A Powerful Metaphor, but Does it Work?

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27 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    Take a look at the announcements for simchas in the Yated, Hamodia,or the Jewish Press. Then, if you read the NY Times or even a local Jewish communal paper, read what passes for the society pages. If that doesn’t cause one to weep, what will?

  2. lawrence kaplan says:

    Perhaps we should accord Jonathan Rosenblum some poetic license, but it is well known that the text of 13 Ani Maamins in the siddur is not by the Rambam, is not a translation from the Rambam’s 13 principles in his Intro to Perek Helek, but rather is a late medieval work of unknown origin only loosely based on the Rambam and differing in several significant ways from the Rambam’s own formulations.

  3. sima ir kodesh says:

    One of JP best articles ever. It should be published in the Jerusalem Post and other news medias to get a larger and more diversified audience. Presently, there are minute amount of Yeshivos, (Rav Berkowitz & Chofetz Chaim of Sanhedria) whose main focus is to save and educate the masses dying in the spiritual holocaust, it is a difficult endeavor and needs authentic individuals with skills and strategies of kiruv.

  4. Garnel Ironheart says:

    I would make two suggestions:
    1) Please don’t use the word Holocaust to describe what is happening to our people today. Yes, it is tragic and must be addressed by us to prevent a horrible decline in our people. However, using the word “holocaust” will be seen in a negative way by those people who need to be reached the most. Remember that the Holocaust occupies a special place in our history and our hearts. I would posit that most assimilated Jews, not seeing the danger with their lifestyles in the first place, would be very offended by using it in another context.
    2) There is an essential difference between the Shoah and assimilation. 60 years ago our fathers and mothers went to their deaths unwillingly, hoping against hope to survive as Jews. Are we resisting assimilation with the same intensity? Are those on the verge of disappearing from our people interested in being pulled back?

  5. Anonymous Kiruv Rabbi says:

    Interesting excuse as to why we don’t care about what Hashem cares about.
    But it’s not a metaphor. It’s reality.
    The spiritual holocaust that we find ourselves in the midst of is the greatest calamity that has befallen the Jewish people in the last 2000 years – if ever. Losing 70% (eventually 80-85%) of the Jewish nation over the course of just a few generations?!?

    If they can’t cry about that – if they remain apathetic, well, I guess they can’t be as “fine” as you claim.

    I commend your article, but I remain unconvinced that Hashem will be as willing to let the frum world off the hook.

    (see Gemara Shabbos, 54b, for proof – that we will all be punished for not doing enough to prevent our fellow Jews’ transgressions)

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum: THE PREMISE OF THE COMPARISON between today’s losses to the Jewish people via assimilation and intermarriage to the Holocaust is familiar to all Torah Jews: spiritual alienation from Hashem is a form of death, and even more horrible than physical death.

    Ori: By logical extension, somebody who causes Jews to leave observance, or to not become observant, is as bad as somebody who kills them. We are commanded to stop somebody who tries to kill somebody else (rodef) by any means necessary, including deadly force. Logically, this would apply to anybody who teaches Heterodox interpretation of Judaism.

    I assume you do not accept that conclusion, which is really reductio ad absurdum. This means that either my logic is wrong, or one of the premises is.

    The weakest premise, IMHO, is that intermarriage and assimilation, which can be reversible in the individual, are equivalent to the death of that person.

  7. mb says:

    Historical note.
    There was a much greater rate of assimilation and out-marriage between the 100 and 1100 CE. Our numbers declined from around 7 million to barely a million.
    Also I think the use of the word holocaust in this context is disgusting.

    Good article ,R.Rosenblum.

  8. Harry Maryles says:

    As you so eloquently indicate, there is a spiritual holocaust here. But the comparison to Hitler’s holocaust is inappropriate. The lost souls that were systematically murdered …many of whom were physically and mentally tortured in unimaginable ways makes such comparisons upsetting at best. Especially to survivors and their families. Furthermore, those souls lost during the holocaust are forever lost. They can never be retrieved.

