Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sex Before Marriage

Rabbi Maryles wrote an essay on Immorality in Western Culture (12/22/06). In the comments section I took issue with what he said. The following post is a reworking of some of my remarks on the narrower topic of immorality in the liberal Jewish world.

Socially conservative Orthodox Jews often feel that outside their walled city, America is experiencing a serious decline of morals. My feeling is there are many, many reasons why one ought to be Orthodox, but the fear that otherwise one’s children will become drug-addicted, sex-obsessed degenerates is not one of them. There are two reasons why I believe this. I don’t believe America is drug-addicted or sex-obsessed, and I don’t believe that children of liberal Jews end up in a bad way.

We first need a sort of clarifying point. Let’s say it’s true that no Orthodox child ever ended up taking heroin, and let’s say that a tenth of one percent of non-Orthodox children ended up heroin addicts, i.e. 5,000 addicts. Would that be a reason, in and of itself, to be Orthodox? I think not. A certain number of people die every year on a highway, we continue driving. A certain number of people die every year swimming in the ocean, or mountain climbing, or taking an airplane, or living in Chicago. Most people will not run away from these activities, because there is some slight danger. So, the argument from drugs, I think, can be dismissed straight out. The danger is too small, even if it is thousands of times larger than in Orthodoxy.

Let us now turn to the issue of sex. It is not true, in my opinion, that most non-frum kids are promiscuous or sex-obsessed. I believe what happens in general is this… Many if not most non-Orthodox Jewish people have or hope to have premarital sex. That is they meet, they date, they have sex, they move in together and they eventually split or get engaged. The full cycle is from 6 months to five years. The big problem in secular American Jewish life is that both young men and women can’t find suitable partners to begin the cycle. The typical marriage age is in the mid thirties which is a human and a Jewish tragedy.

Young singles may not even enter a relationship with the intent to marry, but they are not 'sleeping around'. They take a wait and see attitude towards marriage, but such behavior cannot be described as casual sex or promiscuous. The point may be something less than obvious to some. I remind everyone the meaning of promiscuous is having casual sexual relations frequently with a number of different partners; or having sex in an indiscriminate way and lacking standards of selection. The liberal Jewish kids are in violation of halacha for multiple reasons, the most serious being the woman are menstruating and are not going to the mikvah. They may not be acting properly according to senses of propriety and baalbatishkeit that were dominant in the past, and are still prevalent in Orthodoxy and other socially conservative Jewish circles. But they do have standards, even if they are newly developed standards, and there is a logic to their behavior. With a 50% divorce rate there is something to be said for people who for independent reasons do not feel bound by halacha, and are still finding themselves as individuals to try things out for a while and see how it goes.

I doubt if there is a serious attempt being made in liberal Jewish life to promote abstinence before marriage. It is accepted as natural part of the dating and marriage ritual. Even where there are intense feelings about abstinence, religion in general seems to have little impact on premarital sex. 80 percent of Americans are Christians, 90 percent believe in God, 70 percent pray regularly, and half attend church at least once a month. Evangelicals are one third of the population or 100 million. Roman Catholics are 60 million. Both preach abstinence and are conservative on social issues. More than 80% of the population has premarital sex. Preaching and teaching against sex without marriage, outside of Orthodoxy, is something of a beracha levatalaw, ( invoking God’s name in vain.)

People who believe the basic rule for sexual encounters in society is casual sex disassociated from feeling do not take into account the very real fears of AIDS and the many types of s.t.d.'s. Jewish kids in general are careful, do not get pregnant and take care of themselves in a responsible way. I can’t prove this, but I can offer anecdotal evidence. I have never, ever heard parents of non religious Jewish college kids voice any serious concerns about the dangers their children are facing in college and after. Having asserted that the dangers are not overwhelming, I acknowledge some young Jewish singles and some not so young singles act out and are promiscuous for a while. Nobody knows the percentages, but it is much, much more than in Orthodox life. Here the danger is not so low that it can be dismissed easily. To put a number on it, say 10-20 % are shall we say partying too intensely. Even here the behavior has to be put into a context. The average American kid has sex while still in high school. Jewish kids marry in their late 20's early 30's. They say the average age in the NYTimes only simchas pages is 32. They are not being promiscuous for 14 years straight. It doesn't go like that. People go through periods, people are different, and most everyone stops. Some don’t. They are for the most part guys, aspiring Don Juans These guys are indeed cads, do a fair amount of damage and frequently end up alone and depressed.

Orthodox Jews when confronted with a 10-20% chance their child might act out even for a short period of time find the possibility so horrendous they feel reconfirmed in their way of life. Liberal Jews, though hoping such an event never comes to pass are more understanding and accepting of the dangers of freedom. They consider the possibility of going off the beaten path, of stumbling and becoming confused part of the process of growing up as an autonomous free person. They feel you can’t both encourage children to think for themselves, develop their own unique personalities and creativity and guarantee there will never be any false steps. I would say the key difference between Orthodoxy and the rest of Jewish society, besides the obvious halacic considerations, is not the attitudes towards risk. Most galuth Jews are not gamblers and buy insurance. I think the main difference lies in the degree of perfectionism. It is less horrendous to a liberal Jew that their child is not firmly on the road to carrying out a coherent life plan. They have a greater tolerance for the false starts that frequently occur, the late adolescence, the lack of clarity or firm purpose, the need to experiment and find oneself throughout the life cycle. As in life, so in sex and marriage. Liberal Jews are more tolerant of grey, Orthodox Jews less so.

IMHO, from the little I know, the current scene isn’t ‘chassidish,’ but it is quite different from the sixties, which was wild and really immature. Political conservatives keep on talking about America as if everyone is today in the middle of Haight Ashberry in the summer of love. Vice and sin are everywhere. (We must keep in mind that liberal Jews are not part of the quasi permanent welfare underclass, where indeed there are many who lead chaotic lives) Why they feel the need to see America as sexually irresponsible and out of control is an interesting question that lends itself to different possible interpretations. For one thing, they might be right and I am the one who refuses to see the world as it really is. A person’s attitude to pre-marital sex is as good a test as any to find out where one stands on the liberal- conservative spectrum. I prefer to see the world as a friendly and safe place, full of opportunities and interesting possibilities for all Jews.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Five Ideas for a More Jewish America

There are many rich Jews in America who would like to engage in a meaningful Jewish charity. At times it is difficult for them to know how to go about doing this. I want to make some suggestions. Since I am not involved in any institution and I’m not asking for any money, I feel I am somewhere on the road to being impartial. I believe that one of the big problems in American Judaism, outside New York, is that there is no place for Jews to meet. I’ll discuss this problem in terms of Chicago. But what is true of Chicago, is true in dozens and dozens of cities all across America.

A Jew who is not religious or does not attend synagogue on a regular basis can not rely on religious services to provide something of a Jewish social life. There are only a few alternatives. One can belong to a Jewish country club or one can belong to the Standard Club downtown. Both are rather expensive and, in the case of country clubs, it only works if you’re interested in golf and having frequent meals at the club. A non-davening Jew who is not interested in golf has a problem. The way the problem is solved is that people and couples meet one-on-one. Here’s the way it goes…you ask your wife, let’s say today, if she would like to go out with the So-and-So’s; she says yes. She calls. Mrs. So-and-so says, “Yes, Let me look in my daybook. I’ll be away for the holidays and then I’m booked for the first two Saturday nights in January. What about the Saturday night after that?” Twenty minutes later, after daybook meets daybook, they have penciled in March 12th.

The problem with young people is even more serious. How does a young man or woman in the city of Chicago meet someone their age that is Jewish? Even if one is willing to go to a bar and try one’s luck, there are, to the best of my knowledge, no Jewish bars on Rush Street or anywhere in the city. The Federations have funded, in a very generous way, the JCCs. As far as I can tell, these community centers are being used by children for swimming and by older women for mahjong and card games. Middle-aged people, between 18 and 78, fall through the rafters. The Federation having funded the JCCs is not about to cough up big bucks to solve this problem.

I propose a five-part solution:

Makor everywhere…Michael Steinhardt was onto something very important when he bought a building in mid-town Manhattan and dedicated the space solely to young people to meet, hang out, watch movies, etc. Makor has become an important part of the social lives of young single Jews in Manhattan. A similar project should be started in Chicago and across the country. It would be a great success. I estimate the cost at around 1-2 million plus annual expenses of around 100 thousand, maybe less depending on location. Some of the events could be self-funding. Creating such spaces nationwide is the single most important thing that can be done to help young Jewish people get married.

Coffee houses…Jews who would like to talk to other Jews have no place to meet. Coffee houses, even pubs are the solution. It is particularly important to have some such space for the western, southern and northwestern suburbs, where Jews are really isolated. The entire city can be covered with six-seven establishments. They would contain Jewish magazines, newspapers, some political and cultural events. There could be debates, discussions, readings, movies, etc. These places might run at a slight deficit but the total amount should not be a big number. If Starbucks can get rich, these places should be able to get close to breaking even.

Develop a Jewish mall… There is no shortage of iffy strip malls. A real estate person who has a penchant for good deeds should buy one and put in 10 Jewish retail spaces. A restaurant, a book store, and stores that are not so obvious, maybe one of the coffee houses mentioned above. Borough Park in a mall. I would get a secular restaurateur of some renown, to develop the restaurant. Let’s face it; Orthodox Jews should not be in the restaurant business. It should be kosher but not visibly so, thus attracting all segments of the population. In Chicago there are many places you can find a Talmud lecture. People love to shop. Try finding a pleasant Jewish shopping experience.

A restaurant downtown …Subsidize if necessary a good kosher business- restaurant downtown. Here again Jews need a space to meet. Jews around the country want to know they can travel to a city and find places to eat. The lack of such confidence keeps Jews close to home. Chicago’s Jewish life would benefit from more Jewish visitors.

