Thursday, February 01, 2007

Is Orthodox Judaism for All Jews?

I read with amusement and concern the Jblogosphere's frequent discussions about children who go "off the derech." (Literally, "off the way," meaning leaving Orthodox Judaism.) For example, Jonathan Rosenblum at Cross-Currents recently wrote about the matter, blaming "the Satan" (seriously) for bringing cell-phones and laptops. He argues that sending your troubled kids to Israel for the year following high school can work wonders in turning them around. (This is often, in fact, true, at least for the short term.) Second, the always fascinating Beyond BT asks Do BT Parents Risk Kids Off the Derech? (A BT is essentially the opposite of me -- someone who was raised non-Orthodox and later became Orthodox.) There follows an interesting discussion in the comments that I can't fairly summarize.

Whenever the subject comes up, Orthodox Jews raise the same points. Parents should be either more or less strict. More effort should be made for kids who aren't naturally gifted at learning Torah. You need to watch them like a hawk and protect them from bad influences. Etc.

The elephant in the room, of course, is something that hardly ever comes up. Maybe Orthodox Judaism just isn't for everyone! Intuitively, this is obvious, but it's a truth that has the misfortune of opposing the fundamental belief of Orthodox Judaism -- that it's for all Jews. Also, Orthodox Judaism would probably "lose" more children to the secular world if they were up-front about this truth.

I've written before about how confusing kids who just aren't cut out to be Orthodox with kids who are "bad" or have "problems" may lead to unsafe drug use or sexual activity. It also is the cause of much heartache -- both for the kid who will for a time at least believe that he's a bad person -- and for the parents, who are guilt-stricken, believing it's all their fault.

I'm not going to lie, Orthodox Judaism can be a great lifestyle and a meaningful religion. But it's not for everybody, and pretending otherwise is responsible for a lot of misery.


Tzvee said...

who gave you the right to use common sense and good judgment?

Shoshana said...

I also wonder a lot about this. I wonder at parents thinking that the most horrible thing in the world is that a child decides that he or she doesn't feel like keeping kosher anymore, in contrast to a teenager who keeps all the halacha but doesn't understand any of it and is absolutely miserable. I think a well thought-out decision on the part of anyone is something to applaud. I also wonder whether kiruv is fair or smart and why we should get so excited when a formerly non-observant jew decides to, in a short period of time, and probably driven in large part by emotions and temptation of meaning, completely change their life, don a wig or yarmulke and stop touching members of the opposite gender, much to the consternation and confusion of their family and friends. (Sorry for the overly long sentence, hope it made sense.) I think, in many ways, efforts towards "kiruv" may be vastly misplaced - I think it would much better to give Jews an understanding of their heritage rather than the notion that they should completely flip their lives upside down and go to extreme lengths to observe many things that are, and have been, debated.

Shoshana said...

All that being said, by the way, and while I sometimes wonder whether I personally made the right decision in becoming observant, I do feel like I am happier to be observant and do thank kiruv organizations for giving me the opportunity to do that. But...the fact that I would probably be considered, despite being shomer shabbos and kashrut, not really a "success story" by the organization that mekareved me, due to the fact that I don't endorse kollel life nor having an enormous family that can't be supported and am proud of my secular education and feminist leanings, does bother me and I think that kiruv organizations would be wise to recognize that there are different derechs that are acceptable, technically even within their own framework.

Ezzie said...

Yes and no (as always). I think that while you're right, perhaps it's not for everyone, most parents feel - rightfully - that their kids *can* be both happy and successful being Orthodox. When it's 'done right', so to speak, there should be few and far exceptions to this - just as with any other group or lifestyle. If kids see their parents are happy, and they themselves are happy, why would they change?

At the same time, I take issue with the idea that Orthodox Jews think it's for everyone. I don't think that's true, or we'd see far more missionizing and crazy kiruv. The successful kiruv organizations do NOT target everyone, going out of their way to avoid many people (if you'd like to know more about this, email me :) ).

Finally, kids who are doing drugs/having sex (at least unsafe, if not all) etc. *should* (within reason) feel "bad" about what they're doing. You can't possibly believe that everything is okay. I don't think kids should be vilified, but it's important that people understand when they're doing something wrong and/or irresponsible and want to change that behavior.

jewish philosopher said...

I actually am inclined to agree with you on this post. To put it in my own way, I think there may in fact be many evil people who will leave Judaism and the sooner they do, the better. The Jewish community will survive and become stronger the more quickly this refuse is removed.

At the Passover Seder what do we reply to the wicked son who wishes to exclude himself from the Jewish community? "You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: 'It is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt'; `for me' - but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!"

the only way i know said...

My first inclination is to disagree... and that orthodox judaism IS applicable and the right way of living for all persons that are born jewish.
Isn't that what we are taught?
And isn't our opposition to it created only because we haven't done it 'right',and therefore can't appreciate it completely? (yes, yes.. you can hear undertones of 'guilt')
What I remember learning.. is that X amount of people all said 'naaseh vnishma' at Mount Sinai..
All the Jews at the time said it. Every single one. They all accepted 'orthodoxy' to the full. I don't think anyone one of them said.. 'I'm not cut out for it'..
and even though ever since then.. it has been a challenge to uphold all the laws.... does it mean it's because 'not all of us are 'cut out' for it '... or because it is what it is..
challenging.. (and we can't be bothered)