Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Whose failure?

After passing the Mishnah in daf yomi and the corresponding Rambam in nearly syncronized cycle about the half mouse half earth impurity, I realized that Rabbi Slifkin had given an excellent examination of the subject, so I relented.

However, over the weekend, I was forced to ponder some of the same experiences that I have had throughout my life when the Orthodox and non-Orthodox interact. Invariably, some poor lamenting souls will ponder the tragedy that X has gone off the derech, that Y is married to a non-Jew and that Z keeps many Jewish laws, but does not keep Shabbat or kashrut k'halacha. Who do they think they are fooling? Or who do they think they are impressing? Or what did they do that deceived them into going the wrong way in life? Kiruv Rabbis around the world have been pouring life blood into the effort, only to see a small dent in the effort to show the entire world the truth of Orthodox Jewish laws, customs and theology. Why so? IMO, they are asking the wrong questions.

The question is not why Jeffrey likes the shikse, or why Pinny changed his name to Parker and works on Yom Tov even though he comes to shul many times when he is not working. It's not even why a hundred people show up to a social event at the shul, but it struggles to make a minyan. Nor is it why Sheila has to go to the treif restaurant when there are so many kosher ones in her city. And they always ask "Who's to blame? The parents, the teachers, the rabbis?" However the correct question is why haven't we inspired them enough, created a Jewish edifice inviting and inspirational enough to earn their hearts and minds?

Now many frum people who read they are infuriated that I would ask that. Why should they? This is why they are failing. For it is not that Jeffrey likes the shikse, but that we have not shown him anything that inspires him enough to accept our advice. Period. He does not understand why his girlfriend should be called a derogatory name, just because she was born to non-Jewish parents. He is told that he is bad for seeing her. But we have not built our relationship with him such that our advice is (or even should be) meaningful to him. Building that relationship means putting ourselves into his position and analyzing the matter from his viewpoint. Remember some vort about "kamocha" that you slept through? ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION!!!! Why should he listen to me? What have I offered him that he should change his world view to mine? Some old stories and ideas that may not even appeal to him? Would that convince you to convert some other worldview, say ... oh, I don't know... Christianity? Of course not!!!

Why indeed? Is it comparable? Isn't there a pintele yid, a Jewish spark that drives the Jew to accept our ideas? Isn't that given in the equation? Answer: So how's that working for you? There is still no minyan, there is still a mixed marriage, there is still a nonreligious person or formerly religious person. And you want to throw a platitude at it.

So who is to blame? Practice the question in front of the mirror a few times to make sure you are asking it forcefully enough. Then realize that you are finally asking the right person the right question. What am I doing to make Judaism more inspiring and more inviting and more enticing to young people? Not programs, not debates, not rational cover for lousy ideas, not pronouncements from out of touch rabbi celebrities. Why should anyone take my advice? Answer that honestly and they will come.


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