In response to “Are You an Assimilated Orthodox Jew” by Rabbi Chananya Weissma
In his recent Op-Ed, Rabbi Weissman posits four indicators that determine if one is an “assimilated orthodox Jew.” Before addressing each in turn, it is noteworthy to mention that when Weissman states, “morality is not subjective,” and it is hard to find a religious person, Jewish or otherwise, that disagrees with that statement. Yet, he then bases his entire article around four highly subjective criteria to lump countless Orthodox Jews, lightly put, into a highly undesirable classification. For brevity sake, these are his four indicators, so that they may be referenced to throughout my response. 1: One lives outside of Eretz Yisrael and has no intention of moving there; and one teaches their children how important it is not to make a Chillul Hashem (he postulates that there is no greater C’H than Jews living outside of E’Y). 2: You take moral cues from non-Jewish society. 3: You believe interlopers in our land deserve control over part of it. 4: You have a problem with the mitzvah to wipe out Amalek.
First, there are many reasons that Orthodox Jews do not live in E’Y. But to name a few, some people have medical conditions that disallow them from even traveling to E’Y because in a country where medicine is socialized, they would not receive the treatment they need without going through costly-prohibitive back channels. Further, many cannot move because Israel’s immense taxation and heavy-handed control over business make it difficult for people to make a parnassah there, as they would in America. Obviously, there are many more legitimate reasons that Orthodox Jews cannot just pick up and move, but Rabbi Weissman contends that they don’t exist. Would we all move if the situation was right? Sure. But to most people, it is not. Next, Weissman’s second “clause” is an extreme logical fallacy. Let’s clarify: one must be an assimilated Jew if they have no intention to move to E’Y and teach their children not to cause C’H, because being in America is the greatest Chilul Hashem? Even if Rabbi Weissman was correct, this implies that one should not teach their childrento avoid aveiros, just because the parents struggle with some aveiros. So, if one has a hard time going to minyan, or grappling with other aveiros, they shouldn’t bother teaching their children not to do them. In Weissman’s words, “no amount of good behavior will make up for it.”
Second, our society’s morals have always changed in line with that of non-Jewish societies, whether one cares to admit it. This occurred in many facets of life, from dress to religious practice. Further, gender roles have changed in the Orthodox world, and most of that change has brought great benefit. Communities in places like Lakewood, Monsey, and E’Y contain thriving Kolel life because society changed, and it is now acceptable for wives and mothers to be the (sole) breadwinners. Rabbi Weissman mentions those who become vegans because of a twisted sense of morals, and that is a point with which I agree. However, he writes as if this is the norm in Orthodox society today. It is not, and most people reading this article likely don’t know more than one or two (if any) Orthodox Jews who are vegan because of the morality of it all. Finally, just because some outspoken women pushing “new” women’s roles, this does not indicate the norm in the Orthodox wold. Klal Yisrael now has more “Torah” families with gender roles Rabbi Weissman would approve of, than ever in history.
Third, most Orthodox Jews do not believe that “interlopers” should have any control over E’Y. However, and tying back into the first point, one of the reasons people aren’t running to live in current E’Y, is exactly the root of this point. The current government is structured in a way that, at times, can be less friendly to Orthodox yidden than other world governments. The very Jews in charge of the State consistently capitulate to the whims of foreign pressures, and cede control to said “interlopers.” The same Jews are the ones pushing new gender roles and the very things Rabbis Weissman disdains. It is no wonder why many Orthodox Jews don’t want to move to E’Y under this regime. Does Rabbi Weissman truly think that many Orthodox Jews in Lakewood, Brooklyn, Teaneck, etc., believe that there should be 15 Arab Kinnesset members?! Or that they are OK with the IDF, that seeks to draft all Orthodox girls and boys, having one of the highest abortion rates out of any organized army worldwide? How Israel is currently run is precisely why many Orthodox families have not moved there.
The fourth indicator is just a baseless attack on Orthodox Jews in general. Rabbi Weissman states that we must be so assimilated, that were Eliyahu HaNavi himself to appear, give us a sword and lead us to a member of Amalek, we would “want nothing to do with it.” Rabbi Weissman does not offer proof. He simply declares that we are so meek in our religious observance, that the Orthodox world wouldn’t perform an outright Mitzva D’oraysa if it were staring us in the face. This point is the least consistent, as Rabbi Weissman does not even provide a rationale as he did for the first three indicators.
