There is a general feeling of pride for many Jews when it becomes known that a famous celebrity announces that he is an Orthodox Jew. In recent years, it has become fairly common to hear of an actor or politician who proudly announces that he or she is a Shabbat observer and an Orthodox Jew.
Even John Goodman in ” The Big Lebowski” tried to convince Jeff Bridges that he was “Shomer Shabbos” only to be reminded that he wasn’t Jewish. The Kippa is seen in all sorts of places and it looks as though it is acceptable to be an Orthodox Jew in today’s modern world. (At least in the United States.)
The apparent definition of Orthodoxy seems to be determined by observing the Shabbat laws as well as keeping a kosher home, strictly observing Judaism’s dietary laws. It is also a kind of declaration that one is religious and his lifestyle is dictated by Jewish tradition and especially Jewish law.
It appears that this acceptance of Orthodox Jews, carries with it a heavy price. On the one hand, it represents a very specific affiliation with certain types of synagogues and schools. But on the other hand, it does not fully demand that one carefully examines what is expected of one who claims to be religious.
It is even possible for someone to declare his willingness to be counted among those committed to Judaism on the highest level, and yet that individual can still be an assimilated Jew. What really counts is not the observance of certain Jewish rituals, but in thinking like a Jew at all times, and putting one’s Judaism as his number one priority in life.
There are several ways to examine if one is truly proud of his Jewishness and religion, or is he an assimilated Orthodox Jew.
The first test involves one’s commitment to Israel. If one’s Judaism involves a minimal interest in Israel and it is seen only as a place where some Jews live, it is problematic. If one doesn’t comprehend a basic idea that G-d redeemed the Jews from Egypt to take them to the Promised Land. And that Promised Land is Israel and not America, he has a problem. And if he doesn’t understand that the fate of Israel has a direct effect on every Jew, he has a problem. That problem is that he has stopped thinking like a Jew.
Another test of one’s religiosity, is politics. In any election on any level, the only criteria as to how one votes is whether or not it is good for the Jews. When one worries about anyone else before he worries about his own people, he has become an assimilated Jew. Sadly, there are many Orthodox Jews who will take the side of the Palestinians, rather than the moral and brave soldiers of the IDF, because they have become assimilated.
Another test of faith and observance, is the attitude towards the Torah and Jewish law. If one does not see the Torah as eternal and applicable to all generations, he is only a practitioner of Jewish folklore. He is not religious. To be religious means, in the words of the “Tanya”, that G-d and the Torah are one. The fulfillment of Jewish law, or Halacha, is the method in which we fulfill G-d’s will in this world. Taking the Halacha lightly, is another sign of being an assimilated Orthodox Jew.
The Chazon Ish, Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, one of the most esteemed rabbis of the twentieth century, (who also convinced Ben Gurion to give an army exemption to religious women) was once asked what he had against the Modern Orthodox Jews, then known as Mizrachi. His reply was that it was difficult for him to take seriously a Jew that called himself religious but did not care about abiding by Jewish law. Without this commitment, one is capable of adopting all kinds of viewpoints that are foreign to Judaism.
For many assimilated Orthodox Jews, being identified as a religious Jew, allows them access to a community that is more like a support group or a club, rather than a place where people grow spiritually. The families get together and socialize and give their comfortable lifestyles legitimacy. They are there for one another in times of need, and it gives a sense of security to know that people are looking out for one another. This is not exclusive to Orthodoxy as other branches of Judaism offer similar support. In the end, it is an affiliation that does not necessarily mean that one will be truly Jewish.
This is a subject that needs to be brought into the open and examined carefully. It is important that we not delude ourselves into thinking that the magic words, “Orthodoxy”, “Shabbat or Kashrut observer” makes that individual truly Jewish. There is a plague out there called, “assimilation” and it is decimating hundreds of thousands of our people. We must fight it by shouting out loud that we are real committed Jews, who are willing to do everything possible to keep our people strong at any price. Nothing takes priority over this commitment.