Now What? Considered Reaction to the Pew Report (Part One)

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24 Responses

  1. Shades of Gray says:

    “In our individual interactions with non-Orthodox Jews we would like to bring closer, we must speak with kindness”

    Kindness applies when speaking to Orthodox Jews as well. One sometimes hears harsh rabbinic statements that are difficult to make sense of( eg, חייב סקילה). From a mussar perspective, harshness can be kindness as well. However, “we have to be sensitive to the realities of how people react”, and as R. Berel Wein has pointed out, “it is becoming increasingly difficult to speak to the non-Orthodox world and give it a true appreciation of Torah and Judaism from a backdrop of a society that condones bans of books and personal attacks and vilification of other observant Orthodox Jews and recognized scholars with whom we may not agree..”

    Perhaps the answer is that when fighting for survival, or when talking to specific groups of people, harsh statements will be made, and certain statements must be understood with that background. By means of a partial analogy from an article about the 2007 Noah Feldman issue(who has since gone on to teshuvah with his recent positive article about Lakewood in Bloomberg News ) :

    “A question arose about John Chrysostom, the fourth century Church Father who put the charge of deicide on the map, and whose vitriol against Jews was surpassed by none, and embraced for centuries thereafter, including by the Nazis. Chrysostom remains a Saint in the Church, and many Jews get unhinged by the mention of his name. The priest, however, was completely unfazed by the question, and calmly related that in the fourth century the Church was fighing for survival, and felt very pressured by Judaism, and therefore used language and methods that contemporary Christians completely reject. Essentially, he said, “that’s the way we once behaved, regrettably. We’ve moved on since then.” What’s good for the goose is good for the gandz. Mutatis mutandis, the disparaging remarks – if in fact directed against Yeshu – must be understood in the context of struggle between mainstream Judaism and early Jewish-Christians.”(Feldman’s Folly (Part One)”, Cross Currents, July 27th, 2007)

  2. joel rich says:

    R’ya and shades,

    I certainly agree with r’ya’s comments on triumphalism and would build on them along with r’shades quote- while survival is a crucial goal, treating it as the only goal may work counter to the goal of the ultimate recognition by all of humanity of HKB”H’s kingship. Generals need to be sure they are not fighting the last war.

    btw I loved R’ wolpe’s use of “etiolated” as it is usually reserved for bnai yeshiva!

    KT

  3. L. Oberstein says:

    I met Rabbi Wolpe a while back at an AIPAC Symposium in Washington and asked him why he told his Persian congregants that the Exodus didn’t happen. He answered that he only said it can’t be proven. Unfortuantely, I have since been reading and learned that his denial is what is taught even at JTS and certainly at HUC and in most college courses on that subject. Rabbi Wolpe and I had a civil disagrement.He said you can have a thriving Judaism even if you re-define the entire story of Jewish Hisptry and understand it as metaphore,not fact. Last night I asked Rabbi ronald Price who headed the Union for Traditional Judaism what his break away movement from JTS thought about it and he told me that of course they beleive in Yitzias Mitzrayim and that it is the core of our religion. He had only disdain for the other view but he also admitted that there are few people who are traditional Conservative Jews. In essence, Rabbi Adlerstein, that is what the short term solution you are suggesting would be if it were realistic.That the JTS and its graduates follow Rabbi Price and not Rabbi Wolpe. It ain’t gonna happen.

  4. Vanity says:

    An observation: the Pew report points out that Orthodox retention rates are miserable (48%). That’s not success. So, perhaps ‘more ritual’ and ‘more Orthodoxy’ is not the solution, either.

    [YA – As many have pointed out, that figure is irksome only if one ignores the most probable cause. Pew chose to use self-identification for placing Jews in different groups, not any objective criteria. That is a defensible choice – but it does open the door to problematic results. Decades ago, people identified as Orthodox if the shul they were loosely associated with was Orthodox. Observance was not necessary. These “traditional” Jews were by and large lost to the Conservative movement during its growth spurt during the decades of flight to the suburbs. The grandchildren of those people are the ones intermarrying at 70%.