In sum, it behooves us all to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus and assume that Rabbi Weissman’s article was not, as seemingly written, a broad attack on the Orthodox Jewish community at large. This is not an attack on Rabbi Weissman, but a defense of the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole. Perhaps it was just the way it was written that led readers to that belief, and in fact, it was only intended at a few among us. Either way, it does not detract from the main point of this response. No one among us should be judging members of the Orthodox community without personally knowing them. Not on our decisions to remain in America (for the time being), or on our observance as Jews. Certainly, not in a manner as broad and subjective as this Op-Ed has.
I came across your reaction to my recent Jewish Press article. I appreciate the fact that you were able to express your disagreement in relatively respectful terms, which is unfortunately unusual, but I think you misunderstood my words.
A few brief clarifications and responses to what you wrote:
1) “Yet, he then bases his entire article around four highly subjective criteria to lump countless Orthodox Jews, lightly put, into a highly undesirable classification. ”
I was not equating holding any of the beliefs I mentioned with intermarriage, or I wouldn’t have referred to such people as Orthodox. People who believe these things almost invariably do so because they have assimilated foreign values into their otherwise Orthodox thinking. Their sense of morality is skewed by Western society, which influences their beliefs on gender roles, eating meat, destroying Amalek, giving away part of our land…and yes, what living in galus signifies, irrespective of the practicality of living in Israel. I will address that point shortly, but the point here is not this is not subjective. A Jew who has assimilated goyish values into his psyche is an assimilated Orthodox Jew to whatever degree he has done so.
2) “First, there are many reasons that Orthodox Jews do not live in E’Y….”
Yes, and some are more legitimate than others. If a Jew is connected to a machine that is keeping him alive and it is physically impossible for him to move to Israel, then he can hardly be blamed. That is the most extreme situation. Other reasons/excuses have varying degrees of legitimacy that can be debated at a different time. The point is that, irrespective of any of these, the fact that Jews are exiled from their land – voluntarily or involuntarily – is a chillul Hashem. That is a fact. It is illustrated throughout the Torah and our daily tefillos, in which we repeatedly beseech Hashem to gather us out of exile for the sake of his name. This is INDEPENDENT of our tefillos for Moshiach, the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, and creating whatever kind of society you feel is “good enough” to warrant your being part of it.
Your inference that I believe diaspora Jews should not bother teaching their children how to behave because the chillul Hashem of living in galus cannot be neutralized is preposterous.
3) I do not accept the reason/excuse that frum Jews should not move to Israel because the government does not sufficiently reflect your values. I have written extensively about this, and refer to you to my previous articles on chananyaweissman.com. For now, suffice it to say that if you want those 15 Arab seats in the Knesset to go to Jews, or for Israeli society to better reflect your values, the best and only way for that to happen is for you to come and be part of that process. You have no problem fighting for the things you want in galus – school vouchers, busing for your children, milah and shechita, etc. So come home to your own land, vote, build, and devote yourselves to building your home as you wish for it to be. If not, the void will be filled by others, and you have no right to complain about that. You left the arena.
4) “The fourth indicator is just a baseless attack on Orthodox Jews in general. ”
That is not correct. I gave a simply dvar Torah in an Orthodox shul in Jerusalem several years ago on the topic of Amalek and the people were almost uniformly horrified by the “genocidal” commandment that I was speaking about. Surely that is not the norm everywhere, but much of the Orthodox world is very uncomfortable with this mitzva, if not completely uninterested in it and against participating in it. If your experience has been different, that would be encouraging.
For more on the chillul Hashem of Jews being in galus, here is a recent article. http://chananyaweissman.com/article.php?id=203
Thank you for your response.
As I told the editor at the Jewish Press, who claimed that my reading was incorrect, if it were so, it is only because of the way the op-ed was written. When such papers are written to the general public, one must be aware of the ways that people will understand the writing. It was not just I who read your words in this way, but countless others who agreed with my response. Clearly, it was not me making random and unsubstantiated inferences, but rather a reasonable understanding of your writing in the way in which it was written.
Second, while you make a good point that we should all strive to change the current state of EY for the better, we all know that religious jews make up a small portion of the population and that the arabs and irreligious far outweigh us. To say that we should all move in hopes of changing the status quo in EY, is as you say, preposterous.
Finally, the point about asking people in a shul is so beyond anecdotal and in no way representative of the whole, that is is borderline laughable. Who knows what shul this was given in or what kind of people were there. Among those with whom I’ve discussed this topic, majority believed the accusation as baseless. I will check out your article on galus, and have found interesting some of the other works you’ve written. Perhaps some will lend themselve(s) to a more amicable response.
All the best, and Tzom Kal!
The Thinking Yid!
