Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Doing Judaism the Right Way for 2,000 Years

So I came across this piece last week on the JTA website written by Joel Alperson, the “past national campaign chair for United Jewish Communities”.

Dear readers, as the piece was quick to point out:  His views do not necessarily represent those of the Jewish Federations of North America, formerly known as United Jewish Communities.   Reading this note was a tremendous relief to me because, for a minute, I thought that Alperson’s piece did represent the views of JFNA (fka UJC) and I was struck afeard!

So I read the piece and thought about it, and like a piece of popcorn that sticks in between one’s molars, my tongue kept trying to dislodge it with little success.  Y’see I tend to agree that Judaism has to be more than just marketing and tikkun olam … check my first of six posts on that point here

What poked at my gums was the following:

Orthodox Jews, for whatever disagreements many non-Orthodox Jews have with them, have grown in number, and not only by sheltering themselves in haredi Orthodox communities. In contrast to the haredi Orthodox, the Modern Orthodox largely swim in the same secular waters as other Jews: They own televisions, use the Internet, attend secular universities, and work and vacation in the secular world.

I would love to see Alperson’s data on this because from my reading on the subject (I gave a talk a million years ago on post-denominationalism, denominational switching and the viability of Conservative Judaism), as much as Orthodox have more kids than non-Orthodox, they are not growing at the rate that one would expect.  But perhaps I was not paying attention because I was too busy fiddling with font choices for the Keynote presentation.  Let’s continue…

But they also hold to a religious discipline that they believe is life-improving. They observe Shabbat and the Jewish holidays, and they study Jewish texts in far greater numbers than non-Orthodox Jews. They are more likely to have children, and their children are far more likely to marry Jews and make Jewish homes.

Hmm… I wonder how many Orthodox Jews would agree with Alperson’s characterization of Orthodoxy as a “religious discipline”? And do Orthodox Jews remain Orthodox because it is “life-improving” or because it is commanded?

Judaism teaches us how to be better friends, businesspeople, husbands, wives and philanthropists. It tells us how to help the weak and when to fight evil. In short, Judaism done right makes us better human beings. It is the discipline of leading a traditional Jewish life that also reminds us how best to engage in repairing the world.

Agree.  Agree. Ag.. Woah there, cowboy… “Judaism done right”?  “the discipline of leading a traditional Jewish life”?   What are you saying, Joel?  Should we all become Orthodox?  Pray tell…

Ironically, by overemphasizing tikkun olam we could ultimately, through lack of Jewish knowledge and experience, lose the very impetus that put us in the tikkun olam business in the first place.

Hmm… compelling point.  Did you read my earlier post?

Must every Jew become Orthodox to live a committed and meaningful Jewish life? Clearly not. There are, of course, great numbers of highly committed non-Orthodox Jews. But as a community, at least for now, we’ll be severely weakened if we don’t acknowledge that we must repair ourselves far more urgently than we must repair the world.

So, if I understand Joel correctly, we all should not become Orthodox necessarily, but the Orthodox community has figured out Judaism’s secret sauce and if we want the Jewish people to survive, we might want to use their recipe…

You can read his whole piece here in case my yanking this extensive quote out of context and fisking it might misrepresent Alperson’s intent.

Before I am buried under another poopstorm, let me state that Orthodox Judaism is a wonderful religious practice for the Orthodox.  I have a lot of love and respect for frum people, their commitment to frumkeit and their dedication to mitzvot and middot.

All I am saying is this:  When individuals in positions of leadership in communal organizations (or formerly in positions of leadership yet still probably connected to and golf-playing with decision-makers) advocate and argue for one denomination over another, I get a little squeamish.


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