Cultural events… Create a serious cultural events program similar to the 92nd street Y, but with a somewhat greater Jewish focus. The emphasis would be on the frequency and quality of events. The goal would be to get Jews out of their easy chairs for something worthwhile that isn’t a simcha or a fundraiser. Different synagogues and organizations sponsor events, but they are infrequent, uncoordinated and all too often uninteresting. One of the main problems with American Judaism is that it has a tendency to boredom. A dynamic cultural series requires planning and funding. If done right it could revitalize the Jewish life in a city.

I see that Skokie is building a Holocaust Museum at a cost of $42 million dollars. In L.A. the Wiesenthal Center raises hundreds of millions of dollars. YIVO, Yad Veshem, the History Museum in NY, the Holocaust Center in Washington all manage to raise large amounts of money to celebrate and remember dead Jews. It is easier to raise money for backward looking charities than for forward looking life affirming strategies. I do not even want to speculate why dead Jews are more popular with big donors than present and future of Jews.

There is so much to do. There is so much money out there. The world and even the Jewish world is awash with cash. Funding Jewish education requires hundreds of millions, maybe billions. ($ 10,000 per child x 12 years x 100,000 children =12 billion.) The projects I mentioned make a noticeable difference for a couple of million.

Why, with so many Jewish apparatchiks is there such an absence of utopian thinking? Why is American Jewish life both complacent and pessimistic? Everyone has their own answer. I attribute this triad of ‘everything is ok, nothing can be done, the future is grim’ to the wholesale abandonment of the utopian left by American Jews. The great grandfather might have been a socialist-anarchist. The grandfather was a FDR Democrat. The father was a Scoop Jackson Democrat. The son is a neo-con Republican. The grandchild dreams of Goldman Sachs.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hannah and Martin

In my last blog I used an idea from the philosopher Martin Heidegger to explain a feature of Orthodoxy. Heidegger was a full fledged Nazi, and was tried as a war criminal after the war. He was an academic and did not directly kill anyone; but he was a Nazi supporter from the beginning. He never recanted and continued defending the ideals of Nazism though not all the genocidal acts of the Hitler regime. If the reader thinks this use of Heidegger is inappropriate and perverse I can certainly understand such an objection. Nevertheless I ask the reader to consider the following:

Two of the greatest philosophers of Judaism in the last 50 years, by world if not internal Jewish standards are Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, both French Jews. They both became who they are through trying to understand where they disagree with Heidegger. He is already deeply embedded in contemporary secular Jewish philosophy. I know it is very strange and ironic.

Heidegger has entered Jewish life in an even stranger and more twisted way. Hannah Arendt when she was in her twenties was the lover of her university professor Martin Heidegger. The latter, afraid that his wife would discover the affair eventually broke with his Jewish mistress. Hannah Arendt went on to marry a Jew, got divorced, and then married a non-Jewish German communist. In the 30’s while living in France she worked on behalf of Jewish refugee causes. Arendt spoke on Heideggers behalf at his de-nazification hearings. The non-Jewish philosopher Karl Jaspers and Arendt’s second philosophical mentor spoke against Heidegger at these same hearings, suggesting he would have a detrimental influence on German students because of his powerful teaching.

When the Eichman trial came she was sent by the New Yorker as a correspondent, and her articles were published in book form under the title “Eichman in Jerusalem”. Hanna Arendt went on to have a long and distinguished career as a political philosopher. Besides her work on Eichman, Arendt published two other books on Jewish themes, one on Rachel Vahniger, a Jewish apostate salonieren in the Berlin of the 1790’s, and one on general themes of being a Jewish refugee and other topics.

When the Eichman book came out it caused a literary food fight the likes of which I have never seen before or since. She wrote mean and maybe unfair things about how Jews cooperated with Nazis in organizing the ghettos, how the Nazis would have murdered fewer Jews had the Jews not been so passive, the banality of evil and much more. She drew blood and the carnage was not pretty. In the end it was something of a stalemate. She was not discredited, but she did not score any victories.

What was not known at the time but is widely known today is that during this entire episode Arendt was writing to Heidegger. She visited him and his wife Elfriede throughout her lifetime. We now know that the Heideggers had an ‘open marriage’ with both parties having engaged in multiple affairs. Nevertheless Elfriede remained insanely jealous of Arendt throughout her life. Arendt wrote to Karl Jaspers and others long letters trying to get her hands around the problem of her philosophical indebtedness to a man who would have had her murdered. Most significant were her printed attempts to sanitize her ex lover and make his philosophy acceptable in the liberal democracies. It is fair to say that Hannah Arendt, knowing of her continued and past relationship with Heidegger should never have accepted the Eichman assignment. Had it been known at the time, her opponents would have buried her.

And it becomes even more interesting. An edited subset of the Heidegger- Arendt correspondence is available in German. There must be more important and in all likelihood embarrassing material in the sealed archives which will eventually come out. If you ask me, I am convinced Hanna never stopped loving Martin, and Martin never stopped loving Hannah. As the Valley girls are apt to say “it is so very, very weird”, a lifelong love affair between a beautiful Jewish woman from Koenigsberg and a Catholic Nazi from rural Messkirch. If it hadn’t happened no one could have thought this up.

Hannah Arendt is the most complex and subtle example of Jewish self hatred I have ever encountered.

Postscript…I showed this post to a friend and he wasn’t too happy with it. One point he makes … how do I know that Arendt’s behavior can’t be accounted for simply by her being in love. How do I know it is self hatred? My response it that we know from her other correspondence that she has very harsh comments and much contempt for the many Jews who were beneath her culturally. So we begin with someone who wasn’t exactly an ohaeiv yisroel (a lover of fellow Jews), who having been rejected by her lover who then becomes an active Nazi, spends formidable energy in rehabilitating his reputation. It sure looks to me as similar to the psychopathologies found in Sandor Gillman and Peter Gay.

I’ll close (lekaf zechus) with my friend’s question: Why blog negatively on Arendt's oddness, rather than amaze at it? What if she was the smartest Jewess ever?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Yekke Man, Galitzianer Man

I have noticed on internet dating sites Orthodox people include in their self representations religious virtues and character traits, whereas secular Jewish people usually list common interests and activities (see my post 6/18). I want to know why this is so? Here’s my thought:

The Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger constructed the valuable abstract concept of dasein, the distinctive way a human being has of being in the world, his way of going through life, his relationship to his future & to his surroundings, the sort of human he is. Dasein is different from what is called a lifestyle. I dislike the term ‘lifestyle’. What is its antonym, a death style? Can you go through life without a lifestyle? Can you lose your lifestyle? I much prefer the term ‘dasein’, because the idea of lifestyle is usually spelled out in terms of activities, and the corresponding consumerism

There is a difference, a major one between the dasein of Orthodoxy and the rest of Judaism. There is no special way of being in the world as a Reform Jew. Whatever way a human is, his style, his sensibility, his personality, how he walks through life, is not in general essentially determined by his reformness. He’s a weasel or a macher, he’s anxious or not, depressed or happy or bipolar. Whatever he is, he is. Going to Temple does not affect how he is, though it might change his identity. The same is true for Conservatives and all the rest, except Ultra Orthodox. Modern Orthodoxy is generally the same as UO, but to the extent it is like all the rest, to that extent the Ultra Orthodox have a problem with it.

It’s easier to explain this concept via a concrete example. Imagine a human being is a movie star, say Humphrey Bogart. Going to temple will not affect his dasein in the world. If he enters as Bogart, sitting in some pew will not turn him into Cary Grant or even Edgar Bronfman. Not so Ultra Orthodoxy. A man starts out as Bogart, becomes a Satmar Chasid, yeshivish, a Breuer yekke, a Belzer chasid, whatever, provided it is Ultra Orthodox, he isn’t coming out as Bogart. He’ll come out as a Satmarer, a yeshiva Torah person, a Torah im derech eretz Orthodox, a Galitzianer chasid. Becoming a stripe of Ultra Orthodoxy changes your being-in-the-world, because in becoming Ultra Orthodox you discover how to be a member of your stripe, and that involves a change in your dasein. There are no special classes, no Reb Yoelish for Dummies, not at all. Nevertheless, hang in Satmar for a year or two, provided you have enough cultural capital to speak the languages and socialize, you’ll end up a Satmarer, you’ll slouch the way they slouch, you’ll talk the way they talk, the hat will be tilted the way they tilt. In time you’ll think the way they think, serve God in their distinctive way and so on. Eventually you’ll say things like ‘’those Zionists y’’ms(may they disappear from the face of the earth).’’ It’s magical. The religion gets to your kishkes; it shapes and informs the very being that you are.

For those familiar with Rabbi Solovetchik’s famous essay Halakhhic Man, I am saying there is not only a phenomenology of being a Brisker lamdan, there is also a distinct way of being a frum yekke , a galitzianer chasid and so on. There is Yekke Man, Galizianer Man, but no Reform Man. A talented and sensitive writer should be able to give a phenomenological account of what it is like to be a representative man of any one of these UO stripes.

Being UO is more like being a Hells Angel or a Chinese peasant or a member of the high British aristocracy, than say being a dentist, or a golfer. The attractiveness of the Orthodox way of life is not just that it is an off the rack set of rules how to act. It is first and foremost a way to be. It’s difficult to put into words, but a dasein, a way of being in the world is deeper, much deeper than a person’s identity, (in the sense of the term popularized by Erikson), or self, (in the Kohut sense of an arc of ambitions and ideals). Being Ultra Orthodox, results in a special way of being alive at a particular place and time. The study of Torah, the performance of rituals and prayer, and the multiple acts of personal charity changes the very way you go through life, and the way you are attached to this world.

