Eretz Yisrael Time

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

“The Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University announces a competition, open to creative thinkers of every kind, to produce a major work in the English language that aims to change the way Jews think about themselves and their community.

Hmmm. I think there is something missing here.

Let’s take up this challenge for a second.

My first and perhaps only question is, “What is wrong with the way Jews think about themselves and their community, that it requires changing?”

Looking at my own community, I think we’re pretty good. We keep the Torah. We’re good people. We’re proud Jews. We stand up for what we believe in. We help one another. We work hard in all fields of life. We build shuls and communities. Our intermarriage rates are low. Our birthrates are high. Our schools (admittedly expensive) are full of students that usually graduate, and usually graduate to advanced degrees. We produce leaders, and soldiers, and doctors, and scientists, and rabbis, and bus drivers and mechanics.

Our communities are healthy, successful and vibrant, and we properly perceive ourselves the same way.

What more can one ask for?

What is wrong about us?

Perhaps we’re not taking enough senior leadership roles in Israeli society (but we’re working on it).

Perhaps we can be doing more Kiruv for those unfortunate sectors of society that do need to change the way they think about themselves and their community.

And perhaps that is the answer to this challenge.

On one hand, we have parts of Ultra-Orthodox society (with certain notable exceptions) isolating themselves away like Essenes, not only from the non-Ultra-Orthodox, but even from different sects within the Ultra-Orthodox. Not a healthy situation, but one that they will be directly forced to confront at some point or another and resolve.

But, the other side of the spectrum is even worse.

Non-Orthodox society is disintegrating as a Jewish society.

Intermarriage rates are at all time highs – above 50%. Communities are disappearing as Jewish communities. Israeli society as a whole can’t seem to define why it belongs in Israel, much less in control of Israel. People are trying to save their streams of Judaism by calling non-Jews Jews, as if that is a magic formula. Band-aid solutions like Birthright and this competition are being created to save “Judaism”.

In fact solutions like this are being offered because the sponsors recognize that their brands of Judaism are in a downward tail spiral and they are looking for a way out.

The right question isn’t how “to change the way Jews think about themselves and their community”, but rather how “to change the way non-Orthodox Jews think about themselves and their community”.

I think the answer to the correct question is in the question itself.

It is hard to maintain continuity, membership, history, mission, relevance, internalized meaning, and permanence when the basis for your definition of Jew and Jewish doesn’t embrace those concepts, or when it does include even diminished versions of even one of those concepts, those that should know of them are often ignorant of them.

Birthright has shown some minimal success because it has embraced membership (Israel) and history (Israel again), but it certainly doesn’t provide mission, relevance, internalized meaning, and permanence, and that is why it is a short-term band-aid solution.

The solution is to look at the sector of Jewish society that is succeeding and emulate them.

The solution is to get more Jews to be Torah observant, and just as importantly to understand (internally) why they are Torah observant.

For those of us in the Orthodox sector, we must change the way we see the non-religious community. Not to write them off as lost, but to help them find their way back to Torah Judaism and our Jewish future.

If I win this prize, I would teach Torah and do Kiruv at Brandeis.

That is the correct answer to this challenge.


Anonymous said...

Interesting challenge. I think if they saw/understood and obviously liked your ways/views, there would not have been a need to propose the question to begin with...Undoubtedly, they're looking for a "new" meaning/change or whatever they want to call it. Apparentely, the "Orthodox" views have not been successfully transmitted.
Good luck!

JoeSettler said...

What is interesting is that the inspiration (according to the site) for this contest was a similar question in 1929 which launched Reconstructionist Judaism.

We know how successful that was.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

"Non-Orthodox society is disintegrating as a Jewish society."

While this is true, the non -Ortho organizations don't see themselves as a problem , but think of themselves as a bulwark against assimmilation.(their words not mine).
They have too much invested in their own organizations to take the proverbial first step.
I remember once reading that a reform Jew being told that he has to become orth to stay in the fold would have as much effect as telling an MO they have to become Satmar to achieve the same thing.
Kiruv is great and people like Jeff Seidel( I haven't heard that name in 25 years- I saw your jameel post, )Chabad ,Aish et al do a great job but truth be told the returnees are and will only be a drop in the bucket.
Perhaps the geneticists that theorize the "G-D gene" are correct and maybe only some Jews will ever be observant. There always was and will always be people leaving the fold. Unfortunately because of Shoah the hard core was almost wiped out and many who were left world wide don't care.Those don't even make a pretense of caring.
Since the greatest enemies of JOESETTLER jews are often Jews, sometimes I wonder if assimmilation is such a bad thing. Should we be sad that Adam Shapiro married out? if Israel had 8 million frumies I wouldn't lose a moments sleep from 1 million secular yordim.
Still there are many with good hearts that don't want to leave the fold even if they can't become ortho. Whoever can solve this problem deserves a prize.

