Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A New Letter To Toby Katz and our Community

This past June I wrote an open letter to Toby Katz about her actions. I cited a number of quotes she made where she foolishly suggested that Orthodox Jews loved their children more than Reform and Conservatives do and made many other foolish remarks.

Well it seems that dear Toby has again opened her big trap and spouted off more nonsense. I laughed pretty hard when I read it because it is more proof of her foolish and uneducated bias against Jews who do not practice Judaism the way that she wants.

Here is an example:

Non-observant Jews who are nevertheless connected to an O shul and O rabbi for major life cycle events—girl baby-naming, bris, bar mitzva, wedding, funeral—are fundamentally attached to Judaism in a way that is simply not the case with a Jew who belongs to a “Conform” temple. Conform exists for only one reason—to make Jews psychologically and emotionally comfortable with their total disloyalty to the religion of their forefathers, to ease their conscience when they intermarry or do whatever they please."

So her argument is that nonobservant Jews who join an Orthodox shul are better than those that belong to a Conservative or a Reform shul. But why. She alleges that members of the Conservative/Reform shuls belong there so that they can "intermarry or do whatever they please."

That remark is false, but we'll set it aside for now. What I ask now is what is different between the two. Toby, you say nonobservant meaning that those people are not Shomer Mitzvot. It is clear that you have a problem with Jews who are not, but because they belong to an Orthodox shul you think that they have a stronger attachment to Judaism than those members of a Conservative or Reform.

That is just narishkeit and illogical.

The reason I refer to both Reform and Conservative as “Conform” movements is that both exist for the same reason—to help Jews conform comfortably to the prevailing secular ethos of America. Conform does very little to help people stay connected to Judaism, just the opposite.

One could make the argument that vast numbers of Orthodox Jews are unthinking automatons who have never dared to consider the possibility that their beliefs are wrong. They do not dare open their eyes to the possibilities that lie out there so they do as we see in Lakewood and ban the Internet or rail on about Slifkin and this and that.

Fortunately I am far more open and progressive than Toby and I have no problem saying that there are many who are not so provincial in nature in all of the branches of Judaism.

There is also another factor to consider, and that is the question of, to whom do we owe loyalty? It is true that we owe loyalty to all our fellow Jews and that we want—or should want—to maintain close ties between all Jews, and to make sure that all Jews feel welcome in our community.
Toby, your kiruv is outstanding. Make people feel welcome by badmouthing and demeaning them and then just so that you cannot be backed into a corner qualify it with a sad statement like this.

But we also owe loyalty to G-d. We do not have the right to falsify the Torah in order to make our fellow Jews feel comfortable. We hate to lose any Jews, we grieve over our fellow Jews who have elected to live in such a way that they will not have Jewish children—but we do have a mesorah, a chain of transmission, that has kept going father to son, mother to daughter, for three thousand years now, since Sinai. And we absolutely do not have the right to be the generation that breaks that chain.
Toby has it occurred to you that you offer no choices. It is your way or the highway. Do you really think that this is an effective way to make people feel welcome. You know life is full of black and white and shades of gray.

You do the Jewish people a disservice when you designate yourself as arbiter of morality and who is a Jew. You hurt all of us when you use such divisive language.

I stood with you and everyone else at Har Sinai and what I heard is different from what you heard. You are no better than anyone else and it would be better for all of us if you changed your attitude.

And since we all know that there is no one uniform approach to Orthodoxy we are never going to buy your arguments that it is better than Conservative or Reform because the fact is that there is disagreement and dissension there too.

You claim to that your arms are open, well so are ours. We are happy to welcome you to a community that doesn't try and maintain itself by turning on each other.

We are happy to make you part of the group. Really, our arms are open. You can continue to try and badmouth and belittle those who disagree with you. It is a tactic of insecurity and not built upon strength or you can accept that some people see things differently and work with us and not against.

It is really up to you. Either way we are not going anywhere.


PsychoToddler said...

Toby's not saying anything new. She's just being more obnoxious about it.

And your point, Jack, seems to be that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. That may be true, but you're still trying to catch flies.

Jack Steiner said...

No, she is not saying anything new but when your child does something foolish and potentially dangerous you don't allow it to continue.

You tell them that it is unacceptable and you see that they stop.

Pragmatician said...

I haven't read Toby's post, only the excerpts visible here, but it sounds to me as it is possible she's writing FOR already frum people, rather than AGAINST not- as-frum-as-her people. Just an idea…

Anonymous said...

When someone makes a blanket statement like, "Conform [derogative word for Conservative and Reform]does very little to help people stay connected to Judaism, just the opposite" -- there seems to be very little point in argument. For the record, I and my immediate family connect to Judaism through Reform Judaism. That's it. I wouldn't be connected otherwise. Being brought up Orthodox did not keep me connected. Being introduced to Reform Judaism in my 40's has gotten me reconnected.

It's true, but I don't think Toby Katz can hear it.

Anonymous said...

This past summer, my stepdaughter was in Israel -- connecting with Judaism -- with 500 other US kids, brought there by ... not NCSY, not Bnei Akiva... by NFTY.

Miss S. said...

You know you make Mrs. Katz's comments sound like some dogma she made up on her own. It is just the Torah. If you don't agree; that is fine. But you [as Jews] also are forfeiting your end of the deal that G-d made with you. You individually may find spiritually and connection; but for future generations...probably not. The Torah is what made the Jews and without it they blend into the woodwork. Any Jewish census will show you that. I myself know of many Jews the same age as me who have never dated another Jew - much less will marry and have children with one. They can not pass on what they don't know. And some of these people hold synagogue memberships and attend during High Holidays. Hardly enough of a 'heritage' to pass on to your grandchildren.

So it's not "Her way or the highway", it's just acceptance or assimilation.

Jack Steiner said...

Actually Missshona,

It isn't fair or accurate to say that she is just following Torah. She follows an itnterpretation of Torah and there are many who think that she got it wrong. There is no one uniform position. It doesn't matter if you are FFB, BT, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Essene, Sadducee or otherwise.

It is patently false to present Torah as having one interpretation and it is harmful and damaging to allow people to suggest that they have the sole way especially when it is patently clear that they do not understand much of what they have written.

It is not acceptance or assimilation. We can be a good dugma for others without being a jerk.