Non-Membership Has Its Advantages

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35 Responses

  1. Simcha Younger says:

    It would be nice if we could all find an ideological community we can fully identify with, but that is impossible for for many people. We need to choose a community to live in, but not an ideology to join. The question is “which community offers the best surrounding for my personal ideology”, and not “which ideology is closest to the community I want to live in?”

  2. Ben Waxman says:

    Think of how liberating it would be to be able to enjoy the many brachos of ruchniyus that are available to us, without having to carry the associated baggage?

    Or what if you felt that you could read a book from a different rav and even display it on your bookshelf? Or marry a girl who went to a school from a different stream? Or, even send your kid to a school run by another group because you understand that for this child, your school isn’t right?

  3. Baruch Gitlin says:

    I’ve almost gotten tired of writing this kind of comment on Rav Adlerstein’s posts, but this post so resonates with me, seems so true, and provides what seems to me to be so appropriate a springboard into the season of mourning and repentance, that I must simply write “bravo” and “thank you.”

    In particular, the following words resonate: Try as they do, they simply cannot regard these statements and positions as true. They are caught between loyalty to group and their own integrity. Minimally, this produces drag on a person’s progress in avodah. In worse cases, it produces drop-outs, people who feel orphaned, with no place to go. Sometimes this is reflected in deadening of affect. People reason: If this is what my group represents, how much passion can I really feel for it? Sometimes the effect is more onerous. The anomie results in deteriorating adherence to shmiras mitzos.

    One has to diagnose the problem before one can treat it. Let me just add that I speak only for myself; this is not intended to be klop on somebody else’s chest.

    Perhaps as a follow-up, Rav Alderstein could make an attempt to define what differentiates us, as Jews, and what makes our heritage worth preserving. This is a question that probably would not have occurred to most of our forefathers to ask. It is a question that many today would probably not even think to ask. But for some of us, brought up in western culture, in an environment where religion and ethnic heritage are more a matter of choice than an unquestionable part of our self-identify, this question can become important. Perhaps the answer is simply that we made a treaty with God, to which we are bound forever. But I’m not sure it isn’t worth the effort to look further and deeper. Do we still have a special role in the world? Is that role to show that every person answers to God, and not to his or her self-interest? Beyond this point, I think we start breaking up into our factional definitations of priority – Torah Study, Beit HaMikdash, Tzniut, Eretz Israel, Social Justice, etc. But I wonder if it is possible to define a comprehensive starting point for our Avodat Hashem, from which we all proceed to our individual avodah.

    [YA – We are contemplating devoting an issue of Klal Perspectives to this!]

  4. Steven Brack says:

    So I should no longer identify as Modern Orthodox?

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, your aspirations are appealing and sound, but how do we play out an eclectic approach within Torah guidelines in today’s actual world? If the idea gained traction, would this just add one more subgroup to the many we already have? Would we now be persona non grata in all current subgroups instead of only in some?

    Also, once we severed our allegiances to subgroups, could we have any further influence on them?

    In any case, to make the change happen, we need leaders take an open stand and set an example to follow. A successful model is worth a thousand words.

    Getting back to your specifics:

    How do you relate day-to-day to your own group when it insists on uniformity of practice and obedience to its ostensible leaders but you don’t? Have you found many insiders to have the same reservations and hopes for improvement that you do?

    [YA – Excellent questions. I don’t have all the answers. I’m only suggesting a beginning, which is an internal affair. Don’t sweat the nonsense and the indefensible. I am not advocating living as a hermit. We have to live in communities, and make choices about where to live, where to daven, which school to send our kids. We often have to somewhat limit our choices behaviorally as the price we pay for participation. What we don’t have to do is sell our souls in the process. We may have to restrict some of what we do, particularly for the sake of our children. But we needn’t compound the misery by over-identification. Belonging is not the same as overidentification. We can enjoy the fruits of belonging without attaching more of our mental energy than is necessary. By being too attached to some of the group choices we make, we invite various problems. We create barriers towards others. We find ourselves defending the misdeeds of our own in-group. These additional steps are not necessary, even when we have to conform. We may walk the walk, and at times even have to talk the talk. But we don’t have to think with minds on the blink.]

