Goodbye to Heterodoxy
Regarding Ori’s question, I reject the forced choices — I think the majority of Jews would join Orthodox shuls without becoming observant. That is option 3. And I think that would be a vast improvement over the present situation.
In South Africa (where I lived for five years) there is no Conservative and only a very small Reform movement. Almost all South African Jews belong to O shuls, though few are observant. When they arrive in the US, many of them find themselves culturally comfortable in C congregations, whose services superficially resemble the services they are familiar with but whose rabbis and congregants are accepting of low levels of actual observance.
In practice — sociologically speaking — the change from O in South Africa to C in America usually results in a very rapid decline in the level of any observance, as well as a greased slide towards intermarriage, since interdating and intermarriage no longer carries any stigma in C congregations. Intermarriage does still have a stigma in South Africa.
Non-observant Jews who are nevertheless connected to an O shul and O rabbi for major life cycle events — girl baby-naming, bris, bar mitzva, wedding, funeral — are fundamentally attached to Judaism in a way that is simply not the case with a Jew who belongs to a “Conform” temple. Conform exists for only one reason — to make Jews psychologically and emotionally comfortable with their total disloyalty to the religion of their forefathers, to ease their conscience when they intermarry or do whatever they please.
The reason I refer to both Reform and Conservative as “Conform” movements is that both exist for the same reason — to help Jews conform comfortably to the prevailing secular ethos of America. Conform does very little to help people stay connected to Judaism, just the opposite.
Plus, as a result of patrilineal descent and Mickey Mouse conversions, the percentage of actual non-Jews in Conform temples is extremely high. Which makes it increasingly difficult and impolitic for any Conform rabbi to say boo about intermarriage.
There is also another factor to consider, and that is the question of, to whom do we owe loyalty? It is true that we owe loyalty to all our fellow Jews and that we want — or should want — to maintain close ties between all Jews, and to make sure that all Jews feel welcome in our community.
But we also owe loyalty to G-d. We do not have the right to falsify the Torah in order to make our fellow Jews feel comfortable. We hate to lose any Jews, we grieve over our fellow Jews who have elected to live in such a way that they will not have Jewish children — but we do have a mesorah, a chain of transmission, that has kept going father to son, mother to daughter, for three thousand years now, since Sinai. And we absolutely do not have the right to be the generation that breaks that chain.
We have an eternal promise (and it has been fulfilled for three thousand years) that the Jewish people will never disappear. The Conform movement has a lot to answer for, since it has done so much to shrink the total number of Jews in America (and in the world). It has helped millions of Jews commit suicide, Jewishly speaking, and that is simply tragic and heart-breaking — and unprecedented in our history. But the fact is, we have to transmit the Torah faithfully, and we rely on G-d’s promise that from a faithful remnant, however small, we can rebuild. We are an eternal people.
When I say good-bye to Jews who have chosen to marry out and to raise non-Jewish children, I say good-bye with a heavy heart. I grieve to see them go, and I want them to know — my door is not locked and will never be locked against them. They are welcome to come home to their people any time. Any time.