In reply to Chananya Weissman’s response:
To the first point: that an assimilated Jew is someone who absorbed ideas from the outside world. 1) While this argument is true by the definition of the word assimilated it is not what most people think of as an assimilated Jew. You do not mean a person who follow the morals of the outside world and not the Torah, rather you have taken a familiar term and given it new meaning in a way that is hurtful. 2) Since all Jews, even those living in Eretz Yisroel, have contact with the outside world it is inevitable that we will pick up ideas from our neighbors. It is why we were commanded to destroy the 7 nations and leave no trace. This is the way it has been through our history. The Rambam learnt medicine, science and philosophy from his Muslim neighbors.Eretz Yisroel is also full of people who are not Shomer Torah U’Mitzvos, and in the age of the internet the whole world is connected. Because of the churban we do not live in a sheltered society. Without the shelter of the shichina we are all vulnerable.
To the second point: The chilul hashem of galus is the fact that we have sinned and not corrected those faults. We are being punished and that is a manifestation of how we failed to live the life of Torah thereby tarnishing Hasem’s name (causing people to mistake Jews for Jewdaism). But living in Eretz Yisroel does not correct this problem. Only following Torah U’Mitzvos will.
To the forth point: Being uncomfortable with a mitzvah should not be the litmus test for a Jew. We all have mitzvos that we struggle with. It is the actions we take that matter. The victory and not the struggle.
All that said, I found your counter response to this post to be kind and earnest. May we be zocheh to rectify the chait of sinas chinum and bring shalom to all Jews and with that be zocheh to join you in Eretz Yisroel with the coming of Mashiach, Bimihairah Biyamainu. Amen
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Amein! And I am glad that this post has opened the floor for honest and academic discussion, containing a free-flow of ideas. Something that is sorely missed in our community!
This response is to both you and “D”. Let me preface by saying that I generally do not get involved in exchanges with anonymous people. You know who I am, and I put myself in the crosshairs for what I believe in. It is unfair to expect me to engage with people who criticize me from the comfort and safety of anonymity, when they are free to say what they wish and in many cases (not necessarily here) try to make me look bad, without standing behind their words as I do. If this is a serious, adult discussion, and you believe in what you say, then put your name to it as I have done.
I have to say that I agree with the editor of the Jewish Press: your reading of my article was incorrect. They did shortened it by a few hundred words for space considerations (an issue I often come up against, unfortunately) and I encourage you to read the original version here: http://chananyaweissman.com/article.php?id=201. I think you will find that my intentions in using the loaded word “assimilated” are more clear there, but it should not have been understood as delegitimizing Orthodox Jews who hold the beliefs I mentioned. It was intended as a wake-up call to examine these vital issues; Orthodox Jews who pride themselves on resisting the influence of secular society have unfortunately assimilated many values foreign to Judaism, and the ones I cited have not gotten enough attention.
You claim that attempting to improve the status quo in Israel by moving there is “preposterous”. Really? I invite you to answer the following uncomfortable questions:
1. What better way could there possibly be to ever change the status quo in Israel? Can you seriously argue that you can do more to change the status quo in Israel from Monsey and Lakewood? Please explain how Orthodox Jews in these and other such communities have been changing the status quo in Israel, in particular how their efforts in these places have been more effective than had they been acting from inside Israel. Then we can determine whose position is more “preposterous”.
2. You note that the Arabs and the irreligious in Israel far outnumber you. How do you plan on rectifying that problem specifically by excusing or even discouraging aliya of religious people? I fail to see how that helps balance the equation.
3. According to your reasoning, religious Jews in Israel are in a hopeless situation – if people follow your ideology they will certainly not be receiving reinforcements – so are they fools? Should they surrender to the notion that they are fighting a lost cause and move to Monsey? Abandon ship completely to the Arabs and irreligious until Moshiach knocks on their door? This seems to be the logical conclusion of your position.
4. When have religious Jews NOT been in the minority, and when has that ever been an excuse for them to abandon the cause? Don’t we celebrate the triumphs of the few over the many and the weak over the mighty? So why is Eretz Yisrael today not worthy of the struggle, yet being in the minority in America is?
5. I did not base my words about fighting Amalek strictly on one personal experience. I have encountered this over and over again, as have many others. In any event, I don’t see any reason to believe that the same frum Jews who have given up on Israel in our days because of the irreligious Jews and defeated Arabs are going to fight Amalek. Sorry, but I’m calling bluff on that one.
“D” excuses herself from the mitzva of living in Israel because many Jews there do not keep the mitzvos. Again, I must ask, should the frum Jews living in Israel leave for this reason? Would you support this? Would you not consider this a horrible tragedy and step backwards for our people? Or would you believe that if we abandoned Israel to the non-religious they will one day have an epiphany and beg the religious to return and run the country for them? It seems to me a more likely strategy would be for people who want Israel to be more religious to move here as religious people, influence those around them, and improve the situation organically.