    In more recent times, Orthodoxy has become synonymous by and large with shmiras Shabbos. The Pew shows retention of the youngest cohort of Orthodox Jews polled – those who use the current self-identification.

    The rest of us mourn the effective loss of the older group to the Jewish people as the Conservative movement slowly winds down. We are confident enough in this analysis, however, to stake our strategy on the reality of the present high rate of retention.

    High, of course, is relative. We should not be satisfied by anything less than 100%, which of course is not true. We continue to be pained by the dropouts, and must redouble our efforts to win them back.]

  5. shaya says:

    Excellent article.

    In terms of what to do about kiruv to make it more successful, I think there’s one big obvious answer, which I hope will be acted upon. That is, outreach to high school students, if done right, is likely to be much more successful than to other age groups. That’s not to say other age groups should be abandoned. But the success rate will be much less. Even in college, with today’s anti-religious environment, few young Jews have the gumption to choose a completely different path.

  6. DF says:

    You keep contrasting “Liberal Judaism” with “Torah Judaism”, as though they were two different things. But educated Liberal Jews will tell you, in all sincerity, they ARE following Torah Judaism. What they will freely admit to not following is “Rabbinic Judaism”, or, if you prefer, “Torah Sh’baal Peh Judaism.” That is the true contrast with Liberal Judaism, and if we are genuine about wanting a relationship with non-orthodox Jews, we have to learn to accept that truth. There can be absolutely no talk about “saving the patient”, as you write, if the patient doesnt believe in the type of medicine you’re selling.

    Seems to me the fundamentalist, dogmatic approach some of us adopt with respect to our traditions – “It all came from Sinai!” – repels many who would otherwise be interested in our message, but simply cannot accept what their mind tells them isn’t true. The orthodox community has matured by now to a point where we no longer have to be defensive about everything, and there are many signs of that. [Small-but-revealing example: Even the “black hat” community is aware by now the Golem stories are a myth. Thirty years ago no one in that community would say such a thing.] Cleaning up some of the accumualted bathwater of 2000 years of Golus does not mean we have to throw out the baby, too. In a debate, a good rhetoritician always begins by conceding the weaker points of his case. We lawyers do the same. In the orthodox-non orthodox divide, frank acknowledgements of the limits of our own philosophy will do worlds to bring the two sides closer together.

  7. Rafael Guber says:

    As an Orthodox Jew now for more than forty years who spent five years at JTS, there is much I can say about the topic but that is for later. Rabbi Wolpe said on numerous occasions that the Exodus “Did not happen” not that it “cannot be proven.” I will try to get you a tape of his original sermon given eleven years ago. I also heard him say it at a lecture at the 92nd St Y. Talk about a inconvenient truth. Here, I have to ask a strange question to make a succinct point. What is the difference between the Protestant Reformation and the Jewish Reformation? – Short answer- the Protestants were a a pre-enlightenment movement. Their argument against Catholicism took place with the language of faith. The argued the details of faith but within (leHavdil) what we would call the misgeres of faith.

    The Jewish Reformation on the other hand, is a product of the enlightenment. It’s fidelity is first and foremost to the values, expectations and methodologies of Western Civilization. The Protestant Reformation was faith vs. faith. The Jewish Reformation is really faith vs. ideology. (I say this with no disrespect intended for the individual relationships liberal Jews have with HaShem and also with no disrespect intended for well meaning liberal Rabbis. That said we can never talk to them in the language of faith, because the first thing “Wissenschaft” Judaism did was to reject Torah Mi’Sinai, a starting point for any conversation with us.

    Forgive the harsh analogy but if a man holds (Chas V’Shalom)a central tenet, a core belief that having extra martial affairs is OK and is dismissive of his wife’s belief that it is not OK, what good would all the marriage counseling in the world accomplish? His starting point is the rejection of her core belief, and thinks it is not even a worthy topic for the counseling sessions. He cannot and will not ever be able to see the betrayal in it. I say this with great sadness. Many of these people are people love as both family and friends. How do we share a future a future together? I would love to be wrong.

