RZ vs. MO. Difference #2: The Non-Observant Jew

Two news items appeared on the net which helped to demonstrate the next subject. One was of a grouping of “post-Orthodox” types who are getting together to discuss the abolition of religious boundaries. The other was a news item about how the Orthodox social justice movement במעגלי צדק is including Reform Jews in a conference and causing an uproar.

These two items have in common one of RZ and MO’s most difficult dilemmas. To wit, how do we relate to the rest of the Jewish people, which is no longer Orthodox? Do we simply absorb modern ideas but maintain strict communal and organizational boundaries between us and the rest of Jewry, like the TIDE crowd? Do we cooperate or mingle with non-observant Jews and if so, to what degree? Should we have boundaries or should be strive for unity?

I should mention that when it comes to communal and social boundaries, RZ and MO tend to share the same attitudes. In both the US and Israel, you can find Orthodox communities that segregate themselves completely, while elsewhere there are proudly ‘mixed’ communities. Thus, on a social level, there is little difference in terms of the range of positions in the RZ and MO world.

Perhaps the biggest difference then is the principled attitude towards the non-observant Jews and their institutions. This may indeed be due to the ‘historical accident’ Benjamin of Tudela spoke of. In the US, Jews are defined largely by religious denominations (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform &c). Thus any and all cooperation is tainted with the possibility of legitimatization of what the Orthodox believe to be heresy.

In Israel, there is no real presence of non-Orthodox denominations and institutions like in the US. Yes, there are secular and non-traditional batei midrash but none of them pretend to aim to “reform” Judaism in the way the US denominations do. Thus one particular obstacle to cooperation is removed.

But it goes deeper than that. If in the US, secular Jews often (though not always) become unaffiliated and aim to assimilate, the same cannot be said of the secular Zionists, then or now. Indeed, their dedication to the revival of the Jewish people and their ideas about the Jewish people as a nation first and foremost has penetrated RZ society and remain to this day. RZ Jews, at least on theory, have a much stronger conception of the idea of the Jewish people as a nation, a people, where unity must supplant even strong ideological differences. Thus, RZ Jews are far more willing to work alongside secular Jews in “national” matters that don’t impinge on religious prerogatives such as marriage or conversion. Some are even willing to go further and allow for a “national” element in psak halacha. As far as I know, there is nothing comparable in MO literature, psak or lore.

OTOH, this “love of the nation” has often lead to extremes such as the aforementioned conference. Many here have advocated that the Orthodox Jews not only break down the boundaries but also recognize secular (or at least non-Orthodoxy) as legitimate expressions of Judaism, just as legit as Orthodoxy. It is a call that is often heard among left-wing religious academics and the liberal fringes. Essentially it boils down to the forfeiture of any remaining pretensions to lead, and the support of the call – “be Orthodox at home, and a secular liberal outside”.

So much for the people outside the group to the left. But what of the attitude towards the people to the right (the Charedim)? More on that next post.

Next: Difference #3: I’m Just Like You, Only Better?

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About AIWAC

Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at: opdycke1861NOSPAM@yahoo.com
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5 Responses to RZ vs. MO. Difference #2: The Non-Observant Jew

  1. fred says:

    nu nu.

  2. fred says:

    dont really get your point, and what i get doesnt seem that big a deal…nu nu…

  3. Shlomo says:

    “Many here have advocated that the Orthodox Jews not only break down the boundaries but also recognize secular (or at least non-Orthodoxy) as legitimate expressions of Judaism, just as legit as Orthodoxy. It is a call that is often heard among left-wing religious academics and the liberal fringes.”

    I’ve heard very similar things from quite right-wing people of what might be called the Har Hamor persuasion, allegedly deriving from R’ Kook’s ideas about the holiness of the nation.

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