Thursday, August 08, 2019

Cultural vs Religious Values - and Do they Hate Us or Love Us?

Long time editor of Tradition Magazine, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman (Mishpacha)
I often talk about the high assimilation rate in America as the cause for the demise of heterodoxy. An assimilation rate that now pretty much accepts intermarriage as a reality. Not only that it exists but that intermarried couples are now fully welcomed into heterodox synagogues.

How far we have come from the time an intermarriage was considered something to mourn - to sit Shiva on. Just a few decades ago even a non observant parent would agonize over child that chose to marry a non Jewish spouse.  Parents would go to the ends of the earth to prevent it - or at least get the non Jewish fiance to convert. 

This is not to say that we should still be sitting Shiva when a child marries out. There are perhaps better ways to deal with this situation now-a-days. I merely want to note how drastically far secular Jewry has come since the days of intolerance for intermarriage. We are at a point where most Jewish parents don’t even care anymore whether a child marries out. Which is one reason why heterodoxy is so willing to embrace an intermarried couple

The reason things have changed is the broad acceptance the Jewish people now have in America. Assimilating out of a Judaism devoid of identifiable Jewish content is a natural consequence of that acceptance. If not to the parents, then to the children. The pursuit of American values and culture is easily understood under these conditions. Even if one is entirely altruistic, the ideals of our day such as dealing with climate change or fighting racism, important though they are - have no specific Jewish content at all to hang one’s hat on. Why bother even identifying as a Jew?

I have always viewed Israel differently. Secular Israelis still have a clear sense of Judaism that is part of the Israeli culture.   Even though the vast majority are not observant (at least by Orthodox standards) they all know about Shabbos and Yom Tov, Most probably buy kosher food. Most even fast on Yom Kippur.  I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of American Jews do not. And probably don’t even know which day of the year Yom Kippur falls. (Yes, I know a lot of non Orthodox  Jews do fast on Yom Kippur. But I would still put my money on the fact that most in America don’t while most in Israel do.)

Which brings me to a Mishpacha article by someone I have always admired, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. Therein he kind of shatters my view about Israelis being different than America:
(T)ens of thousands of Israelis, especially young people, have no idea of what it means to be a Jew, and no awareness of the sanctity of the Land. Deliberately denuded of any religious consciousness, their major hope for Eretz Yisrael is that it should become like America, k’chol hagoyim. Just as individual Jews around the world yearn to assimilate among the goyim, so do many young secular Israelis — never exposed to genuine Jewishness — long for the day when the Jewish state will assimilate among the Nations and become just another country on the Mediterranean — like Greece, like Italy, like Spain…
If the early secular Zionists wanted a state to mimic every other state, if they wanted to cast off the constraints of Shabbos and Yom Tov and sanctity — like the goyim — the hundreds of young people cavorting on the beaches on Rosh Hashanah, marking New Year’s Day like the goyim, confirm that these goals have materialized. 
If that is the trend, then Israel is not that far behind America. Add to this (as does Rabbi Feldman) the fact that there is a huge population of Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish at all; have no interest studying the Torah or any religious texts; nor any interest in following Halacha (which is problematic for conversion purposes – a subject beyond the scope of this post)... and the problem increases exponentially Their non Jewish children are becoming fully integrated into Israeli society, will surely identify as Israelis, and will be indistinguishable from secular Jewish Israelis. It will be impossible to know who is and isn’t actually Jewish!

If Rabbi Feldman is right, then aside from mourning the loss of the 2 Batei Mikdash and other terrible tragedies in Jewish history (such as the Holocaust) on Tisha B’Av - this is something additional to truly be lamented on that day.

If there is one quibble I have with Rabbi Feldman it is his blanket statement that Esav still hates Yaa’kov. Which he bases on the rise in antisemitism all over the world. Nothing has changed he says. The world still hates us.

I would argue that at least in America, the opposite is the case. Which is why assimilation is so high. Several polls by respected research organizations like Pew keep saying that Jews are the most admired people in this country. And that Judaism is the most admired religion. That hardly sounds like Esav still hates Ya’akov. 

As noted in the past, the rise in antisemitism in America is only with respect to a tiny minority (compared to the entire population) of racist antisemitic fringe groups who are now willing to put their beliefs into deadly action. That is why it is on the rise. But the true feelings the vast majority of Americans have about us is illustrated not by the antisemitic attacks against us, but by the way Americans across the entire political spectrum reacted to them. As was evident after the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue. 

I would even go so far as to say were it not for such acceptance... if Esav in America hated us as much as Rabbi Feldman indicates, assimilation would not be as great. Persecution tends to keep Jews from assimilation.

That said, I agree that the rise in antisemitic acts is a real concern as are the assimilation problems that he describes both in America and in Israel. These are all huge problems that I have no clue how to solve. And definitely something to think about on Tisha B'Av.