  8. Harry Maryles says:

    1.How do you compare the theological views of Rabbi Wolpe to those of James Kugel, who claims to be Orthodox and observant?

    2. I commented on his op-ed myself when it was first published. I believe that despite his theology, Rabbi Wolpoe got it right about why liberal Judaism has failed. It’s about the lack of what is unique in Judaism – the Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Makom.

    3. Today, I wrote about why I think Orthodox has been successful. Not to be triumphalist. I agree with you about that. I just wanted to explain why I think Judaism is in its current state.

  9. YB says:

    I think it is not fair to say the orthodox don’t have an action plan. Aish, Partners, etc. are powerful action plans. We need a much higher participation rate amongst the frum who are willing to be there when their brothers and sisters do reach out and want to learn Torah. Aish deserves credit here as well, with Project Inspire. A few years back they posted a statistic that if every frum Jew reached out effectively to only 5 non Orthodox Jews in their entire lifetime than there would be zero intermarriage. Is one new real, loving, and caring outreach relationship every 10-15 years too much for Hashem to ask from us? Realy?!

  10. Toby Katz says:

    The Conservative and Reform movements are in their death throes. We shouldn’t talk to or about their leaders or their theology. We should just rush around grabbing hold of every single Jew we can find, be nice to them, warm to them, welcome them as individuals, don’t even talk about the Conform movements. Don’t shake hands with their rabbis in any public forum, don’t go into their temples, don’t have anything to do with their movements qua movements at all.

    In another generation kiruv will no longer even be possible because almost no Conform “Jews” will be left who are halachically Jewish and who still consider themselves Jews.

    If you ask, how will we find them, if we don’t go into their temples or meet with their rabbis? The answer is, Jews are everywhere, just look around. In businesses and schools and government offices and airports and neighborhoods, just look around and be nice. There is also the internet. It doesn’t need kiruv professionals, it just needs frum Jews to be their nicest and warmest selves. It doesn’t take sophisticated argument, it doesn’t take debating skills, it doesn’t take anything but being mentshen and reaching out on a personal level with some warmth and friendliness, that’s all. Those who have the slightest interest will respond.

  11. cvmay says:

    “I think it is not fair to say the orthodox don’t have an action plan”

    ORTHODOX do NOT have any action plan and that includes all sectors. Our kehillos have been functioning in a ‘Reactive Mode’ over the last few decades rather than in the PROACTIVE mode of behavior. Leadership is needed and should be demanded who will direct a creative plan for relating to our Jewish brothers & sisters. No more wall building of isolation and insular life styles, we are a confident generation of Torah Observers and ready to share our goods with respect.

  12. Jill Schaeffer says:

    There’s something about revisionism and erosion that share in a common intent: chipping away at essentials and mistaking them for “fluff.” And then whatever was unique is gone and the rest soon follows. My idealized sense of Christianity didn’t get pruned until seminary when I read a late 19th century liberal German theologian (oxymoron – but German nouns and adjectives can do anything they want when declined) named Ernst Wilhelm Troeltsch. In 1913, Troeltsch wrote an essay, “The Significance of the Historical Jesus for Faith,” wherein he claimed bluntly, “We don’t have facts, we have traditions about the facts.” And wasn’t it true, though? For me, the point was that when I viewed the trajectory of 2,000 or thereabouts of self-identified Christianity, what lasted weren’t facts (which came and went) but liturgy. The practice of worship constituted the unique claim of the Christian, not myriad theologies or cultural highways and byways, anti-semitic harangues, pogroms or their opposites of idealization and romance. Dare I say this? yes I’ll risk it: Where in Judaism the liturgy of practice constitutes everyday life wherever one finds oneself, the liturgy of the Christian centers in on a visible and tactile center, The Church or churches outside the home and/or business which enjoy a mediating or enabling function between the Christian and God, and puts out an explicit threat: (no salvation outside the Church.) Too many spurs on that boot to count now, but if you want to know what a Christian believes and is, go hear the divine liturgy in Moscow or Larnaca where the service lasts as long as the liturgy lasts (3 hours), and grandmothers come in and go out, mothers feed their children, candles are lit, the men’s hats are off, if they have one. The priests do their thing all the while and are totally ignored by everybody else. But everyone sings the liturgy. An Orthodox Bishop (now deceased) Bishop Bria, Romanian Orthodox Church, once told me that the people were the pageant of God, the liturgy. Roman Catholicism somewhat deifies its liturgy: the Mass. Both expressions – Divine Liturgy and Mass — are, I realized, aesthetic definitions of identity separated from if not segregated from everyday life, and even quarantined from the ethical side of things. Not so in the little I know about Judaism which feels seamless: there’s no separation of beauty from duty and compassion in the mingle of practices forming a Jew. Can we think of Maimonides as an observant Jew? How about …er….Philo… who gave the authors of the Gospel of John their Logos as he tried to make a marriage between Greek philosophy and the breath of Torah. What I’m suggesting is that whatever combination of practices makes a Jew unique, interpreting the world as it is presented to us – G-d’s world – seems a necessary ingredient when filtered through lens of that singular recipe which makes a Jew, a Jew, and even a mensch.

