Closing my eyes to something unspeakably sad and depressing doesn’t make it disappear. Nor can I merely refuse to speak of it, naively hoping it will no longer be there the next time I take a peek.
The breach in the Jewish People, often characterized by the lack of tolerance and understanding between Israel and the diaspora, is real. We might already, chas v’shalom, have passed the point-of-no-return, but either way, it’s only getting worse, almost on a daily basis.
It manifests itself in the precipitous drop of support for Israel among America’s non-orthodox Jews and the anger that causes on both sides of the argument. (Not to mention the contempt many Israelis feel for American Jews.) Many, and certainly the dominant voice in media and politics, American Jews are so upset with and fed-up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often applying the very same type of personal hatred they display for American President Donald Trump. Many feel betrayed by the rapid movement away from what they consider not only necessary for Israel’s physical survival, but also for the spiritual survival of the Jewish People, which is a fully independent Palestinian nation in the territories largely lost by Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 war of annihilation against Israel. What had been experienced with bursting pride by most Jews around the world at that time as an almost Divine intervention to save Israel from vastly superior Arab armies, has now been rewritten by many to somehow be a heartless effort to establish and strengthen a colonial conquest by Europeans over a peaceful, indigenous population of Palestinian Arabs who, as the new liberal-orthodoxy expresses it, had been in the Land of Palestine since time immemorial.
Identification with Israel, let alone a sense of Jewish obligation to settle in our ancient homeland, has been rebranded, or as those who promote this point of view, or discovered to be almost the lowest form of fascism.
Since in the US, the majority of Jewish support for Israel remains in the minority “orthodox” camp, there has been a rapid and intentional distancing from orthodox approaches to Judaism.
This isn’t to cast all blame on the non-orthodox, since at the same time the mostly modern orthodox establishments have surrendered, in many cases almost entirely, to the haredi, ultra-orthodox. establishment. Even in “modern orthodox” schools, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many Torah teachers who identify with modern orthodoxy and who are not actively promoting the most extreme, often intolerant of other Jews, forms of hashgacha, philosophy, and halacha, religious and ritual law and observance.
When hate between communities is not stopped in the bud, but rather promoted by too many leaders of both sides, this disastrous deterioration accelerates in a downward spiral.
To a point not unfamiliar today where many orthodox leaders brand conservative/reform/reconstructionist/renewal rabbis and congregants as sinners, evil folk and goyim (non-Jews). Many of those leaders return the favor by branding those Jews in black clothes, black hats, long-sleeved/full-length dresses and wigs or other severe hair covering as dinosaurs, bigots, relics, fanatics and responsible for the upsurge in world-wide antisemitism.
While the Right often proclaims “God on ours side”, many in the left rarely give thought at all to “God”, declaring Him dead, an obsolete concept, tribal and worse. Each side is convinced that the other is 100% responsible for the breach in the Jewish People, some of them celebrating the fact, others mourning.
Without a vested interest in casting blame in one direction and white-washing the other, I do count myself, unequivocally, among the mourners.
All too often we have moved to a point where we lack a common language (I’m not talking about Hebrew here). While those in the traditional camp retains the traditional definition and concept of Mitzva as a God-ordained set of actions to either perform or to refrain from, if not identical with practices of hundreds of years ago, at least part of a traceable heritage from previous practices. The progressive camp, when it retains the Mitzva-language at all, has redefined them as promoting contemporary liberal political stances, and in a conflict between tradition and these contemporary values, tradition always, 100%, loses.
Both sides have convincing arguments, at least when preaching to their own choirs, why they’re right and the other side filled with evil extremists.
And I find my eyes overlowing with tears as I, too often, despair of any human-based solution.
Although I love Am Yisrael, including those on the “opposite” side of the divide, I am, and always have been (even in my lapsed years) “orthodox” (even though I really despise the denominalization of Judaism). That said, I need to clarify my recent essay, https://rabbizeitlin.com/2019/06/21/welcoming-infinity/. When I critique frozen halacha, I’m mainly talking about the various dynamics at work in the larger “orthodox” world, especially the tension between backward-looking, too-often-circle-the-wagons-defensive approach and those who are looking for halacha to lead us forward to the ultimate Geula, Redemption, the complete revelation of God’s Infinite Presence, His Shechinah, into even this most physical and material aspects of existence.
This state is what I refer to when I use the too-often-repeated phrase, Tikkun Olam. Because I believe that, first, this is possible only with Siyata d’Shemaya, Divine help. And that the essence of that help and guidance is the totality of the Mitzva system He assigned to us, millennia ago, in His (and our) Holy Torah.
Mitzvot must be recalibrated and re-aimed only to make them more effective, truer to the mark, and not to make them, somehow, more palatable to passing value systems. Torah, in its very essence, is timeless. Of course, Mitzvot will only be performed if they’re perceived and experienced positively. But the “shortcoming” when it occurs, is not a fault in Torah, chas v’shalom, but rather a major failure within today’s orthodox leadership and educational system, who too often leave outworn assumptions about people unexamined, or who lack strong Emunah, belief/faith, in the Creator and that His/our Torah is infinitely (more) vibrant and enduring, able to (actually, engineered to) speak to all Jews at all times.
We can, and must, find solutions.
Am Yisrael Chai, Am Yisrael Chad Hi (The Jewish Nation Lives/The Jewish Nation is One).