Goodbye to Heterodoxy

letter-447577_1280

Regarding Ori’s question, I reject the forced choices — I think the majority of Jews would join Orthodox shuls without becoming observant. That is option 3. And I think that would be a vast improvement over the present situation.

In South Africa (where I lived for five years) there is no Conservative and only a very small Reform movement. Almost all South African Jews belong to O shuls, though few are observant. When they arrive in the US, many of them find themselves culturally comfortable in C congregations, whose services superficially resemble the services they are familiar with but whose rabbis and congregants are accepting of low levels of actual observance.

In practice — sociologically speaking — the change from O in South Africa to C in America usually results in a very rapid decline in the level of any observance, as well as a greased slide towards intermarriage, since interdating and intermarriage no longer carries any stigma in C congregations. Intermarriage does still have a stigma in South Africa.

Non-observant Jews who are nevertheless connected to an O shul and O rabbi for major life cycle events — girl baby-naming, bris, bar mitzva, wedding, funeral — are fundamentally attached to Judaism in a way that is simply not the case with a Jew who belongs to a “Conform” temple. Conform exists for only one reason — to make Jews psychologically and emotionally comfortable with their total disloyalty to the religion of their forefathers, to ease their conscience when they intermarry or do whatever they please.

The reason I refer to both Reform and Conservative as “Conform” movements is that both exist for the same reason — to help Jews conform comfortably to the prevailing secular ethos of America. Conform does very little to help people stay connected to Judaism, just the opposite.

Plus, as a result of patrilineal descent and Mickey Mouse conversions, the percentage of actual non-Jews in Conform temples is extremely high. Which makes it increasingly difficult and impolitic for any Conform rabbi to say boo about intermarriage.

There is also another factor to consider, and that is the question of, to whom do we owe loyalty? It is true that we owe loyalty to all our fellow Jews and that we want — or should want — to maintain close ties between all Jews, and to make sure that all Jews feel welcome in our community.

But we also owe loyalty to G-d. We do not have the right to falsify the Torah in order to make our fellow Jews feel comfortable. We hate to lose any Jews, we grieve over our fellow Jews who have elected to live in such a way that they will not have Jewish children — but we do have a mesorah, a chain of transmission, that has kept going father to son, mother to daughter, for three thousand years now, since Sinai. And we absolutely do not have the right to be the generation that breaks that chain.

We have an eternal promise (and it has been fulfilled for three thousand years) that the Jewish people will never disappear. The Conform movement has a lot to answer for, since it has done so much to shrink the total number of Jews in America (and in the world). It has helped millions of Jews commit suicide, Jewishly speaking, and that is simply tragic and heart-breaking — and unprecedented in our history. But the fact is, we have to transmit the Torah faithfully, and we rely on G-d’s promise that from a faithful remnant, however small, we can rebuild. We are an eternal people.

When I say good-bye to Jews who have chosen to marry out and to raise non-Jewish children, I say good-bye with a heavy heart. I grieve to see them go, and I want them to know — my door is not locked and will never be locked against them. They are welcome to come home to their people any time. Any time.

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Larry
9 years 8 months ago

In response to DMZ’s question (comment no. 9, above), Conservative halachic opinions issued by both the US-based Rabbinical Assembly and the Israeli-based Masorti Vaad HaHalacha are available on-line at http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/law/teshuvot_public.html and http://www.responsafortoday.com/eng_index.html.

9 years 8 months ago

Larry,

Thank you for characterizing the Orthodox as limiting their intellect, but bowing to the superiority of Gedolei Torah makes no less intellectual sense than finding a qualified doctor to determine a course of medical treatment. There are plenty of people out there performing do-it-yourself homeopathic medicine, which in most (but by no means all) cases means a treatment that has no more than a placebo effect. Trying to follow Judaism without Torah guidance similarly has a placebo effect — it feels good, but a sick patient is still likely to die. It’s a tragedy in the making.

I think I can leave it to Mrs. Katz herself to answer your mischaracterization of women in Torah Judaism.

As for your third point, it’s very funny that you call Mrs. Katz’s post “triumphalism.” She’s quoting statistics. You are more than welcome to compare the tone and tenor of mentions of liberal movements here and elsewhere in the Orthodox world to mentions of Orthodoxy in even the Divrei Torah of Chancellor Ismar Schorsch of JTS, much less the rest of the Conservative and Reform sites. By comparison to that kettle this is stainless steel — and the intent is constructive. No one here is dancing to see the other movements die out. Every Jew lost is a world lost.

DMZ
9 years 8 months ago

Robbie,

Some of my best friends in college were observant Conservative Jews – people who, if they didn’t daven in an “egalitarian” minyan, would probably have fooled 99% of observers into thinking they’re Orthodox. I had many, many conversations and discussions (and arguments) with them – I _think_ I’m somewhat well-informed about the Conservative movement. And, indeed, I have some respect for their ideas, if not the overall results.

The real problem is not so much the act of including intermarried couples post-facto, but the fact that when this is a wide-spread practice, it ends up legitamizing intermarriage. After all, if there are relatively few consequences of intermarriage (bubbe gets upset until the maybe-Jewish grandkids arrive), there’s very little incentive for a non-observant Conservative Jew to care about it. If the response was more harsh, people might think twice about it – or realize, in fact, that they are NOT Conservative Jews.

I’m not arguing for tossing intermarried couples into the street – but when people who _know_ better go get intermarried, and I mean people who were Conservative their entire lives, showering them only with love and acceptance seems the wrong answer. There’s ignorance, and then there’s apathy.

The main problem I have with the Conservative movement is that the Conservative Bet Din is really a committee to rubber stamp what the lay people want. They put out these interesting rulings, but basically nullify them by citing “minority opinions”, which are generally just what the other side was arguing. The end result is that you can do whatever the heck you feel like, which only lends itself more to the “pick and choose” Judaism that the Reform movement is, and certain parts of the Conservative movement are devolving to.

And, I’ll be honest: not all of their opinions were terribly honest. The “you can drive to shul on Shabbos, but only in the US” teshuva is so intellectually dishonest, and so easily dismantled, that it’s no wonder they keep the decisions locked away on the website, and not available to the public (has this changed?).

-DMZ

Ori Pomerantz
9 years 8 months ago

Toby Katz,

Replying to me, you said: It depends on the Jew and on the synagogue. Outside the big cities (in Chattanooga, for example, where my husband was the rabbi in the 1980’s) many O shuls have a majority of non-observant members.

In your reply to Robbie, you said:“Accepting an intermarried family into a congregation is very different from encouraging intermarriage”

Sez you.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. There are three types of Jews:

1. Orthodox. Obviously welcome in an Orthodox shul.

2. Regular non Orthodox. Will be welcome in most Orthodox shuls, in the hope of encouraging greater observance.

3. Jews who intermarried. Not acceptable, unless they are in the process of fixing it (spouse converting, or getting a divorce).

Am I misunderstanding you? If not, are there other sins that place a Jew in category 3 rather than 2?