  13. lacosta says:

    a bigger [ or at least equal] problem is the crisis of faith in many in the O community —running the gamut from far LWMO to the farthest RW haredi—where many fall to lack of belief in the doxy part , even if nominally praxic.

    if one notes , for example LA’s jewish journal profile of millenials . and find mr shwartz http://www.jewishjournal.com/cover_story/article/my_judaism_millennials_speak_out

    for example ,checking out of O for doxy reasons —this wasnt supposed to be—they were supposedly leaving for taa’va reasons ,not for crises of faith…. we have no data to counter the belief that the last 20yr there are less OTD’s now. [were there colonies of non-believing Skvirrer, Satmar , and Lubavitch as there are now?}

    if we cant retain , how can we afford the low yield that kiruv begets? if we lose 30 K kids with the ye$$$hiva educatio and the huge inve$tment that entailed, can we expect a significant yield from outside? wouldnt it be better to work on trying to keep MO kids even partially faithful when the hit he Ivy League— their version of throwing the tfillin off the trans-atlantic passage…..

  14. Tuvia says:

    “…the first thing “Wissenschaft” Judaism did was to reject Torah Mi’Sinai, a starting point for any conversation with us.”

    The enlightenment position is that revelation, prophecy, tradition, belief are not reliable guides to the truth. It’s unfair to say that TMS was rejected – what was rejected was the idea that TMS could be confirmed.

    In its stead we got natural law, self-evident truths, inalienable rights which led to the Bill of Rights, and the rise of democratic values.

    I think most Jews would have to agree that this represents a more mature set of values. I am surprised how many orthodox Jews basically knock the Enlightenment – it is quite literally what brought religious crusades, the Inquisition, and pogroms to an end.

  15. Raymond says:

    I have lately been reading various books on the life of President Abraham Lincoln. One of the themes that keeps recurring when authors write about him, is how he had an uncanny ability to turn his detractors, rivals and other enemies into friends, while never compromising his core moral values. I get the sense that Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, as well as President Reagan, had similar approaches when dealing with their own detractors.

    Perhaps all that can be an approach taken by Orthodox Jewish Rabbis toward those who find ways to mock traditional Judaism. Be a role model by being kind and understanding or at least diplomatic toward such skeptical Jews, yet do so without ever compromising one’s traditional, Torah values.

  16. Sholom says:

    I keep hearing the assumption, implied and explicitly stated, that Orthodoxy is ‘successful’, or at least more so than Conservative and Reform Judaism. What I would like to know is, how do you define success? Is it just a numbers game? Is it nothing more than how many Jews define themselves as Orthodox? Or is it deeper than that?

    Some of the most extreme forms of Ultra Orthodoxy are also the most rapidly growing. Many haredi families have 10 or more children who grow up in communities where kids don’t get a decent education, know almost nothing about the world outside their community, have no job prospects, obey their leaders no matter what, and consider the rest of the world (including all non-haredim) enemies to keep away from or take advantage of.

    Would you consider a Jewish community with those values and those birthrates successful?

