The Synagogue I Don’t Attend Is Orthodox

There is no joy in what I am about to say. I am not here to gloat with some sort of triumphalist cheer. I am merely expressing what seems to be the case. Which I will analyze. A Pew study has shown that Reform and Conservative Judaism is not catching on in Israel. From the Times of Israel:

The research explained that while the Conservative movement, in Hebrew, is called the Masorti movement, it should not be confused with masorti(or traditional) Israelis who overwhelmingly identify as either Orthodox (65%) or with no particular stream (27%). Just 2% identify with both Reform and Conservative Jewry.

Meanwhile, some 5% of secular Jews identify as Reform and 2% as Conservative — but 23% align themselves with Orthodoxy, and 64% with no particular stream. Overall, 50% of Israeli Jews identified with Orthodoxy, and 41% with no denomination.

This study is on the heels of another one showing that — except for Orthodoxy — denominational Judaism in America is dying out. Our successes in achieving acceptance in America has ended up destroying our very identity as Jews.  Jews are so accepted, the religion of Bernie Sanders, a Jew running for President, is never even mentioned.

Such acceptance has wrought assimilation so complete, that young secular Jews don’t even care that they are Jews. Being a Jew is meaningless to them. What’s the point of identifying as a Jew if there is nothing Jewish about the  way you live? Why shouldn’t they marry whomever they wish? What difference does it make? As long as you are a good person who cares if you marry a Jew or a Christian; a Muslim or a Buddhist?

To combat this attrition and maintain its numbers Reform Judaism has to keep redefining itself. If Reform Judaism was golf, it would probably look like croquet by now.

The biggest loser is Conservative Judaism. They are scrambling to try and figure out what to do. Like trying to re-brand themselves. This will not help them. They have failed because they did not educate their members Jewishly. Most Conservative Jews are not observant at all. Their values are American values. Which are not necessarily Jewish values. Now I’m not casting aspersions on American values. I subscribe to many of them myself. It’s just that they are not particularly Jewish. Thus obviating the need by their children to consider themselves as such. I therefore don’t see a bright future for heterodoxy in America.

I believe this is one reason there that Reform and Conservative leaders are applying so much pressure for recognition in Israel. They are screaming bloody murder at all the push back by the Charedi world and the Chief Rabbinate. Understandably so. But I don’t think they are going to go anywhere in Israel, even if they somehow manage to get recognition from the state.

I realize that a lot of money supporting Israel comes from heterodox movements. And money can move mountains. I therefore see the very distinct possibility that the Israeli government will recognize them in some sort of official way — even if the Chief Rabbinate opposes it and Charedi politicians threaten to quit the government over it. It may destroy the current government. But it will not destroy the determination by Reform and Conservative leaders too insist on recognition from the next government. No government wants to jeopardize the huge sums of money they get from these denominations. But money does not equal people.

One may ask why Reform and Conservative Judaism does not catch on there – as the Pew report suggests. After all the majority of Jews in Israel are not observant and would not in any way be defined as Orthodox. It would seem like a natural place for them to gravitate. While not fully observant, most Israelis are traditional and observe many of the customs. They  may light candles on Friday night; make kiddush; and eat a traditional Shabbos meal. They might keep kosher. They will observe the major Jewish holidays, have a Pesach Seder, eat matzah and refrain from eating chametz during the week of  Pesach.  They will fast on Yom Kippur… What better place to be than in a denomination that considers Mitzvah observance optional (Reform) or is completely accepting of their non observance in other areas (Conservative)?

I believe that this is what the Reform and Conservative movements are banking on. Knowing the antipathy many secular Jews have for Charedim and the Chief Rabbinate — they think they can make their denominations a home for them.

But as the Pew survey indicates, secular Israelis do not buy into denominational Judaism. They may support the concept of pluralism and the efforts of Reform and Conservative rabbis in their quest for official acceptance. But they do not see themselves being a part of it.

I think the reason for this is that Jews in Israel realize what Judaism is supposed to look like. They know that their grandparents and great grandparents were observant by Orthodox standards. They do not see heterodoxy as an extension of that. They see it as an aberration. Albeit one which people have a right to be.

This attitude can be summed up in a phrase that had often been attributed to secular Jews in Israel: ‘The synagogue I don’t attend, is Orthodox.’ Based on this survey, that still seem to be the case.

The leaders of these heterodox movements might think that Israel will be their salvation. That their movements will survive there because Jews in Israel still strongly identify as Jews and will find their denomination as a home. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.