Wednesday, December 16, 2015


What Weird World Do They Live In?

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths
At Emes ve Emunah, a Mr. Paul Shaviv asked a series of questions challenging semi-rhetorical recent statements by a number of Orthodox religious authorities targeted at events in the U.S. Jewish world in an article titled "What Century do they Live In?".  While I don't represent the orthodox Jewish world of Israel, as an orthodox Jew living in a charedi community in Israel I'm going to take a shot at answering Mr. Shaviv's questions... al regel echod (while standing on one leg - meaning, not in depth - but quick on the spot answers)...

Mr. Shaviv asked...

"Diaspora Jewry, including Orthodoxy (especially outside NY/NJ, whether it admits it or not) faces huge, and real, practical challenges in a rapidly changing Jewish world."
Shaviv question: How should synagogues, families and individuals relate to interfaith families? (The flood of seasonal ‘Chrismukkah’ articles seems more this year than I ever remember.)
Answer: Being this is unfortunately nothing new, generations of American leading orthodox Jewish rabbis have already dealt with this question.  The net answer is (as far as I know), be nice but intermarriage is not acceptable.  A Jewish woman who intermarries, her children are Jewish.  But a Jewish man who intermarries, his children are not.  They should be kindly informed of this, and are interacted with according to their Jewishness status.  (Example, the children of the intermarried Jewishess can be invited to a Jewish day camp, the children of the intermarried male Jew cannot.)
It's worth noting that statistically, the vast majority of intermarried couple's children fall out of the Jewish fold within 1-2 generations.  One might try to counter-argue that this is due to non-acceptance within organized religious practice - but Reform and Conservative Judaism HAVE been accepting of this without any improvement in retention.

My point, attempting to accommodate intermarriage has no upside, while validating those who violate core religious standards has a significant downside.
Shaviv question: Or the changing Jewish family?

Answer: Maybe I'm missing something here but I don't know what this means.  Is he referring to same gender secular marriage?  If so, as in the above, being nice to people is required.  Accepting their choices, regardless of whether society does or not, is not required.  

Similar to my point above, reproduction among same gender couples is statistically far below replacement rates.  So like above, accommodating this situation has no upside, while validating those who violate core religious standards has a significant downside.

That said, plenty of people have problems with plenty of aveyrote (sins), including people we continue to consider religiously observant.  Judaism does allow for teshuvah (repentance / returning to G-d), and who am I to say this aveyra (sin) is that much worse than any others?  BUT, flaunting ones aveyrote (sins) is a problem, whether it be violating the Shabbat (Sabbath day) or this.

Shaviv question: Or changing gender norms? 
Answer: The answer depends on what this question means.  If it's the greater role of women in society, we see these changes in orthodox Judaism with the creation of the Bais Yaakov Torah education institutions for girls starting in 1917, which has continued through today to become a high religious education standard for girls and women in orthodox Jewish society.  Yet ritual roles have religious boundaries as well as tie-ins to reproductive and family supportive roles.  Contrary to modern feminism, it is a core Jewish belief that men and women are different (not better or worse, different) and are, in general, and somewhat better suited to certain tasks (not unable to do, but better suited).
If this question is referring to the new fads of gender flexibility or modification... Why is Judaism required to "deal" with every fad of society?  How long will the current fad or change be around, while Judaism has been around for over 3,000 years?  Further, this fad is estimated to actively involve less that 0.3% of society, though by making it so in-your-face, maybe up to 4% will "experiment" or consider - with estimates that 40-60% of those who engage in this find serious regrets.  

While some changes to accommodate trends in society are appropriate, some are antithetical to the mores of the religion and accommodating them only is destructive to the core.

On an interesting side note, the Mishnah speaks of 4 genders, and the religious obligations and life roles for each of those genders, with a variety of options depending on the physical circumstances.  The 3rd and 4th genders are... those with physical characteristics of both, and those without characteristics of either.  Perhaps the Torah has ALREADY dealt with this space, and it just needs to be applied.  (For those who are wondering why the Mishnah would speak of such things, there are (G-d should have mercy) children born with genetic defects in gender development. In recent times these are corrected during infancy with surgery and hormone drug therapy.  But in ancient times such a condition would grow into adulthood, with resulting religious quandaries.)