    On the other hand, the lost souls of the vast numbers of Reform, Conservative, secular and unaffiliated Jews are not necessarily lost forever. They are instead overly ripe for Kiruv. Would that the lost souls slaughtered by Hitler could be retrieved the same way…

    When a Rabbi Yosef Reinman was prevented from attempting to retrieve some of those souls because of… in my view… an over extension of the Psak against participating with heretical movements for fear of giving those movements recognition, is there not a complicity of sorts in that spiritual holocaust?

    Remember that Rabbi Reinman said his only regret was that he was reaching Jews that he would never otherwise have had the opportunity to reach. Remember also that Rabbi Reinman always made it very clear that Orthodoxy does not consider Reform and Conservative legitimate.

    Combine that with a 180 degree turn on the part of both C and R in our day …who now instead of looking at their members becoming O as a failure …look at it as a success, and well… a golden opportunity is being missed.

  9. Ben Bayit says:

    I think about the Gush Katif pogrom every day. But I also think about how it was carried out with the explicit acquiesence of some of the same Gedoylim mentioned by Jonathan Rosenbloom (as being the ones who seek to establish uniform conversion standards) who were more interested in additional sectoral budgets to further enable avreichim to put off their inherent responsibilities in providing for the material well being of their families, it was carried out with the explicit acquiesence of certain Modern Orthodox politician/Rabbis who insisted that we must obey immoral orders of the government, and it was carried out with the “moral” support of fake rabbis in the military and police force – many of whom “studied” in charedi yeshivot before purchasing their s’micha dimplomas. That causes me to weep on Tisha B’Av.

  10. c says:

    Mr Pomerantz –

    Chazal say Gadol Hamachti’o yosr min ha’horgo – worse is the one who cauases someone else to sin, more than killing him.

    You might not understand it. You might understand it and not like it. But we believe these words of chazal. You have a question – that we cant reverse the killing of someone, but we can reverse the aveiros via teshuva. Chazal knew this also. They still said the above mentioned meimra.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    We compare two things to gain insight into one or both. In this case, the common thread is danger to the Jewish people. Eventually, the threat of the Germans and their helpers to the Jewish people in the 1930’s and 1940’s was painfully felt by all. However, the threat of assimilation before and after that era is taken seriously only by one group—those who reject assimilation. The many who don’t reject it glide along without even sensing that assimilation is a problem.

    Can associating assimilation with the Holocaust motivate the latter group to re-identify with Judaism? The risk exists that this association will make them all the more eager to sever their Jewish ties and blend into the woodwork. They are unlikely to react directly to this film, anyway, because they won’t likely see it.

    Will making this association motivate committed Jews to reach out with more vigor to the assimilated or assimilating? Are we, perhaps, too secure in our enclaves to care about the vanishing Jewishness outside? Motivations are tricky. Some people respond to emotional appeals, some to cold logic, and so on. The film under discussion is an experiment, with hard-to-predict short term or long term results. Why agonize too much over its potential effectiveness? Let’s just see what happens.

    Everybody has heard sermons that are inspired and moving, but lack a doable action plan in line with their rhetoric. The moment is then lost. I should hope that shuls or schools showing this film can also prepare their people for constructive follow-up, and not let the issue die once we start to eat again.

  12. shaulking says:

    BENBAYIT, I am with you all the way.
    The particular dilemma of our dor is every frum religious sect has its individual agenda, instead of manning together to clarify what is needed foremost in the eyes of hashem.

  13. YM says:

    One of the best JR articles. The question of whether this is an odious comparison or an accurate one depends on whether one’s basic life philosophy is Western or Jewish. As someone who strives to “think like a Jew” but was brought up in American, I can say that for me, the basic hashgofas I have are Western, not Jewish. It is very, very difficult to escape thinking like a Westerner.

    Note that, in agreement with Garnel above,and, I think, with JR, the answer to the question of whether this is an odious or accurate comparison, and whether this comparision will be effective in stemming the tide of assimilation, are two completely separate questions.