  6. Pini Schmeltzer says:

    This piece is a giant step forward for our community. Thank you R. Adlerstein.

  7. Jill Schaeffer says:

    Thank you for this admonition and compassionate solution: “Non Membership,” I like it. I belong to the Presbyterian Church in the USA, ostensibly a “reformed” denomination. Ostensibly, “reformed” churches take their initial marching orders from a 12th century nobleman turned poor preacher of the Gospel named Waldo, who lived in Lyon. The first and most sustained revolt against the Roman Catholic Church of its time, this “first” reformation became a blueprint for subsequent adherents of a simpler form of government based upon the interpretation of Scripture rather than on the interpretation of the Church’s position with G-d and adherence to its laws. All of which resulted in persecution over centuries. Reformed churches always have been “minority” churches under somebody else’s thumb. So, you would think they would unite? Not a chance. There are more varieties of “reformed” than french cheese. Whenever there’s a theological difference that can’t be reconciled, there’s a split. Whenever there are political differences that cannot be endured, a split. Difference in the authority of Scripture? Split. In the US? Difference over the issue of slavery, split. Difference over position of women? Split. LGBT? Split. Difference over the doctrine of election? Split. It seems that any excuse is reason to “take your cookies and go.” For a group of Christians who believe that the Gospel is Good News, one must ask, “Good News about what? Since guys and gals are always at each other’s throats, it is difficult to see what’s good in this news.” So, I empathize. And am puzzled. Non-membership is good, particularly among minorities. But there are differences, and some go very deep. One of my colleagues, a member of the Disciples of Christ (another reformed church), talked about “divided and divisive memories.” Events long ago that broke up a church and still have power to divide centuries after the painful events are no more, like nerve pain which seems to have a long memory. How does one treat this ailment? I don’t know. But Non-membership seems to be one viable way to go, at least in the heart. Thank you Rabbi.

    Jill Schaeffer

  8. Yaakov Rosenblatt says:

    What if we didn’t have to conform to every expectation of other people to standards that they cannot explain or justify, other than to say, “It doesn’t pas,” or “That’s the system.”

    In Yeshiva, our rabbeim would always tell us: “vus felt is hasbara felt in havana” (what one can not clearly explain he does not clearly understand). Hasbara requires clarity: definition of the ideal and an understanding of the reality in which the ideal is to be applied. Cliche’ need none of that. And it effects no more than superficial loyalty.

  9. David Spigelman says:

    If we could manage that, we wouldn’t be waiting for Moshiach – He would already be here!

    Thanks for writing this, Rabbi!

  10. lacosta says:

    but actually O judaism is not a rainbow— a rainbow has a subtle blending and transition from one stripe to the other— an O ”rainbow” is more like spectroscopy— very -pure- colored lines separated very far from each other , usually with pure black separating those lines, and the lines NEVER intersect…..

  11. Michael Halberstam says:

    From time immemorial we as Jews have suffered, i think disproportionately, from a case of “hard cases make bad law.” We have to keep articulating positions that go too far because we are always afraid of being associated with someone whose views, while acceptable for the most part, don’t necessarily comport totally with what we have been taught. Recently, I have had the opportunity to look back on what such thinking has done to Klal Yisroel over the centuries. It is fair to say that numerous korbanos, in the form of people needlessly expelled from our midst, and often led into real apikorsus have been brought on this altar of imposed homogeneity of thought. It is time to stop. Not everyone needs to agree about everything, not everyone needs to be threatened with ostracism because he has different views about Eretz Ysroel, or secular education, or science and halacha, or the necessity to separate from those less observant than Ourselves. Whatever reason that existed in the past for this, and it is not clear that there was much of a reason, it does not apply today. When I was a child, my Father Z”L taught me that ” A YID MUST KNOW THAT THERE IS ONE GOD AND ONE TORAH, BUT EVERYTHING ELSE CAN EXIST IN MANY FORMS”.Those who forget this do so at their peril. They are not friends of ours, or of the Torah, or of HKBH.

