Reform and anorexia: two op-ed pieces

Below, two articles juxtaposed. The connection needs no comment.

Jonathan Schorsch in the Jerusalem Post (the writer teaches Jewish studies at Columbia University): “Shafran may think that the Orthodox merely reject ‘a thing, a philosophy, an approach,’ but these philosophies are held by real, living Jews and many non-Orthodox Jews sense all too accurately that they are being rejected…. If Orthodoxy is going strong, “making” so many new Jews, why the constant need to delegitimize other streams of Judaism? ….THE IMPLICATION is clear: non-Orthodox Jews cannot be accepted as they are. This is at best partial love and care, perhaps even the opposite.”

Marie Coyle in a letter to the editor of a student newspaper at the University of New Hampshire (the writer is the feminist outreach coordinator of Women United Against Eating Disorders): “I am, and will continue to be, aggressively and unapologetically anti-eating disorders. I am definitely trying to attack this problem. I want to be supportive of those who are suffering, but I refuse to say that I am anything but opposed to their sickness. I am not in any way blaming people who have eating disorders; this is absurd. When I say I am furious about eating disorders, I mean that I am furious at their existence, not at the people whose lives are being ruined by them. I have nothing but sympathy and compassion for the hundreds of people on this campus that are suffering. I want to do everything I can to improve their lives. I really cannot stress enough the distinction between being against eating disorders and being against people who have eating disorders. . . .”

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21 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    The Conservative/Reform/etc. concern about delegitimization is misplaced. They should instead ask, “how can I make my practices legitimate according to the Torah?”

  2. rejewvenator says:

    So now non-Orthodox Jews are suffering from a belief disorder? I think this just affirms everything the non-Orthodox say about the condescension and disrespect that the Orthodox regularly show towards them.

  3. David says:

    ‘So now non-Orthodox Jews are suffering from a belief disorder? I think this just affirms everything the non-Orthodox say about the condescension and disrespect that the Orthodox regularly show towards them.

    Comment by rejewvenator — May 8, 2007 @ 8:19 am ‘


  4. Toby Katz says:

    “condescension and disrespect”?

    Every Jew’s neshama yearns to be close to Hashem, and to the extent that any Orthodox Jew, in writing, teaching, or just being a friend, can help to lower the barriers that keep other Jews from achieving that closeness, to that extent we are helping and not hurting our fellow Jews. I am very sorry that that sounds condescending to you — very very sorry.

    Hashem told us how we can achieve closeness to Him –his love letter to the Jewish people is the Torah.

  5. S. says:

    Ignoring the perceptions of those on the other end is condescending. If they feel that they are not spoken about in a dignified and respectful way–how about this, “Orthodox Jews have a belief disorder”?–then, yes, they are being insulted.

    Could be, could well be that the gains are greater than the loss and the right and the good is to continue to speak in such manner. But don’t deprive them of the right to judge how they are spoken about and to! Could there be anything more condescending than that?

  6. SM says:

    “h(H)is love letter to the Jewish people is the Torah”

    Absolutely – as read by who though? I think that was rejewvenator’s point.

    PS. I know the answer. I’m only trying to point out that some orthodox people can see that he has a genuine issue.

  7. mb says:

    I think eating disorders affect Orthodox as much as the non-Orthodox. Any experts here?

  8. Elisha says:

    I am a non-O Jew who yearns to be close to Hashem as do we all. It’s the way we’re made, with that yearning as part of us. All of us, O or non-O.

    I live Torah in a different way than most Orthodox Jews do, but not at all entirely different, and at least as consciously and self-awaredly as most O’s.

    The belief that *your* way is the *right* way for you to live Torah is fine… but I have a *right* way for me as well. We need to accept our differences and celebrate our mutual sincerity and joy in Torah-and-Hashem-centered living.


  9. hp says:

    Excellent juxtaposition.

    Crude comparison; nevertheless, the message is accurate.

  10. YM says:

    I agree with hp. Excellent juxtaposition.

