Monday, May 17, 2010

Fog of Fear

Tefillin ("phylacteries") are two small black leather boxes housing four biblical passages that observant Jews wear during the weekday morning prayers. The commandment to wear tefillin is found in four places in the Torah: Ex. 13:1-10, 11-16; Deut. 6:4-9; 13-21. While there is no prohibition against women wearing tefillin, the custom has long limited the practice to men. Today, however, and more and more women choose to pray with tefillin as well. And with this shift in practice comes the predictable resistance to it.

Case in point: Noa Raz, a Conservative Jew living in Israel. Ms. Raz was attacked and beaten by a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish man at a bus stop in Beersheva. The man noticed the strap marks tefillin often leave in one’s arm. Outraged, the man grabbed and beat her, all the while screaming, “Woman, abomination, desecration.”

Ms. Raz got away, filed a complaint with the police, and wrote about her ordeal. “We live in a country where the strong dominate and where women are humiliated. As our society becomes more ultra-Orthodox, more extreme, these boundaries become clearer and more frightening,” she writes. “We can protest against the Haredim every day, but they are not the only guilty ones. They are Haredi; this is how they believe and they have the right to believe this way. It is the State that is also guilty of violence, for authorizing their every rampage; and we just carry on and keep quiet. If we don’t wake up to what is happening around us, we will very soon find ourselves living on the corner of Meah Shearim [an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem] and Tehran.”

She is right. And the problem isn’t restricted to Israel. While we focus our attention on global civilizational clashes, there are intra-civilizational clashes that are no less important, indeed which may prove even more important. This clash is between religious extremists and religious moderates. True, you may find both to be steeped in ignorance and wish to see today’s gods go the way of Zeus and Thor, but that isn’t going to happen. What must happen, if religion is to further human progress, is that the ultra-Orthodox of every religion must be dethroned. There is still a sense among too many (even too many liberals) that being fanatical for your god is a good thing; that liberal religionists are weak willed and inauthentic; and that only the extremists are true to their faith. Liberals need to speak up more loudly; they need to affirm the legitimacy of their faith more powerfully; and challenge the haredi of every religion whenever the faith spills over into abuse. The alternative is to surrender faith to the fanatics and allow whatever good religion can do to get lost in the fog of fear that is the haredi mindset.


Halle said...

This will sound judgmental, I suppose, but shouldn't true faith denigrate abuse? And if one believes s/he has the real deal going, what is there to fear from others' beliefs or practices?

Wondering if you have seen this yet:

Halle said...
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dtedac said...

Rabbi Rami,

I agree completely with your assessment. Those of us who are attempting to be progressive in our faiths have to speak out and be enthused about our point of view. Violence of all types must be opposed and punished; there is no excuse for any one to beat anyone else for the sake of God. Besides, God is able to take care of Divine Honor quite nicely.


eashtov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eashtov said...

Shalom all,

We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. And the brutal and unvarnished Truth is that non-orthodox Judaism and its primary delivery system, the synagogue, are woefully broken and out of touch with the vast majority of Jews, most of whom are unaffiliated. The same can be said as well of the majority of affiliated non-orthodox Jews whose most likely reason for affiliation is a bat/bar mitzva for their child(ren) or another lifecycle “fix”, and/or the perceived need (for ever fewer of these folks) for a High Holiday or other worship service.

Once again King Solomon’s words ring true. “B’ein hazon, yipara’ ‘am” “In the absence of vision people will be unrestrained.” Mishlei 29:18. All one has to do to confirm this is read Dr. Eisen's recent mission statement for the Conservative movement to know that non-orthodox Jewish leadership remains clueless.

Vision is “a passion producing picture of a preferred future.” Thanks to Bill Hybels Senior and Founding Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, A megachurch in northwest suburban Chicago, for this alliterative masterpiece. Vision answers the question, “Why do we need this synagogue?” Vision casting is about the creation of a compelling narrative around which the folks will coalesce. People will connect emotionally when a God and community honoring vision is cast, ultimately resulting in them feeling personal ownership in/of it.

After this actual communities must be created to live out the vision in the flesh.

Chabad “sh’lihim” have deeply held kishke level convictions (not to be confused with mere opinions or beliefs) about their vision for a Jewish future as well as what they have to do to bring it about (their mission). So strong and heartfelt are these convictions, that they are willing to live a very frugal/bare minimum lifestyle as independent entrepreneurs in order move that vision forward.

The founders of Willow Creek Church (Bill Hybels and the youth group he led) sold tomatoes door to door in the early days (the mid ’70’s) of their community in order to raise funds to further their vision and mission.

Rick Warren and his wife started Saddleback Church (a megachurch in Lake Forest CA), 30 years ago with a bible study of 6 people and no money.

So I’ll repeat my question and add a few more. Where/What exactly is that clear, crisp and compelling vision (as defined above) for non-orthodox Judaism and it’s primary delivery system, the synagogue? And will this vision inspire kishke level convictions in non-orthodox Jews (one might ask is there such a thing as a non-orthodox Jew having convictions about anything but that is a whole different discussion)? An obvious component of these convictions (if Chabad and the megachurch are any indication) is the willingness to live financially modest lives in order to move this vision forward. Are non-orthodox Jewish leaders willing to trade comfort for a God and community honoring vision and mission? These are the real questions that need brutally honest answers.

Sadly the pasuk from Mishlei repeated below rings all too true as a description of the current reality of non-orthodox Judaism.

“B’ein hazon, yipara’ ‘am” “In the absence of vision, people will be unrestrained.” Mishlei 29:18.


eashtov said...

Shalom All,

The insights in the book review below, complement this post very well.


Barry said...

I didn't see anywhere in your post, Jordan, how you feel about a man on a bus in Israel beating up a woman because he disapproved of something she did in a Jewish context. My impression is that you approve; after all that Haredi man had "passion" and "vision." Those two things are used by Chabad and the churches you mention to enforce their prejudices, particularly around the status of women and gays. In Israel, the Haredi have taken this to the point of violence against those who don't share their "vision."

There are many of us in liberal Judaism who are strongly connected to God and to our own "vision" of what Judaism is or can be. We don't get a lot of press, and we allow for religious pluralism. You dismiss Dr. Eisen's plan for Conservative Judaism without explanation.

You don't have a full profile posted. Where are you coming from? Are you a Jew, a Christian, or do you think you're both? I think of you as a sophist in the worst sense of that word, spinning false arguments and being way off topic.

So tell us if you think it was okay for that man to beat that girl.

Lois said...

Does an Orthodox Jew touch a woman that is not his wife or family?

andrea perez said...

The twitter statement that was made seems to really speak to me: Once you are convinced you are doing God's work, all concern for morality is irrelevant...The morality police whether they are Jewish or the Taliban or those Christian guys who go to military funerals and make a spectacle because they allow gays, really frustrates,angers, makes me want to scream. I do not have it anywhere in my being to defend them.
I think that what makes Progressives of any denomination or religion so whimpy is the willingness to justify all sides at the expense of ethics. It's not okay to Beat anyone because of the clothes they wear or the way they choose to honor their faith. Why is it so difficult for Us liberals to say "No" more violence? