't there be some moderation, some reaching out because we are all the same nation?
We are right now during the Three Weeks and Tisha B'Av should be a stark reminder that sinas chinam put us into golus and is keeping us there.  No, we can't approve of the ethnic Jew's claim that he is being "good".  We have standards that demand practical observance and learning of us.  But we must continue to feel a sense of brotherhood towards him or we are lost as a people.


frum single female said...

well said

Anonymous said...

Questions and comments:

Bene braq? Spelling?

Why be Jewish? Is a question that divides Jews big time.

I spent near a year in a baal teshuva yeshiva – blew my mind to realize that fellow Jews, OJers, actually put a lot of stress on belief in specific dogma/doctrine. This is a pre-Enlightenment way of knowing truth, and should not be encouraged! The goyim are into this: messiahs, literal bibles, no dinosaurs or evolution, adam and eve, global flood – oy vey what a discovery to me that my OWN were into this too.

I thought we understood: NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING NUDNICK! Tradition is what a Jew cleaves to – NOT facts.

I was wrong.

My recommendations: turn Judaism inside out. STOP trying to be like evangelicals. Acknowledge that thirty three centuries is a long time to KNOW what happened way back.

Also, INVITE IN goyim who are married to Jews. Goyim bring genetic diversity, they bring good middos often, and there is NO prohibition on being inviting! The rabbis can change course on this one. Make being a Jew a good, positive thing and something any sane person would want for their family and themselves.

Judaism is too shut off from the outside to operate in a mentally healthy way. It is not healthy to cloister oneself, to fear the world, to fear so much. Judaism in the OJ variety is creating unhealthy communities.

We should learn from the weirdo Mormons. They are 180 years old and have six million members in the US and five million more around the world. The first hundred years they were the laughingstock of religions. They have two huge universities and 80 percent of male graduates go on missions. They started with six individuals in Western NY – LOOK AT THESE GUYS!

They have an incredible system for taking care of each other, for helping each other, for marrying and caring about each other. They work, they earn, tithe, and live in the world.

And, they don’t touch alcohol, tobacco or coffee. That’s not easy.

WE HAVE TO LEARN from modern, structured communities. The idea that here in NYC or in Israel that haredi folks cannot work, and cannot serve in the army because of FEAR that they will leave OJ shows that JUDAISM MUST LEARN from other, strong religions how to find sanity and a path to growth and an embrace of Jewish ritual.



Temujin said...

Bene braq? Spelling? Lord Iroheart's illustrious Norman ancestry peeking through, perhaps. For us hoi polloi, Tuvia, it would be plain old Bnei Brak.

With regards to Goyim, Temujin can opine better than many perhaps, as he is a jolly Goy himself, and one on the path of conversion with a Hareidi-led Orthodox beth din of fairly stiff standards and a frightening process involving a two to three-day long test. Yet he understands and being a fearless warrior of the steppes, Temujin will undoubtedly persevere, having been assured that his preference for the kippah srugah and a somewhat modernish and rationalist-inclined hashkafah would not be an impediment. Report to follow. Temujin has seen the alternative in the unraveling Conservative world of today, where there is a lot of lovely welcomes and kumbayahs going on, but where the standards are dismally low and the observance levels and long term commitment to yiddishkeit by the converts and their spouses are minimal at best. Such conversions do not add; they contribute to the phenomenon of the rapidly vanishing modern Jew of North America. In any event, Tuvia, one would argue that if variety and a fresh outlook is what's needed, the number of non-Jews genuinely committing to Orthodoxy is insufficient and so, one should perhaps focus on attracting baalei teshuvah who are returning to the proverbial fold in significant numbers.

Greetings, Lord Ironheart. A great post again. Temujin is nearly done reading all your other posts too. Whew! Wow! Almost impossible to stop, but the Canada Day weekend gave one the opportunity to cover a nice stretch. Compliments on a remarkable and superbly written blog. One's recent "discovery" of Rav Slifkin and his virtual salon with its remarkable thinkers like yourself continues to bear good fruit and the Almighty deserves thanks for this fortune.

So much to say, but for now the theme of a centre-right, halachically authentic MO identity(not happy with that label, btw), and the issues of non-Hareidi Orthodox pride and confidence which you bring up seem to intrigue this reader the most. Of particular interest is your comment about the lack of an authoritative MO publishing house in the manner of Feldheim or ArtScroll. Having been around publishing here and there and with this and that, Temujin is aware of the expense of printing and problems with distribution, even in a narrow market niche. He would like to remark, though, that for the price of a publication of a quality hard bound edition, one could establish and publicise an online publishing house with the capacity to "ship" publications electronically for now and to gear up for the emerging local low or single volume custom printing technology which should be coming up within two to five years. Of course, organizing and maintaining such a venture is easier said than done.