E.T., Come Home!

letter-447577_1280

Everyone, Together, Come Home.

Avi Shafran was remiss in his op-ed A Prophecy Sadly Fulfilled, which appeared in the Jerusalem Post this week and attracted 104 talkbacks so far. He was right on the money when, 5 years ago, he wrote in an article in Moment Magazine about the lack of fealty to halakha in the Conservative movement. He now writes:

Hence my “prophecy”: Conservative movement would come in time to “halachically” sanction what the Torah forbids in no uncertain terms. My prediction, of course, required no supernatural powers, only the natural one of observation.

He referred to same-sex relationships and that the Conservative movement would condone this in their clergy and lay people. He originally titled the piece “Time to Come Home” suggesting that for Jews who belong to Conservative synagogues and who care about halakha “that their true home (hence the title) was in the Orthodox community.”

What R. Shafran failed to mention is that people need not feel inconsistent if they join an Orthodox shul or send their children to an Orthodox Day School even though they personally are not yet observant. We all have a ways to go.

My parents, of blessed memory, joined the Orthodox Beth Sholom synagogue in Lawrence in the 1950s even though we and 98% of the congregants drove on Shabbat. We didn’t even keep kosher. They also sent myself and my siblings to a day school. But the difference between the Orthodox and Conservative synagogues in the Five Towns was one block – meaning those attending the Orthodox parked a block from the shul, whereas those attending the Conservative parked in the Conservative synagogue parking lot. That one block made a difference and had an impact on us.

Today my parents, a”h, have 27 modern Orthodox and haredi grandchildren, and 32 religious great-grandchildren, so far. Avi Shafran should have made it clear that those who want to be part of a movement that is loyal to halakha, even though for various reasons they themselves are not yet able to commit, are warmly welcome. He does describe this process in an enchanting novel he wrote years ago, Migrant Soul published by Targum / Feldheim which, if you are lucky, you can still find and read.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She is on the board of the Charedi College of Jerusalem. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survved the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She s available to lecture in Israel and in the US.

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18 Responses

  1. Michoel says:

    “Many if most Jews don’t have the intellect to understand Talmud adequately”

    I just don’t believe that. It was hard 100 years ago and it is hard now. One has to exert their brain. The issue is that people are lazy and would prefer to blab on their cell phones, sit batel reading blogs, and generally take it easy. We are do m’gushem we have trouble beign sensitized to the greatness of true spiritual achievement.

  2. Aryeh says:

    “I can see two big problem areas:

    1. Kashrut. If the parents don’t keep a Kosher kitchen, what would the kid eat? Only microwaved dinners and fresh fruits and vegetables?

    2. Shabbat. If the parents drive to synagogue and don’t want the hassle and expense of moving to within walking distance, how does the kid get to shul?

    If the parents decided to be Orthodox, and are still working on the necessary adjustments, then this would work. But if they are not prepared to observe Mitzvot themselves, it seems like a recipe for trouble. ”

    Ori, you’re absolutely correct. My wife, who grew up in a somewhat traditional home didn’t eat her parents’ food since she was 14. As you can imagine that caused “major trouble.” And most baalei teshuvah of my acquaintance who did it as teenagers had to fight with their parents, sometimes very bitterly, more or less intensely. Sometimes they get lucky and they’re parents are supportive (but most always only to a degree). But that’s the price to pay. Avraham Avinu also had to fight his family for his beliefs.
    On the positive side, usually all these conflicts attenuate and disappear with time and grandchildren and IMHO most parents (again from what I’ve seen) may even realize that they wouldn’t have the granchildren or as close of a relationship had their children stayed secular.

  3. mycroft says:

    Ori Pomerantz has in a nutshell explained the MAJOR problem in 21st century Orthodoxy. Many if most Jews don’t have the intellect to understand Talmud adequately-when that becomes the apparent only way to reach Derech Hashem-people who can’t do it will go off the Derech.
    An example-occasionally I have spoken to melamdim of lets say 1-8 they will say I didn’t have it easy and I’m not that advanced thus I can understand difficulties. Of course, anyone with smicha is not one who has difficulty in davening despite spending 12 years in yeshiva/day school.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    May I make an observation about Talmudic education as an outsider?

    Orthodox society is dominated by Torah scholars, who are always Talmudic scholars, since one can’t be an expert on Halacha without the Talmud. This means that the leaders naturally consider Talmudic study to be great fun and not too difficult.

    Furthermore, one of the purposes of Torah education is to develop humility. This means that a truth Torah scholar is unlikely to think: “I love Talmud study, and it’s fairly easy for me, but that’s because I’m special. The average Jew won’t be able to do it.” Instead, he is more likely to think: “Hey, this is easy and fun. Why not share it with everybody? I’ll just work a bit harder to explain it, and I’m sure they’ll understand”.

    This could lead to an excessive emphasis on the Talmud, instead of easier material.