  11. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rejewvenator, what’s the big deal? Of course the Orthodox believe we are doing something wrong by not following the entire Halacha. That’s part of the definition of Orthodoxy – the belief that Halacha is binding and mostly eternal (except for the parts that are added at a specific point in time and become binding from that time onward).

    It was a problem in 17th century Amsterdam, when they excommunicated Baruch Spinoza. It may become a problem in Israel one day, if there is a Dati/Charedi majority. It is not a problem in the US, where there is freedom of religion and we are allowed to lead our own lives as we see fit.

    When somebody who disagrees with you says “you’re wrong”, they aren’t being disrespectful. They are simply pointing out the facts of the disagreement. There is no condescention in their rejection of Heterodoxy – they just truly and really believe it’s not G-d’s will.

  12. zalman says:

    Sure there is a place to illustrating the distinction between rejecting philosophies and rejecting the people who espouse them. But your approach is logical to a fault.

    Using a sickness/disorder example makes the logical point, but it is inappropriate to use that as an example. It creates an unfortunate association between non-Orthodox philosophies and sickness/disorders.

    Any dialog with the non-Orthodox must be approached with the sensitivity and respect that might be used if you were talking to your neighbor.

  13. rejewvenator says:

    Toby: There are many ways to be close to Hashem, as can easily be seen in the Tanach. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aaron, David, Shlomo, Eliyahu, Yona, and Ezra each had a different way of being close to Hashem. What bugs me about your statement is that it implies that a non-Orthodox Jew cannot be close to Hashem. That’s also what makes the Orthodox sound so condescending – it’s not just that you believe that halachah is binding on all Jews, it’s that you believe that there is no way to have a close relationship to Hashem except through halacha. That puts you in the awkward position of telling non-Orthodox people who do sense Hashem in their lives, and who do feel close to Him that their feelings are illusory. In my opinion that is both condescending and disrespectful.

    Ori: See above for what I find problematic. Disagreement is fine, but telling someone that the religion that they base their lives upon is a disorder similar to anorexia is disrespectful. There’s a lot of respect lost between “I disagree with your beliefs” and “Your beliefs are wrong, but it’s not your fault, because you suffer from a disorder, you know, like anorexia. That’s right, your religion, complete with rabbi, community, synagogue and assorted rituals is the product of a disorder that is dangerous to your spiritual well-being in the same way that anorexia is dangerous to your physical well-being.” And that’s to say nothing about the insensitivity towards those with eating disroders and their loved ones.

  14. YY says:


    Rejwvenator claimed in his 6:57 note that too many of even the best of Orthodox outreachers tend to convey, as Mrs. Katz all too sharply highlighted, that “non-Orthodox people who do sense Hashem in their lives, and who do feel close to Him, that their feelings are illusory…(and possibly)a disorder that is dangerous to (their) spiritual well-being.”

    Let’s admit it. Genuine respect for another is an extremely difficult tightrope for anyone of “Orthodox” thinking to walk. By definition of our zealous fidelity to a particualr mesores as the only bonafide way of knowing G-d’s will, we do convey “foul” to any competing beliefs. And as far as fellow Yidden go, that means utter rejection of their deepest sense of being.

    How did Mrs. Katz’s helige father, zts”l, once put it to me? “One may speak ABOUT Judaism in the most beautiful way possible, but in the end it will never help a fellow Yid and MAY EVEN HANDICAP him! This is beause every Jew ultimately knows that Torah’s all about building your own, personal relationsip with G-d, and all that talk ABOUT just won’t do it. Rather the secret to true kiruv is in the Passuk ‘Kosie Reviyah,’ my cup runs over. Only when we genuinely share Torah as an overflow from our own personal relationship with H’ can we ignite the spark in the other to also find his.”

