Orthodox Rebellion

Today, the authenticity of Judaism, as practiced by Orthodox Jews, is constantly being challenged. Many claim that the Torah is outdated, G-d forbid, while others claim that the true seekers of G-d are found more often in coffee shops than in synagogues.

The great philosopher and Halachist, Maimonides, described the incredible holiness in how the Torah was originally written. Moses was elevated to the level of angel when he was with G-d on Mount Sinai for 40 days.

In this prophetic state, Moses records the words of the Bible by way of intuition and prophecy. There has never been a book written in this fashion. And because it was directly from G-d to Moses, it represented the ultimate in perfection. It was written for all times. To imply that this hallowed book is no longer applicable today, borders on heresy.

Rav Yakov Emden, over 200 years ago, declared that a greater miracle than the splitting of the Red Sea, was the continued survival of the Jewish people living under the most horrible oppression. Yet, there were always Jews who remained steadfast in their diligence and worship of our holy Torah.

The biggest problem today is not the lack of appeal of Orthodoxy. It is the flawed educational system and extremist views that turn people off to religious practice.

I am not convinced that changes made in Orthodox synagogues that were meant to accommodate enlightened Jews, has made any real impact in bringing back lost Jews to the fold. Changes, such as attempting to give women a greater role in prayers is fine within Halachic boundaries, but it’s still missing the point.

What needs to be examined is what could be done to present Judaism in a better light. When adolescent girls are ridiculed for minor infractions in dress code, it leaves these young ladies angry at a system that seems so petty. When young men are forced to attend a long and boring Synagogue service, they become resentful and hate going to shul.

Many carry this anger into adulthood, and blame their frustration on Orthodoxy altogether. When they are encouraged to see Orthodoxy as the cause, they remain outside the community and are left lonely without direction.

They decide to group together with others who have similarly been victims of traumatic educational experiences during their Yeshiva education, and do not allow themselves to find their place. They latch on to writers and philosophies that also attack traditional Orthodox beliefs.

There is a quote made famous by the beloved educator, Rabbi Aharon Rakefet. “Judaism is perfect. Those who practice it are not.” Too often we hear stories of people who attribute their leaving religion to a specific incident. It was a moment where one was shamed for not wearing Tzizit, fringes on a four cornered garment. Or being insulted by a teacher who had no business acting as an educator.

While such situations are infuriating, they still reflect intellectual dishonesty. For one to walk away from such a miraculous and incredible religion, based on the bad behavior and self righteousness, of one individual, is a cop out. It becomes an emotional wound that loses all sense of rationality.

There are hundreds of thousands of Jews all over the world who continue to practice Orthodox religious observance. They feel assured that they are serving the Al-mighty as prescribed by G-d to Moses and transmitted by our holy sages from generation to generation. They realize their responsibility in carrying out the covenant made at Mount Sinai by all Jews for all times.

True, we need to be more sensitive and gentle in the manner in which we teach Judaism. It must be handed over with great care and love. It must be shown that this way of life represents beauty and truth. It allows man to live in this world with purpose and contentment. A few tweaks in how religion is presented could certainly help. But we must never question G-d and the uniqueness of His Torah.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.