    I completely disagree with Harry and Ori- and Rabbi Reinman did what his Rabbi’s, who are gedolim, recommended that he do. A Jew who thinks that he or she should make these decisions on their own, and not consult with an objective Rabbinical authority, thinks like a Westerner, not a Jew. And the concept of Reductio ad absurdum is, for a Jew immersed in Talmud, not a barrier for conculuding that a certain course of action or thought process is invalid. Not every idea has to be taken to its logical conclusion and thus judged invalid – this is a Western way of thinking, not a Jewish way of thinking.

  14. YM says:

    Ben Bayit: Feeling horrible about what happened to the evacuees from Gush Katif, and thinking that disengagements, in prinicipal, are wrong, are two different things. The Charedi leadership in Israel is not ideologically opposed to evacuating lands for various reasons under various circumstances, and if UTJ had not joined the Sharon government at that point, the evacuation still would have gone through – Meretz had already said that it would vote for it if it didn’t have enough votes.

  15. Elitzur says:

    Was not the second Bais HaMikdash rebuilt despite extremely high levels of intermarriage? Acting morally, honestly, and ethically ourselves is the best way to influence others… Ask yourself this – you have a huge business deal almost in place – would you rather the other party be an Orthodox Jew or a religous Mormon?

  16. Anonymous Kiruv Rabbi says:

    Harry: In my home town, ALL the descendants of the Reform “temple’s” founders are christians. Care to try and mekarev them? They are non-Jews.
    I guess it’s a Holocaust after all.

  17. Mark says:

    Harry,

    “As you so eloquently indicate, there is a spiritual holocaust here. But the comparison to Hitler’s holocaust is inappropriate. The lost souls that were systematically murdered …”

    And the tendency to carp on a minor point in a terrific article is the primary reason why articles like this have no measurable effect. Rather than take action, you sit in front of a computer and criticize those who actually do the dirty work because you have a minuscule beef.

    “When a Rabbi Yosef Reinman was prevented from attempting to retrieve some of those souls because of… in my view… an over extension of the Psak against participating with heretical movements for fear of giving those movements recognition, is there not a complicity of sorts in that spiritual holocaust?”

    Another meaningless beef designed to obscure the main point of the article. Rabbi Reinman vastly underestimated the challenge he took upon himself and did the right thing when he backed off. I know this because HE TOLD ME SO HIMSELF IN A PRIVATE CONVERSATION.

    “Complicity of sorts” is what happens when an articulate, knowledgeable individual such as HM chooses to use his talents to write “critiques” of any and everything [and often on the religious community], rather than inspire people to return to Torah and Mitzvos. The people you spend so much time criticizing are the ones who actually spend their days trying to make a difference, not blogging.

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    YM: And the concept of Reductio ad absurdum is, for a Jew immersed in Talmud, not a barrier for conculuding that a certain course of action or thought process is invalid. Not every idea has to be taken to its logical conclusion and thus judged invalid – this is a Western way of thinking, not a Jewish way of thinking.

    Ori: I am more of a Westerner than a Jew. Do we have enough common ground for you to explain to me how come something and be right and its logical conclusion wrong?

    In this case we have:

    A. Somebody who causes a sin is worse than a murderer.

    and

    B. It is a Mitzva to stop a potential murderer by all means necessary, including deadly force.

    Can you explain to me why it’s a Mitzva to kill a potential murderer and not a Mitzva to kill a potential Machti (= causer of sin)?

  19. Sarah Shapiro says:

    My guess is that if any of my relatives, or I myself, had gone through the Holocaust, then it would be difficult to hear the word being used to refer to anything else.

  20. Tzurah says:

    It’s silly to accuse Ori of being hopelessly infected by western thought. He is bringing up an interesting kal vachomer. And since I’ve never heard anyone give a psak that it’s OK to kill university professors that teach kefira (for example), I think his kasha is a good one.

    I think a potential answer has already been discussed. The typical way to break a kal vachomer is to point out how the ordering of what is kal and what is chomer can be reversed.