  5. mycroft says:

    The main benefit of any daily program is the commitment. Daf Yomi learners have to complete the Daf no matter what day on the calendar, or circumstances in their life

    Daily commitment-why not an aliyah a day from the Parsha with classical mforshim-including Rargum. Shniim mikra vechad targum

    Daf Yomi learners have to complete the Daf no matter what day on the calendar, or circumstances in their life-part of the problem they must “daven’ not learn to make the daf. An example of a daf shiur-the Rabbi teaching the daf was very good-but he was told by his Rebbe-a world famous one-that he must teach Rashi in the daf-thus the first amud was taught reasonably well-but the last 10 minutes he would run throught the 2nd amud with Rashi-it was a high speed talking exercise. Similar stories when the daf is the issue rather than having a constant shiur and learning is the goal. The Daf probably is appropriate for a Rav Moshe or RAK for them to review but for very few others.

  6. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Mycroft,

    I don’t learn Daf Yomi either. It is impossible at that rate to retain a lot of information. Whatever topic I learn, I like to do them at a slower pace. Nevertheless, there are programs that allow for a quick review, or outline of the week’s Daf Yomi. So one could pick up various skills and concepts and retain them even from a fast-paced daily program.

    The main benefit of any daily program is the commitment. Daf Yomi learners have to complete the Daf no matter what day on the calendar, or circumstances in their life. So that may outweigh the disadvantage of the quick pace.

  7. mycroft says:

    Tonight at Rabbi Frand’s shiur he referred to a Gemarrah Succah –and stated of course, I’m sure that many of you remember the Gemarrah its just learnt it in daf yomi. Of course, Rabbi Frand went on to state that he does not learn the daf. Relevance–an example of raising the bar is the emphasis on daf yomi. I thought of the connection of course–from Baltimore Rabbi Frand obviously lives there and Rabbi Shafran grew up there.
    Raising the bar-daf yomi has had the unfortunate side affect of destroying many other shiurim which were much more understandable to more Jews. I can think of teachers who taught a baal batim shiur for 25 people just before shacrit on Shabbos on tehillim-but now eliminate that because they have an obligation to teach the to to 5.
    Full disclosure I did the daf and spent hours a day preparing going to shiur and reviewing. BTW when I was working near 84 William I had the pleasure of going to then pre Mincha daf shiur in the Agudah.
    Why did I stop–after more than a cycle–I realized that I didn’t remember anything from mesechtot that U had no prior knowlege of eg Kodashim and Taharot. But I will admit going to the shiurim–including the Agudah shiur was an enjoyable experience–but for me I didn’t retain anything 7.5 years later thus I felt time better spent in other learning activities.

  8. mycroft says:

    It is indeed most important that we recognize – and deal with other Jews from the recognition – that observance comes in stages and that it is always, in the end, less than perfect.
    (Who knows? Maybe a mussar-message along those lines lies in the recent Monsey chicken scandal: even the most meticulously frum can sometimes, entirely unknown to themselves, be eating tarfus!).

    Very good mussar-don’t rush to judge others-as we are all aware-we are human, thus make mistakes

    It is sad, but true, that the proliferation of non-halachic conversions and divorces are making shidduchim with less-observant families increasingly risky.
    Divorces are a much worse problem-mamzerut chas veshalom is ad olam. Conversion even if not proper-can be rectified and unless a Kohen dealing with a giyoret-not too much of an impact. In fact probably one of my frumest friends married a giyoret-she was brought up Jewish-Conservative etc-but her mother never was megayer. Fortunately my firend has had many children and his children girls Bais Yacov-male do not want to lists chool because would identify location. Oldest already frum shiodduch.

    that one of my daughters is engaged to a young man from a less-observant home, and my wife and I are honored to have their son as a future son-in-law—and equally enthralled with his parents, who are wonderful people. They are not currently Shomer Shabbos, but are wonderfully supportive of their three children, all of whom have become frum, and they see themselves (as we all should) as still growing. We are proud to know them, and look forward to being related to them.

    Another reason to like Rabbi Shafran-from a non Agudah member.

  9. mycroft says:

    What R. Shafran failed to mention is that people need not feel inconsistent if they join an Orthodox shul or send their children to an Orthodox Day School even though they personally are not yet observant.

    Recently, some of us have been discussing similar to Mrs. Schmidt–that unfortunately 30-50 years ago people who were not frum were welcome in an Orthodox shul/community. Although many left completely, others have stories similar to Mrs. Schmidt. Day Schools students had a much more diverse background-many of those from non religious background have become frum and stayed frum. Unfortunately-my impression to some extent that part of the population has gone by the wayside. To some extent people I believe are talked to and looked down upon-not necessarily with the consent or desire of Rabbonim. A story-not that most people know where I live-but this is not from my area–I know the Rav. A women came to schul Yom Kippur with a business pants suit. The Rav noticed her in the balcony and was curious-the Rav noticed the women was acting politely, standing at appropriate times etc. One women was upset and got the Rav outside of schul–and said the Rav should say something we have our standards-The Rav told the woman don’t say anything –if the woman came back she would probably realize that she should ear a dress to schul–if not maybe he would probably eventually pick the right time to tell the woman how to dress in schul. Needless to say the woman told the other woman she was dressed inappropriately-the woman left schul and never returned.

