Legal Disclaimer: Since Jay P. Lefkowitz is a lawyer I would like to make it absolutely clear that this is a (hopefully) semi – humoristic response to his Commentary piece “The Rise of Social Orthodoxy: A Personal Account” and in no way is meant to imply that Mr. Lefkowitz’s past association with Republican administrations is somehow an anathema to civilized men nor that Mr. Lefkowitz is somehow involved in any activity less than legal. There is no intent on part of the author to defame, degrade, engage in lashon harah or imply that Mr. Lefkowitz enjoys drinking rum or any of those neat things that I can’t afford to buy at duty free. Furthermore, the author has no money and it would be a waste of time to sue him.
There we were, R and myself looking over the Shiloh Valley at R’s house as the sun slowly set. R is an educator for high school programs from the States and well acquainted with the Jewish communities that regularly send teens on school programs. We were discussing Jay P. Lefkowitz Commentary piece “The Rise of Social Orthodoxy: A Personal Account” and the implications of Social Orthodoxy on the future of Jewish youth. The problem, as R sees it, is that it is not enough for Jewish youth to go through the motions of Jewish observance. Surrounded by friends and classmates similar to themselves and their strong attachments (and here he is referring to the Jewish Persian community in a major city) to family the youth (arr, me be so old), absent a spiritual attachment to Judaism, may choose to belong to the community but to discard the observance. One generation, maybe two, and there would be no Jewish community.
By the powers, said I. You druthers we all sit in the amen corner singing thar hymns? (well, it did not exactly sound like that). Mr. Lefkowitz is a stalwart of the community, observes the mitzvot, send his children to be educated in Jewish schools and is, for many he meets, the face of American Jewry (in the most positive manner) and we can think of nothing better to do than to castigate him? How much different am I, living in Israel in a “settlement” and more importantly why are my children facing a different set of choices than his?
And I mused, what if Mr. Lefkowitz was living in a different age and in a different line of work. What if he was a pirate? If he were a pirate, would he believe?
Were there Jewish pirates? Google it and you shall find and lo and behold there were once many a Jewish pirate.
Jewish pirates of Jamaica
Today there are only around 200 Jews living in Jamaica. However, at some point 20% of Kingston‘s population were Jews of Portuguese-Spanish ancestry, while Spanish Town was founded by escaped Jews. The first Jews landed on the island in 1530 just 40 years after it was discovered by Christopher Columbus. While for a time the Columbus family’s rule kept out the Inquisition, when their power was eroded and the Church began threatening the crypto-Jewish populace, they aided the British conquest of the Isle. Under the British, Port Royal Jamaica was home not only to privateers bearing letters of marque for operating against the Spanish, some of whom were Jewish, but was also home to a large Jewish community which economically backed the raids against the Spanish.
Now imagine, did all those Jewish pirates observe Jewish law? Were they firm believers in G-d? Maybe they were also a bit agnostic, perhaps even callous about fortune and fate. I imagine them, Gentlemen o’ fortune, the forefathers of venture capitalists and corporate raiders sneaking off to a back room after the Torah reading for some kiddish club schnapps and schmaltz herring singing to themselves ” Seven aliyot and then Maftir, Haftorah and a bottle of rum”. Did they belong because they wanted to belong (and therefore were, by definition social orthodox) or was there something deeper?
The Torah is full of mitzvot. Sometimes we get a week where the mitzvot, or commandments are centered around central theme , sometimes the mitzvot pour out in a jumble where there is no separation between mitzvot that the mind understands (do not steal, deceive or give false witness, pay your labourers wages on time) to those that the mind cannot grasp (do not sow two types of seed together, do not wear a garment of wool and linen). To keep all the mitzvot takes faith, to keep most of them and you can be a “good” person which, I have been told, is 90% to 95% of being a good Jew.
Yet dry observance without belief is lacking, in my opinion. Without the fervor of belief how can we put our whole hearts into prayers and observance? Perhaps for myself and R belief is a given for neither of us were raised religious. For us, first came the acceptance of the supremacy of G-d and then only afterwards religious observance. Where I am today? well I am here amongst my people relating to my own personal interpretation of G-d. Lefkowitz raises real questions about how our generation can make Judaism relevant for our children, for our children are the future of our faith.
I suppose (or propose) that I talk about faith to my children and try to explain my own personal journey to Judaism. After hearing about lobsters and squids (yep, they were tasty) I should share with my land-lubber sprogs my own ventures in the sweet trade of emunah (faith). Arr, me say, no Cat o’ nine tails fer ye all, HaShem is a loving ol Matey, he is. So me buccaneers, listen to this ol squiffy and go on the account and find Him. Faith is not for the lily-livered, me boys.
Therefore instead of asking “If the Social Orthodox Had Been in Egypt, Would They Have Been Redeemed?” we should be thinking of how, when we elevate rationalism and abhor the image of a “vengeful G-d” (for indeed, even when rebuking us, G-d remembers our covenant and vows to remember us ), we can attach our children and ourselves to our Creator without either making G-d into a boogey monster or Air Fairy . It is no small challenge but for our generation very necessary for the Jewish Peoples future.
What Kaplan called “civilization” and Ahad Ha’am called a “national culture” is what moves many of us. We behave as Jews so we can belong as Jews. Some of us may even come to believe. The key, however, is that we live Jewish lives so we will not be disconnected, and we will never be alone.
The key then (I suggest) is to remember and remind that Torah is “not in the heavens and not beyond the seas but very close to you and in your mouth and your heart to do them” (לא בשמים היא… ולא מעבר לים היא… כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאוד, בפיך ובלבבך לעשותו” (דברים ל, יב-יד). ) As Torah, also is G-d , like a parent or a friend. Once we realize He is there, we can never be disconnected and we will truly never be alone.
Please pray for the speedy recovery of Yochai ben Ofra Hania and Yishai ben Nisan. Yochai has donated a kidney to Yishai and they are now recovering from their surgeries.
For a translation of pirate terms used here, check out this site.