    In this case, the kal is muder and the chomer is causing someone to sin, since one is physical death and the other spiritual death, which is much worse. OTOH, causing someone to sin can be seen as the kal and murder the chomer, since the murder cannot be be reversed, while a person led astray still has the path of teshuvah open. Since the determination of chomer and kal is not consistent, the kal vachomer is broken.

    This is off the cuff, and if anyone knows of a real source that discusses this, I would also love to hear it.

  21. David N. Friedman says:

    I have seen “From the Ashes” this evening and I would like to respond.

    First, Rav Weinberg has taken his stand because it is apparent far too many Jews do not lead Jewish lives due to ignorance and not because they wish to leave and this is an important distinction. The point that it is important to reach this remnant of the Jewish people before it is too late stands and also begs the question concerning the vitality of a culture that takes the children of and grandchildren of serious Jews and helps keep them away from not only Torah Judaism but a more meaningful life.

    Second, I agree with JR that the metaphor is a problem. Unmentioned is the fact that many of those murdered in the Holocaust were secular minded Jews and many of those Jews targeted by Rabbi Weinberg are not on Wall Street but also in the footsteps of our best and most impressive Jewish institutions in Israel. I have had blunt conversations with some Israelis about this segment of Israeli society and the normal chit-chat is that Israel will benefit from the demographics which will make the loss of the secular Jews supposedly painless. Therefore, absent in the calculation concerning the numbers lost from assimilation is the demographic shift that will “happily” give Israel a coming Orthodox majority.

    I am one BT wanting to keep the kiruv parade coming and it would be more of a tragedy if other somewhat marginal Jews such as myself were thought not worth the trouble when the demographics start to kick in and the offspring of large familes have families and those communities replace the assimilated. It seems that this obvious point escaped the attention of Rabbi Weinberg and Rosenblum.

  22. G B says:

    Although the film “From the Ashes” was well done, I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me. Of course I agree that intermarriage and assimilation are decreasing our numbers significantly. I have children who work fulltime in kiruv and they’re stories never cease to dishearten as much as they inspire.

    Then I had a Shabbos guest, a former neighbor of ours from when we lived in Israel. Our children used to play together 20 years ago. All of my children are observant, although hashkafically they are quite different – we are firm believers in educating children “al pi darco”. All are involved in service professions, and all live simply and make a moderate-to-decent living (but are not at all affluent). They are happy and are in good marriages. But my friend’s children? Most of his kids are high school dropouts because they couldn’t fit into “the system” (chareidi litvish) which left no room for anything other than full-time yeshiva learning. Most ended up in the Israeli army but due to their lack of a decent education, cannot move forward in any type of career unless they leave Israel. One child was divorced after a very short marriage. It was depressing but even more so, I couldn’t help but think, “that could have been MY kids had we stayed,’ because this former neighbor and his tale of woe has been repeated time and again with many of our American olim chareidi friends and their children.

    Yes, it’s tragic that the Jewish population is being depleted due to assimilation/intermarriage. But what kind of example and message do we give to that population, when we lose so many young people within Orthodox Judaism? Is that not even more tragic?

  23. DickK says:

    See the video.
    R. Weinberg’s point is:
    a. There was a holocaust during WWII that nobody acted to stop.
    b. We have a “holocaust” in progress now and the efforts to reverse the assimilation process are just not enough.
    c. The Germans were systematic, efficient, and learned from their mistakes so that they were unfortunately very successful in their efforts to kill us.
    d. We should *learn from them*! We have to be as systematic, efficient, creative and tireless in saving the lives of 6 million as the Germans were in destroying life.

    He sets a very high standard: If every frum Jew saves 8 lost Jewish souls, we can save them all.

    We really all have to make a cheshbon hanefesh (a self-assessment): Is what we do to open ourselves to our fellow Jews who have little or no exposure to Torah enough? What can we do in our communities with just some marginal mesiras nefesh?

  24. Michoel says:

    Sarah Shapiro and others:
    If, l’fi hashkafas HaTorah, what Klal Yisrael is going through is a Holocaust, then our uncomfortability with using that term is the biggest proof that we need to use that term.