  12. joel rich says:

    An interesting exercise would be to make a chart with each variation listed on the rows and columns and for each row, enter which of the variations does that variation recognize lchatchila, bdieved or not at all as part of orthodoxy.

    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,

  13. YM Goldstein says:

    So do it! Actually, you have been doing this for a long time, Rabbi YA.

  14. Barry Dolinger says:

    Agree entirely. Thoughtful piece. Our loyalty to labels really does lead, whether it’s intended or not, to a judgmental kind of society. Would it were we could go back. I share the dream. What I wonder is, what further steps would be required to actually make progress towards this goal?

  15. Mr. Cohen says:

    When my co-workers asked me why I did not come to work
    on Shabbat or Jewish holidays, I never said:
    “because I am an Orthodox Jew,” because that would
    falsely imply that only Orthodox Jews are obligated
    to observe Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

    Instead, I always explained: “because I am a Jew,”
    because that implies ALL Jews must observe Shabbat
    and Jewish holidays, not only those who are now Orthodox.

  16. Harry Maryles says:

    A noble goal… but ultimately an impossible one. I hate labels. I would prefer if they didn’t exist at all. But what you call for requires a certain degree of independent thinking. Which does not exist across the board in Orthodoxy.

    I do think it can work for some of us… those of us who tend to be more Hashkaficaly open minded. But the more right wing one is in their Hashkafos, the less likely that he could break away from the views of his group. Isn’t that how Daas Torah is viewed by the right? How many times have I heard Agudah say that we must follow the Gedolim… even if they say right is left or left is right. How is it possible for someone who believes in these ideals to think for themselves?

    [YA – Harry, there is good news out there. Independence of thought is more widespread than we would have thought.If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be writing these blog pieces! Those on the right who read them (and I know from reaction that it is a huge number) are people who have refused the Kool-Aid. (Dunno. Maybe they don’t trust the OU on the label.) Somehow, in many people, healthy skepticism remains. Blogs like this are there only to remind them that they are not alone.]

  17. YS says:

    Beautiful piece.

    I can count on the fingers of one hand the people who I’ve been able to look at and say “If this person, despite the questions he has about Judaism and Jewish life, questions he doesn’t try to push under the rug, can remain a strong Torah-observant Jew, than I can reconcile myself to remaining frum despite not having answers to all of my questions.”

    I have yet to meet such a person in the real Yeshiva-world. Perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough.

    Rabbni Adlerstein is on this short list of special people.

  18. cvmay says:

    A RECENT LETTER TO EDITOR

    Why label others or ourself? This is the norm and innate in humanity to label and group everything. It is an efficient shortcut to help us understand a huge, confusing and incomprehensible world. Generalization, stereotyping and putting into categories allows us to master & manage the people surrounding us. Labeling can be accurate, inaccurate or a little of both. Of course, when taken to extremes, the end result is prejudice, sinas chinom and divisiveness.

    Whether it’s on a personal, religious, emotional, mental or political level, labeling makes life simple and decision making easy. Yet its ineffective, usually inaccurate and sometimes hurtful. Hopefully, as we mature in age and life experiences transform us, we can discard mundane ‘labels’ and instead embrace individuals as unique and precious gems.

  19. David F. says:

    At the risk of being the contrarian around here, I’d venture to state that we always had sub-groups. However, instead of Yeshivish, Modern Orthodox, Chassidish etc. they went by different labels. Those labels were Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah etc.

    Our sages have stated that every Shevet had a different path in Avodas Hashem according to their particular strengths. Some were heavy into Kollel [Yissachar] while others were the “working type.”

    We may assume that they all valued the contributions of the others, but I’m not sure there’s any definitive proof of that. At least not to my knowledge though I’d love to be proven wrong on this point.