I feel Reform and Conservative Judaism would be more successful if they could create and exhibit ideal types that people could internalize and use as an ideal, which in turn would bring about a distinctive way of being Conservative or being Reform. (See my post on Conservative Baseball Cards, 8/10.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Chances of Getting Married

Secular and liberal Jews in America are disappearing for many reasons, one of them being they marry so late in life that there isn’t enough time to have many children. By age 35, 52 percent of Jewish men are unmarried and 36 percent of Jewish women are unmarried. The key is that when the little darlings decide it’s time to get married, they should find someone in a reasonable amount of time. I mean, if a kid doesn’t get serious until their late twenties and it takes them three to five years to find their bashert, plus two to four years of hanging out and living together before they are certain, we’re talking mid-to late-thirties. It is not easy to have twelve kinderlach when you start in your late thirties.

I came across a formidable study from MIT- Sloan that discusses the topic of mate preferences in online dating. You know JDate has arrived if the social scientists are trying to figure out how to game the system. The results are not breathtaking, yet there are some interesting ideas. The study was of 23,000 people spanning a number of dating sites. The authors were allowed access to the clicks, i.e. when one person clicked on some profile, and then were given access to the list of subsequent e-mails. So the statisticians have this large database when a click results in an e-mail. If you make the assumption that e-mails are correlated to marriage, you now have a large statistical sample of what makes somebody an attractive candidate for marriage. I will now list some results with comments.

1.) Men who indicate a preference for a less than serious relationship are contacted less often than men who are serious. Women are not affected by such indications and, in fact, if they’re looking for a casual relationship, they get 17% more first contact e-mails.
2.) Outcomes are strongly impacted by looks, with the results similar both for men and women. Height matters both for men and women but in opposite directions. Women like tall men, preferably in the 6’3-6’4 range, while the ideal height for women is in the 5’3-5’8 range. Taller women experience increasingly worse outcomes.
3.) The optimal BMI for men is 27. Such a BMI is considered slightly overweight. The optimal BMI for women is 17, which is considered underweight and corresponds with the figure of a supermodel. A woman with such a BMI receives 90% more first contact e-mails than a woman with a BMI of 25. The lesson is obvious, though the means of achieving these goals is of course difficult. I’ve already discussed this problem in detail in my “Zlata Wears Prada” post and I’m pleased to see my casual observations confirmed.
4.) Income strongly affects the success of men. Outcomes improve monotonically for income levels above $50,000. The success of women is at most marginally related to their income. Higher incomes do not appear to improve outcomes. (It would be interesting to know if this result is also true for Jews.)
5.) Occupation also influences success for men, but not for women. In fact, professional women have a slightly lower success rate. In the sample used in the study, the improvement in outcomes for men was 62% for lawyers, 45% for firemen, 38% for the military, and 35% for doctors. (Clearly, they were not sampling a predominantly Jewish population. To the best of my knowledge, Jewish women do not have a thing for firemen.)
6.) Women have a preference for men with equivalent education levels. Men with college or graduate degrees do not necessarily prefer women with a similar education level. Both educated men and women are avoided by those with only a high school education. (Since men are willing to marry women with less education, but women are not, the market isn’t going to clear for very educated women.)
7.) Women discriminate more strongly against members of different ethnicities than men. (See my blog of 10/06.)There is abundant ethnic group discrimination online. Blacks and Hispanics receive half as many first contacts from white women relative to white men, while Asian men receive fewer than 25% percent. (I believe the least popular group in America is Asian men.)

I’ll say what I learnt from this study. If you are a guy you should always present yourself as seriously searching for a mate, even if you’re only looking around. A girl should talk of having fun, her interests, etc. even if she is chalishing/dying to marry and have babies (#1).

Since search times are correlated with desirability, tall women, short guys and chubby everybody ought to start looking early. Having a personal trainer and going to a gym is not a luxury when it comes to a shiduch. (#2 & #3).

The real problem comes when a young woman has to decide on going to graduate school and working for an M.A. and/or doctorate. OTOH-OTOH. The world is such that women are discriminated against in the job market, and a masters and more is always helpful in overcoming these barriers. On the other hand, there is evidence that very educated women have a harder time finding mates. I find this fact one of the great injustices that women must endure. It’s outrageous that a woman is penalized for intelligence. I think, bottom line, most intelligent women refuse to accommodate themselves to this injustice, go on to acquire as much education as they want or need and let the shiduchim problem take care of itself. While I admire these women’s courage, I must say it is a cause of the lower than average birth rate of Jews.

Two final thoughts. Internet dating in particular share features of a winner take all phenomena. Imagine a woman who is in the second lowest quartile in terms of desirable features, such as looks, personality, etc. When there are so many desirable women ranked above her, why should she choose a guy in a similar rank and vice versa. There is every incentive to aim much higher, use a scatter gun approach and hope to get lucky. The learning curve is needlessly prolonged. Because of the number of opportunities available, it takes much longer to become realistic about one’s prospects. I think Rebbetzin Jungreis has achieved the success she has by making people in their thirties aware of these biases.

I read in the Sunday NY Times Magazine (12/13/06) that homophily is the new buzzword in social networks. We seem to have an inexorable tendency to link up with others in ways that confirm rather than test our core beliefs. The result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous. In other words we like someone like ourselves online and off. Besides explaining why MO and UO tend to cluster in non-overlapping groups it is also a useful tool in finding a mate. One can cut down on search times by only looking for mates similar to oneself. There is a way of doubling up on this insight…look for someone who is similar to you in hating the same people. A second article in the magazine claimed we enjoy meeting people who dislike the same people. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this insight after I have written four posts on how austritt holds a community together.

Have I just written Jewish self help column? (See Thursday’s post.) I hope not. I think of it as more of a gaming column, similar to how to win at twenty-one in Las Vegas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Orthodox Self Help Books

I see there is something of a market in Orthodox Jewish self-help books. I am thinking of getting into the business, as a sideline of course. I wouldn’t give up my night job of writing a blog. First there are the advice books on how to date and find the right match. I’ve already dealt with some of these issues in my discussions of JDate. I could adapt my posts to a more lonely-hearts form. Second there are these books on how to have a good marriage. No problem there. I need some stories of bad marriages that I saved with my sound advice. Maybe I’ll attend a few lectures of Rebbetzin Jungreis. She must be selling some tapes. Rebbetzin Jungreis is for me a model of self help. She was already famous and popular when I was a teenager, and she looks better than ever. Then there are the standard self-help problems…feelings of failure, depression, anxiety, etc. I know how to say, ‘’Yes you can’’, ten different ways, and if necessary I could always use “Be satisfied with your lot.” I guess you need some stories, case histories and such. I can ask around and read some other self-help books. I know a psychiatrist who specializes in post-partum depression. I can always ring her up.

References from the Talmud are always good…I can handle the Torah side, especially since its Torah light. Over the years I’ve made it a point to study the history of musar (traditional pietistic and ethical discourses). There must be some decent quotes from the Alter of Somewhere or Other. I am not fond of Novardik, but Kelm works. I’ve always liked the parables of the Dubno Magid. No question I could get into this line of work.

I am teasing. I would rather eat cardboard than write the sort of stuff that is frequently found in Jewish self help books. Don’t get me wrong. I have an ongoing interest in musar. I hate self-help. I think it is pretty much of a racket. The biggest customers for a new self-help book are those who already bought a self-help book. You would think they were already helped. But noooo…when they finish the first self-help book, they find themselves in need of a booster-shot shortly thereafter. Self- help books are like diet books. The only thing diet books really accomplish is to motivate people to buy a second diet book. There’s something about self-administered medicines or cures that lead to a certain excess. People who take vitamins don’t gobble a few vitamins; they swallow handfuls of the stuff. Vitamins lead to more vitamins. Diets bring on more diets. Self-help books, even Orthodox Jewish ones, generate more self-help books.

In the case of self-help books, the reason is clear enough. I think of musar as having two goals, deepening a Jew’s love and fear of God, and shaping character. I think of self help books as dealing primarily with personality issues. (My criticism doesn’t apply to writers who have some practical knowledge on how to game a system such as useful tricks on how to do this or that; for example, how to fix a faucet or contest a parking ticket.) Character can be dealt with top down, maybe. You can hopefully train yourself to overcome sloth or gluttony. Personality changes generally need to come from the bottom up, where many of the impulses and motives are largely unconscious. A person who is looking to improve his mental/emotional state will find it very difficult to talk himself into the cure. It only occurs if there’s a structural change inside the person, which frequently only occurs if the person understand the aetiology and actually grasps what he is doing in a vivid, moving way. Let’s say a person is guarded and pinched with his emotions. Telling yourself to cut it out and be more expansive and warm frequently leads to a guarded pinched person with a smiley face. You have to know where this trait came from; you have to see how it works in your life. It’s a very slow process. Following a ten-step program frequently just doesn’t work. When psychotherapy is called for, self help acts at most as a palliative, not as a viable substitute.

One more thought on the topic of musar and self-help: I read a while back that some rabbi was talking at a Torah Umesorah Convention. He was trying to explain to teachers, rebees in yeshivas how to inspire their students to be more enthusiastic about learning. He starts on this rant about self-esteem and the importance of confidence…one shouldn’t tell the kid he’s a dummy or a retard no matter how slow the child is, you have to make him feel that he is about to become a chasheva bochur (distinguished student) with just a little more effort. I said to myself, who allowed this idea of self-esteem into Jewish life? Was there an Agudah convention I missed? I recently learnt some late 19th century musar books borrowed the idea of a self improvement ledger from Benjamin Franklin. An idea that comes from outside Jewish thought can be made Jewish if it lasts long enough inside Jewish circles. Self-esteem, however, even in its pop psychology version is borrowed from fairly recent developments in clinical psychology, and the abundant literature on narcissism. If you look in musar seforim (books), there’s all this talk about gaiveh (arrogance) and breaking of the self. Its humility and modesty and unpretentiousness we want. Egotism, pomposity, pretension all big no-no’s. Everyone knows the chassidish punch line: “The “I” (the ha’anochi) stands between you and God.” In self-esteem talk, we try to make the person feel more important and significant. We mirror the person, confirm and strengthen his self image. In musar discourses about humility, the goal is try to make the person feel unimportant and insignificant.

