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!


At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

I think that while the picture isn't great, the teshuvah movement has made some inroads. I have argued elsewhere that teshuvah has many different roads and that multiple paths will appeal to different people.

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Mobius said...

the very notion that you could have such a conversation as to whether i and my friends should vanish from the earth sickens me to the core of my stomach

At 8:27 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

I wouldn't call it exactly a conversation. I tried to characterize and respond to a set of ideas that are prevalent in certain charedi circles, and argue as strongly as I could that it is a pernicious view. I was very clear, I hope that I did not share these views.

The fact is that non religious Jews are violating the rules of the Torah, and there are punishments in the Torah attached to these violations. The task, if one is interested in the issue of not seeing Jews split into camps that have no common ground is to try to get charedi people past this issue. I tried various arguments, including thought experiments to show what are the consequences of their refusing to see secular Jews as co-religionists. If you can think of a better way to speak to this issue from a charedi perspective, or for that matter from any perspective, let me know.

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's prevalent in haredi circles, but you're mixing up a lot of different concepts. E.g. What was that bit about hating non-orthodox jews? Who doesn't think of them as tinokos shenishbu? Hating them, hoping they "Vanish from the earth" is a different issue than supporting their institutions, which some may see as supporting ideologies of which they disapprove.
I do think some kiruv needs to be done with the aim of not necessarily turning people Orthodox, but just keeping people remembering that they are Jews. Along the lines of trips to Israel, etc. Otherwise, we will have too many assimilating out with no hope for the future. I am not clear that supporting liberal Judaism per se is any use, since it doesn't seem to be able to get its own job done, nor do I see any particular reason to work through such outlets.
I don't know many US charedim who don't "Care" what happens to Jews who aren't orthodox.

At 10:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

EJ, I'm not sure that utilitarian arguments about potential consequences work from a Charedi perspective, because Charedi society depends on reality-ignoring ideology when dealing with phenomenon outside their community (whereas inside their community, utilitarianism in practice, but not in language or thought, of course rules the day). IOW, the kolel view is the only view for Charedim on this kind of issue. Why do you think Charedim would, or should, listen to utilitarian arguments that undermine their hashkafa?

Also, the essays in the Orthodox Forum book "Jewish Tradition and the Non-traditional Jew", particularly Norman Lamm's essay on "Loving and Hating Jews as Halakhic Categories", are relevent here.

Also, I find the discussion in terms of quantity and not quality distasteful. I care much less about a numerous Jewish society than about a Jewish society that embodies values and deals with issues in a way that other cultures should want to emulate, in their own particularistic ways.

At 10:41 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Anonymous… I agree with you when you say ’I do think some kiruv needs to be done with the aim of not necessarily turning people Orthodox, but just keeping people remembering that they are Jews.’’ I think that would be a big improvement over what we have today. I don’t think it can be easily done without some belief system, and that might involve strengthening people in their own identifications. The bottom line for me is to get the job done, and reduce the hemorrhaging. I believe that most liberal Jews realize that they are ’unacceptable’ to the Orthodox. They don’t like it, and find it demoralizing. They do not think of themselves as having value because they could become baal teshuvas.

I think the ’tinokos’ view is maybe important halachically, but it is responsible for very little happening on the kiruv front(see my posts on intermarriage and kiruv.(10/04 and 10/09). The hating bit, as you call it , is commonplace in Edah Hacharedis literature on secular Zionists. Saying yimach shmum vezicrum is not a metaphor, but a wish. To be frank, my impression was that I was talking to a right wing yeshiva person influenced by the charedi attitudes found more frequently in Israel, less so in America.

You say you don’t know many charedim that don’t care,etc. Here is a question. Suppose a liberal Jewish couple moves next to a charedi couple. They both have young children, 5-9 years old. Would the charedi parents allow the children to play? I know of too many cases where not only was any social interaction prohibited, the frum kids were taught to call these non-frum kids ’sheigitz’ etc. and to taunt them. I call that not caring.

At 12:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymousing said...

You expect a chareidi couple to allow there children to play with the liberal jewish family's children? Get real! Growing up, my family davened in a fairly litvish shteibel, and my family was probally the most modern family(we had a tv in our house). I was constantly getting into fights with the other children in the shul, presumably based on what there parents would tell them about us. The fear of outside influences, that could possibly taint children is taken to an extreme in orthodox circles. Anybody slightly different could be the cause of there children going "off the derech".
What kind of argument can you use against this kind of logic?

At 5:22 AM, Blogger LitaLives said...

It seems that a Yid is not interested in discussing the issue any further. He attacked, he ran off & is now hiding in his bunker.
Sort of reminds me of Nisrallah.