    What we have today is essentially the same idea. Over the long years in Galus, Jews have had to adapt to survive. Every group depending on where they found themselves, had to create a derech in Avodas Hashem that allowed them to survive and even flourish. Today, many of those groups share communities and with the advent of the internet, we’re all one big community. No wonder it looks like we’re all fighting and going down different roads. Yet, the truth is that we’re all in agreement on most things – certainly the most important issues.

    It’s truly a shame that so few are willing to focus on what we have in common and that most spend their days fretting about what we ostensibly disagree on. That’s the true tragedy.

  20. Yehuda Zimmerman says:

    Nice article. However, I do want to point out that many of my friends who have not identified themselves with a particular group or label have found that there children have left Torah observance. Everyone needs to feel that they belong somewhere. This gives a sense of security and of obligation. But it should not provide a feeling of superiority.
    The attitude has to be inclusive and legitimize the paths of all those whose beliefs meet the minimum standards of Judaism (the Rambam’s 13 basic tenets) and encouraging towards those who are not observant.
    I get very upset when people speak about Chilonim as if they were goyim, or about Sefaradim as if they were low class. We are all Jews and need to love EVERY Jew, regardless of their observance, beliefs, or lack thereof.

  21. ZS says:

    How about we collectively chuck the word “Chareidi” to describe all Yeshivah people? It’s a divisive term, and in any case smacks of gaivah – yeah, sure you’re trembling before G-d, right. Twenty years ago the “Chareidim” were a couple of cooks in Meah Shearim, and suddenly today the balabos driving his Lincoln in Brooklyn is Chareidi. Who are we kidding? It can be done – after all, when’s the last time you heard a nice litvish yeshivah boy describe himself as a “misnagid?”
    Out with Chareidi, in with “Yeshiva guy” – who’s with me?

    [YA – Read it again. The point is not the label, but the need to over identify with any group, period.]

  22. L. Oberstein says:

    I agree with everything you wrote.But, i am a product of my home and my family and they came from Eastern European chassidic stock and loved every Jew and felt intimately bound to every Jew. As the ethnic heritage withers with time, our kids don’t speak Yiddish and have no interst in ethnic Jewish food and prefer sushi. The only thing that keeps them bound to Judaism seems to be the religion. Without day School ediucation and adherance to mitzvos, many young Jews melt into the general society. So, just being Jewish doesn’t mean that much any more. The orthodox have become more orthodox and the others drift farther away, what common lifestyle do we share any more? I personally don’t want to admit this because it condemns most Jews to oblivion but am I really incorrect in analysis?

  23. ben dov says:

    This is a great article. This theme is the basis of my new blog 1honestlyfrum.blogspot.com

    There I speak about the importance of being referees rather than fans. Each “play” should be judged on the merits rather than group loyalty.

  24. Dr. E says:

    In the past two decades, many Yeshiva educated Jews who are no longer in Yeshiva find themselves conflicted. That is perhaps because the leadership of the Yeshiva has changed. Or the Yeshiva has taken a different Hashkafic direction, perhaps more narrowly and in many cases more Rightward. These individuals were and have always been comfortable with themselves as Bnei Torah and community contributors. They have managed to navigate the real world and the workplace, and have built community institutions. Yet, decades later, they feel a disconnect with that leadership. They are unfortunately socially and religiously tethered to the institution, and in many cases, their children are in the same Yeshiva following the new guard. Their source of validation is lost because the personal mentors and hashkafas hachaim are no longer. Yet, they find themselves being on the alumni lists for events and solicitations, being asked to support a Yeshiva which looks nothing like the one they attended. In many cases, the dissonance is ameliorated by going with the flow and punting, assuming ideological positions of the new guard. The “other” being ostracized is now suddenly the villain, despite the fact that the outgroup is really identical to they way they once were themselves. Others might outwardly do so, yet harbor great cynicism on the inside about the leaders and the direction of the institution. Only a few have the fortitude and confidence to remain free agents, taking whatever good might be gleaned from the new guard and discarding the chaff. And a miniscule number can successfully identify and gravitate to a place that is Hashkafically consistent to their foundations.

