Jewish Journal

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

by Rabbi Barry Gelman

March 10, 2010 | 1:53 pm

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.

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