Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Ethnicity vs Purpose

One of the things I find annoying when non-observant Jews write about their Judaism is their reduction of a national/religious entity into a superficial ethnic identity.  In the latter model any Jew, no matter how disconnected from Judaism, is a good member of the tribe simply for identifying as a Jew. 
Thus they care about Mark Zuckerberg and were genuinely upset when he married a non-Jewish woman or commented on how his favourite food was pork from pigs he slaughtered himself.  They watch the adventures of Howard Wolowitz on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory and see in him the typical modern Jewish American despite his proclivity for non-kosher food, prostitutes (in the early seasons) and a Polish Catholic wife (later seasons).  In short, they see Jews who have little to no connection to actual Judaism and begin and end their assessment of their Jewishness with their lack of refusal to deny that they're Jewish.
I therefore enjoyed the article Rav Avraham Gordimer wrote on Cross Currents recently and not just because this was his first article in a long time that didn't attack Open Orthodoxy.  I enjoyed it because he identifies something that makes Orthodoxy work in a way that non-Orthodox "streams" of Judaism don't and it isn't something superficial.
He begins by noting that demographically Orthodoxy is in a position of strength.  Although it is the smallest group in North America it is also the youngest, the fastest growing and the one with the highest retention rate.  When it comes to the largest communities like New York and surrounding areas the statistics are impressive when it comes to growth in shul attendance and rate of increase of Jewish school numbers.  He brings a mneumonic from a different article to explain this:

The “secret” of Orthodox retention and expansion can be summarized by a five-letter acronym: PRICE.
That is, they exhibit extraordinary Passion about Jewish norms and purpose. They perform numerous religious Rituals. They maintain high rates of Informal association (more spouses, friends, and neighbors who are Jewish). They engaged in Community — be it in synagogues, organizations, charities, or political-like activity. And they undertake Educational activities, be it learning groups for themselves or sending their children to day school, overnight camps or to Israel for a very influential gap year.
Similarly, non-Orthodox Jews who follow the same path exhibit extraordinary success in raising their children as committed and active Jews.
The Orthodox have shown that the price of intensive Jewish living has its rewards. The question is how many others will be willing to pay the PRICE to assure a rich Jewish life for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren.

But then he goes on to make the most important observation.
However, it is not commitment to Jewish identity, Jewish culture, or even Jewish preservation that drives people to invest well beyond their means and then some, and to strain themselves beyond imagination, for the sake of Torah education and the fulfillment of Mitzvos. It is rather an awareness of a holy obligation, as expressed in God’s Mandate, that propels Orthodox Jews to sacrifice everything for Torah and Mitzvos without second thought.

In other words, it isn't the actions but the purpose behind the actions that matters the most. 
Now one could easily point out that many members of the Orthodox community along with many institutions fail on this exact point.  Too often we emphasize ritual over understanding, rote over internal involvement.  As the steady flow of OTD's out of Orthodoxy (something this article doesn't talk about) proves, Torah observance without meaning behind it doesn't create committed Jews, it creates sheeple that, if they begin to think about the emptiness of their practice, pack their bags and leave.
So at the same time that Rav Gordimer has identified the secret of Orthodoxy's success he has also identified a serious limitation that we must constantly address and never take for granted that it's been permanently dealt with.  Our practice must be for a purpose to mean something.


micha berger said...

But it's not PRICE; O is not succeeding to inspire growth. We are growing because if you take the birth rate and subtract out the dropout rate, it's still huge. But our emigration rate (17%) is far higher than our immigration rate (10%).

The moderator on CC is playing fast and loose with my ability to prove the point on list, but about 1/6 of our kids or so, as computed by Farank Margolese (given the age of the book, a little stale), and as surveys cited by R' Zecharia Wallerstein (looking at YU), and others consequently surveyed for YU's CJF (in a survey of participating HSs, therefore mostly feeder schools -- and a different population than RZW's), and most recently Pew.

I think because that moderator considers PRICE the "proof" of chareidi success. Wherea I see the current state of O as being far enough from the Torah for me not to find any of our movements to be a success.

micha berger said...

My latest rejected comment:

As I said at the top, R' Wallerstein did present them, and I was in the room when he did. So why are you asking why there was no presentation? I have a trail of writing about his findings since two years before the Pew Survey -- which then confirms the same basic 1-in-6.

As did Faranak Margolese, despite your use of her At Risk numbers rather than her attempt to build from them an OTD rate. To quote the book (pg 22, bold added, italics in the original):

"Yet if we use the Brooklyn study as a guide to shed light on how many people go off the derech, the percentages are much higher than expected. After all, this study was showing only the youth who were showing the most extreme behavior. If between 6.6% - 15.5% of Orthodox Brooklyn teens are exhibiting or will exhibit at-risk behavior, what percentage are simply going off the derech without exhibiting socially unacceptable behavior?"

And on page 25, Margolese reprints a graph from R' Yaakov Shapiro of Project Rejewvination. The percentage given for the year 2000 -- 14%. And the trend is a steady upward growth, with ages for rebellion steadily trending downward. If we were at 14% in 2000, 17% in 2015 is so hard to believe?

I find your reducing what could have been a motivating discussion of the actual measured and re-measured size of a dire problem into a debate over what people think they see around the neighborhood to be disheartening.

The Torah model works. We, the people who try to follow it, still need work. That's why we're still in this world -- if we were done with our jobs in life, we would takeh be done. No?

Anonymous said...

actually, you can be a reform jew and be filled with a sense of holy obligation.

Mr. Cohen said...

When the father of Amos Oz (a prize-winning Israeli author, born in 1939 CE) grew up in Europe, the walls were covered with graffiti that said:

So we came back to Palestine, and the world shouts at us:

SOURCE: Jew in the City, 2014 July 3

Mr. Cohen said...

“A renowned Saudi journalist (Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed) said that extremist Islam is like Nazism and the only way to eliminate it is to combat its ideology,”


Mr. Cohen said...

“Israel, it ought to be recalled, is the only country in the world targeted for annihilation. That has been true from the day it was proclaimed as a state in 1948 until today [December 2015].

It was true before Israel was forced to conquer East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

It was true after three Israeli prime ministers: Yitzchak Rabin, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert, agreed to give up virtually all of Gaza and the West Bank to the Palestinians to set up a Palestinian state.

It was [still] true after Israel have every inch of Gaza to the Palestinians.

All of which proves that when Palestinian spokesmen say they want peace, they do not mean peace WITH Israel, they mean peace WITHOUT Israel.”

SOURCE: Why I am in Israel and you should be by Dennis Prager, December 2015, Country Yossi magazine, December 2015, page 48

Adam Goldberg said...

"Carthago delenda est!"
*Carthage must be destroyed!*

Israel isn't the only country that's been the target of such malice. But I'm mekabel what you are saying. Erev Shabbat shalom and happy Chanukah!