“D” somewhat confuses assimilation with learning anything at all from the goyim. Of course the Rambam learned science and medicine from the goyim. We are SUPPOSED to have contact with the outside world. How else can we fulfill our mission of being a light unto the nations and teaching them the Noachide Commandments, which are fundamental reasons for our very existence? Assimilation refers to absorbing MORAL lessons from the goyim. The four issues I cited in my article are all foreign moral ideas that Jews have absorbed from outside sources.
“D” is also terribly mistaken when she states that the chillul Hashem of galus is our uncorrected sins. The chillul Hashem of galus is our very presence in exile, nothing more and nothing less. There are spiritual reasons for the galus, of course, and we should work to rectify them, of course, but millions of Jews being exiled from Israel is a desecration of God’s name. This is clear from numerous Torah sources, and there is not a single Torah source to the contrary.
It is also the basis of Christianity and Islam. The return of millions of Jews to Israel has presented a theological crisis to other religions that depend on the rejection of the Jewish people, as evidenced by their exile from Israel. Returning to Israel – even if we fail to resolve a single sin that we have committed – rectifies this ultimate chillul Hashem. This should be a paramount consideration to every Orthodox Jew in the world.
Finally, I did not write that struggling with a mitzva renders someone assimilated. Everyone has their struggles in various ways. I wrote that Jews who have assimilated foreign ideas into their religious understanding of things – particularly these fundamental issues – have, by definition, been somewhat assimilated.
One of these is for a Jew to live in exile, be at peace with this, and make no earnest effort to return to Israel. I have no doubt that if the Rambam, the Vilna Gaon, the Chafetz Chaim, or any gedolim of pre-state times lived today, they would not live in Spain, Vilna, Radin, Monsey, or Johannesburg. Hashem’s will is very clear, the Torah sources are very clear, and Jews who remain in galus are indeed perpetuating the ultimate chillul Hashem. The only difference is that in earlier times it was involuntary, whereas today they come up with all manner of reasons and excuses.
We ask Hashem every day in the Shemoneh Esrei to gather the exiles. This request comes before the request to restore our judges (in essence a Torah-based society), before the request to wipe out evil, before the request to build Jerusalem, before the request for Moshiach, and before the request to restore the avoda in the Beis Hamikdash – all of which are independent requests. We ask Hashem to bring us back to Israel, with no strings attached. Dayenu! That should be enough for us. Hashem has granted this request, and it should be enough for us to live in Israel and be personally involved in the redemption process even before all the other requests are fully granted. Otherwise, the prayers are insincere.
The direct link between exile and chillul Hashem (with no other strings attached) is also illustrated in our daily prayers in the prayer composed by Eliyahu Hanavi right before Korbonos, in which we specifically ask Hashem to gather us back to Israel for the sake of his name.
It is also illustrated in the Monday and Thursday Tachanun, when we repeatedly ask Hashem to save us and redeem up for the sake of His name. Most specifically the following line: “Show us a sign for the good and gather our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth; let the nations recognize and know that you are Hashem our God.”
Whether you like it or not, whether you are comfortable or not, Israel and its millions of Jewish inhabitants is the answer to this prayer. It’s time for religious Jews in the diaspora to stop dropping the ball, perpetuating the chillul Hashem of exile, and cooperate with the fulfillment of this prayer. Those who insist on remaining until their lives are in immediate mortal danger in galus will be accommodated.
Enough rationalizing. Come home.
My sefer Go Up Like a Wall is available on my web site at no cost, and address these issues more fully through the Torah.
Orthodox Jewish people who perpetrate the sin of the spies by rejecting Eretz Yisroel are caught up in the yetzer hora’s use of sophistication to justify their desires, It’s very telling that a tiny minority of Jews from everywhere else in the world reject Israel. It is only those Jews who live in the land of Eisav/Rome/West who reject Eretz Yisroel en masse. This is bad enough when the lands of Eisav were fairly decent places…but to choose them over Eretz Yisroel when the West itself is so disgustingly immoral is inexcusable. They are choosing Eisav over Yakov, pure and simple. Since the administering angel of Eisav is the soton, who exactly are the choosing to serve over Hashem? Keep it simple and see the big picture: it is a complete chilul Hashem to reject Eretz Yisroel for Eisav. Orthodox Jews should know better. May Hashem assist all those Jews who truly WANT to make aliyah but cannot yet… by blessing their aliyah EFFORTS with success.