    We all have a ways to go.

    My parents, of blessed memory, joined the Orthodox Beth Sholom synagogue in Lawrence in the 1950s even though we and 98% of the congregants drove on Shabbat.

    98% drove?
    We didn’t even keep kosher. They also sent myself and my siblings to a day school.

    But the difference between the Orthodox and Conservative synagogues in the Five Towns was one block – meaning those attending the Orthodox parked a block from the shul, whereas those attending the Conservative parked in the Conservative synagogue parking lot. That one block made a difference and had an impact on us.

    Today, I doubt people like Mrs. Schmidt’s parents would be made welcome in many schuls and day schools. This “raising of the bar” will likely unfortunatelyminimize the chances of future Shira Schmidt’s-

  10. Avi Shafran says:

    Thank you Mrs. Schmidt, for your well-taken point. It is indeed most important that we recognize – and deal with other Jews from the recognition – that observance comes in stages and that it is always, in the end, less than perfect. (Who knows? Maybe a mussar-message along those lines lies in the recent Monsey chicken scandal: even the most meticulously frum can sometimes, entirely unknown to themselves, be eating tarfus!).

    In any event, I am happy and proud to note here, as per Joel Rich’s own worthy comment, that one of my daughters is engaged to a young man from a less-observant home, and my wife and I are honored to have their son as a future son-in-law — and equally enthralled with his parents, who are wonderful people. They are not currently Shomer Shabbos, but are wonderfully supportive of their three children, all of whom have become frum, and they see themselves (as we all should) as still growing. We are proud to know them, and look forward to being related to them.

    It is sad, but true, that the proliferation of non-halachic conversions and divorces are making shidduchim with less-observant families increasingly risky. But we should all recognize that, with due research and caution, bringing Jews who are not within our communities and families into our communities and families is a wonderful thing – for them and for us.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    One way to find out more about a person’s background is to ask him.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    L Oberstein may be correct that the facts on the ground with regard to CJ’s laiety have changed as to any degree of observance of kashrus, etc. If that is the case, then anyone working on kiruv with this population would have to be oriented appropriately as to their present level of background, as opposed to assuming a level of observance that may be nonexistent or rapidly dissapearing in many areas.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Wouldn’t this cause problems when the children are teenagers, and therefore obligated to Mitzvot? What would a teenager who went to an Orthodox school and is now Orthodox do if his or her parents are not observant?

    I can see two big problem areas:

    1. Kashrut. If the parents don’t keep a Kosher kitchen, what would the kid eat? Only microwaved dinners and fresh fruits and vegetables?

    2. Shabbat. If the parents drive to synagogue and don’t want the hassle and expense of moving to within walking distance, how does the kid get to shul?

    If the parents decided to be Orthodox, and are still working on the necessary adjustments, then this would work. But if they are not prepared to observe Mitzvot themselves, it seems like a recipe for trouble.

  14. Joel Rich says:

    I hope that we will be as open to treating our returning families well as our predecessors were. Will the best of the FFB’s make shidduchim with them?
    KT

  15. Shira Schmidt says:

    21 b Ellul
    I just found 2 copies of Avi Shafran’s novel”Migrant SOul”
    on amazon.com for sale at $20.95. Amazon has the following reader comment: A great read for Jews returning to the faith (converts, too), February 23, 2003 Reviewer: A reader
    “This is an easy-to-read journey of a man and his family as they find their way from being secular to becoming Orthodox Jews. His logic is razor-sharp, as well as his uncompromising commitment to look tradition in the eye and do what he feels has to be done. His wife is also remarkable, as this type of spiritual awakening on the part of one spouse can often ruin marriages. Instead, they make the journey together, and prove that they were really intended for each other, and to live observant lives. My whole family loved his book, and hope to read more from Ovadyah and Ariella in the future!”

  16. alfie says:

    “We all have a ways to go.”

    Boy you couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for this post.

  17. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Shira,

    I read “Migrant Soul” a number of years ago, and I remember it being fascinating. How long has it been out of print?

  18. L.Oberstein says:

    E.T. Come Home is describing a bygone generation. These were Jews who at least knew that religious Jews didn’d ride on Shabbat, so they were respectful and parked a block away. Fortunately such people were not opposed to observance and were proud when their children and grandchildren had more learning and were more observant than they.

    Today, I venture that very few young Jews even realize that kashrut and shabbat are Jewish values that should mean something to them. Kids today do not even know what obvservance is, this is very true in Israel too among secular youth.
    I teach a class at a senior community and some of the leading Jews are in my class, or at least they were before they turned 80 or older. One woman whose foundation has given many millions to Conservative causes exclaimed to me that I was mistaken, Conservative Judaism does not believe in keeping kosher, no one she associates with keeps kosher.