    The same thing really applies to the organizations with which Bnei Torah affiliate. Some noted organizations that had their glory years in shaping Bnei Torah 2 or 3 generations ago, have moved towards more Chareidi or Chassidish worldviews, that revel in isolationism. They view some of the public statements as over-the-top and also worthy of cynicism. The new leadership either tries to implicitly communicate the error of their constituents’ ways, or otherwise convince that the new reality (albeit what is clearly an increasingly moving target) is one that is authentic and historical. Many just throwing up their hands saying “what happened?!” only to roll over.

    So, free agency is more intellectually honest but can be a lonely place.

    [YA – HKBH creates the refuah before the makah. The internet has made that place far less lonely than it would otherwise be! (If you don’t know what I mean, Dr E, be in touch by email.)]

  25. Baruch Gitlin says:

    I like ben dov’s fan/referee comment. But lets take it one step further, and be players! There’s only One real referee necessary anyway, for the rest of us, we don’t have the power to hand out penalties or declare scores, so really, if we think we’re being referees, we’re actually still just being fans.

  26. ben dov says:

    Baruch, you are right about judging PEOPLE. But judging words and actions is required by hashkafa. How do we feel about the Lapid proposals, the Lakewood/Kolko affair, and a million other issues? I don’t think neutrality is an option. The only question is whether we express it, and in what context. You can read 1honestlyfrum.com and judge, yes judge, if it is constructive or not.

  27. Pg says:

    Each sub group in orthodoxy has its pluses and minuses. It would be nice to be able to take the pluses from each group to create a new composite Orthodox Jew.

  28. yy says:

    good stuff, R’ Yitzchak.

    Reminds me that the difference between Galus and Geula is one little letter: “aleph”.

    The letter of Anokhi H’….

    To keep in touch with the One Above there needs to be a one below.

    Group-think is antithetical to the One.

  29. Ben-tzion says:

    I don’t know; I think grouping is a good thing. We are supposed to choose and follow a rav, and people who follow a different rav will naturally do some things differently than you. And every rav has a rav, which is what makes groups. It is completely natural to then affiliate with the people who follow the same mesorah and mehalech as you, from the same rabbonim, and I would argue that it is helpful in enforcing to yourself the mesorah that you follow.

    I’m surprised by this article and these comments.

    [YA – Read again. The essay doesn’t argue against groups, or belonging to them. It doesn’t argue against getting the most out of the options that suit you and your family best. It does argue against overidentification, meaning investing so much of your self into your group, that you put up subconscious walls against the other, and put on blinders about the failures and inanities of your own.]

  30. Shmuel says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for this important piece. V’Halevay this could be made into mammash, soon; a return to the definition of “Yeshivish” as many of us proudly identified twenty-thirty years ago.

    Many are those in the over 40 crowd who fit the description you have outlined. You are kind to offer one of the writers to contact you for “Internet Chizuk”, something that many in our community would call a ridiculous oxymoron.

    I discussed this issue with an Adam Gadol M’od decades ago.(I hesitate to include his name as he is no longer with us and I cannot ask his reshus). He suggested “we need to stick together.” He left me no doubt about his feelings of the kind who intimidate other Bnai Torah and even great talmidei chachamim (such as himself, though he did not say he was so treated). This is precisely what you are suggesting and what the internet provides.

    What would help is a public presence, the formation of people such as yourself, to create a new/old version of Yeshiva Pride. But they would need to be brave enough, and have the stomach, to tolerate the vicious name-calling and derogatory statements that threaten them and their families. Not sure that can happen yet.

    In the meantime look at how timid many of us are about including our real or full names. A friend of mine believes our society has become a “fear society” in some of the ways described by Natan Sharansky (who cannot be called a hero by many in our community).

    Much Bracha to you for bringing hope.

  31. Ben-tzion says:

    That isn’t my reading, but no point in arguing over what you mean. However, I do think you need to clarify a bit more if that is the havana you want to run with.

    You say that identifying with a rav doesn’t mean accepting his rosh yeshiva. I don’t agree with that–if my rav accepts his rosh yeshiva, and cites his teachings, and uses him as an example (as any rav should), how can I not accept his rosh yeshiva? Unless my rav was disavowing his own rebbi, which had better be for something very extreme.

