February 06, 2005

Orthodox Versus Jewry- Or My Blood is More Jewish

There is an ongoing battle in Judaism, a battle for it's soul and identity, at least that is how things are often portrayed. We have to fight those who wish to assimilate us alongside those who wish to destroy us by murdering us. In some places Jewish blood is still considered to be cheap.

The title of this post is intentional, because part of the aforementioned battle can be phrased as internecine warfare among the various denominations of Judaism. There are groups of people among us who refuse to accept the others practices, our minhagim are downplayed and sneered at, our Yiddishkeit questioned.

So you ask, who is the "our" I refer to and I say to you, the reader that it is all of us or any of us, you make the choice.

I have an ongoing battle with a friend of mine about the intent of Orthodox Judaism and its position on those who are not on the same derech as they are, at least not in practice. The allegation is that Orthodoxy looks down it's nose at those who are not as "Torah True" as they are, that Conservative and Reform Judaism are viewed as being lesser forms of Judaism. And to a certain extent I am forced to agree with the premise of the argument. There are too many examples that prove that this element exists.

But I like to consider myself a student of Jewish history and I can find examples of this type of thought and behavior throughout history. I remember learning about Hillel and Shammai, our class being divided to argue the positions of the two and the feelings it created.

This is not new behavior, but it doesn't make it right and it doesn't help.

I often write about being torn, conflicted about where to stand. My circle of friends includes everyone you can imagine, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Reform, Conservative, FFBs, BT's and independents.

My own familial practices probably make this mishmash clear, I feel more comfortable living further to the right than the left, but neither is home now. They may be in the future. I read and consider the experiences of all sides. I'll pick on David again and reference his post about The Dance. I have a lot of experience with people who are Shomer Negiah and there are things about it that I really like and find very attractive, but I am far too physically affectionate to do completely cut-off my contact with women. I will still kiss and hug my friends, it doesn't change or impact my feelings for my wife.

But I respect those that engage in the practice and yet I have seen it be the cause of misunderstandings on many occasions.

At my son's Pidyon Ha-Ben some dear friends were leaving the house and I watched as the wife of one of them became infuriated with the refusal of the host to shake her hand. I walked outside with them and listened briefly as she ranted and raved about his arrogance and intolerance.

I think that in this case both parties were at fault, she could have been more tolerant and respectful herself of his beliefs and he could have been more forthcoming in his explanation of why, or better yet just shook her hand.

To a certain extent the problem here took place because of ignorance but also because of perception because it fed into a perception that some people have of Orthodox Jews as being more arrogant and intolerant. Perception is often more important than reality, it is kind of twisted, but true.

I would very much like to see more outreach and outward, open expression of friendship between the groups. But I am not real sure that we will see it happen any time soon, as long as you can be "Slifkinned" there are going to be fewer people who are willing to stick their necks out.

I don't expect, need or want for their to be one monolithic perspective, no groupthink for me. But
in the end we are all part of one people, one family and it would be nice to see us act more like the Brady Bunch than Joseph's brothers.

9 comments:

PsychoToddler said...

Jack, I think there is a difference between saying "I know there is this rule about shomer negiah, but I don't think I'm ready for it," and saying "there is no rule about shomer negiah, or if there was, it's no longer applicable."

That's the difference between using Torah Judaism as your moral compass (regardless of your level of observance)and changing the religion. History has shown that too many fundamental changes leads to a new religion (Christianity being a prime example) or assimilation and loss (the majority of american Jews for example).

Our customs keep us who we are. I think Chazal were smart in insisting we keep to them. It's worked so far. Bagels and jokes don't last more than a generation or two.

Ms. Vickie said...

I enjoy reading your blog very much and am learning from you. I know little about Judaism and have gained a new appreciation for what is being said around me lately since I have begun to read your blog and several other friends that I respect. Thank you for the part you are playing in educating me and opening my eyes.

Vickie
www.alwaysvictoria.com

Jack's Shack said...

PT,

The Jewish people kept Shabbat and Shabbat kept the Jewish people. There is a lot of merit to that, but there is also reason to review and look at what we do and why.

I would agree that if someone wishes to argue about the validity or invalidity of being Shomer Negiah or keeping Kosher they should be familiar with the hows and whys so that they can conduct an intelligent argument.

But that should not preclude the ability to change and evolve. Change and evolution should not hold negative connotations.

The Chasidim and Mitnagdim have their debates, the Neutrei Karta have their fight and the ravs of Mea Shearim have their POV on how and what should be done to.

All are different. The point is not to argue for change for the sake of change, but to be open to it if and when the need arises.

Chazal did not foresee cloning, or organ donation, but their had to be allowances and responsa made for these and other things.

Hi Vickie,

Thanks. I am still learning myself, it is a lifelong process.

Passionate Life said...

