Tuesday, May 08, 2007

is being part of a non-orthodox movement better than no connection to judaism?

I don’t want to get into a full discussion of this piece by Jonathan Schorsch in the Jerusalem Post, as it seems more about politics than philosophy, but these paragraphs raise an interesting point worth considering:

What is it to the Orthodox if others prefer a more critical Judaism or a humanistic one? These streams keep thousands upon thousands of Jews connected to Judaism, even if in ways scoffed at by those who would demand that they observe the entire Shulhan Aruch.

Surely this is better than their having no connection whatsoever with Judaism?

Schorsch means this to be a rhetorical question, but I am not sure that Avi Shafran (who the piece was written in response to) or others would not opt for the ‘no connection’ choice. What do you think?


  1. Anonymous11:13 AM

    I think the vast majority of frum people feel that practicing an inauthentic form of Judaism is somehow better than having "no connection". But to admit that would be to give inauthentic forms of Judaism some form of validity, which is a no no.

    On the other hand, it can be easier to m'karev Jews who have no connection to Judaism because they have not been brain-washed by the rhetoric of the leaders of fake Judaisms and/or do not feel animosity against Orthodox Jews for explicitly rejecting their form of worship. A while ago I was talking with someone who went to the same highschool as me who has since become one of the heads of the Hillel at an Ivy league university. He made sure to stick into our conversation, out of the blue, that "Talmud is joke". (He couldn't wait to get that out of his system). I doubt I would ever hear such obnoxious talk from a competely unaffiliated Jew.

    It would be a very interesting study to see the percentage of BTs who were affiliated with some form of Judaism beforehand v. those were not or how those who are affiliated respond to Kiruv efforts as opposed to those who are unaffiliated. I wonder what effort Kiruv organizations make to treat them differently.

  2. i think that this is a real dividing line within the orthodox community, and especially within orthodox educational institutions. i have never, ever seen a 'kiruv professional' and very, very rarely seen an orthodox educator (esp. the torah umesorah umbrella) acknowledge IN PRACTICE that a r or c rabbi has more to offer a particluar group of students than the orthodox rabbi does. i think many o rabbis would agree in principle that it's better to be c than nothing, but with nary a practical 'nafka mina' - and that's what makes all the difference.

  3. >>>It would be a very interesting study to see the percentage of BTs who were affiliated with some form of Judaism beforehand v. those were not

    One study that comes to mind: see p.37 of the Brandeis Jewish Pop. Survey (blogged about it once before - read with a grain of salt) that has these statistics.

  4. I'm not sure Rabbi Shafran would opt for no connection, although he may not necessarily say it publicly, as it can't be said in polemics.

    Indeed, the very proof is in the pudding: although the opportunity for genuine schism between the Orthdox and non-Orthodox was there ala the actual separation between the Karaites and the Rabbanites, this never happened in modern times between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox. Rather, a conscious effort was made *not* to divide the Jewish people in twain along the earlier lines, and so it is to this day.

    True, maybe it's because this time around the Orthodox are the 10%, but even at the outset, when the Reformers were small in number, neither the Orthodox nor the non-Orthodox ever decided in practice (or even in principle) that we are not connected.

    If utter lack of connection is preferable to non-Orthodoxy, why would public policy not have been to push Jews away from non-Orthodox movements, even if it meant away from any connection?

  5. S -
    Again, I am not sure what Shafran would say, but I am not so sure you are right about not creating a schism. Don't organizations like Agudah (which Shafran is the spokesperson for) eschew participation in organizations like Synagogue Council or NY Board of Rabbis which include Rabbis of other 'demoninations'? And they also eschew participating even in purely political events that include other 'denominations', e.g. a few years ago Agudah did not join the mass ralley in Washington. There is for all intents and purposes no cooperation between groups whatsoever on political or communal issues, and certainly on halachic issues, e.g. gittin, kiddushin, conversion, there is no recognition of the validity of non-orthodox approaches. If that's not a schism, what is?

  6. >If that's not a schism, what is?

    What is schism?

    How about "We are Karaites, not Jews." "We will not marry you Karaites." "We will not marry you Rabbanites."

    That's schism. The silent treatment? I'm sure the Gra wouldn't have sat on a synagogue board with a rebboh either.

  7. >>>How about "We are Karaites, not Jews." "We will not marry you Karaites."

    We are quibbling over definitions. To respond to your example, what committed Orthodox jew will marry a Reform Jew who keeps halacha by their standards? One or the other has to give. To use what I think is a better indicator, a person who converts in a reform ceremony is by orthodox standards considered a gentile. The child born after a couple disolves their marriage with a reform get may be a mamzer. This is far beyond the GR"A's polemic against chassidus or the silent treatment.

    Of course you can argue that an Orthodox Rabbi will step in and marry two Reform Jews, but would never perform a kiddushin ceremony for two Christians, so there is still some recognition of their falling under the umbrella of 'Judaism'. If that is your threshold of 'schism' then I'll concede the point and not argue over the meaning of the word.

  8. My point was the the Karaites and Rabbanites effectively split into separate peoples, particularly in Europe, where the Karaites deny that they are Jewish or even descended from Jews.

    There is no halakhic opinion that prevents Orthodox or Reform Jews from marrying one another. I understand your point that OJs will implicitly not marry a Reform Jew who will not practice, more or less, Orthodox. But let's say such a case will happen. Is there a rav who say there can be no kiddushin?

    True separatism means that one people becomes two. I don't think I'm merely arguing over the definition: my point is that there is a historic and important difference between how heterodox Jews were treated in the past and how they are today. It still might not be pretty, but pretty much all Jews, across the spectrum, have decided that all Jews ought to remain Jews.

  9. Bob Miller11:17 AM

    People can connect to performing some mitzvot, and later progress to more and more mitzvot, done in a better and better manner, with more and more understanding.

    But if at some point they are convinced by some ideological razzle-dazzle that such improvement is not required or even desired, and that those at the higher levels of observance have it all wrong, progress is stopped in its tracks.

    Someone who can sense somewhere along the line that something is wrong with his way of life and belief system is open to correcting it. Someone who accepts the solemn assurances of an authority figure that everything is OK as-is may never wake up.