    You say that we shouldn’t feel compelled to accept the actions of anyone who affiliates with our group. I certainly don’t feel much of such compulsion anyway–unless my rav is defending them.

  32. L. Oberstein says:

    My daughter has come from Ramat beit Shemesh to Baltimore for many years and operates a day camp in the summer at the JCC. When asked why she doesn’t just make the camp in RBS and save the effort and expense of tickets ,etc. ,she gave a cogent answer. In chareidi Israel,even the relatively mild RBS, she could not have the activities she has, the games, the outfits, the field trips because everything is not acceptable if it veers one iota from some artificial standard.”Zeh lo mekubal”.She also could not recruit girls from various schools. We have several fine girls schools and she can get campers from all. In Israel, if you have a girl from one school, girls from the other school cannot go because they cannot associate with the other girls. It is so regimented and restricted that a normal, American style day camp would be too controversial and who knows, maybe even incur demonstrations.
    Isn’t that sad. Of course, we are glad she spends 2 months with her family here each summer. Labels in Israel are taken to extremes that we Americans can’t even imagine in our nightmares.

  33. Bob Miller says:

    Isn’t this article potentially a invitation to lead a double life?

    Let’s say you live in a community where uniformity of dress, halachic and hashkafic thought and action, and obedience to a particular Torah authority, are thought to be necessary for “citizenship”. Only you don’t buy into the total program. Wouldn’t you be reluctant to share your reservations with anyone you couldn’t trust 100%? Wouldn’t you feel obliged to play the part of someone who has no reservations? How liberating would such a life be?

    So, for the course of action proposed here to make any sense, the host community would have to lack such rigid expectations.

    [YA – How liberating? More so than trying to convince yourself that you believe what you can’t. Not having anyone on the block or in shul to speak to can be a problem. At least it can be partially compensated by finding people not on the block, but digitally reachable, who are kindred spirits. That becomes easier by the hour.]

  34. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I heartily agree that minimizing the factional identification should be the goal of every Jew. I see lacosta’s point of comparing Judaism to a spectroscopic reading rather than a rainbow, but it is only partially true. There are certainly people and institutions which straddle the boundaries of sub-groups or fade from one to the other, even though the gatekeepers of sub-groups highly dislike them. I used to be a guy who got up in the morning and put on a black yarmulka, sruga or Melvin Cowznofski cap depending on how I felt that day. I had a traditional Shabbos hat for a while. It didn’t work. But being firmly in a particular camp cannot be construed by one’s children or talmidim as “my way or the highway”. There has to be way for a person, either an FFB kid growing up, a BT or someone going through a life crisis, to know that there are other choices besides the one being shouted at you by those closest to you. Maybe the derech you landed in first just doesn’t fit. A neighbor of mine (in a yishuv in Israel) grew up a child of chasidishe survivors in Brooklyn. She went to Bais Yaakov. From an early age she felt a strong connection to Eretz Yisrael and Zionism. Fortunately one or both of her parents encouraged her to go to Bnai Akiva. She made aliya, married a Moroccan boy from Kiryat Shmona, raised a lovely family and did a lot of chesed. Of course a lot of the folks she grew up with would look askance, but she doesn’t care. She’s happy and doing her avodat Hashem the way she sees it.

  35. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    There is one separation which is unavoidable. That is not between litvish/chasidish, RZ/charedi or whatever. It is between those who think and form opinions and go to a rav for advice vs. those who steadfastly refuse or are unable to think for themselves and expect the rebbe or the rav to pour the correct answer into their heads. Of course there are also those who are worse, who think they know without thinking or asking and do what they are going to do at the demonstration after the rabbanim leave. With the third group there is nothing that will work except a klop on the head. With the second group you have to talk to their rabbeim and not with them. That makes it not so easy to get civil society to be civil. May we soon be free from sinat chinam and its hidden costs that show that it is not chinam at all.

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