Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Future of the Non Orthodox Jew

One of the most intelligent and thoughtful Jewish bloggers on the internet is a gentleman who calls himself Evanston Jew (ej). I have never met him but during the short period he actually had his own blog, I used to read it religiously and enjoy it immensely. I am always very pleased when he comments on any of my posts. Not because I agree with him on everything. I don’t. In fact there is a lot that we disagree about. But I respect his mind and his thoughtful challenges to me.

In a comment to my last post Evanston Jew challenged me on my seemingly triumphalist attitude about Orthodoxy versus other denominations.

Just to quickly review, like Dr. Norman Lamm I have made a prediction that non Orthodox denominations are headed for extinction. Orthodoxy on the other hand will survive and be populated by a vast mainstream consisting of mostly moderate Charedim and right wing modern Orthodox Jews. I was not gloating. Far from it. I was merely making a prediction based on my observations. In fact I lament the fact that - in part - because of the failures of these movements, so many future generations of Jews will be lost from Judaism.

Evanston Jew challenged me by asking if I thought that the only group left standing will be what I call the new Centrists? If so do I predict that unaffiliated secular Jews are like Reform and cannot be seen as Jewish. He imputes to my views the notion that like Reform with regard to observance - Conservative Jews should not be considered Jewish either and will eventually move to the left and disappear.

He also wondered if I believe that Israeli secularists (Russians, Labor Zionists, etc.) are also not Jewish and will they disappear as well. And finally do I see Israel which is comprised of mostly secular Jews - as a Jewish state? And finally he asks if I am predicting that the vast majority of Jews who are secular will disappear or have already disappeared because they are not observant.

My answer is the following.

First let me clearly declare that Israel is a Jewish State. It identifies itself that way. Its leaders are Jewish and its citizens are mostly Jewish That makes it a Jewish state If I were asked whether I think Israel is a Jewishly observant state, I would have to answer - yes and no. The reasons for that are beyond the scope of this essay.

I am not writing anyone out of Judaism. It is absurd to read any of my views to mean that I write any Jew out of Judaism. Let me be clear. All people born of a Jewish mother are Jewish. Period. And all people converted according to Halacha are Jewish too. Period - exclamation point!

Non practicing Reform or unaffiliated Jews are as Jewish as Rav Elyashiv. My views on this issue have nothing to do with who is a Jew. They have everything to do with what form the future of Judaism will take. It is my contention that Orthodoxy is the future of Judaism and that all the current heterodox movements - despite their large numbers - will eventually become extinct, much the same as the Sadducees have become extinct. This doesn’t mean that new movements won’t arise. They probably will. But they too will become extinct eventually. History has shown that only Rabbinic Judaism – today called Orthodoxy – has survived. And that is a good predictor of the future.

Reform Jewry has an accelerant in their demise called patrilineal decent. They are calling non Jews - Jews. In addition - they define being a Jew to mean any human being who lives by the values and tenets of Judaism - tenets defined by Reform as well as others. No formal conversion necessary. They are thus self destructing.

Once my prediction about Orthodox Judaism is the wave of the future, one can try and analyze what it will look like - what form it will take. I maintain that the prototype of this new group will be that new Centrist. It will consist of mostly of mainstream right wing Orthodox Jews and moderate Charedi Jews. This is a social classification and not a Hashkafic one. I predict that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews will be in this category.

As is always the case when I make existential predictions like this - Chasidism is a separate category whose future is hard to predict. They are growing faster than any other segment. The question is will they be able to sustain their 19th century isolationist way of life into the future? I can’t answer that.

Leaving Chasidim out of it – it is my contention that the current extremes on both the right and left - though still Orthodoxy will themselves either join the mainstream or become extinct one way or another. In terms of the left, some will gravitate into the mainstream and others will leave Orthodoxy and join one of the other denominations. But it will be short lived generationally because if present trends continue- those other denominations will probably not be around in a hundred years or so in anything resembling what they are today.

What saddens me is that so many of our brethren are already lost – even if they don't know it - and I suspect that some of them already do.

How many children of Conservative – not to mention Reform Jews intermarry? And even if they don't intermarry what is it about them that identifies their Jewishness? How are their lives any different than those of the non Jewish neighbors? And what about their children and grandchildren? Will they even know that they are Jewish?

Of course that is what outreach is about. The most successful group at that is Chabad. But even they have only been successful with a minuscule number in comparison to the vast numbers of Jews in the world. Even if every religious Jew would be doing Kiruv on all four burners, we would still only be reaching a drop in the bucket. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But it is foolish to think that the majority of Jews in the world will somehow be reached and become Orthodox - even in the most left wing sense of the word.

I am therefore afraid that the future generations of the vast majority of legitimate Jews in the world today will be lost to Judaism. Believe me I am not just writing them off. I am only recognizing a painful reality.

As tragic as this may be, one cannot compromise the very essence of Judaism in order to reach out to our unaffiliated brothers and sisters. We cannot say to an assimilated Jew that eating Treif is OK. Or that violating Shabbos is OK. All we can tell them is that we will not reject them just because they do. We should in fact embrace them warmly. But we can’t change what Halacha accepts. We cannot change the Torah or Rabbinic law nor can we change it in ways that will be perceived as condoning the ways of forbidden heterodoxies for purposes of Kiruv.