    My father and his parents spent 4 years in the camps. That doesn’t give me any special moral right to comment but I grew up with pretty strong first hand exposure to those that suffered greatly. My feeling is that what Klal Yisrael is going through now is just as worthy of the term. Not only in terms of numbers but in terms of actually suffering. Women in there forties that baught into femenism and now realize that they will never have children, parents of children in cults, teenagers with gender identity confusion, suicides and mental illness, and of course intermarriage. As a nation, we are suffering terribly.

  25. Mark says:

    G B,
    “Most of his kids are high school dropouts because they couldn’t fit into “the system” (chareidi litvish) which left no room for anything other than full-time yeshiva learning.”

    Something here doesn’t add up. It’s not unusual [unfortunately] for one child out of a group not to fit into the system and drop out. But when NONE OF THEM fit the system – that tells me that your friend seriously missed the boat. Perhaps he should have tried another system that better fit his hashkafos? Those exist in EY as well. Why did he insist on sending his children through a system that clearly wasn’t in line with their training? Did he try sending them to Frum schools where secular subjects are studied?
    And if you tell me that he raised them all to be BH Yeshivish and everyone of them rejected it, that says more about his child-rearing methods than it does about the system, I’m afraid.
    Your story tugs at the heartstrings for certain, but leaves much to be explained.

  26. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Motivations are tricky. Some people respond to emotional appeals, some to cold logic, and so on. The film under discussion is an experiment, with hard-to-predict short term or long term results. Why agonize too much over its potential effectiveness? Let’s just see what happens.”

    I did not see the film, but as far as making use of the term “spiritual Holocaust”, I agree with the above comment. If the metaphor and movie inspires someone to engage in outreach, then good. If someone finds it off-putting, then they should find a different way to become inspired. People’s emotions aren’t always in synch with spiritual realities, and not everyone has to use one approach.

    Rabbi Weinberg and others are on front lines of outreach, and are aware of predictions that the window will be open for only a limited amount of time; they apparently are using a metaphor to bring to life a spiritual concept, and thereby shock people out of complacency, as is done in mussar(ethical) works.

    Others, not on that level, should use the metaphor with caution in everyday speech. Whatever role the Holocaust should play in the world-view of secular Jews(“lachrymose approach to Jewish history” vs. Yechezkiel 20:32-33), or of non-Jews(dangers of anti-Semitism) , it should not be trivialized(e.g., see Deborah Lipstadt’s “Denying the Holocaust” regarding immoral-equivalencies of Stalin and other massacres; PETA’s campaign, or some in Gush Katif who wore yellow stars). Similarly, I think one needs to be careful about how one goes about talking about who, or what “caused the Holocaust”.

    I remember a newspaper editorial criticizing a different organization for advertised to the effect, “stop the spiritual Holocaust, and win a custom-sheitel…”. The newspaper was correct for noting that such trivializes the Holocaust, and that some find it offensive. The Aish Hatorah approach, which is mussar-oriented, sounds like it can be a powerful dose of mussar and introspection if used wisely, but in our everyday conversation, we should be aware of the enormity of the implication of such speech, and whether we are honestly able to live with such powerful terms.

  27. Loberstein says:

    The Holocaust theme “Never Again” and the re-birth of Israel from the ashes of the Holocaust gave a reason to be Jewish to two generations of American Jews. It is wearing thin as all can see. The NOah Cohen article and the Aish film are two sides of a coin. Obviously for many Jews, marrying out, which means being the last of the line as far as Judaism is concerned is not a cause of concern. If you read Jewish History, especially that of the past couple hundred years, you will see many “last of the line” Jews who helped their people in time of need but did not pass it on to their own children. One example that comes to mind is Jacob Schiff, who gave the equilvelant of billions of dollars to help Jews emigrate from Europe. He was totally Jewish, having gone to the school of SR Hirsch in Frankfort as a boy, but did he pass anything on to his descendants, are any of them Jewish?
    Kol Hakovod to Aish Hatorah, they are rekindling the fire before it goes out, I hope they succeed, whatever “hook” ( sounds much better than “gimmick”, they need to use. I love them.

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