Imagine a rebee who told a kid, “You know what you’re like. You’re like a potsherd that breaks a shadow that passes a dream that flies away. You’re a nothing. You came from dust and you’ll return to dust.” He’d be fired the same day and sent to reebe rehab. Who allowed all this self-esteem talk into Jewish life? Why wasn’t the introduction of a totally new way of talking a halachic rabbinical question? I say the change from humility talk to self-esteem talk is a bigger change than most of the insignificant issues people keep on fighting about. It’s a revolutionary change in how we understand a human being. (See my posts 10/20/06-10/23/06). It came right into charedi life, unannounced, and now has the imprint of Artscroll and Feldheim.

I think the self-esteem case is an example of a new idea that is taken up in Jewish life because it’s the right idea at the right time. It was an idea that worked and was therefore adopted side by side with older more traditional ideas. If you ask a rabbi, what about humility, is that important? He’ll, of course, say yes. Ask him ten minutes later about self-esteem, he’ll also say yes. Is this a crisis? Do we need a Slifkin of musar to reconcile the two? How there can be two parallel contradictory discourses/languages, and whether or not there’s any need for integration is an interesting topic.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Becoming Not Frum

The National Jewish Population Survey of 2001 reported that 20% of adult American Jews were raised Orthodox, but only 10% of adult American Jews currently identified as Orthodox. 17% of current Reform Jews were raised Orthodox. I have no idea exactly how to read these figures and I understand there are statistical problems involved in this study. It also might not be indicative of the situation today going forward. What is clear is that even today, with a much frumer population and with every step being taken to prevent anyone from dropping out, there are still a substantial number of Jews, especially young Jews in late adolescence and in their early twenties, who leave Orthodoxy.

There has been an ongoing discussion in Orthodox circles what to do about kids who don’t fit into the yeshiva system, most recently by Rabbi Maryles (11/26). There is a two lane highway into the walled city called Orthodoxy .The baal teshuvahs (repentants) are moving in; the skeptics and troubled youth are on their way out. Yeshivot are elite institutions with high standards, and are not made for everyone. Some kids are too dumb to excel. Some kids are smart but don’t excel in the topics the yeshivas teach. Some kids are just plain-out rebellious and high-spirited. Some, and I don’t think the numbers are large, were mistreated or molested by parents or someone in the community. Each of these groups requires special attention and special solutions. The common sense answer is to have many different institutions specializing in each of these different types of troubled young people with courses designed to speak to their strengths and, in turn, finding ways to keep them in the fold. Easy to say, hard to do. How to shape the curriculum and how to create such schools is an issue for educators and concerned parents, and not one I am really equipped to talk about.

I do have a few comments on the general issue. I feel that many times the most rebellious kids are amongst the best. Submission to authority is not always a virtue in a teenager, and breaking a kid, so that he toes the line, is not the best way to go. Sex and the very natural eagerness of adolescents to become involved in sexual activities must also be a factor. The philosopher Bertrand Russell, forever the wise guy, advocated allowing 12-13 year olds to have full sexual relations on the grounds that they would have the peace of mind to do mathematics. Teachers and counselors need some direction in how to deal with this issue. Being very strict might cause even greater rebellion. It requires a person who has above average emotional intelligence and some psychological training and aptitude to handle rebellious adolescents.

It might be a prejudice on my part, but I tend to believe that large and very large families have something to do with the problem. I simply don’t see how parents with eleven-thirteen kids can pay adequate attention to each child from birth through adolescence. I have two concerns in this regard. My suspicion is that children are raising children in some of these large families. I suspect some kids just fall between the rafters. I acknowledge I have seen many large and very large families where all the kids turned out great. My question is whether any significant correlation exists between troubled youth and larger families. My other question is whether there are any correlations between I.Q. scores and larger families? Even if a large component of I.Q. is genetic, there has to be some relationship between family environment, and in particular mother-child bonding in the first few years of life, and alertness and other cognitive skills. Does the size of a family make a difference? If the answer is yes, and I don’t know this, then having very large families is not a free lunch. It is not inconceivable that as we go forward, future generations of charedi youth will be less intelligent than their parents and grandparents.

The young people that leave Orthodoxy because of theological questions pose a different problem. In Israel, they call Jews who leave Orthodoxy chozerim be'she'alah (returning to a state of skepticism).Usually they are bright, educated, honest, and full of common sense. Rosh yeshivas and rabbis who have no college education or only a minimal amount are not fully equipped to talk to these people. In a free society, guilt and shame only go so far. I don’t even believe that the people who engage in kiruv (helping secular Jews become Orthodox) are well-equipped to deal with such people. The world looks very different to a potential baal teshuva looking in than to an f.f.b. (frum from birth) looking out. The talk has to be different or so it seems to me. You need people who can handle any theological challenge, and can also find a way to deal with the underlying emotions and feelings behind the challenge.

There is a third problem which interests no one. Suppose somebody actually leaves, walks away from Orthodox life and tries to establish life elsewhere in the Jewish spectrum. Many times such people are troubled both theologically and psychologically. They need a little extra help to get started in their ‘new’ life. They are certainly not going to get any help from the Orthodox group they left. And there is no evangelical kiruv movement on the part of Conservative or Reform Jews which could help these Orthodox refugees to become more integrated into liberal Jewish life. They are on their own. I read that in Israel, there are organizations that help the chozerim be'she'alah, but I know of no such groups in America. The problem is accentuated because, like bad marriages, each Jew who was Orthodox and has left is different. Orthodox tend to be somewhat more homogenous; skeptics are skeptical each in their own way, some more reserved and troubled, some ‘acting out’ like there is no tomorrow. It is difficult to create an apikorsim (heretics) minyan.

Finally, I have had a long standing disagreement with friends whether it is best for an emotionally/religiously troubled young person to go to an Orthodox psychotherapist or a secular psychotherapist. I am on the secular side of the debate, but it’s a long topic and not for today.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What is Modern Orthodox?

I love the category Modern Orthodox. It‘s a guaranteed lifetime employment for bloggers. We can talk about the interface of MO and charedi life and MO and Conservative forever and then some. After we decide on how to define the end points we can go on to discuss its essence, what it really is and what it really means. And what’s so great about the topic is everyone on either side of the divides is a maven. Not only is the category systemically misleading it depends on how it is said. When you look at the self representations they are clear enough. It’s the more formal definitions that have proven difficult. Here are some ideas what it is to be MO that are said by actual people:

It means someone who keeps all the mitzvot and loves Torah but goes to the movies, perhaps owns a TV.

Mizrachi, love of Israel, less ritualistic, no hypocrisy.

Take mitzvot seriously and do my best. I believe in the keddusha (holiness)of medinat yisrael (State of Israel) and believe that a secular education is an asset in appreciating Hashem's world.

The formal definitions are even more high brow and ideological. I myself believe the name Modern Orthodox and its various subdivisions are way too pop-sociological, theory laden and lead to endless confusion. (See as an example the Hirhurim post here, with close to 700 comments, and the ur-text in the Jewish Press here.) I think it is high time somebody returned to the circle of terms in everyday use. If you look at everyday discourse, at least in many circles, the terms that are actually used are neither the ideological beliefs that separate Modern Orthodoxy from Ultra Orthodoxy or the categories used on dating sites or on blogs. In my view, ordinary people (i.e. non-sociologists, non-bloggers, and non- internet daters) are looking at marginal, but symbolic, activities that tend to be good indicators of piety and fun. Too much piety is usually as unacceptable as too much levity. If your moniker is MO, you’re neither a total ascetic saint nor a party animal. All the other terms are used to fine tune that spread.

I would like to define the various terms in the sense of explaining them and offering more (my) plausible plain talk substitutions. Here are some terms and my suggested substitute words which I would like to see used:

MODERN Orthodox = Halachic laxness or compromise with halacha to suit oneself and the pace of modern society. I would substitute ‘You call THAT Orthodox ?’ If that label is a mouthful, maybe, ‘‘Shakes hands with women’’ or ‘Eats hot- milchig out Orthodox’. I’ll go with 'Eats fish out Orthodox'.

Modern ORTHODOX = Keeping up with the times Orthodox. Very confusing since everyone integrates advances in the world with halacha. I prefer ‘With It Orthodox’ or as a friend of mine calls ‘Vit It Orthodox’ as in ‘He’s very much vit it.’

My 'being vit it' condition is to be compared with Rabbi Student’s formulation: ''You approve of exploring some or much of general culture in order to find beauty and meaning in it.'' I find the latter condition much too high minded and not at all what people are thinking. They mean stuff like going to the movies and knowing where there is a decent jazz club or not feeling very uncomfortable in a singles bar. Beauty and meaning is much too stringent and would preclude middle and low brow people from being MO.

MO Machmir = Strict adherence to Halacha and stricter than other legitimate opinions, but still vit it. I find what is a chumra (overly strict) and what not confusing. Is the base line Reb Moshe or the Chazon Ish ? Much too difficult. How about ‘a little bit fachnukt (fanatic)’ or ‘moderately farshvantzevatit (religiously extremist?)’? OK, maybe not. I prefer ''Shomer negiah (no touching opposite sex until marriage) farfrumt (overly, very frum) but vit it Orthodox.'' Chuck the modern; who are we kidding?

