Thursday, October 18, 2007

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The Problem

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

According to most opinions, there is a Jewish crisis going on today. Apparently, a huge percentage of nonreligious Jews are flocking to other religions, while very few are coming to their own. It seems that the crisis is not only in the Torah-ignorant community, but has hit the religious community as well. Today, young Jews are leaving orthodoxy at an astonishing rate. Of course this means rampant intermarriage and the loss of those future Jewish families. This is a catastrophe. What to do? Like all things in Jewish life, there are various opinions on the subject.

Believe it or not, one opinion says, “Hey, this has happened before. It is just part of the design of things. When the Jews left Egypt with Moshe, eighty percent chose not to go with him and were lost. When the Jews who were exiled to Babylonia were allowed to return, the vast majority chose not to return and many were lost. Over one third of the Jewish people were lost to the holocaust, and now the same thing is happening in America. It is just the way it works.”

But this attitude can’t be the solution. According to this, the destruction of the majority of the Jews in the world is ok. Do they really say this about their own family too?

Another opinion says that the problem is, “The religion is artificially strict. What with two days of holidays when the Torah says only one. It is the rabbis who insist on all these extras. We should reject their burdens and return to authentic Torah Judaism. Get rid of all of the man-made decrees.”

But this can’t be the answer. We already tried something like that. That is how Reform Judaism got started and we see where that went. And if it were not for those ancient rabbis and their decrees, there wouldn’t be any Jews in the world today. Throughout the ages, every Jewish family that left the tradition also left the Jewish people. Those very practices have kept the Jews from disappearing.

Another opinion says that the solution is to move away from “cultural Judaism” with its bagel and klezmer identity, back to authentic Jewish practices, Shabbos and Pesach and davening three times a day. But how can this be the answer? This is exactly what those religious kids are running away from.

Even the most strictly religious communities are witnessing young people leaving. The reason there seems to be that their entire society is structured around lifelong, full time learning. And if a child is not gifted in this area, he is soon left behind. He still has to attend, but is sidelined and quickly becomes bored. He then yearns for excitement, or at least for something interesting.

There are most likely a number of other opinions out there as to why Jews are going away or not coming home.

My opinion as to why they are not coming home: Because they were taught a dead Judaism. Their teachers gave them a dry Judaism with a distant, demanding and grouchy G-d. Those teachers kept all those laws only out of fear of retribution, or for some vague promise of a reward in a distant world. They even seem depressed! Who in their right mind would want such a thing?

What is the solution? Teach the Torah the way it is supposed to be taught; a life lived with daily spiritual awareness, a Torah that talks to me about me, teachings that solve my daily problems. Not just a promise for someday in another world, but a Jewish spiritual life today.

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