Shaviv question:  How do we deal with BDS?

Answer:  Apparently Mr. Shaviv believes there is some valid foundation to the Palestinian situation to ask this question.  Let there be no doubt, BDS should be fought completely, as it's a direct attack on Israel and Jewish life.  These people are supporting terrorism.  And their actions are leading to mass murder.

Shaviv question: How do we keep being Jewish affordable, especially to young families?

Answer: Ok, you got me on this one.  Here's a few options... move to Israel, join a chassidic group that group-subsidies it's education system, that's all I got.

Shaviv question: What is the future of synagogues?   

Answer: If it's full of families and children, it has a strong future.  If not, either start strong programs to draw families in (there have been Jewish communities that have offered cash bonuses and educational subsidies for young families to move there, and such programs have been successful) - or start planning on how to dispose of the building as people retire.

Shaviv statement: In all of this, we look to Israel for constructive and sympathetic support – not negativity and aggression.

Reply: Strangely in the past 20 years the roles of the Jewish diaspora and Israel have flipped.  30 years ago the diaspora was a key supporting component to Israel.  Today the core of the Jewish orthodox religious world has moved to Israel.  But here's the thing, if you want to influence the attitudes and approaches of the Israeli Jewish religious environment...YOU HAVE TO MOVE THERE.

By sending young American Jewish men and women to learn in Israel for a few years, during their foundational adult years, they are bringing the Israeli Jewish approach back to the U.S.  And some of that approach has never had to tolerate or deal with the compromises, challenges, failures, and weird societal situations of being Jewish and orthodox Jewish in America.  So surprise, the Israeli orthodox Jewish mindset doesn't buy in to some of the American mishegoss.

Shaviv question: Does anyone really believe that a Conservative day school in today’s Jewish community is anything other than a positive force for Judaism?  ...Do our Israeli brothers know that many teachers at non-Orthodox day schools are Orthodox?  

Answer: My wife was one of those orthodox teachers in a conservative program.  The limitations they placed on her in presenting even the most basic concepts of Judaism were extreme, and that was 20 years ago.  Why are so many of those teachers orthodox?  Answer-because the Conservative system doesn't produce enough people who know enough about their religion to teach it!  Or have enough interest to do the job! 

The Israeli orthodox Jewish religious leadership has little tact and doesn't play politics or accommodate American Jewish religious flexibility.  All of that is a normal part of being Jewish in Israel.  If you want to influence, come join the party.  Israel is waiting for you.  And you'd be surprised how much influence anyone can have here. It is, after all, a very small country... with a big voice and big world impact.
Otherwise you'll just leave the Israeli Jewish orthodox religious authorities wondering, What Weird World Do You Live In?


  1. Whoever this Mr. Shaviv is, he is typical of liberal Jews who have no idea of what a Jew is. He has been so assimilated into the non-Jewish world and has no Jewish background, including any kind of Jewish education. Thus, explaining anything to him is difficult because it is difficult for such an adult to understand the thinking of an observant Jew. There is probably no greater sin for the Jew than intermarriage. It cuts off that person's 4000 year history and destroys the following generation. It should be strongly dissuaded. There was a time not too long ago that Jewish families would sit in mourning for the full seven days for a son/daughter who intermarried. He/she no longer existed for that family. Today, everything goes and is accepted because being pc is more important than Torah, r'l. We pray for them to do teshuva; many are just like kidnapped children and not at fault, but there are those that should know better. It all starts with Jewish education from early youth; that is what must be emphasized to save many Jewish souls.

  2. An officially Conservative school is a lot different than a community school with no official doctrine. I know of one where only 1/5 or less of the students are Orthodox, but everyone davens from an Orthodox siddur, many of the teachers are Orthodox, and the school's cafeteria is under Orthodox rabbinic supervision. This kind of scenario, where Orthodox are a minority but kind of dominant, is common in many OOT communities without Orthodox day schools, or where MO families have to choose between community schools and charedi schools they're not always comfortable with. Purely Conservative or Reform schools are rare and becoming rarer.


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