Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 4 August 2014

Ethnicity and Nationality

One of the weirdest phenomena among non-observant Jews is the idea of "Jewish pride".  You meet a Jewish guy or girl that is completely or mostly non-religious.  They might even be intermarried.  Suggest that they are anything other than a member of tribe in good standing and you get strong negative responses.  For a Torah observant Jew this often makes no sense.  It's the Wolowitz effect: he might be married to a Blonde Shiksa Goddess (same initials as his favourite TV show, BattleStar Galactica, am I the only one to notice that?), he might enjoy a good pork roast and have no trouble with going to the movies on Friday night but he is strongly proud of his jewish identity.  What gives?
It is important to remember that there are different understandings of what Judaism is out there in society.  For many of our non-observant brethren it is not a religious identity or a national one but rather simply one of ethnic belonging.  Vinnie is a good Italian even though he's married to a WASP, V. Stiviano is a good Polynesian even though she's hanging out with a racist Jew and Morris at the law firm is a great Jew even though he's got the firm's annual pool party to attend on Rosh HaShanah.  When it comes to ethnic identity it's the highlight of Western civilization: all entitlement, no obligations.
The reason I mention this is because much of modern kiruv is dedicated to appealing to just that ethnic identity.  Have you noticed?  Programs around holidays, fun events with alcohol and some kind of Jewish food, efforts to have Jewish boys meet Jewish girls to cut down on intermarriage, so much of the industry appeals to the ethnic Jew without a hint of the national aspect.
And I think this is very wrong.  It creates an impression that the real difference between a non-observant Jew and an observant one is in the amount of ethnic behaviours each engages in.  The Reformative Jew does Jewish things once in a while while the Orthodox one does them all the time but they're just behaviours.
In fact I think too many Orthodox Jews define their Orthodoxy this way.  It's not so much about beliefs and a feeling of connection with the Ribono shel Olam as it is about how much "doing Jewish" one can shove into one's life.  Behaviour without belief, is it any wonder that we see so many frum Jews in the news for the wrong reasons today?
I'm not saying that kiruv rechokim isn't important.  Frankly I think it's terribly important.  Too many of our brethren are cut off from their eternal heritage and their portion in Torah.  As observant Jews we have to feel a sense of crisis when 90% of us have forgotten or deny the Sinai experience.  However we have to ask: do we in the Orthodox community also need kiruv rechokim?  Do we need to correct those things we are doing wrong yet are treating as holy minhagim due to intellectual laziness and inertia?
We need to recall that we are not an ethnic group but a nation and as a nation we are defined by our connection to the Creator and His Torah, His expressed will for the way He wants the universe to run.  We need to put less emphasis on the ritual behaviours (although they remain important) and more on rebuilding each individuals sense of connection with God and our nation.  This means a kiruv system in which we openly identify ourselves as separate and different.  We don't want to attract unaffiliated brethren with humantaschen and klezmer music.  We want them to feel a part of the Jewish nation which includes identifying with our origins and having a desire to share our fate together as we stumble towards the Final Redemption.  Enough with lines like "If you keep taharas mishpacha you'll have a happier marriage" or "Keeping Shabbos keeps you happy".  Everyone knows that's a load. 
"If you keep taharas mishpachah you are fulfilling your obligation to God."  "We pray because we have an obligation to and a desire to speak to God."  It isn't as fun or sexy but it would create a better sense of commitment and understanding amongst new recruits and old ones as well.


frum single female said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

A lot of assumptions here. That Sinai really happened. Why do religious people insist on assuming it happened? Better to say: I am religious in spite of the fact that we don’t really know if anything happened at all. Isn’t that more a statement of “faith”? Isn’t faith defined as something other than an assertion of facts we all basically agree on?

Fundamentalists of all stripes dehumanize the other. Jews are no exception. We regularly hear OJ rabbis say things that make us feel sick. Why do they belittle, despise and describe secular or otherly religious people as worthless or not fully human? The answer is fundamentalism is disgusting. Really. Anyone who is attracted to it has some form of narcissism or perhaps Asperger’s or maybe just a whole lot of alienation or anger or loneliness or a need for a father figure. It is a sickness that Islam has in spades but the Jewish world is far from immune from. Better we should marry a shiksa than join forces with those who impugn the worth or humanity of others as a rule. Nazis were the worst in history, and we palely imitate them when we gather to impugn those not as spiritually mighty as us. And secular people, particularly atheists -- those that smugly deride haredi Jews -- are just as bad. But organized religion does it all much more loudly and in an organized fashion.

What is attractive intellectually about your plea?

If G-d wants our service so much how come he gave us a tiny religion that so few seem to genuinely want to be a part of? Why do Xtians and Mormons (and weirdly Muslims) seem to grow on trees? Half of Korea and now China is becoming Xtian. Not Jewish. And these folks seem to strongly believe in G-d in numbers in the billions. Eighty percent of the US reports belief in G-d.

Something is working – and without the service asked of Jews.

If G-d wants us to believe in him, he has gotten it. If he wants us to do it as self-identifying Jews, he hasn’t.

If national revelation is so persuasive, why is the oldest religion the very, very smallest? And so few converts every year? If the best way to start a religion is the question, then the answer is not to have one with national revelation. It can’t even keep people born into it persuaded.

What a mess.

Freedom. To pursue a religion or not. To pursue your Judaism or choose to marry out. Thank G-d for the freedom to not think the same thoughts as Garnel. To see what he sees and say- looks like baloney to me. That is the G-d all of us in regular society understand. Less impressed with the one that says gays die. Less turned on.


Mr. Cohen said...

"Jewish pride" has puzzled me for many years, because Mishlei, chapter 16, verse 5, teaches that all forms of pride are an abomination to G_d.