I wrote this partial guide with a clear goal: to show fellow Orthodox Jews some of the primary complexities and ideal types of non-observant Israeli Jews out there. I wanted to break the stereotypes that often run rampant in our circles regarding Israelis who are nit fun undzere (Yiddish for “not one of us”). The first step to achieving coexistence with our fellow Jew must be to recognize them as human beings, not straw-men.
The reason this was a partial guide is obvious. To truly do justice to the myriad attitudes and positions of non-observant Israeli Jewry would require a (at least) book-length in-depth study. I do not have the resources to undertake such a project. I hope this partial guide at least piqued the interest of my readers, who are welcome to continue their study via the bibliography provided at the end of this post.
Chizuk Before Kiruv
So what does this mean for us Orthodox Jews?
In the poll in my About page, I asked readers where they would prefer an OTD Jew end up, assuming teshuva is not in the cards: An apikores who is committed to the Jewish people, an Orthoprax Jew, a traditionalist or a know-nothing. So far no-one has chosen the know-nothing.
By chance (or perhaps by design?), this aversion to the know-nothing dovetails nicely with my own thinking regarding Jews on the opposite end of the spectrum. I believe that our goal in outreach should be first and foremost to create committed Jews or strengthen already existing commitments. If they are hozer bitshuva it’s a nice bonus for us, of course (in much the same way many avowedly secular Jews hope we’ll “see the light”), but it is not the sole or even primary goal.
Most non-observant Jews are not keen on joining Orthodoxy, and are highly unlikely to do so. The reasons for this are varied, from illegitimate ones such as negative media stereotypes to legitimate issues with halacha and theism, to say nothing of the issue of women’s status. They are also extremely averse to anything that smacks of coercion – a tool which Orthodox Jews, especially but not only RW ones, use far too often. This is to say nothing of issues like laxity and lifestyle.
Faced with the option of “Orthodoxy or nothing”, most will prefer nothing, or a very weak “something”. If offered other options, however, a large and growing pool of searchers and traditionalists will, I believe, jump at the chance to buttress and strengthen their Jewish identity. This is already happening in many places, as I have already shown.
We can play a big part in helping this renewal. We don’t need to compromise our beliefs or values. All we have to do is keep the door to our homes and shuls wide open. We can be there to answer questions on Judaism without forcing them to act on it, to learn torah with them in hevrutot or daven with them during the yamim nora’im. We can lead by example in ethical behavior, going beyond what the strict “letter of halacha”. If we can do this with respect and care, I believe much of the populace will reverse the drift away from Jewish identity begun 200 years ago, at least in Israel, the Jewish National Home.
כן יהי רצון
This bibliography is by no means comprehensive. Its purpose is to give a taste of what’s out there. Enjoy.
Almog, Oz, The Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew, University of California Press, 2000.
Ben-Rafael, Eliezer and Sharot, Stephen, Ethnicity, Religion and Class in Israeli Society, Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Cohen, Stuart and Susser, Bernard (eds), Ambivalent Jew: Charles Liebman in Memoriam, JTS Press, 2007.
Israel Studies 7:2 (2002).
Katz, Gideon, “The Israeli Kulturkampf”, Israel Affairs 14:2 (2008): 237-254.
Katz, Gideon, “Secularism and the Imaginary Polemic of Israeli Intellectuals”, Israel Studies 13:3 (2008): 43-63.
Liebman, Charles, “Re-conceptualizing the Culture Conflict among Israeli Jews”, Israel Studies 2:2 (1997): 172-189.
Liebman, Charles and Katz, Elihu (eds), The Jewishness of Israelis: Responses to the Guttman Report, New York: SUNY Press, 1997.
Yadgar, Yaacov, “Beyond the Religious-Secular Dichotomy: Masortim in Israel” in: Gitelman, Zvi (ed), Religion or Ethnicity? Jewish Identities in Evolution, New Jersey, 2009: 171-192.