At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

The Torah promises that all Jews will ultimately return. Why shouldn't we all try to push this process along to the best of our abilities as opposed to being kibitzers or mockers?

At 7:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting how some people feel a need to criticize the “kibitzers and mockers”, but feel no need to criticize the poison being spewed forth by such upright people as a Yid. Makes you wonder where Judaism is heading.

At 3:04 AM, Anonymous A Yid said...

Lol. I had a window open to your last post, and I refreshed a couple of times and kept only seeing 32 comments. I didn't think of looking for a new post. I'll try to answer you today or tomorrow. Sorry, Litalives.

At 3:53 AM, Anonymous A Yid said...

First, thanks for taking the time to answer.
Again, we seem to be talking right past each other.
I understood us to be discussing whether Austritt was the right way to go in the late 1800's. Basically, the only sentence of your entire post that is relevant to that discusision is this "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."
Up until the end of WW2 the zionists were a small minority of the jewish population in Europe, "Israel" didn't exist and the circumstances which led to its founding were in no way foreseeable. In other words, totally irrelevant. So the first question is "Based on the facts they had before them at the time, was Austritt justified?" The facts being that A:the legally recognized congregation had a lot of influence over day to day religious life. (halachic implications) The promises that the Orthodox congregation would be left alone were worth their weight in gold, once the Reform leaders of the congregations were recognized by the goverment as the only kehilla they could do whatever they wanted. And, the people making those promises were not particularly trustworthy? What do you think was the right decision for a responsible pragmatic person?
If we can agree that Austritt was the right decision back then the next steps would be your defining what you view as a "halachic dilution and what you view as a non halachic dilution. And what you think Austritt means today. I'll answer the rest of your points in a seperate post iy"h

At 5:23 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

a yid...You came at me from so many different angles it is difficult for me to say what was the original issue you found so objectionable. In answer to a comment of bob miller in the original austritt post I acknowledged ’It is my understanding when RSRH applied to the government for legal status, there was a legitimate offer on the table to accommodate the Orthodox needs. I agree with you that if they couldn’t have gotten a fair deal, they would’ve had justification in seceding.’ In South Germany Orthodox and secular Jew lived and interacted without austritt, and there was no diminution in anyone’s religiosity. As many have already pointed out today we have in the Breuer community austritt without TIDE which is not what the original was about…the two were supposed to work together.

I look forward to your next comment. I hope you do not say anything too outrageous, because I am happy for you to have the last word.

At 6:11 PM, Anonymous A Yid said...

Can you enumerate the may differenet angles I "came at you" from? I found nothing "so objectionable". My position is that Austritt was justified, and I prefer to have a point by point discussion instead of jumping back and forth. I personally prefer austritt without TIDE and whether RSRH TIDE was a l'chatchila or b'dieved really depends who you ask. R' Breuer and the Chareidi world believe it was a b'dieved, parts of Washingtons Heights and YU believe it was l'chatchila.
"In South Germany Orthodox and secular Jew lived and interacted without austritt, and there was no diminution in anyone’s religiosity."
What is the basis of this statement? Do you have any statistics for how many religious Jews in South Germany became irreligious in that period of time? Do you have anyone that can give even a rough estimate of how many more or less it would have been with austritt?
The way I understood it, at that point in history, what Reform was doing was the same as what the maskilim in Russia and the zionists in Poland and Mandatory Palestine did, called kibush hakehillos. Did the "legitimate" offer have any legal weight? Or strictly intracongregational?
Is there such a thing as too outrageous?

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You say you don’t know many charedim that don’t care,etc. Here is a question. Suppose a liberal Jewish couple moves next to a charedi couple. They both have young children, 5-9 years old. Would the charedi parents allow the children to play? I know of too many cases where not only was any social interaction prohibited, the frum kids were taught to call these non-frum kids ’sheigitz’ etc. and to taunt them. I call that not caring."

My parents would have and I would, but you are right that many more today wouldn't than in the past, and the younger crowd that is that much more insular. This is not just due to "keeping out influences" though. It's rare to find haredim interacting with liberal Jews, becasue they no longer live in mixed neighborhoods. If they weren't living in wall to wall haredi neighborhoods, I think there'd be more positive interaction. Just as in mixed MO/haredi neighborhoods, there is more interaction and less animosity IME.

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you share any of your ideas with the powers that be - whether kiruv workers or Aguda types or similar? Some of what you write is important, and I think that even haredim might be more open to some of your message than one might expect, if presented in a non-threatening way.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

anonymous 10:58...I put my views on the internet in the hope that people will read them and find something in their own thoughts that is in tune, or use my posts to clarify to themselves why I am wrong.

I plan to leave these posts up when I finish, and I hope someday they will have some influence, however small,on some of the Jews who are in a position to bring about change.


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