    [YA – Torah Judaism has a midpoint, and groups that move from it in either direction. Historical and economic factors have a way of bringing people back to the middle. The current move to the right in parts of the haredi world were allowed by a vibrant economy, and government largesse. Both have changed, coupled with the assault of modernity in an increasingly porous society. When the dust settles, the vast majority of that haredi world will remain loyal to the midpoint values of the Torah, and their offspring will be able to take up whatever new position Divine Hashgacha takes them to. The offspring of the heterodox denominations will not be Jewish, period.

    Someone a while ago argued that the new definition of a Jew ought to include not only the status of a person’s mother, but the likelihood that his/her grandchildren will be identifying Jews. By this definition, haredim are extremely “successful;” all the non-Orthodox are abject failures.]

  17. DF says:

    LaCosta’s link, above, supports what I said above. Too many people are too quick to say that people leaving the derech are doing so l’taivon. They are dismissive when someone suggests they are leaving because don’t beleive. “Naah, can’t be”, they reason. For people who are either not troubled by historical/theological problems, or have simply never even thought about the problems, it’s hard to imagine that great numbers of people actually HAVE thought about it.

    This whole things has to be re-thought, profoundly. It is easier than ever to be orthodox – more kosher food, all the opportunities, no one batting an eye at shabbos or yarmulkes. Does it make sense to still claim they’re leaving l’taivon?? Of course not. You can satisfy nearly every taivah and still be orthodox. It’s just comforting to think that way, that it’s all about taivah. But I’m telling you, the crisis among our “at rish” youth, particuarly the ones who came of age with the internet, is one of faith. And if we are going to tackle it, we will have to come down off some of some of our own tenuous positions that contribute to it.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    Superb article. C R Wolpe can hardly be viewed as the person to revive CJ when he himself denies that Yetzias Mitzraim actually occurred.

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    The notion that Orthodoxy lacks an action plan IMO, cannot be reconciled with the resources that are utilized for kiruv and chizuk that range from Chabad to NJOP to NCSY to commmunity Kollelim. The real question remains whether MO’s flagship institution will ever play a role and spread a message that MO has a role of depth and profundity, which does not have to hide between programs of a decidedly non-religious nature that IMO can’t convince the average unafilliated person that such programs have anything to do with being a Shomer Torah UMitzvos, as opposed to being secular humanist.

  20. Shades of Gray says:

    “But I’m telling you, the crisis among our “at rish” youth, particuarly the ones who came of age with the internet, is one of faith”

    The intellect vs. emotional or spiritual question has also been discussed in “People With Questions Are Not Sick”(Cross Currents, 4/17/11) in response to AMI Magazine’s “The Imposters Among Us”. Instead of trying to find the ultimate cause, in absence of a Pew study for internal Orthodox matters, why not say that a person is made of mind, body, and soul, all of which play a role in different people, differently?

    In “Kids of Hope”(Hamodia Supplement, Peasch 5770, pg 7, available online)the Noverminsker Rebbe is quoted that “there’s no one single cause that we can point to; obviously many factors are involved”. Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin writes in “The Role of Parents in The Current Crisis of ‘Off the Derech’ Adolescents: Dare We Discuss it? Can We Afford Not To”(pg 139, available on his website),

    “…Rabbi Matisyohu Salomon has been quoted (from a Tisha B’Av speech) as describing the current epidemic of rebellious youngsters as “a gezeira of golus.” This has been interpreted by some as suggesting that this tragedy can happen to anyone without natural reasons of cause and effect. Recently, I had an opportunity to ask Rabbi Salomon about his statement. He explained that he did not mean that this tragedy strikes at random, without rhyme or reason. Rather, he meant that the conditions that bring about this problem – and he emphasized the quality of the parent-child relationship as a major factor – are the result of the geziera of golus (e.g., the absence of the Beis Hamikdash).”