MO Liberal… 'Liberal' is a bad choice and should be confined to Orthodox who are on the left wing of the Democratic Party as in ''Can you believe it he’s Orthodox and a liberal. What they won’t think up next?''. I would like to call it 'Old fashioned MO before everyone lost their marbles'. Too many words. What about ‘Young Israel MO?’ Won’t do since using the reference Young Israel shows a very unvit it and somewhat older person. I would go with Edah MO, or YCT Modern Orthodox, but the term would be meaningless to the Israeli branch of MO. In Israel we have to call it ‘Shira Chadashaw Orthodox’ or maybe ’Hartmanesque Orthodox’. My replacement is ''Vit it but not farfrumt.''

We really don’t need the neologisms ‘RIGHT wing’ and ‘LEFT Wing’ which requires everyone to remember how the parties were seated in the French Assembly. Besides, the association of the right with the monarchists and fascists and the left with libertarians and communists makes everyone unhappy.

My categories work so much better than the older terms. The shadchenta suggests a bochur. She knows the family is MO, and says, ‘Very fine boy, college graduate, on his way to becoming a perodontist. Wonderful family. OK, I admit a little challenged in the height department, but a very sweet guy’. The family armed with my terms counterattacks…''You say MO, tell us how vit it is he? Looking down people’s throats might make him a few shekels, but our daughter is very modern, and she won’t take a farchnukte, farfrumt guy.'' ''No, no,'' says the shadchente, ''He’s very vit it. He goes to plays, movies, the works.'' Our family can now come back with a pinpoint second strike. ''Broadway or Off Broadway, studio or indies. Our Pesha Kimberly wants only a guy who likes indy films.'' The shadchante recovers, but barely. ‘’I promise, he chalishes for indy films. When he’s not working on teeth, he’s at Sundance waiting for the festival.'' The family sees through the ruse. ''No, no, no'' they say, ''this bochur won’t do at all. Our daughter is, in the end, a heimish girl. Hanging around Sundance, gutenu…you call that Orthodox? Next thing you are going to tell us he air kisses movie stars. In our family we draw the line …eating fish out, not so aye,yai yai, but we understand. Kiss, kiss definitely not. Maybe at YCT its ok, but our daughter wants someone more farfrumt than those YCT guys.’’

Have I solved the problem or what?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Not So Frum Orthodox

I want to describe a type of Modern Orthodox that used to be very popular but doesn’t get much attention these days; a group that I call, for lack of a better term, Not So Frum Orthodox (NSFO). In the fifties of the last century, Modern Orthodoxy was more or less synonymous with this kind of Jew. In more recent times, because of the criticism from charedim and the efforts of the sincere and self-conscious religious elements at Yeshiva University, this type had gone underground, and to some extent, disappeared from the ranks of Orthodoxy.

In the fifties, the way it went was that if a person davened in an Orthodox shul, he was Orthodox; if he davened in a Conservative shul, he was Conservative, and so on. Not only did NSFO daven in an Orthodox shul with a mechitza (divider between men and women), they refused to daven in a Conservative shul, again because they were Orthodox. They kept kosher and shabbus in a global sort of way, without particular attention to the halachic details. In the case of kosher, they did not hesitate for a minute to eat everything but meat and treif food in non-kosher restaurants. If someone told them that halachically this wasn’t the way to go, it would have little effect. To them, kosher meant to eat kosher food, which meant not eating visible treif (non-kosher). At home, they had four sets of dishes. (Meat , milk, and again for Passover) Outside, they would be happy to go to a cheese and wine bar, except there weren’t any in the fifties. In the case of shabbus, they had no hesitation carrying their keys and a handkerchief, but not a wallet, on shabbus even in places where there was no eruv. For all I know, they occasionally turned on a light on shabbus. But unlike their Conservative counterparts, they never violated the halachic laws of shabbus openly and in public. They would generally not drive on shabbus, for example, whereas, Conservative Jews have no hesitation to drive their cars into the parking lot of the synagogue when they attended services. Conservative Jews relied on the ruling of the Conservative rabbinate permitting them, if necessary, to drive to the synagogue on shabbus. Even when an NSFO drove on shabbus to shul, and a few actually did, they would park the car blocks away and walk to shul. It wasn’t just because they were ashamed of breaking the law. They thought it was respectful of the synagogue and of shabbus itself to keep their violation of the laws of shabbus hidden, private and away from public view.

In some ways being an NSFO versus a Reform Jew is similar to the difference between a liar and a bulls****er. As Harry Frankfurt has argued in his famous book, “On Bullshit,” the difference between the two is that a liar knows what the truth is and deliberately tells a falsehood, whereas the latter has lost the concept of truth. He’ll say anything to make his case. NSFO’s recognize the sovereignty of halacha, they just don’t want to keep all of it. A Reform Jew refuses to recognize halacha as normative. In Reform Judaism, the extent of religious rituals and traditions is largely an autonomous decision. The two concepts are very different even if in some respect, their behaviors are similar. The connections between NSFOs and Conservative Jews are complex because Conservative Jewry is in flux and tends to exhibit permanent disconnects between its theory and practice. Here too Harry Frankfort’s book is relevant.

Many of the issues that are front and center in contemporary Modern Orthodoxy are foreign to the sensibility of the NSFO’s. Since in general they were not intellectual or didn’t intellectualize their Judaism, they had no opinions whether academic methods are relevant to the study of the Bible and the Talmud. Nor were they particular feminist and concerned with greater participation of women in Orthodox religious life. Most importantly they didn’t emphasize the Modern part of Modern Orthodox. In the fifties, many were Europeans who barely spoke English. They had no great concern with being involved in secular culture. The only thing they “knew” that was “modern” was that Chasidim, with their eighteenth century dress, were off their rockers.

I’ll sum this up by saying Not So Frum Orthodox Jews are Jews who happen to be Orthodox. They were born Orthodox, they are comfortable in the world of Orthodoxy, they wouldn’t dream of being anything else but Orthodox, but they are not ABOUT being Orthodox. Contemporary Modern Orthodoxy, at least in its self-conscious version, is ABOUT being Orthodox. A self-conscious MO would never allow anyone to say of him that he is anything less than halachically observant. An NSFO couldn’t care less. He is not about defending himself from charedim, he is not self-conscious, he’s not trying to prove anything. He goes to shul, keeps shabbus, keeps kosher, and goes about his life.

Today these NSFO Jews have no obvious home. They don’t belong in a Conservative movement; they are not entirely comfortable in the Orthodox world.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Patrilineal Descent and Me

Since I’ve been talking of late about Reform Judaism I thought I would tell the story of the minute in my life when I had an infinitesimal chance of preventing the Reform rule concerning patrilineal descent.

I was invited to this cocktail party that was given by my friend and his wife. My friend calls up and says he would love for me to come. I will know many of the invited guests, and he also invited his rabbi. By the way, he can’t handle them all. Would I do him a favor and talk to the rabbi? I agree. I come to the party. It’s a ritzy affair. There’s the rabbi. We talk, nice enough guy; and before long he tells me the following: “You know, I am very busy these days. I am the principle author of the proposed legislation on patrilineal descent at the forthcoming Reform Rabbinical Convention.” I say, “Come again?” And he says, “Yes, I am writing the legislation. I have to consult with my colleagues, but it looks to me it’s finally going to happen.”

At the time, the issue had already been discussed at some length in the Jewish newspapers and I had formed a very strong and almost violent opinion against patrilineal descent. The issues are well known and I don’t have to go over them at this point. So, when he tells me this, in my mind I start shouting, “Yes! Yes!” and I am beside myself with excitement. OTOH-OTOH. Part of me wants to take this guy into the bedroom and strangle him, thus postponing the issue of patrilineal descent for at least a year. I hear the voice of my parents, “We didn’t raise you to go around murdering Reform rabbis. We are baalabatish people. Just think how this will look to the community.” I see the headlines in the newspaper---‘’RABBI MURDERED IN LAKESHORE CONDO…PATRILINEAL DESCENT SUSPECTED MOTIVE.” The more rational part of me realizes I have to speak nicely to this rabbi if I am to have any hope of influencing him even in the slightest way. I have less than 15 seconds to decide what I am going to do.

I begin to panic and out comes this totally stupid sentence. I say to the man, “It’s an honor to meet somebody like you. After all you’re going to go down in history as the man responsible for splitting the Jewish people into two. What can I say? I am so very excited to meet you. It’s almost as good as meeting Cher.” In those days, Sonny and Cher were very big. The moment I said that, I realized I had said something really dumb. It came out this way because I was rowing as fast as I could to reconcile two competing impulses. The rabbi pulls back, shocked that anyone would tell him something as dumb as my remark. I work hard to try to make up for it, I get the conversation back on track, but I had blown my chance of having any influence however small.

Nevertheless, he was eager to talk and he told me a story which I remember until today. He said, “When I was a rabbi in rural Michigan, 80% of my congregants had one parent that wasn’t Jewish, Almost no one in my temple lost any relatives in the Holocaust or had any family involvement in European Jewish history. They have no clue what the word yiddishkeit means. How was I supposed to be an effective rabbi? Should I have told a third of my congregation to leave because they didn’t have the right parent that was Jewish? And in any event, if I had converted all those whose father was Jewish but not their mother, what difference would it have made? Nobody recognizes my conversions anyway. The Orthodox and the Conservatives think of me as the enemy, and the State of Israel is in their pocket.” The rabbi had a point.

I believe today, so many years after this historical legislation, despite all the pessimistic forecasts, not too much has happened. It is true that by allowing for patrilineal descent the Reform eliminated a barrier to intermarriage. When a non-Jewish woman doesn’t want to convert and the man or his parents want his children to be Jews, patrilineal descent is a useful doctrine. The same doctrine can be used in a positive way to keep the family inside Reform Judaism. Otherwise there is no small danger of the entire family winding up in a church. In order to say something definitive there is a need for some serious statistical studies. I am ignorant of the social science literature on this topic. If any reader knows of any studies that attempt to measure the total consequences of patrilineal descent please write a comment.

