Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Barking Kiruv up the Wrong Tree

I know I rarely agree with R. Harry Maryles. And that's ok. I know we're worlds apart on most things. But he's usually pretty nice about it.

Recently, though, R. Harry seems to be trying to lay the kiruv work on a little thick. First he posted about Susan, a committed patrilineal Reform Jew (see her response here). R. Harry, trying to be nice, gives her a few back-handed compliments, and then draws his line.
Here is a person who sees the beauty of Judaism and actually tries to fulfill many Mitzvos. She may in fact have somewhere within her the inner soul of a Jew waiting to come out. But she is not Jewish according to Halacha neither according to Orthodox Judaism nor Conservative Judaism. Despite her best efforts she is not Jewish in the eyes of vast numbers of the people she identifies with. Her Jewish soul beckons to come out. But the only way she will have universal recognition is if she undergoes a full and formal conversion that will be unquestioned by any denomination.
R. Harry assumes that this is a major issue for Susan. Of course, I would guess that if this was the case, she would have done something about it sooner.

R. Harry holds out the carrot of universal "recognition" and suggests that Susan wants nothing more than being accepted by all the "people" she identifies with. People like who? Going out on a limb, most Reform Jews I know don't spend that much time with Orthodox Jews. I'm not putting words in Susan's mouth, but I'm guessing this just doesn't come up that much. Not to mention the fact that, as I pointed out in March, Orthodox Jews only make up 14% of the global Jewish population. Sure, they're visible, and sure, they're vocal, and sure, in some places they're outright in charge, but if you're just talking numerical acceptance, Reform honestly ain't that bad.

R. Harry keeps going with a modified version of Pascal's Wager:
Even though she disagrees with the Orthodox definition and considers herself Jewish – what harm can there be in doing so? If she is as sincere about her Judaism as she says (and I have no reason to question that) why not do this thing so that there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind about it?
Yeah, just do it in case you ever decide to care about what the Orthodox think. Come on!

Of course, what's missing here is any ability-- or attempt-- to see the situation through Susan's eyes-- and in effect, it relies on the premise of convincing her that she has a defect that needs to be fixed by conversion. It's like trying to tell a healthy or fairly attractive person that they're fat or need plastic surgery. "Sure, I know you think you look fine... but what harm is there in a little lipo? If you're sincere about wanting to be pretty, why not just do this one thing so there's no doubt in anyone's mind?"

That was last month. This month, R. Harry blogged about Zach Emanuel. He had a Bar Mitzvah, you see. But it turns out his mom "only" converted via Conservative auspices. Dun-dun-dun!

How can anyone think of themselves as fully Jewish if a major segment within it rejects their validity as a Jew? Shouldn’t that be enough to seek a conversion that is universally accepted?

Again, R. Harry seems to be applying the logic of high school popularity contests to Jewish life. How can you really be Jewish if not everyone thinks you are? (I suppose by that logic, Reform rabbis should start trying to get Orthodox shmicha, just to cover their bases.) Never mind that Reform and Conservative Judaism, numerically far bigger than Orthodoxy, reject plenty of elements of Orthodox practice. If we're going by the numbers here, then why don't we use that argument to convince the Orthodox to abolish the concept of mamzerut or agunot? Oh wait, because no denomination of Judaism sincerely cares about what the other ones think as long as they can't actively hamper them? Wow, I can't believe I forgot that one.

It's true not being accepted can be upsetting to some people, such as small children or emotionally needy teenagers. But I would hope that most adults, particularly in this age, accept that not everybody agrees with them, their politics, their lifestyle, or their values, and live their lives and craft their communities accordingly. If the Orthodox don't accept someone, guess what, there are plenty of people who will. Outside of Israel, it's not that big a deal.

And honestly, that's the problem for Orthodoxy when it comes to outreach. Unless someone has a fundamental change of perspective and decides that they believe Orthodoxy is the true path, OR they have low Jewish self-confidence and/or self-esteem and feel a tremendous need for acceptance (take, for instance, many of the young Baal Teshuvah folks recruited into specialized yeshivas that emphasize their lack of knowledge and appeal to their desire to do things in an "authentic" way), there simply aren't that many compelling reasons to become Orthodox. If you don't believe Orthodox theology is true or accept Orthodox interpretations of halacha, Orthodoxy becomes just one more opinion. And viewed within that context, honestly, who cares if one particular group doesn't accept you as long as there are others that do?

From what I've seen, universal Jewish acceptance is just simply not most people's-- especially the youth's-- biggest issue these days. And, in light of all the misheggos going on with Ortho rabbis in Israel invalidating conversions, this carrot increasingly appears to be an unobtainable pipe dream anyway.

The sad part is I know that this is coming a sincere person trying to expand Orthodoxy's big tent. But it really just demonstrates how divergent Jewish perspectives have become. The Orthodox don't-- and can't-- understand why people wouldn't want to live Orthodox lives, or at least convert Orthodox so they have their bases covered and can be "in the club." They don't get that for many Jews around the world, their particular club is not one they really care to belong to.


Anonymous said...

As I commented on R. Harry's blog, I doubt that he would consider what happens at Rahm Emmanuel's shul in Chicago as Orthodox Judaism. I was delighted to go to an Orthodox shul that wasn't something that looked like 17th century Poland. I think he's sincere but has a truly closed mind about anything not fitting his piont of view about Judaism

SJ said...

The idea that converts to Judaism need to convert to Orthodox Judaism for the sake of universal acceptance always seemed shakey if you ask me.

Izgad said...

As an Orthodox Jew I could only wish there were armies of deeply committed Reform Jews, doing their version of Judaism without a care for what we think. The blackmail approach is something I would gladly give up.

Anonymous said...

Friar Yid, I've tried all different congregations all over the spectrum, and I've found that the problem is that the average Jew/ Jewess who affiliates Reform does less observances than the average Reform rabbi, effectively less than the Tanach. On the other end of the spectrum, the most Haredi person piles on humrot/ chumrot on top of the Talmud. If everyone moves to the center, we'll all have more Jewish unity and be happier.