    Regarding the need for data, Jonathan Rosenblum wrote in “More Information, Please”(January, 2008),

    “The truth is that we have relatively little hard empirical data about the drop-out phenomenon. Most of what we know is based on anecdotal experience from which we extrapolate wildly. Each person in the field comes at it from his own vantage point. Thus those who work in the area of learning disabilities tend to see learning disabilities as the primary cause for dropping-out…Others will tell you that the problem is poverty, or, in America, affluence. Those who deal with sexual abuse see that as a major cause…My own guess is that virtually everyone is right — to a degree…Certainly no one explanation fits every case.”

  21. DF says:

    Shades of Grey, I agree with you [obviously] that there is no one reason that applies to everyone. But many automatically EXCLUDE religious problems as the catalyst for dropping out. They say that was true in the 19th century, but not today. In your snippet from Jonathan Ronseblum above, he mentions five or six possibilites, but not the fundamental one. My point is, young adults are not as shallow as we patronizingly seem to think. The outward forms of it are no longer made manifst by growing goatees or starting revolutions, but we’re not all that much different than our 19th century peers.

  22. Steve Brizel says:

    IMO, R Adlerstein hit the nail on the head with this parenthetical comment:

    “Torah Judaism has a midpoint, and groups that move from it in either direction. Historical and economic factors have a way of bringing people back to the middle. The current move to the right in parts of the haredi world were allowed by a vibrant economy, and government largesse. Both have changed, coupled with the assault of modernity in an increasingly porous society. When the dust settles, the vast majority of that haredi world will remain loyal to the midpoint values of the Torah, and their offspring will be able to take up whatever new position Divine Hashgacha takes them to. The offspring of the heterodox denominations will not be Jewish, period”

    No demographic poll that is predicated on an admitted lack of definition of who is a Jew, and which treats today’s Charedi and MO worlds in their communities with a footnote that borders on disdain either will change the realities present in both the heterodox and Torah observant worlds. Triumphalism should be disdained, but amazing events like the Siyum HaShas and the dynamic growth of our communities ( despite their facing their own issues) should be celebrated. The facts are that there are two worlds-one world that celebrates its lifestyle in the NYT Styles Pages and the Torah observant world where there are many Chasunahs on a weekly basis in the MO and Charedi worlds that are communally sanctioned and approved celebrations of the greatest start up adventure in human history-the creation of a Bayis Neeman BYisrael. (I think that while a depiction of a frum simcha belongs in the so-called Styles section, that the same should not be placed there merely as one of many alternatives to the same gender celebrations that frequently are in the Styles Section.)

    Like it or not, Kiruv and Chizuk, via their numerous means, remain the best way of connecting and reconnecting every member of Klal Yisrael on the individual and communal levels, to not just being Avdei HaShem, but in enghancing our own committment in the primacy of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.

  23. Steve Brizel says:

    About two weeks before Rosh HaShanah, I attended a chasunah in Williamsburg . I met my wife who drove there, by taking the subway and bus. The bus ride went through the Latino, hipster and Charedi portions of Williamsburg, and the bus passengers themselves were a typical cross-section of those sectors of the neighborhood. I wondered and still wonder whether the hipster segment of the community, which includes no small portion of unaffiliated Jews, had ever seen a chasunah , ever experienced the beauty of Shabbos or YT, or last stepped into a Jewish house of worship since reaching the age of Jewish adulthood.

  24. Shades of Gray says:

    “But many automatically EXCLUDE religious problems as the catalyst for dropping out…My point is, young adults are not as shallow as we patronizingly seem to think.”

    I agree that some may wrongly exclude this, giving the impression that the Haskalah was defeated. It depends on an individual’s nature and degree of insularity as I mentioned; R. Dovid Sapirman(Ani Maamin Foundation} actually categorizes people into five groups including thinkers and non-thinker.

    Re Jonathan Rosenblum, elsewhere he discusses the role of intellectual issues in the context of yeshivos(Klal Perspectives, Spring 2012 and “Bans are not Chinuch”, Mishpacha 2/08).

    Regarding college campuses, a rabbi who was the director of the JLIC at Brandeis University wrote “…social pressures, and not the academic or even the cultural, are the most difficult to withstand”(“On Modern Orthodox Day School Education”, 2009 Meorot Journal, pg. 6).

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