We Are All Jews…. Sort Of – Rabbi Barry Gelman

We Are All Jews…. Sort Of – Rabbi Barry Gelman

The Big Sort by Bill Bishop follows the phenomenon of the sorting of America into communities made up of like minded people with similar religious, political and social views. The also traces  some of the outcomes of this phenomenon including extremism and lack of the  ability to build consensus.

The book reminded me of an article written by Rabbi Howard Joseph on how the Netziv fought against Orthodox separation for the non orthodox community. Use link below to get to the article. http://www.edah.org/backend/JournalArticle/joseph.pdf

In many ways the Orthodox community in America has undergone a “sort” of our own as many orthodox communities and shuls are almost entirely made up of ortrhodox families etc.  While there may be some diversity among the types of orthodoxy, by and large, most of our communities are, by a large margin,

Personally, I think this is a bad thing. I prefer the old version of American Orthodoxy of “the shul that I do not go to is Orthodox” or as Dr. Jeffery Gurock has written about, the Non Observant Orthodox.

On an obvious level, I want as many people in Orthodox Shuls as possible, davenig and learning Torah. Modern Orthodox shuls are best suited to present Orthodoxy in a relevant and meaningful fashion to the non orthodox. It could be that the reason why that Chabad and Aish Hatorah have cornered the market on outreach is because modern orthodox shuls simply are unwelcome places for the non observant.

By the way, I think that the Chabad/Aish Hatorah model of shuls and centers that only or mainly cater to balei teshuva not the best way to go. It is sometimes hard for those folks transition to regular shuls.

There is another reason why I want the non observant in orthodox shul. Frankly, I think they make Orthodox shuls better places. One example of this is the fact that the presence of the non orthodox forces us to reconsider our attitudes towards the non observant.  It is no secret that many orthodox Jews speak disparagingly about the non observant. The presence of any group of “others” in our midst, over time, leads to greater understanding and thoughtfulness towards that group.

Anecdotal evidence tells me that there is more sensitivity towards non observant Jews from the sectors of the Orthodox community that regularly interacts with the non observant in a religious setting.  It should be noted that when I speak of sensitivity, I am referring to real concern and respect for the person and their views as opposed to “loving” the non observant because One sees them as a kiruv target.

Finally, there is much that orthodox shuls can gain in terms of Torah from the non observant. Bishop points out that one of the downsides of “sorting” is that sorted populations keep hearing their viewpoints reinforced, leaving no room for intellectual, political; or religious rethinking and clarification. People in that situation tend to get lazy and there is no need to defend positions. Such a life is safe, but without intellectual vigor.

Many non observant Jews do not come with the pre-existing notions, embedded ideas, or understanding of Torah and Judaism that the orthodox do. The questions and challenges posed by the non orthodox who do not take certain things for granted forces the orthodox to formulate clearer and more coherent understandings of Torah.

There is more to say on the subject, but I will leave it as is for now.

All in all, “sorting” is bad for the Jews.

6 Responses to We Are All Jews…. Sort Of – Rabbi Barry Gelman

  1. Apikorus says:

    Well Rabbi Gelman – exactly how many non- Orthodox do you want in shul? Is 10 % too much? What if we flood your shul and start influencing your rigid non- bending Halachic system that discriminates against us? What if one of us wants to daven Musaf or Shacharit on Shabbat? Is that ok? What if my non- Jewish husband wants an Aliyah? If i come to your Houston shul i may bring my cell phone on Shabbos to answer important calls. OK? oh yes- I’ll be bringing my wild teenage son to shul who will be talking to and influencing your easily influenced teenager. Do you really want u or do you just want to be a PC Open orthodoxer who is seen as excepting all Jews in your midst? And by the way your open support of Rabbi Weiss in the recent RCA/ Rabbah crisis was touching to many of us.

    • Israel says:

      I agree with Rabbi Gelman’s point. The Rabbi is inviting non observant Jews to the Orthodox Shul in order to PARTICIPATE and learn, not to disrupt. Why else would they come? Interesting that the first respondent equates non observance with all sorts of extreme behavior. The respondent seems to illustrate the “us vs. them” mentality. It has been my experience that when my beliefs have been challenged, the challenge forces me to examine my beliefs so as to determine the basis of them and to refine my explanation of them. Sometimes I find that my beliefs need changing to some extent. As Jews, we are wrestling with God, not passive spectators. The Shul is the ring as well as the concert hall.

  2. Miriam says:

    This article is so timely for me! Even as a newly-observant person, I feel alienated and excluded by the Modern Orthodox community as a whole. For someone like me, Chabad is unappealing ideologically, though they are very welcoming. Places like Aish are great, but only if you are comfortable remaining on the fringe of Orthodox Judaism, as most active participants there are not actually observant. I went so far as to move from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to find a more open community, only to be met with stares and cold shoulders when I attended MO shuls. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to feel unwelcome or out-of-place everywhere I go after making the commitment to become a BT.
    I hope someone out there takes your words to heart! Thank you.

  3. OTD for a reason says:

    I take exception to the phrase “non-observant.” I may not keep shabbos like you do and we may have different standards of kashrus, but I practice Judaism in a way that is meaningful to me. In fact, I find more meaning in my Jewish practice now than I ever did when I was Orthodox.

  4. Michael Lewyn says:

    FYI, not every place is as “sorted” as the communities you are talking about. From visiting several Orthodox synagogues in Toronto, my sense is that some are less “sorted” than others.

  5. Apikorus says:

    Equating non- observance with extreme behavior? I gave 4 real life examples of potential reasons why R. Gelman might not really want non-observant Jews in his shul and only one out of 4 (teenage son) could even remotely be classified as “extreme”. Israel- read my post again before commenting. I do not believe in an us verses them mentality. Rather, I think Orthodox Judaism as practiced in most shuls today actively encourages the us verus them mentality by its unbending and extreme religious practices.

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