A major practical change that has already occurred is that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate now assumes a Reform Jew is of patrilineal descent and will not perform as matter of course a marriage ceremony. I do not know whether such a presumption can be defeated, and if the testimony of the applicant’s Reform rabbi would make any difference.

Orthodox and Conservatives do not recognize the child of a Reform woman convert as a Jew. A child of a gentile mother and a Jewish father is also not considered a Jew. As the number of children of converts and of patrilineal descent grows we are quickly becoming a people with two distinct subgroups that can not easily intermarry. I would expect eventually a Reform Jewish person of matrilineal descent who wants to marry in an Orthodox ceremony without any proof of lineage even in the US will be required to undergo the same rituals as a convert. Because so many Reform Jews will be converts or of patrilineal descent, the Orthodox rabbis will fear the worst and feel forced to assume the person in question is Jewish via patrilineal descent.

The status of Jews of patrilineal descent with respect to the Law of Return was and remains a problem. There are new developments in the works and the Israeli Supreme Court is expected to issue some new rulings. Details can be found here. Symbolically the ‘’Who is a Jew’’ issue means a great deal to Reform community and their fight to keep intermarried families inside Jewish life. In practice the number of people involved is small.

What remains important for me in what the rabbi told me those many years ago is this: the rabbi’s congregation in rural Michigan is still out there, thinking of themselves as Jews and, in many instances, raising children who are looking to marry other Jews, including Jews of matrilineal descent. These children who will go on to marry Jews of matrilineal descent will create a new generation of Jews of matrilineal descent and a new generation of Jews of patrilineal descent roughly in equal numbers. They need and want rabbis and temples to provide pastoral care, moral inspiration, and assistance in celebrating life cycle events. Their numbers are huge and growing.

I remain undecided how to think about the many non-Jews who have married Jews and the offspring of such unions. There are a variety of cases each with a particular halachic configuration combined with different degrees of Jewish identification. Is there a principled way of deciding how efforts to maintain Jewish continuity be understood? Should it be a triage approach where resources are channeled to the most marginal of Jews or should our efforts be confined only to core Jews and traditional Jewish life, especially when resources are so limited? My gut feeling is that it is always a mistake to walk away from any person who self identifies as a Jew irrespective of halachic status. The difficulty is that intuitions are often poor guidelines for public policy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Agudah

Now that every Jewish blogger and his cousin is piling on the Agudah (here,12/08-12/12) because they were so dense and so full of themselves at their last convention, and have their fingers, if not their hand, in the Kolko affair, I thought it would be a good idea to say some nice things about the Agudah. Like, how wonderful they were and such.

When one talks about the post-World War II Agudah, one can not speak of it in isolation of the American yeshivoth that supported the Agudah. Not every rosh yeshiva was active in the Agudah but many were, and those that weren’t were not opposed; they just weren’t active. The yeshivoth, especially the elementary schools, sent their students to Pirchei, the youth movement of the Agudah, and its camp, sensibly enough called Camp Agudah.

Torah Vodaath, Chaim Berlin, Mir …all the famous strict Orthodox yeshivoth were inextricably tied to the Agudah and vice versa. So, to accuse the Agudah as being a retard organization is also to criticize the entire way of life to which it was tied. Let me mention some of the practices that are part of a large complex that went to make up charedi life. 1). Bais Yakov schools and the camps associated with these girl schools were run by married women , whose husbands came from these famous yeshivoth, and who frequently belonged to the women's branch of the Agudah in their youth. 2).The endless shiduchim between bais yakov girls and yeshiva guys created families whose children went on to go to Agudah style camps and the many yeshivoth and girl schools that were close to the Agudah. 3). The friendships that came from knowing people in the different yeshivoth created a pattern of being tied into a charedi world that was only reinforced by the social experiences in camp and the experiences of hanging out in the Agudah shuls and the like.Similarly for women. If you grew up in that world ,you didn’t know everyone, but if you were at all social you knew ‘’almost everyone’’ 4.) The Agudah, together with the yeshivoth, provided an ideology and a hashkafah (outlook) about the Jewish world. When bloggers say the Agudah's leadership ought to issue a rabbinical ruling saying it should disappear they don’t realize that it’s not a question of the particular organization, but of an outlook that is to the left of Satmar and to the right of Mizrachi. An entire generation of people was raised on a political outlook that is less pro-Zionist than the outlook of the religious Zionists. If the Agudah were to disappear, there would be another organization just like it to fulfill this political ideological function. 5.) It provided, together with the yeshivoth, a way of identifying with European Jewry both chassidish and litvish. If it weren’t for the double punch of the Agudah and these great yeshivoth, American kids would never have dreamt of carrying on the way of life destroyed in Europe by the Holocaust. It was a thread of continuity that was very important for everyone until today. The Agudah is one of the institutions that was and is constitutive of charedi life.

I want to close with an extended analogy. If we are old enough, we know firsthand there comes a time when parents need a child’s care. Many times elderly parents become angry and difficult to deal with. Barring certain extreme circumstances, when parents were good enough and cared for the child, there is an absolute obligation on the part of the child to care for the parents. There is no obligation to care for the parents in the exact way the parents want to be cared for, because sometimes the parents are totally unreasonable as to what they believe they need. But there is an absolute obligation to guarantee the parents are not in need and are properly attended to when they can no longer take care of themselves. We have this obligation because we have a debt of gratitude, which we must repay. They enabled us to become functioning adults, and we must now recognize the good they did for us, even when they are mean and impossible. Since the demands of filial gratitude can only be discharged through love, then even when it’s impossible for one reason or another to love an aging parent, we have to pretend to be the kind of person who can fulfill the duty, in the hope that acting as if we love, will help us, in due course, really love as we should. Sometimes by wearing a mask, we grow to become the mask

In the same way, people who grew up in the charedi way of life, and benefited from the culture, the yeshivoth, and, yes, the Agudah as well, have a debt of gratitude to these institutions even if they’ve fallen on hard times, even if they have become impossible. The Agudah wants us to believe that despite the corruption that seems to have grown around the Kolko affair, they are innocent, pure and their preachers worthy of telling us how to think. Many of us believe the Kolko affair shows that, when it comes to questions of courage and morality, some of the rabbis in the charedi world are more than a bit challenged. Nevertheless, it is the duty of people who have benefited from the Agudah, who have grown up in its shadow, to help it now that it is no longer exactly fit to take care of itself. And we have this obligation, even though part of us says that the Rabbi Wachsmans and Rabbi Solomons of the world are in no position to presume to preach to all of Judiasm. Charedim have a duty, I feel, to act as if the Agudah is the Agudah of old, and to treat it with the respect and love that it deserved in previous generations. At the same time, one cannot allow unreasonable demands to prevail. No rational person is going to allow Rabbi Solomon to decide how to handle predator cases, and no sane person should be reassured when he says, “Leave it to us.” It is obvious at least to the blogging community that charedi rabbis are generally ill suited to investigate other rabbis. I feel it is incumbent upon the charedi and in particular the Agudah baalibatim (laity) to take hold of the situation, put the proper controls into effect, stop the Agudah from joining the Catholic church and lobbying against the necessary legislation, and do whatever it takes to guarantee that the problem of predators attacking children is solved. And while they’re at it, they should take steps to solve the problem of strict Orthodox rabbis who hit on innocent women. These issues are too important to leave to the American gedolim, who actually are, at this point, shamed, paralyzed, and ineffective. Once this goal is accomplished the baalibatim should thank the gedolim for their guidance.

It is true that many lay people left the predator issues to be dealt with by the rabbis. The reason was they trusted the rabbis. The lay people believed the rabbis were of great integrity. Most every Jew believes his rabbi is a man of integrity and trustworthy. It might be true that Daas Torah has something to do with the trust, but it certainly was not totally responsible. Charedim are very close to their rabbis, idealize them naturally, and believe the rabbis seek their good.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Autocratic Jewish Leadership

(continued from previous post)

There’s a second way of allowing people to have a greater voice in Jewish affairs that would not require competitive campaigns for the Board of Directors of the Federation. It would not be very difficult to send each and every donor to the Federation a list of all the charities, a full description of their mission and what percent of the total funds each charity will receive. If a donor is not in agreement with the proposed distribution, he could indicate together with his contribution how he would like HIS money to be divided. Thus, if someone doesn’t want any money to go to Israel, he would reallocate the money to American charities. In the old days, this was considered a big problem because who would be able to keep track of all the small contributions to each individual charity; however with computers, there is no problem.

The reason why such a proposal is not being implemented is that neither the charities themselves nor the directors and Federation officials are in favor. The Federation apparatchiks don’t like any proposal that would take away their power and return it to the donors. The recipients of the funds do not want to gamble on how much money, if any, they will get from the Federation. Nevertheless, a proposal that would return the right to allocate money to the individual has a great deal to be said in its favor. Just as we do not allow bureaucrats to decide how consumers should allocate their funds between various consumer items, we should not allow it in this situation either. Is there any reason to believe that some director knows better how much money should go to the Bureau of Jewish Education versus the Solomon Schecter Day School? Has he thought through all the implications of a marginal dollar being spent on one charity rather than another? We know from markets, the more people that express an opinion the better chance of getting a more optimal allocation.