  15. Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz says:


    You misread the article and the quotes. The whole point of the article was that a woman felt it necessary to explicitly describe the difference between a disorder and those individuals suffering from that disorder. This was then juxtaposed to someone who insisted that anyone stating that the heterodox streams of Judaism are making a mistake, must be evil, vicious, and hate the members of those streams. It definitely does not say that the members of thos heterodox streams suffer from a mental disorder.

  16. rejewvenator says:

    Hillel: I’m reminded of that book featuring extended correspondence between an Orthodox rabbi and a Reform rabbi. The Reform rabbi challenged that the Judaism of the Talmud was sexist, and brought evidence from the famous line about how a woman is compared to a sack of excrement with blood smeared at the opening. The Orthodox rabbi countered that it’s a matter of understanding – that a man could just as easily have been described as a sack of excrement with semen smeared at the opening.

    That’s true, so far as it goes. But what’s missing is that the Talmud only made the comparison about women. It could have made it about men, but it did not. Just because you can interpret a statement to remove its negative qualities does not mean that the statement does not exist (sort of an ein mikra yotze midei peshuto). It was Toby’s choice to create the implied comparison that I commented on, and she is not alone in making these kinds of comparisons. I’m merely pointing out that making those choices carries a cost in the broader Jewish community.

  17. zalman says:

    The good news is that the author of this blog is alive and well. She can cure any unnecessary ill will by clarifying that her intention was only to illustrate the distinction between rejecting non-Orthodox philosophies and rejecting the people who espouse them. And that she regrets the unfortunate association between non-Orthodox and sickness/disorders.

  18. T.A. Zev says:

    The Torah is compared to water and to fire for good reason. Not enough, and you may dehydrate or freeze; too much, and you may drown or burn. The anorexics, bulemics and obese among us prove that food is another good analogy. How we came to hold this life-sustaining and dangerous document is the question that divides us.

  19. Noam says:

    The quotes are very effective in conveying an attitude towards the non-Orthodox. However, I think that there is a difference between a disease and beliefs. Also, there is a large difference in viewpoint between the a believer, and an observer. Mrs. Katz looks at the non-Orthodox as an observer, she does not share their beliefs. How would she respond to someone who was critical and did not share her beliefs? Someone once described Judaism as a ‘dirty religion’ and was immediately(and appropriately) labelled an anti-Semite. However, he was only critical of the beliefs, not of the people. It is fashionable for Palestinians and arabs to say that they are anti-Israel or anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. Here too, they are only against an idea, not neccessarily a people. The point I am trying to make is beliefs are frequently part and parcel of the person, and the person will not accept a distinction between him/herself, and their beliefs. The beliefs are what makes that person who he is. A common exercise in social interactions is to have the participant list who they are, and in order of importance. I think many of us would list Jew first(followed by husband, father, tennis player, profession, avocation, etc.). We are who we are because of our beliefs. An attack on our beliefs is an attack on us.

    I understand the distinction Mrs. Katz is trying to make, and on a purely theoretical level, and observational level, it makes sense. However, when it is translated into the human realm, where concepts of belief and personhood are inextricably intermingled, this type of distinction will not be accepted by the person whose beliefs are under attack. And, we, the Orthodox, have reacted in similar fashion to those who would try to seperate us from our religious beliefs.

  20. Ben Ami says:

    Before I was observant, I had a conversation with a Reform “rabbi”. He sensed that I was “already under the influence”.

    “Your orthodox friends, don’t accept that I’m Jewish,” he said.

    “No, they just don’t accept that you are a rabbi.”

    It’s much easier for them to tell their followers that we reject them, rather than to admit that it is their credentials we reject.

  1. May 8, 2007

    […] Schorsch persists in conflating beliefs with people, a fallacy that Mrs. Katz effectively skewered this morning with nary a word of her own. What I find bizarre is that Marie Coyle found it necessary to defend herself as being merely against eating disorders, as compared to the people who have them. I am not aware of any group of anorexics busy propagating a myth that those opposed to eating disorders hate anorexics or don’t think they are real people, to parallel what we who were raised in the heterodox systems learned since Hebrew school. […]

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