Sunday, July 09, 2017

Two Worlds with Major Problems

Image from the Forward
Between what is going on in the world of Lakewood and the world of heterodoxy, I almost feel like throwing in the towel. It seems like a hopeless situation at both ends.

A recent article in Asbury Park Press reported that 6 more couples will be facing fraud charges. Some of whom are prominent names in the Torah world. Again. To date there have been 26 Orthodox Jews on Lakewood charged defrauding Government in  a variety welfare programs. The sight of religious Jews men with their kipot and beards, and women dressed in the typically meticulous religiously modest fashion was a hard thing to watch. As Billam proclaimed in last week’s Parsha, we are a people that dwells alone - apart from other nations and judged separately.    

We are indeed! And the sight of people who are supposed to live by a higher standard being charged with a fraud is one of the saddest sights I have even seen on a video in that APP article. These are the kind of people I normally look up to with pride as models of religious observance and devotion to God. I’m sure that in many ways they are. Unfortunately in at least one area, they are not. Far from it. To see them in this situation was depressing, to say the least.

I have already addressed the Chilul HaShem images like this make and the fodder this feeds to all of the antisemites in the world. Indeed it did. From APP: 
Last week's arrests also sparked a wave of anti-Semitic sentiment, with people writing hateful messages and comments on social media. Last weekend, the hate speech moved off the Internet and into the streets. Hate fliers spread around the township and a white sheet with an anti-Semitic slur hung over a Holocaust memorial at a Lakewood synagogue.

I hope this is the last we will be seeing of religious looking Jews being charged with fraud. I’m glad to see that Lakewood is finally trying to do something about it: 
Rabbi Moshe Weisberg, a member of Lakewood's Vaad, or Jewish council, said the organization would hold seminars later this year to help educate the community about the rules for full financial disclosure when it comes to applying for and collecting public assistance. 
It’s just too bad that they waited until something like this happened instead of teaching them the ethics that would have prevented them from even considering before they even  considered it. I just hope that these seminars are about more than compliance with the law. I hope they teach the underlying ethics and establish a universal policy of transmitting these ethics in their schools.

And then on the other side of the religious spectrum of American Jewry -  there is the intermarriage problem and the way that heterodox movements increasingly want to deal with it as noted in a recent artilce in the Forward. This is not news. Polls are showing that in non Orthodox circles the problem is so huge, (at a 71% intermarriage rate) that there have been calls to take an entirely different approach to it than the rejecting intermarried couples. Which has been the norm until recently. Even some rabbis on the far left of Orthodoxy have suggested that. As was the case with recent YCT ordainee, Rabbi Avi Mlotek. 

The argument is that if we don’t, they will be lost forever. I think that’s probably true in most cases. But aren’t they already lost? If marrying a non Jew doesn’t mean they are lost to Judaism, I don’t know what does. 

True that in some cases the children are raised with a Jewish identity. But if the mother was the not Jewish, that only makes things worse. Because that child will think they are Jewish but will be no more Jewish than the pope. The law of averages tells us that at least half of the children of an intermarriage won’t be Jewish. So what good is it to accept these people?

To Reform Judaism, it doesn’t matter since they changed the way a Jew is defined. Which is not Halachic.

But the Conservative movement which clams to be Halachic might answer that they will work toward an eventual conversion of the non Jewish spouse and their children. (If the non Jewish spouse is a woman her children will not be Jewish).  

The problem is that Orthodoxy does not recognize Conservative conversions for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. Which means that even if they would be wildly successful in converting these non Jews ( a dubious proposition at best) they will be creating a population of people that think they are Jewish but are not. Thus causing a major problem of exponentially growing population that will not recognize as Jews - another growing population of people recognized as Jews by other denominations.

Acceptance of intermarried couples will therefore be the antithesis of the result we hope to  achieve. We will not only be experiencing a massive defection of Jews that we are now, we will be creating a huge mess that will cause untold confusion about who is legitimately Jewish and who isn’t.

This does not mean to say that we shouldn’t try to do something to hold on to our people.  It might even be prudent to try and somehow reach out to intermarried couples without welcoming them into the community. I’m not sure how that could be done. Or how successful that might be. 

Surely sitting Shiva on an intermarried child may no longer be the best way to deal with intermarriage as a community. But neither is welcoming an intermarried couple into it.

We need to find better ways to deal with this problem because it pretty clear to me that doing nothing won’t help. But including them as part of community might be worse. Which is why this whole thing is so depressing.