The proposal of allowing everyone to decide for themselves is not fully democratic because people who do not give any money will have nothing to say, and rich people will have greater influence than poor people, a point that should make all those who are afraid of direct democracy happy. Yet, it is better than the situation we have now where nobody has anything to say except for the dozen people on the board. The argument that many people have no opinion how to allocate the money can be spoken to by including a suggested allocation that the board of the Federation would recommend. You still would retain the great advantage of UJC charities…a donor can write one check and thereby donate money to fifty plus institutions.

The situation with the Federation is indicative of a larger problem in American Jewish life; to wit it is not democratic. Each of the twenty four leading Jewish organizations is run by a small coterie of individuals, frequently just one person who is more or less an autocrat. Take the ADL. Whenever Mr. Foxman wants to say something, he says it. He doesn’t consult with the total membership. If you don’t like what Foxman says, you have to get rid of him, which is not so easy to do; some say impossible. All these organizations are self-important and purport to represent the Jewish people in America. Someone like me who takes an interest in Jewish life would be hard-pressed to name half of these twenty-four leading Jewish organizations. And in any event, these organizations do not represent me since they never asked my opinion about anything and I frequently disagree with what they are doing. I certainly don’t feel, for example, that the Hadassah, charitable as it may be, represents my views on the Jewish issues of the day. Similarly, Morton Klein of the ZOA, who is frequently on the extreme right of Israeli politics, can not be said to represent the American Jewish community, and certainly not moi. If you take twenty-four of these non-representative organizations and you put them together into a new organization called the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, it is not obvious that you end up with an organization representative of American Jews. Yet the Conference together with the so called World Jewish Congress purports to speak for every Jew. No one ever voted for Malcolm Hoenlein or Edgar Bronfman to be Kings of the Jews. Very odd, very shtetl-like…rabbis and machers…machers and rabbis.

Two examples of how the undemocratic nature of Jewish organizations leads to problems. The Claims Conference is responsible for distributing billions of dollars to Holocaust victims. It was established in 1952 and to this day, members of the Jewish organizations that were dominant in the 1950s sit on the board of directors. A critical article in Haaretz charged that “The Claims Conference does not make public information about the amount of property in its hands and about the amount of income that is expected to come in during the coming years. The elder wheeler-dealers who sit on the board of directors take care to direct allocations to organizations that are close to them politically. There is justice in the Israeli charges that the organization is being run like a Jewish shtetl that has not yet heard about the establishment of the state.” Why are a bunch of self-appointed elderly Jews, with no responsibility to the general public or to the State of Israel, allowed to wield such power? I want to suggest that it’s part of the general culture of how many of these Jewish organizations are run.

A new disagreement is developing inside the Federations as to how much money should be allocated to help Jewish people who have intermarried remain Jewish. It’s a complicated issue. There is no simple principle to decide how much money should be spent to influence marginal Jews in their religious practices. In the absence of a principle that would be generally recognized, I don’t see any way of solving the problem in a reasonable way other than allowing the donors themselves to decide. What I think will happen is that the idea will get a hearing and, in order to avoid a big ruckus, a small amount of money will be allocated, which will do a small amount of good allowing the big problem of what happens to intermarried Jews to remain unsolved.

It is absolutely incredible that a Jewish community that donates $800 million a year to the Federations plus at least twice that amount to other Jewish charities in the attempt to keep itself intact has had such miserable results. My view is that the centralized, decision making process that is utilized in allocating the funds and the autocratic nature of the Jewish leadership are two of the culprits.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Federation Campaigns

For many years now I have been very unhappy with the way UJC( United Jewish Communities) /Federations are organized and the way they distribute the money they collect. My difficulties are both procedural and substantive. First, the procedural. The local Federation puts up a slate of candidates each year, which have been hand-picked by the existing board and the professional staff. If somebody wants to run a competitive slate because they disagree with whatever, it is almost impossible to win. If you get enough signatures, I imagine you can have the alternative slate included in the mailing, but there’s almost no way for an alternative slate to get the message out to the community without spending mega bucks on general newspaper and television ads. The upshot of this is that there is no competition for seats on the board of directors. When there’s no competition, it’s all very cozy. There aren’t too many disagreements, but then again, there aren’t too many new ideas. It’s steady as you go.

There’s an additional difficulty in challenging the status quo. There’s no guarantee that the old guard, who are major contributors, will not pick up their marbles and go home. No responsible person wants to destroy this magnificent fundraising mechanism that has been built up over so many years. Yet, there’s something really undemocratic when the organization is run by very rich people and their friends. JUF could be a primary vehicle for Jews to participate actively in their own communities. If there was competition with different ideas and approaches, and if voting meant something, people would be involved emotionally and intellectually. The process would stimulate debates and discussions. There would be a genuine election with all the excitement and interest that such an election generally stimulates. Instead, what we have is a yawn, if that.

My substantive disagreement is this…the way the system seems to work is there are all these organizations receiving a certain amount of money. All the directors decide is how to make slight changes at the margin depending on the money raised and other special conditions. So, if the Bureau of Helping Jews Who Have Trouble Making Their Condo Payments gets $200,000 every year, they will get $200,000 next year, plus or minus $20,000, depending on how they make their pitch, etc. When a new organization comes along with a good cause, they get added to the rolls and they, too, get a few dollars. The money is dissipated amongst many different organizations each with their own bureaucracy, each doing a little bit of good, each with a friend in high places. Very few of these organizations have any chance of making a big impact because their funding is limited. At the same time, they always get enough to keep on going, so they never fold. I believe it is preferable to fund a few organizations in a robust way than to subsidize many organizations in a marginal way.

I also object to giving 40-50% of the money raised to Israel. The danger to Jewish life in America right now is much greater than in Israel. We have an intermarriage of 50%, and liberal Jewry will effectively disappear way before the next century rolls around. It’s a triage situation. There isn’t enough money left over for America, once you give 40-50% to Israel. At present, the amount of money allocated to Jewish education, and what is euphemistically called The Jewish Future, will not have a sufficient impact to change the general direction of American Jewish life. The money spent on Israel can be used more effectively in America. Israel has a GNP of $157 billion as of 2005. A few hundred million is not going to make a big difference. The same money can make an enormous difference for Jewish education and in reducing the intermarriage rate. The only reason you wouldn’t choose America, where the danger of Jewish extinction is clearly greater, is that you have given up and written off the American Jewish community. I’m sure many Israelis feel that way. They feel they should try to get as much money from the American Jewish community while the going is good, but there is no long-term hope for any liberal Jewish community outside of Israel.

In America, in the last decade, 500,000+ Jews left Jewish life and began going to church. It is not inconceivable that two-three million Jews, even going forward, will leave Jewish life. From a people point of view, valuing each Jew equally, there’s a greater, and more certain, danger in America for the extinction of Jewish people than in Israel. In many a G.A. meeting there was the near total absence of anything having to do with the American Jewish life. Entire conferences were built around Israel. Israel in trouble is an established winning fundraising theme. Telling these same machers that their own friends and family are in trouble because of the danger of intermarriage is apparently a sure-fire way to reduce donations.

In the future I hope this will change. I feel the core theological and political focus ought to be the Jewish people, which would place the entire Jewish people at the center, rather than the State of Israel. The new emphasis would provide a basis for greater investments in local Jewish education, welfare and community development.

To be continued

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Are Liberal Jews Necessary?

(continued from the last post)

I want to address A Yid directly since much of what he wrote is not so uncommon, and yet in its own way very shocking.

You seem to accept the idea that if liberal Jews were to disappear, Israel’s situation would become more precarious. It doesn’t seem to worry you in comparison to the sin of acknowledging a non frum person. Let us then let us look at what a world without Israel c’’v (chas veshalom, God forbid) would be like in greater detail. We should think about the huge suffering that would be involved if the Jews would be forced to emigrate from Israel c’’v, even assuming no loss of life. The monetary loss would be staggering including huge losses to the Orthodox Jews you care about as well as to Jews whose losses do not interest you. There would be the loss of the greatest Torah center in history – populated largely by those who you think of as coreligionists, but funded largely by non frum Israelis through their tax dollars. If there was a loss of life c’’v because of military defeats, the loss could be too horrible to contemplate. Even if secular Jews are not your concern, in accordance with the NEW idea that a Jew who sins though a Jew is not your brother as is, there are a million Orthodox who could c’’v suffer.

I believe every rabbinical leader including the biggest zealots would if faced with a dilemma of the destruction of the secular State of Israel, and propping up liberal Judaism would ultimately act to insure Israel’s survival, even if they felt the state itself was not holy and in fact the handiwork of Satan. I can’t understand how you could look at such a possibility as a matter of indifference. You cannot both believe it is important to work for Israel’s continued existence AND be sanguine and passive to what happens to non-Orthodox Jews in America.

The last paragraph is written from your point of view. I myself feel each and every Jew has intrinsic value irrespective of what good he may or may not do to benefit Orthodox Jews. Furthermore I feel I have an obligation to seek and pray for the welfare and well being of all Jews as they are today. I gladly give money to charities that help the Jewish poor irrespective of their degree of religiosity, something I assume you would consider way out of line. You quickly forget that your wife delivered her babies, your children had their tonsils removed, etc. in a hospital named Beth Israel, Cedar Sinai, Hadassah, funded by those dreaded liberal Jews. The irrelevant doctor, the one you have read out of the Jewish people, who took care of them on Shabbos and YomTov was a non-frum unter-Jew named Goldstein and Horowitz,etc. I have been to many hospitals in my day. I have never ever seen a frum Jew in an oncology or cardiology ward say "my mazal, my doctor is a secular Jew. If only I could have gotten a God fearing Pakastani or Bulgarian doctor."

