Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Revenge of the Myth - Part VI

As we have seen, the SD himself is not really the issue (the issue could be with any situation where an injustice is condoned based on external considerations, or considerations that are the opposite of our ideals), nor is the KP, nor even the community. The issue for Noam is reconciling the kiruv version of practicing Judaism with some truly practical lifestyle. Earlier, we offered up four possible endings for Noam, but our real goal is to resolve why Noam feels "misled". Obviously, he feels misled because he was learned that a Jew is a Jew, no matter what his level of wealth, no matter what his family name. He finds that this is not a practical way to approach life in any frum community, as wealth, family ties and other external matters obviously change the very people that have driven his ascent. The ideals for which Noam was enticed to pursue with mesiras nefesh have little place in the lives of "normal" people, other than lip service and the occasional project.

One can hope that the story ends like this. Noam is disillusioned, but not beaten. He decides that he must focus on life pursuits other than increasing his devotion to G-d and improving his practice of mitzvos. Not that he will abandon these goals entirely, but he will simply retrain himself to render lip service to the ideals, rather than take them so seriously. He finds a level that he can live with, and devotes more time to his family, his profession, making friends on the basis of common interest. He realizes that what he views as sacrifices are not necessarily recognized or viewed that way by others. Perhaps, he will drop some of his more strict or sectarian customs and simply do what is convenient.

What his children get at home will change a bit. He will tell them Torah verter about devoting oneself to Torah study but in practical and exemplary terms, he will no longer teach them to apply themselves fully to Torah study. He will encourage them to be careful with whom they form friendships, and he will give them insights into why some person might like them while another might not. In short, he will state one set of beliefs, yada yada, and then move on with his life. His relationship with the KP will change also, as will his attitude toward others that come for kiruv. The KP will no longer be a mashpia. He will listen to everything Jewish with half an ear, and pass it on with a grain of salt.

This is the best and most healthy ending that we can hope for. Other possibilities are 1) total frei-ing out, and possible attendant breaking up of the family, 2) total denial, which is like to last for only a short time, and 3) total orthopraxy, with Noam turning on Judaism with a passion.


A better kiruv


  • You forgot option 4:

    4) living a life of passionate Judaism.

    why just because he realizes that these kiruv guys are phonies must he give up Judaism? Even if he decides to leave Orthodoxy he can still live a meaningful Jewish life.

    By Blogger B. Spinoza, at 5:22 PM  

  • Well, the Judaism taht he had a passion for is no longer there as a practical option. that is the point. But with a better kiruv, that will be possible.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 7:27 PM  

  • I would think that, for most of us it goes in the following order:

    1. Total denial lasting for as long as can be maintained, followed by a move to,

    2. Orthopraxy. But orthopraxy slowly (or quickly, as the case may be) is eroded by gradual,

    3. Frei-ing out, which for a time may be maked by orthopraxy. But, eventually, when the kids are old enough or the lure of outside hook-ups becomes too strong, we have the,

    4. Total frei-out.

    And KP writes this off as another BT whose "personal problems" got the best of him, despite KP's "best efforts." [sic]

    In other words, in the eyes of the FFB world, no matter what goes wrong, it's BT's fault.

    The solution is not a "better" kiruv.

    The solution is a better Judaism.

    By Anonymous Shmarya, at 7:45 PM  

  • I think I am in my life now where your fictonal Noam winds up in your best case scenario. I changed, but am still frum, like Noam you described.

    By Anonymous BT gal, at 1:53 AM  

  • Could you put a glossary of your acronyms at the top of your blog? I could find where you defined KP (kiruv professional), but eventually it will not be on the blog's homepage, but I haven't figured out what SD means.

    By Blogger Warren Burstein, at 6:32 AM  

  • rebel said
    "He finds a level that he can live with, and devotes more time to his family, his profession, making friends on the basis of common interest"

    first of all, thats actually normal. In my understanding of judiasm, to avoid going nuts, there is the concept of the middle way. that also means, finding a comfort zone first. Dont try to do everything, because you end up with nothing. (this applies to anything with life for most people)

    Part of what i find enjoyable for common interest are intersting shiurim or chaburas where people get together to study and argue the text. You need a strong talmid chochom to make this work.

    I also enjoy movies, shows, etc.

    I do both with my kids.
    I dont let them watch regularly because i simply dont want to dull their brains.

    The main goal of a yid shouldnt be about himself, but what he or she is doing to ensure the transmission of the mesorah to ensure a jewish nation continues from one generation to the next.

    The reform have failed in this basic task. Their children intermarry at alarming rates, and the parents are proud of themselves for being so frum (reform wise).

    Being frum, but not successfully transmitting the mesorah accomplishes nothing (in my opinion).

    By Blogger happywithhislot, at 10:07 AM  

  • >The solution is a better Judaism.

    Yes, I say we need a new Bris (covenant). The old one isn't in such good shape. We have been so long outside of our land as strangers that I believe we have lost our way.

    By Blogger B. Spinoza, at 11:02 AM  

  • S,
    What do you mean "a better Judaism"? It's been fine for how many years now? What's our biggest problem as Jews? That we don't get along with each other. I remember when you told my husband about the politics of keeping kosher. (I think we had just started or were about to start keeping kosher) I agree there is too much politics involved, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep kosher. Just like everything else in Judaism. Are you talking about going back to basics or what?

