Gloating over the demise of progressive Jewry

by Maskil on 5 Dec 2007

This blog entry is in response to observations of an Orthodox triumphalist nature from “Dave”, commenting on an unrelated item on the JOI Blog. The item and comments can be read here:

Two More From Our Conference…

What Dave (and those of like mind) fails to understand is that, for most non-Orthodox/ultra-Orthodox, the choice is not between Orthodoxy and Reform (or any of the other progressive streams of Judaism). It is a choice between Reform and no form of Judaism at all. For my part, I’m quite prepared to state that if ultra-Orthodoxy were the only “face” of Judaism, I would cease to identify as Jewish. I don’t believe I’m alone in this.

I will be the first to admit that, on the face of it, the Orthodox/ultra-Orthodox are doing a great job when it comes to growth and retention, and there’s something that progressive streams of Judaism can learn from them in this regard. Having said that, however, we also need to remember that, in one way or another, the vast majority of Jews over the last two centuries have been in flight from Orthodoxy. From that perspective, its ability to attract and retain looks less impressive, and appears to be limited to those born within the community.

The use of their reproductive abilities as some sort of demographic weapon says little about ultra-Orthodoxy’s claim to be the sole “authentic” form of Judaism, any more than does the 17th-century Polish garb. This is pretty much the same kind of “theology of success” as was used by Christianity against Judaism for centuries, i.e. “we are successful, so we must be right/God is on our side”.

With all respect, places like New Town NY and Kiryas Yoel sound pretty much like ghettos to me. Few would argue with the fact that the ghetto was extremely effective in preserving the Jews as a people in the Diaspora, but few would want to live in one today.

As for Israel, I am not alone in seeing the Haredi population explosion there as part of the demographic threat to Israel, rather than as part of the solution. This is due to their refusal to perform military service and participate wholeheartedly in the workforce and the economy/society as a whole. An Israel with a Haredi majority would not last longer in a dangerous Middle East than one can say “behead the Jews”. Even dissociating themselves from those nasty Zionists would not spare them the same fate as everyone else (look at Hebron in 1929 and the Jewish Quarter in 1948/9).

The fact that Orthodox/ultra-Orthodox brand of Judaism has little or no appeal to the majority of Jews not raised in it is then laid at the door of the non-Orthodox. In marketing terms, this is shifting the blame to the customer instead of to the product or marketing, where it properly belongs.

With all the risks to posterity, I for one will take my chances with a progressive Judaism that is responsive to both the benefits and risks of living in an open society.

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