You wrote:

"At my son's Pidyon Ha-Ben some dear friends were leaving the house and I watched as the wife of one of them became infuriated with the refusal of the host to shake her hand. I walked outside with them and listened briefly as she ranted and raved about his arrogance and intolerance.

I think that in this case both parties were at fault, she could have been more tolerant and respectful herself of his beliefs and he could have been more forthcoming in his explanation of why, or better yet just shook her hand."

Forget the whole issue about differences within different branches of Judaism. The woman you are referring to is acting childish and is emotionally unhealthy. She is taking something personally that has nothing to do with her personally. That is inappropriate behavior. She is extrapolating from his behavior that it is a personal insult to her. How can it be personal if he would not shake ANY woman's hand including an orthodox woman? Where is the insult?

What is puzzling is your thought that he should have just shaken her hand. If she offered to give him a ride on Shabbos or a slice of crabcake should he just given in rather then offend her? If she is unreasonable and emotionally unhealthy, he does not have to accommodate her weakness. Whatever you believe about Shomer Negiah if HE believes in its sanctity, asking him to negate it is highly inappropriate.

When I explain to a woman why I can't shake their hands they usually respond with an apology for offending me rather then feeling insulted. Of course I reassure them that its nothing and I am happy to teach them a new cultural custom about Orthodox Judaism.

Jack's Shack said...

. She is taking something personally that has nothing to do with her personally. That is inappropriate behavior. She is extrapolating from his behavior that it is a personal insult to her. It is not as simple as saying that she has emotional problems.

This is part and parcel of the problem I alluded to earlier, the perception by some Jews that Orthodox look down their noses at them.

In part is also a problem of education and exposure. Some women I know are not well informed and get irate at the mention of their being Niddah.

PsychoToddler said...

Anytime you mention menstruation to a woman you're in for a pounding.

Seriously Jack, it can get to be a pretty slippery slope. When I was a resident, I had an intern who really wanted to cook something for me (don't ask why). I explained about kashrut 5 or 6 times, she never saw me eat in the VA cafeteria (nothing but tuna from home), and I never took a bite from any of the drug lunches.

One day she brought in a fruit pie. She listed off all the ingredients, fresh fruit, flower, basically things that I would use if I were making my own in my kosher kitchen. She proved to me that there was nothing unkosher about it. She worked all day on it.

What should I have done? Should I have eaten it or told her that it still wasn't kosher because there was no supervision and her stove was unkosher?

Jack's Shack said...

I understand the slippery slope. There are a couple of issues to be addressed. Let's start with this one.

The perception among some Jews that Orthodox Jews think that they are superior to them. I think that this is a problem that should be addressed.

Part of the problem lies in the lack of education that some Jews have regarding areas of halacha and minhagim. And in my experience some of the female issues could be easily handled if there was more dialogue between the two sides, especially the women.

As to your question of what to do about issues of Kashrut, it is not really right for me to speak for you and I recognize that some of what I say probably comes off in that manner.

If I had to offer an opinion here it is . We all make our rationalizations and accomodations for why we do what we do. Issues concerning Kashrut are more easily explained and less likely to cause hard feelings than trying to explain what it means to be shomer negiah.

In short, it seems to me to be easier to say that "I cannot eat your food due to dietary restrictions" than to say that I am not shaking your hand because of the laws and customs surrounding family and ritual purity blah, blah, blah.

In some respects it could be seen as a sort of extension of Shalom Bayit.

PsychoToddler said...

It may be a problem that non-Orthodox Jews have a "perception" of attitude being given off by the Orthodox. But the bigger problem is that quite a few of the Orthodox actually do have an attitude issue. That's a problem we Orthodox have to resolve.

But I think even the most pleasant, accommodating, friendly OJ's you meet (ie the Kiruv people) still have a fundamental belief that they are right and the non-Orthodox are ignorant at best, misguided at worst. If you're the type to be offended even in that situation, then there's probably nothing that can be done.

I don't know of any orthodox person, who really believes that you can't drive on shabbos, who would say "it's no good for me, but it's ok for you." If it's ok for you, it's only because you haven't reached the level that you're ready to take on shabbos. But it's implied that that is the goal.

We have quite a few friends who drive to our house for shabbos meals. They certainly get no attitude from us. But we'd be happier if they decided to stay over.

As for shalom bayis, well, I didn't live with that intern, but let's say you wouldn't be too disappointed with me regarding the decision I ultimately made. But it did make me try to be a little more black and white on the issue.

Jack's Shack said...

But the bigger problem is that quite a few of the Orthodox actually do have an attitude issue. That's a problem we Orthodox have to resolve.No argument here. :)

But I think even the most pleasant, accommodating, friendly OJ's you meet (ie the Kiruv people) still have a fundamental belief that they are right and the non-Orthodox are ignorant at best, misguided at worst.I understand that. And again it makes sense, I know some of my friends figure that I am just not ready to make the next step. But they are smart enough not to try and belittle my beliefs or make me feel silly for not believing as they do.

You catch more flies with honey.