Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Uncomfortable Truth about American Jewry

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely
“People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having quite convenient lives. They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”
How many people would disagree with that statement which is excerpted from a TV interview in the Jerusalem Post(See the entire 5 minute interview below.) I don’t think it is arguable. It is basically the truth, plain and simple.  One does not have to agree with someone’s politics to hear the truth.  And yet after Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely, (who is Orthodox and a member of Likud – the party of Prime Minister Netanyahu) spoke those exact words, she was hammered by mainstream non Orthodox Jewish leaders and much of the mainstream secular Jewish media. Even her ‘boss’ Prime Minister Netanyahu castigated her for saying that: 
"Diaspora Jews are dear to us and are an inseparable part of our people," he said in a statement Thursday. "There is no room for such an attack, and its words do not reflect the position of the State of Israel." 
I do not understand why the matter of fact telling of the truth should be seen as an attack, uncomfortable though that truth may be. But… I get it. Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want to alienate the people that have in the past supported Israel the most. At least in terms of money. And still do albeit a lower level  It is understandable that he objects to any negative comments about 90% of the American Jewry.

But that still does not take away the truth of MK Hotovely comments.

Why the uproar? It was in the context of the current struggle by heterodox rabbis to get recognition as legitimate religious alternatives to Orthodoxy. A struggle generated by their failures in the United States. 

The struggle for recognition has been disguised as a struggle to give non Orthodox Jews a space to pray in egalitarian ways at the Kotel. All the shouting and  screaming about that… as well as recent demonstrations at the Kotel by heterodox leaders and some of their activists has been shown to be a pretense for their real issue: Recognition and legitimacy. That was recently admitted by a Conservation leader. 

As MK Hotolvely and many other objective observers have pointed out, they already have such a space at the Kotel which is rarely used by any of the people they say are clamoring for it. A space that Israel had agreed to expand an upgrade before their real intentions were revealed. The claim that they are being denied their egalitarian space was a clever ploy (some would call it a lie) to get recognition. It didn’t work and now they are upset. At least they have admitted their real goals.

Their claim is that heterodoxy represents the 90% of American Jewry that are not Orthodox. That too is a lie. The largest proportion of American Jewry are not heterodox. They identify as unaffiliated.

I don’t blame heterodox leaders for their struggle to survive. Their movements are facing extinction. If I were them, I’d be doing the same thing. But I’m not them and as an Orthodox Jew I too believe that their version of Judaism is illegitimate. That they are facing extinction says a lot about their legitimacy. The truth may hurt. But it is still the truth. Need I cite examples of that failure again? Let me cite one. Does a 70% intermarriage rate among non Orthodox Jews in America not say it all about what they have accomplished? That 90% will dwindle very quickly in the next couple of generations.

The loss of so many Jews is a tragedy of near unfathomable proportion. But ironically it is America’s very greatness that may actually by the primary source of that kind of loss. A greatness embodied in the constitution where religious tolerance has – for Jews - made living in America an unprecedented experience.  Which has led in our day to being the best liked religious group in America! And that has led to assimilation and intermarriage (as well as increased acceptance of it by Jewish parents at unprecedented levels..

There are those that assert that - because of this - heterodox movements are not responsible. But they are wrong. They may not be the direct cause, but they do share a large portion of responsibility for ti.

In the case of Reform Judaism that is obvious. While they did not invent assimilation, they clearly groomed their members for it by abolishing any differences between Jews and non Jews. Jews were free to completely assimilate without a trace of Judaism - all with the blessing of the Reform Movement. That has greatly accelerated the assimilation process.

Conservative Judaism may not have abolished all the differences. They were after all created in response to Reform’s complete abandonment of Halacha. Hence the name ‘Conservative’. They wanted to conserve Judaism and retain a Jewish identity. But in practice they may as well have been Reform since they have done little to encourage those differences – looking the other way when their members all but ignored most religious rituals. The result is that the level of observance of many Conservative Jews is about the same as Reform Jews. They are equally assimilated. Intermarriage is rampant in both.

Is there any reason in the world why an Orthodox Jew should support movements with such abysmal records? 

As an Orthodox Jew, Ms. Hotovely understands this. In fact she was rather mild in her criticism of American Jewry. And her motives were misunderstood. She lamented the fact that most American Jews had become so far removed from their Judaism and from Israel.

It is too bad that the Prime Minister had to distance himself from the truth. But he is a politician and I suppose he felt the need to appease the heterodox leaders that claim to control the purse-strings of 90% of American Jewry. He does not want to  rock that boat. I can’t blame him for being upset and castigating his deputy foreign minister. But I think deep down he knows the truth. 

It would have been refreshing for a politician to speak the truth – even when it hurts. What about the consequences he feared? I don’t know about that. But perpetuating a lie will not work forever. Besides didn’t a historical figure considered wise by billions of people once say: The truth shall set you free?