Some things are more important than Orthodox vs. Progressive

I spend a lot of time on the Internet, maybe too much. But one of the things that I have noticed is that, online, so many people are scornful of religion. So many people are convinced that they know more about ethics and morality, more about life and interpersonal relationships, than the Torah does. So many people are arrogant that God is a fantasy.   How many posts have I seen whose goal is to mock the Torah and the morons who believe in it? Honestly, I’ve stopped counting.

But I noticed something else, too.

As an Orthodox Jew, I have been taught to be wary of the other streams of Judaism: Conservative, Reform, etc. Reform and Conservative Jews deny the divine origin of the Torah, in part or in full, and declare the Torah’s mitzvot to be no longer relevant in our day. Reform Judaism declares certain people to be Jewish who do not meet the necessary criteria according to Jewish law. Reform and Conservative Rabbis preside over the destruction of our true Torah faith. This is what is taught.

But this is what I noticed about Reform and Conservative Rabbis online:  they don’t mock the Torah. True, they have a radically different interpretation of the role of Torah in our lives as Jews because they do not see it as a purely divine document — but they never mock. They elevate. They present the Torah as a source of moral and religious inspiration. They speak of God without scorn. They support circumcision and kosher slaughter, and do not malign these practices as unnecessarily cruel. They worry over violence and prejudice against Jews around the world. And — apparently against the international tide, Reform and Conservative rabbis (usually) agree that Israel is the Jewish homeland.

They are our brothers.

The great rabbis of the past saw the Reform and its offshoots as a great threat and were adamantly opposed to these movements. These rabbis were largely right; Reform was a threat. When Torah observant Jews in the old country came to the US and noticed that the Jewish status quo was Reform, many stopped keeping mitzvot.

But the Orthodox world has paid a very heavy price. Not withstanding the growth of the “Baal Tshuva” movement in recent years, the vast majority of Jews are still secular, Reform, Conservative, or Traditional.  We, the Orthodox, are incomplete without them. How much vitality and originality have we lost as a result of the Orthodox world having (mostly) severed its connection to the secular Jews of the world? Over the years, we have become increasingly and unnecessarily strict (witness the blurring of women’s faces in newspapers, the increasing popularity of separating boys and girls in nursery school, the nearly identical black uniforms, the issurs against using the Internet, reading the newspaper, etc.) and increasingly insular, too. As a result — traditional Torah Judaism, as is practiced today, is becoming less and less approachable for the majority of Jews.

Why don’t we look past our differences, at least temporarily, and work together toward a common goal? Today — it’s the anti-religion people, not the Reform and Conservative Jews, who are the biggest threat. It’s the anti-religion people who mock our Torah and its Author. The anti-religion people are much more numerous and influential than the Reform or Conservative movements. Yes, we have issues about conversion, marriage, patrilineal descent, and many other important things — but we are being blind to the reality if we think that these things are as important as the more general issues we face.

We need to assess the situation as it exists today, not 20, 50, or 70 years ago.  Today, in holding up the Torah as a precious document, the Reform and Conservative rabbis are our allies, not our foes. In my opinion.

About the Author
Janice Block is a pediatrician, a wife, a mother, and a student of complementary/alternative medicine. She made Aliyah with her family in 2002.
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