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Monday, July 30, 2007

Missing the Point II

I really don't understand this article by Shmuly Boteach in the Jerusalem Post, which is a follow-up to last week's brouhaha.
My critics fail to distinguish between an immoral sin and an irreligious act. To steal, to lie, to murder is deeply immoral. But would we say the same of someone who desecrates the Sabbath? Does driving on Shabbat make you a bad person, or a nonobservant one? Does failure to attend synagogue make you into an irreligious Jew or a flawed human being? To be sure, if you practice no religious ritual you could hardly call yourself religious. But are you wicked?
I don't understand this whatsoever. The nutjobs Boteach claims commented notwithstanding, one can read through any reasoned criticism of Feldman's piece and I don't think you'll find people calling Feldman "immoral", and certainly not "wicked". They all merely noted the same basic points: Feldman is being disingenuous in expressing surprise and dismay at being cut out of the community to a small extent when he grew up religious and yet married a woman whom is not Jewish, therefore cutting off future generations from Judaism. Boteach goes on to ask a number of surprisingly stupid questions:
They were simply irreligious people. And they had to be shown love and respect. Not just in order to bring them back to the fold, but because it was righteous and Jewish to do so. Why should those who marry out be treated any differently?
There's a marked difference between sinning in general and cutting off your family from Judaism. Complain what you will that Jewish law only recognizes someone as Jewish if their mother is, that still is the rule. Judaism doesn't set out to attract converts.
But which orthodox Rabbi would have the nerve to ever tell a gay man or an intermarried man that he should not come to synagogue, that he should no longer keep kosher, that he should stop putting on tefillin, and that he should take the mezuza off his door?
How does this have anything to do with Feldman? Feldman not only maintains a close relationship with his Orthodox friends, he seemed to have had a good time at the very gathering which he complains about being cut out of a picture from. The problem Feldman had was not that he's treated like a pariah, but that he's not treated the same as everyone else - that they won't leave his picture in their alumni newsletter. Those are two drastically different levels.
It is disgraceful that they are treated as if they consciously rebelled against the Jewish tradition when, in their minds, they simply followed the dictates of the heart.
That's nice. Since when do we allow people to do and not do at their heart's whim? Did they not have control over their decisions? Feldman is allowed to follow his heart as much as he'd like, and hopefully he is (and he seems to be) happy. That's great. But don't pretend that he didn't make that choice.
The Jewish community's policy should be precisely the opposite. We should tell all Jews, in no uncertain terms, that the Jewish community is always their home. That just because they make choices that are profoundly injurious to Jewish continuity does not mean we do not love and cherish them. We are not only a religion, but a people. Not only a faith, but a family. And a family's members are forever.
Does Feldman sound like all ties were cut? His best friends are Orthodox. He seems to be well-received. But from an educational standpoint, from the standpoint of the community? He did make a choice that is profoundly injurious to Jewish continuity. That's not something to just shrug off.
How many who have written to me critical of Feldman are themselves guilty of lapses in Jewish observance? I know scores of Orthodox Jewish businessmen who take their yarmulkes off at their Wall Street and legal offices, even though they are stalwartly Orthodox in all other practices.
Is he seriously comparing taking off one's yarmulke to marrying a non-Jew from a Jewish observance standpoint?!
We can employ the iron rod and show that Judaism is a religious of fear and intimidation. Or we can employ the outstretched hand of love and demonstrate that Judaism is a religion of understanding and inspiration.
Boteach's kumbaya sentiment is perhaps noble in thought, but allowing anyone to do as they wish even outside the lines of what constitutes the religion makes no sense whatsoever. Much like Feldman, Boteach completely misses the point.

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