Seriously, I think that college should be deferred until freshmen are in their mid-20s rather than fresh out of high school. At least it might temper everyone's self-righteousness a tad.
For instance, this article in the Harvard Crimson by a freshman, Daniel Solomon, who feels Hillel is too frum for him.
I had not been transported to Downton Abbey, but as I arrived at the Harvard Hillel for Shabbos dinner during Visitas, I felt like I had stepped into a time machine. Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews in severe three-piece suits and sideburns dominated. I cast about for a minute, looking for a place to sit, glancing to find another member of my endangered species: a Reform or Conservative Jew.
My experience speaks to an unsettling truth about contemporary Judaism in the United States: While more and more secular Jews abandon any form of religious observance, the Orthodox population is exploding, leading to the marginalization of the once-robust Reform and Conservative movements and the upending of traditional notions of Jewish identity.
Now, it's true that the two largest and growing Jewish groups today are secular and Orthodox-- but that's not Orthodoxy's fault, it's the liberal movements. America isn't Israel or Britain. There is no official legal status, title or funding that the Orthodox get that is denied to the rest of us. Most of the time, liberal Judaism isn't competing with Orthodoxy, but rather with a general disengaged apathy.
Our faith is about the only thing Reform and Conservative Jews share with the Orthodox, and what the Orthodox stand for is anathema to us. For secular Jews, Jewishness has long been centered on culture, bagels, Yiddishisms, loud arguments, and impassioned liberalism taking precedence over the synagogue.Dude, I'm sorry to say it, but that doesn't sound like a particularly deep "culture;" it sounds like a parody. I'm surprised you didn't include watching Seinfeld or saving money on your taxes in that list. If your Jewishness centers around such hallowed cultural traditions as arguing and bagels, you're entitled, but I'm not sure why you're acting as if this is something that merits a high-five. It's also a little deceptive to blur the line so casually between liberal and secular Jews. If some of the old-timey Jewish secularists like Abe Cahan, Simon Dubnow, Chaim Zhitlowsky or Itche Goldberg were around and heard you summing up Jewish culture as "bagels," they'd kick your ass from here to next year.
The Orthodox are obviously more devout. However, the most crucial difference between the three streams of Judaism is that the Orthodox, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, tend to see themselves as American Jews while their Reform and Conservative counterparts view themselves as Jewish Americans. This dissonance can be traced back to Reform’s founding document, The Pittsburgh Platform, which in 1885 famously declared, “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community.” Consequently, the Orthodox busy themselves more with medieval concepts like mesirah—a prohibition on ratting out Jews to secular authorities—than with tikkun olam—the Jewish idea of social justice.Here is where Solomon just seems to start attacking the Orthodox for the hell of it. It's not relevant to Harvard, nor particularly to the issue of liberal or secular Jews. Rather than actually talk about substantive and contemporary issues of identity among different groups of Jews, Solomon jumps all the way back to the Pittsburgh Platform, which your average young Jew probably thinks is a new OS being developed in Pennsylvania in case Windows 8 fails to excite people.
Some have tried to draw sharp distinctions between the East Ramapo and Williamsburg crowd and the “Modern Orthodox.” Those differences are cosmetic, not ideological—the Grover Norquist snarl to the Paul Ryan smile. There’s nothing modern about keeping men and women separated at prayer services, or preventing women from singing Torah. There’s nothing modern about embracing strict interpretations of Jewish law. There’s nothing modern about having an all-Hebrew prayer book; the Vatican, one of progress’ most prominent bogeymen, long ago abandoned the Tridentine Mass.Neither is there anything modern in failing to do rudimentary research on a topic before you start talking about it. Modern Orthodoxy is called modern not because it's cutting-edge, but because, when located within the Orthodox spectrum, it embraces aspects of modernity, such as education, philosophy and nationalism. And I'm sorry, but suggesting that the siddur should be the dividing line of modernity? Solomon is sounding less like a Reform Jew and more like a random internet troll.
Reform, meanwhile, has drifted away from the Pittsburgh Platform, which, in a Lutheran spirit, de-emphasized ritual and elevated faith. One 90-year-old cousin of mine, when he feels so inclined, relates tales of his synagogue days. He wasn’t bar mitzvahed; he was confirmed. He didn’t wear a yarmulke. His temple’s prayer service had more English in it than mine does, and at congregational luncheons shellfish and pork were on the menu.But here's the rub: High Reform ultimately didn't work. If it had, then the Reform movement would have stuck with it. Instead, there has been a dramatic shift away from the Protestant-influenced, some might say, "over-enlightened", just-plain-trying-too-hard ethos that was High Reform towards a liberal Judaism that feels comfortable engaging with Hebrew, becoming familiar with Jewish law and history, and whose first instinct when they encounter something they disagree with to think about it rather than toss it out the window. In short, liberal Judaism has grown up, and is trying to take a truly modern approach by combining the best aspects of contemporary culture with the best aspects of traditional Jewish culture. Is Solomon mad that Reform has "sold out?" If so, why, exactly? And what does any of this have to do with Hillel?
Today, the revolutionary spark is gone, and previously junked practices like keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath are coming back into vogue. Undoubtedly, this is due in part to the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel. But embracing anachronisms won’t stanch the bleeding, and it certainly won’t get more secular Jews into Hillel.Undoubtedly according to whom? What do the Holocaust and Israel have to do with keeping kosher? Are you suggesting that people are doing these things out of guilt? I suppose it's possible, but what's your source, besides you?
The biggest problem with Solomon's essay isn't just that he doesn't seem to really know what he's talking about, it's that he doesn't know who he's mad at. He'd be much better off focusing on his own personal experiences and explaining how Hillel is or isn't reaching him than pretending to have this huge grasp on the social politics of American Judaism. The bottom line is that there's a simple option for people who don't feel connected to the nitty-gritty of Jewish practice: Just don't do it. But what's strange is conflating his irritation with his own "endangered" movement with the Orthodox, and then pushing it even farther and placing the blame at Hillel for somehow contributing to this by... allowing Orthodox Jews at its Shabbos table?
According to Hillel's website, its goal is to "provide opportunities" for Jews to explore and celebrate their heritage and culture. It isn't supposed to make people religious or even to specifically to "attract" more Jews into it. It's simply supposed to be there if you want to use it. That suggests that it has a vested interest in being as open and welcoming to as many Jews as possible, to cast a big tent. I don't understand why that's a bad thing.
There were several decent responses around the web, by secular Jews, Orthodox Jews, and those in between, but I felt like many of them took too much of Solomon's bait. The issue isn't just that his piece was unfair to the Orthodox (two shekels he doesn't know Soloveitchik from Sieradski), but that, despite his comment about his Reform Temple, it seems unclear if he even knows all that much about liberal Judaism, either.
Personally, I think there's a bigger problem here than this kid's tirade against Orthodoxy. If you read between the lines, it appears that he was trying to show that liberal/secular Jews are feeling marginalized and adrift amid Jewish institutions that are leaning back towards observance and tradition as foundations for Jewish community. In my view, his piece did far more harm to his own cause than it did to the Orthodox. On behalf of young(ish) liberal Jews everywhere, I'd like to say this: we aren't all this dumb, this whiny, or this entitled. Really.