    By Blogger Anshel's Wife, at 11:10 AM  

  • I think the common ground of these comments is the basic point of all of the J-blogs:

    In order to return to a Judaism that is worth pursuing passionately, we need to get a handle on what is Judaism and what is corruption.

    We need to sort out what is told to us to keep us in line and what is "mesora".

    We need to sort out what is fundamentalist purism run amok (ie defenses of geocentrism and spontaneous generation) and what is truly relevant for a person to live by.

    Above all, we must stop teaching people that they live in a chasidic story. In short, when we hear a principle in a shiur, we must understand that it does not override our common sense, such that we should follow that principle to controvention of common sense. And we must understand that reality does not bend around our theology.

    Making that clear to a BT is what I call better kiruv. I think Shmarya would say (though I do not speak for him), that is what he calls "better Judaism". In other words, the watered down fundamentalist purism that is peddled in the kiruv world, just to keep the most radical sects on board, is not "good Judaism" nor is necessarily Judaism at all. Today it is sold as "the only authentic Judaism".

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:43 AM  

  • What he says.

    Except that the rampant nepotism, corruption and other seedy aspects have to go as well.

    So do "rabbis" who couldn't paskin their way out of a paper bag and wouldn't know a Gaon (from the Geonic era) or most Rishonim if they tripped over one.

    We also need to be honest about Judaism's history. We need to admit the problems (like the break in the mesora at the time of Ezra and the fact that all scientific evidence – and all lack of same – argues strongly against a worldwide flood, etc.) and also acknowledge that much of what we think is normative judaism really is the reaction to external threats – Karaism, Reform, etc. – and not Judaism itself.

    In other words, it's not just about kiruv / shlichus.

    And, while we're at it, let's tell the truth about our leaders. No more "gedolim books." No more lies, period.

    What is the chance of a better Judaism arising?

    Almost zero.

    Why? Because too much money for the few people in power rides on keeping the current lie-filled system in place.

    The current system also needs to keep you (and your children) second-class.

    And so it will be, unless you leave or rebel.

    By Anonymous Shmarya, at 12:51 PM  

  • For all of you BTs struggling with kiruv / shlichus problems, I found the following meditation I learned in yeshiva to be comforting – for a time. Perhaps it will help you, too:

    "I am second class. The KPs / shluchim are "helping" me. They have "mesiras nefesh," giving up the "nice," "comfortable" life they could have been living in order to "help" the "underclass" like me. I should be ashamed for questioning or doubting them."

    If that is too cult-like for you – and it should be – you could leave.

    I did. And I'm not alone.

    By Anonymous Shmarya, at 1:13 PM  

  • Ah, Scott, I thought you had that comment just for me.

    But what does it meant to rebel? To be a Chabadnik and openly eat Satmar meat just to defy community standards? Does it mean to openly questions our community leaders? Does it mean to pull our kids out of community schools? Does it mean to call the leaders on their mistakes?

    And where do we go if we leave? Do we just give up being frum? Do we do it on our own? My 10 year old son knows more than I do at this point.

    You know me and my family. What do you suggest we do?

    By Blogger Anshel's Wife, at 1:37 PM  

  • Email me.

    By Anonymous Shmarya, at 2:34 PM  

  • A general answer.

    Find a (left-wing) Modern Orthodox rabbi and shul. Try it out for a while. Everytime you see someone doing something that seems to be "not frum" ask the rabbi about it. Find out if there are legitimate halakhic opinions to support it. Learn from it.

    Study Jewish history (not from ArtScroll or Chabad books). Read Marc Shapiro's work. Read the books I link on my blog. (Except, perhaps, Eyes To See, which I posted in fit of 'teshuva' a while back.)

    Check out the Union For Traditional Judaism.

    But there is no easy answer because the entire system is broken.

    By Anonymous Shmarya, at 2:43 PM  

  • Shmarya.
    "Why? Because too much money for the few people in power rides on keeping the current lie-filled system in place."

    Are you saying Rav Eliyashuv is rich? or are you referring to other people in power. Can you be more descriptive?

    By Blogger happywithhislot, at 5:24 PM  

  • Too many rabbis have their income riding on the present system. As for Rabbi Elyashiv, it's about power, not money.

    By Anonymous Shmarya, at 7:08 PM  

  • So your saying rabbi eliyashiv is in it for the power?
    What does he get from all this power?

    Is there any possibility that its a burden he doesnt want, but feels an obligation to do?

    By Blogger happywithhislot, at 10:41 PM  

  • Obviously written by someone who has never had any.

    By Anonymous Shmarya, at 11:26 PM  

  • Yetta

    I agree that the whole system is broken to large extent. So one must live outside of it, just as most people do. In Chabad terms, listen to their shiurim, but do not take them too too seriously, as they would have you do. If you can take away something that is meaningful, then you ahve gained something. If it makes no real world sense, then do not worry about it. Nor do you need to justify this to anyone. When confronted with "you must do" or the "the Rebbe did", or " the Torah says" and it does not wash with you, simply respond that you have not achieved that high level of spiritual understanding yet, and im yirtze hashem in good time. Then, take on those things that are meaningful to you, and back off of thoose things that are clearly not adding strength to your life experience, even if "everyone else" considers them very important.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 1:36 AM  

  • yetta

    This may help

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 1:40 AM  

  • i have been considering these questions for many years and have decided that the rambam had the right approach.
    at least that is the best i can come up with.
    reason and faith

    By Blogger me, at 7:14 AM  

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