Friday, December 17, 2010

Is Shmuley Boteach Right When He Says Judaism Has ‘Failed’?

In the World Jewish Daily website, Rabbi Boteach opines ( perhaps correctly that Judaism has failed in its outreach efforts.

Rabbi Boteach writes-

Let’s confront a painful truth. Judaism has failed. Despite billions of dollars spent over the past 40 years to bring Jews closer to their tradition, we have barely moved the needle on the 50 percent assimilation and intermarriage rate. Israel has the worst reputation of any country with the possible exception of Iran and North Korea. The facts are indisputable but the question remains why. Is it because the Jewish religion is inherently impotent and Israel really is harsh, or rather that our model of promoting both is fatally flawed?

The vast majority of the world’s Jews want to live mainstream and fully integrated lives. But every form of Jewish outreach – from Reform to Orthodox – is designed to bring them back to the Jewish community.
News alert. They left 200 years ago during the great emancipation and they aren’t coming back.
Rather, becoming a Judaizer would involve bringing Jewish values and spirituality to an existing religious or cultural identity, much like Westerners who have brought meditation or yoga into their lives.

Boteach correctly realizes that the money was spent in quantity without enough regard for proper execution of outreach. I will now enumerate my own experience with Orthodox Judaism and show where their salesmanship and even their message fails.

1) Noone has ever explained to me how following halacha benefits me. It was all just Hashem will punish you if you don't do it and that it was expected (not much of an answer to someone who had agnostic leanings).

It is a very simple question when you go and buy a product. Why do I need it? How will it benefit me?

2) Noone has ever explained to me why marrying a Jewish woman is even important. By my experience, Jewish women are no better or worse than gentile women.

In arguing for marrying only Jewish women, the rabbis falsly claim that religion is the only or the largest deal maker or deal breaker in a marriage. For some people it is, and what the rabbis don't want to admit to themselves is that for some people, it is not.

3) Orthodox Judaism can't let people be normal. Orthodox Judaism can't let people watch tv, dress however they want, or date the opposite gender like normal people.

4) Now we get to the lies. The men from Orthodox Judaism will say that just do your best and it's all good. However if you try to hook up with an orthodox girl, she will say that Judaism is an all-or-nothing religion. How can you not come to the conclusion that the men lie?

5) Shabbat is a very difficult sell. You can't do what you want on it and you have to dress formally for it. It looks more to me like a work day than like a rest day.

It seems to me that for Jewish organizations to do outreach it needs to go back to basic salesmanship- establish that there is a need for the product, STOP LYING, let people be normal, and provide information instead of threats of gehennom. A company who tries to sell its product the way Jewish organizations try to sell Judaism would either be out of business or be burried in class action lawsuits.

That being said, it can't hurt to further spread Jewish cuisine, fun holidays, and Israeli culture, to the outside world.


Anonymous said...

As someone who grew up secular and is today Orthodox (as is my wife who was not born Jewish), I question from your post how much time/effort you actually spent with Orthodox Judaism. There are so many benefits, but you have to do it (and not just once or twice) to notice them. Why is it that my non-Jewish friends "get" how great Shabbat and other Jewish things can be than many secular Jews? I know so many Orthodox programs (and individuals) who present the benefits of observance very well, that it's hard to be believe you gave this a real try and didn't meet any of those people.

Also, your characterization of normal is a little silly (and is "Orthodox" in the sense that it completely tows the line of 21st century secular outlook without looking at it critically). You don't get to decide what is "normal" and then tell other people that they fall outside of it. Is the person who watches 5 hours of TV a day (the national average) "normal?" Is the person who dresses to show as much of their body as possible to people they don't even know "normal?" You have every right to be secular - and may you have a great life. But please don't needlessly take shots at others who don't happen to share you worldview.

SJ said...

It seems to me that if there were truly benefits to following it, then you would be able to articulate it. As it is, you don't say any benefits at all.

>> There are so many benefits, but you have to do it (and not just once or twice) to notice them.

If a company said that about its product, it would get laughed at. Remember how Nancy Pelosi got laughed at when she said that Obamacare has to be passed in order to find out what's inside the bill?

Unlike the orthodox world, noone seriously suggests that there aren't problems with the outside world.

Just because there's people who don't balance their lives well doesn't mean we need orthodox judaism to tell people they can't have fun at all.

Because some people watch too much tv, does that mean all tv must be banned?

Because some girls do expose themselves too liberally, does that mean all dating must be banned?

Orthodox Judaism says yes and yes and it does not strike me as something that brings balance into someone's life if you ask me.

>> and is "Orthodox" in the sense that it completely tows the line of 21st century secular outlook without looking at it critically)

I'm sorry but this is nonsense. You may tow a 21st century outlook as a BT, but definitely not the Orthodoxy I seen.