I turn now to a second issue you raise: You argue…Judaism is a religion. The only valid form of that religion is Orthodoxy. All Jews are obligated by God to be Orthodox… It does not follow that from an Orthodox point of view there is absolutely no difference between Conservative, Reform or secular(CRS), as you suggest. All that follows are that all CRSers are not Orthodox. I would say some are not Orthodox in more spectacular ways than others, like by becoming apostates. The Talmud does count the number of prohibitions involved in a prohibited act. The idea that all non-Orthodox Jews are alike is a bit like saying all Chinese are alike, none of them are Caucasian.

Most of the ways Orthodoxy can benefit CRS-ers do not involve any dilution of Orthodoxy, with two caveats. If there is a mitzvah to openly express scorn and hostility to liberal Jews, it would indeed be difficult to be of much benefit. I assume it is permissible for an Orthodox Jew to act in a mentschlich way to the 11 million Jews who do not share his beliefs. I am not discussing what goes on in one’s heart or mind or how one acts in front of children. If you believe there is a mitzvah to hate Jews who are not Orthodox and to express your contempt for their ways whenever possible, then indeed there are problems. Second, I assume helping liberal Jews stabilize in place is not in and of itself a dilution of Orthodoxy. I do not think it is helping someone to sin. If you came across a Liberal Jew drowning in a puddle and you turned him around and saved his life, it would not be correct to say you enabled him to sin by allowing him to continue in his sinful ways. In helping a liberal Jew remain a Jew, you are diminishing the chances he will totally disappear from the Jewish world. The choice is not liberal or Orthodox, but liberal that might in a few decades go poof! and be gone. I feel most opportunities out there today are liberal Judaism benefits and the Orthodox do not lose (i.e. the current situation is not even Praeto optimal).

You cannot believe that if the 11 million Jews refuse to become Orthodox, they ought to disappear because then they would not be doing aveirot (sins). Is a world with 2 million Orthodox and no CRS Jews better? More desirable to you and to Hashem on your understanding of his will than the current world? Is a world where the 11 million ultimately became Christian, Muslim or atheist better than the current situation? I say no.

When there is a dilution of Orthodoxy, as you call it, there are again two cases. Halachic dilution and non-halachic dilution. There is only one case if every custom, hidur, chumrah (supererogatory acts) and expression of Daas Torah is ultimately halachic. I am the wrong address for debating this last point. Looking at halachic dilutions I agree that an Orthodox Jew is not obligated to sin so that the chances of a liberal surviving as a Jew are improved. Certain sin vs. uncertain future benefits is not a big contest. I could try to create dramatic conflicts, but I won’t right now since it is not and never was my intent to suggest any Jew violate halacha.

I want to look at one more variant that wasn’t brought up by you but is common enough. It goes like this. We as Orthodox Jews cannot tolerate others who openly disobey the Torah. It is outrageous to lift a finger to help them grow their temples and spread their pernicious doctrines, though of course we do not mean or hope for any harm to their person. If they become goyim, it’s their fault and will remain forever a signal to Orthodox Jews what happens when one throws off the guidance and yoke of Torah. As for Israel, maybe something bad will happen, maybe not. It’s not our job to guarantee how history plays itself out. Our job is to prey to Hashem to have mercy, obey the Torah and listen to the gedolim. Period. The rest is up to God.

I agree only heaven will ultimately decide how we will fare. I nevertheless think it is dumb to base our future just on prayers and hopes that Hashem will save us. If a policy appears to have certain terrible consequences we should do what we can to avoid the consequences including changing the policy. It is on par with a kolel view that one need not work and Hashem will provide, which is perfectly true except in those cases where He doesn’t. Once one goes down this road the logical outcome is Satmar –Breuer style anti Zionism. A passive Zionism that doesn’t try to anticipate the future shouldn’t get out of bed.

So one more time, here’s the deal. As things stand now the prospects for liberal Judaism are far from rosy. Many will disappear in a few generations, probably less. An American community that is overwhelmingly Orthodox will be so fragmented and weak it will have difficulty governing a neighborhood. Israel needs a strong American Jewish community. So do Jews in other countries. Orthodox attitudes toward the rest of Jewry would make a difference. As I will argue in a later post, many American Jews, (my guess is 500,000 +), have begun attending church services in the past 10-15 years. For the life of me I can’t see how Orthodox Jews can be passive and indifferent. I truly do not understand why a Jew would close himself off from 11 million Jews. How can anyone have a shita (an ideological position) that either you are one of us or ich hub dich teif tire in dred (go to hell)? I believe it goes hand in hand with closing oneself off from secular studies, from secular culture, from the arts and sciences. Austritt all the way down!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Jewish People

There was comments on my first Austritt post (12/05) by someone whose nom de plume is A Yid that was incisive and relevant. My post is in response to his comment. I believe the following can be understood more or less on its own, but if someone has the time and interest, it should be read in conjunction with A Yid’s two comments and my two responses.

I said in my response to A Yid, “I think of the Jewish people as empirical entities, all the Jews who are alive today plus, in an extended way, all those Jews who lived and died and all those that will be born in the future.” He responded in part, “What is your view based on? Do you mean a sort of white supremacist racial Jew? Or outdated 19th century nationalism? Or just a fuzzy-wuzzy feeling of Jewishness with no definition at all?” My answer is, “Yes, Yes, Yes, plus a lot more.”

I want to introduce Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance. There are many terms that do not have a full and complete definition. The instances of the term share certain similarities and relations with each other, but these traits need not be identical in every instance. Some words don’t have to be totally defined and yet we still know how to use the word, because we are familiar with various clear cases and we know some of the relevant traits. These family resemblances might pick out fuzzy sets, concepts with blurred edges. A fuzzy set is not a problem when we are not thinking as Talmudists. The lack of precision does not make the expression meaningless.

Back to our topic: In order to use the concept ‘the Jewish people’ there need not be any one thing they share in common. The edges of the concept may be and in fact are blurred. There are halachic definitions of who is a Jew to be sure, and I am talking today of halachic Jews. Patrilineal-descent-Jews and goyim who identify as Jews are a separate topic, but any reasonable Volkish opinion depends on the idea that Orthodoxy is not the only legitimate way of understanding what is meant by ‘’the Jewish people.’’

What do the Jewish people have in common, if not a common specific religious belief and practice? The answer is many are religious, although the specific religious beliefs and practices are not identical but are similar to a greater or lesser degree. Some have no religious beliefs, but share other traits, i.e. common history, culture, and responsibilities such as being part of the IDF. Some are related genetically to the majority of Jews, but common genes are not necessary; it is just one more common trait. Some have a fuzzy feeling of Jewishness, which is another trait that they may share in common with other Jews. Neither feeling fuzzy nor feeling- Jewish are absolutely necessary. Some share what A Yid called an “outdated 19th century nationalism” i.e. Zionism, by living in Israel and speaking Hebrew. (We should all be so lucky to live in a world where nationalism is outdated.) And there are many other traits that I have not mentioned or need to mention since I am not defining the term by stating necessary and sufficient conditions.

Imagine a center, out of which come many ropes. Each separate rope is tied to an individual Jew. The various ropes are made up of different strands. The strands are not identical but overlap. Mr. A is tied by a rope with strands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Mrs. B is tied by a rope with strands 2, 3,4,5,6. Ms. C. is tied by a rope with strands 2, 3, 4. As we get out further from the center, there are people who are tied with only one strand. There are even cases of people who believe they are tied to the Jewish people and are not.

When it says that all Jews co-sign for each other, in my view it means at least all who are halachically Jews, even though they do not share the exact same connection, to the center. If someone wants to assert that ropes with strands 17-22 are the primary ropes and all others are secondary, that’s fine by me. If they go on to say it’s the one true rope and the only one God really approves of, again okay. All I am arguing is that we are connected with receive benefits from and have responsibilities to other Jews who are Jewish in non-paradigmatic ways. I therefore reject A Yid’s thesis that if Orthodoxy is the one true religion of the Jews, then what is good for Orthodoxy is good for the Jewish people. There may be things that religiously or otherwise strengthen an Orthodox Jew, but cause many other Jews to be less connected both to the center and to other Jews. Floating away from Judaism and the Jewish people is not good for a Jew. An example might be if all charity money went only to Orthodox Jews. (For examples how Daas Torah and halacha can conflict even with an Orthodox Jew’s welfare and well being in this world see my post ‘Gadol-Gadol on the Wall’, 8/14. )

I believe our responsibility to Jews who are dead and to our own history is less than our responsibility to Jews who are alive. Although we speak of praying for the elevation of the souls of our departed, that obligation is, relatively speaking, a minor obligation. In the same way, we have to discount our responsibilities to future generations of Jews. I can not count the interests of a Jew five generations forward as being of the same value as a Jew alive today from a public policy point of view. So although I am arguing for a sort of catholic Israel, I acknowledge a high discount rate both for the past and the distant future is plausible.

If A Yid discounts the welfare and well being of non-Orthodox Jews at such a high rate that effectively they can float out to sea for all he cares, it is not for me to tell him how to readjust his preferences. I do believe however that non Orthodox Jews would be very interested in knowing if his attitude is typical. I believe it is eccentric even for charedim.

Two more items…I want to emphasize the obvious that the primary responsibility for remaining connected to the Jewish people is on the individual Jew. There is only so much others can do if a Jew wants to walk out the door. Nevertheless, even though our communal responsibilities to each other are not endless or infinite, they do exist, and they exist even with respect to Jews who have violated the rules of the Torah.

The fact that I and others feel we must argue these points show how we have become fractured and separated. It also shows how our language coarsens our perceptions and feelings. Our language has become politicized with terms like frum and not frum, Orthodox or not, right wing this and left wing that. We constantly measure each other by degrees of religiosity. A poet, a dreamer, an artist, a philosopher, a social person who cares for people as such would have other primary ways of relating to the world than by immediately thinking…frum , he exists…not frum, he’s off our radar screen. Where did we all learn to speak and think this way? Where did we learn to think and feel this way?

To be continued