Orthodoxy and Diversity: How Open Should Our Communities Be?

June 12, 2009

Orthodoxy, in that it is a term coined and way of being formed in response to the European enlightenment’s openness to new ideas, is by definition something that has walls and limits, protecting those inside from potential, and perceived potential evils without.  But what happens when those walls keep out important Jewish values such as Jewish unity, loving the Jewish people and one’s neighbors, and engaging all the Jewish people in Jewish life?  To ask the question the opposite way, many Jewish communities claim that being welcoming is of importance, but what happens when welcoming comes up against other values such as fears of the slippery slope of approval of things we may not want to approve of, or feel Judaism should not condone?

For instance, if an intermarried family wanted to be part of our shul would we let them?   Where would we draw the line?  Could they have a family membership?  An aliyah?  Could the non-Jewish spouse if it was a man have peticha (opening the ark) or gelilah (rolling up the torah), honors  that do not technically require one to be Jewish but might, for many Jews, feel like giving tacit approval to someone, all of whose actions the torah may not approve of?   What about fears of legitimating what others are doing and unwittingly putting our approbation on things we do not think are in consonance with Torah, such as driving on Shabbat, gay Jews and their partners, Jews who do not keep kosher or pay their taxes?  Should we welcome all of them?

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