JoeSettler said...

There is no doubt that I’ve occasionally had the random thought that we should simply let the non-Orthodox travel unhindered down their desired path. Their end result will be the same as the historical end result of other splinter groups (no matter how large each grew to at some point).

But as Jameel has pointed out to me (he can sometimes be a moderating factor), losing so many more Jews that isn’t necessarily a good idea, and just as importantly, we are an Am Kadosh, and that includes everyone whether they are religious or not, and they also have a part to play in our national mission.

I am a big believer in Jim Collin’s theory ”From Good to Great”) that for any group to be successful (“great”) and survive over the long term, it requires a hard core center that is willing to hold on tightly to the ideals, values and purpose of the group while being able to deal dynamically with the realities and challenges around them.

(True, in his theory, I presume the periphery doesn’t go off on their own, but in our reality, whether they want to admit it or not, the other Jewish splinter groups still look at Torah Judaism as the baseline they don’t want to follow.)

I think that theory explains the Jewish nation to a T.

As the Core we need to continue to guide this boat for everyone, even if our periphery is trying to steer us into the shoals.

On the other hand, it is easier to destroy from within, and that is why our greatest enemy will sometimes be ourselves. There are definitely some people (from my perspective) that both Judaism and the World would be better off not having.

Going back to your first statement that these groups see themselves as the bulwarks against assimilation, and their investments prevent proper introspection, they are being confronted with hard statistical data that shows that they are completely failing at being bulwarks.

Again, that is why this particular gauntlet was thrown down, and other band-aid solutions are being proffered.

However, as long as they are unwilling to address the core problem (which is their ideology and desire to not follow Torah Judaism) then any solution will continue to be a band-aid solution.

I think the Israeli phrase “The shul I don’t go to is Orthodox” is the key. People will always be more religious and less religious. As long as we can agree on the baseline (core rules, values and ideology), being non-religious suddenly becomes less of a problem.

Moshe Feiglin has it right.

The problem is knowledge and education. Unlike what the scaremongers say, Feiglin is not trying to turn Israel into a Clerical State. He is trying to introduce a baseline of common history, knowledge, and values in the Jewish state, so that (a) internal dialogue is possible based on a common language, and (b) the citizens of the state will share a common desired future, not one dictated by unenforceable laws (unless one is a dictatorship).

Feiglin doesn’t want state-enforced Jewish laws on the individual (on government institutions – yes), but he wants Jewish kids to know why they are Jewish, what Jewish means, and what is the Jewish vision, and their own Jewish history.

That alone is enough, and that is why the Left in Israel try so hard to reduce/remove that component of the education from the school system – because they know that if kids were exposed to it, they would realize that Judaism isn’t the primitive boogieman they’ve been inculcated into believing it is.

Daniel said...

"they are being confronted with hard statistical data that shows that they are completely failing at being bulwarks"
They feel that without them things would be worse. While they have a vested interest in the status quo, many truly believe the former. Now there latest project is to make interfaith couples more comfortable.
"why our greatest enemy will sometimes be ourselves" ?sometimes?
Any group or organization that fights orthos or Israel-be it eruvs, vouchers, building yeshivas, boycotts, you name it is top heavy with Jewish libs/leftists.Is it a crime to want those Jews to marry out and disappear?
As the Core we need to continue to guide this boat for everyone, even if our periphery is trying to steer us into the shoals. agreed
Moshe Feiglin has it right.-agreed

Anonymous said...

The thought that comes to mind when I was a bit younger & almost totally non observant is that there were "the others", the "Orthodox", holding Judaism together as the strong glue. Although I didn't want to follow that path (much too difficult) I was greatful that "the others" did. I still felt good about being Jewish.
But, also very importantly was that I didn't hear any bad comments about religious Jews in my home & therefore, I never had the need to feel that I had to join the ranks of Reform or Conservative to escape "something".
As an aside, I hear that Jerusalem is being divided....My suggestion is that it should be mandatory for Olmert & Co. to take a basic course in Judaism 101 before being allowed to continue on this disastrous path.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on being published in Arutz-7!

JoeSettler said...

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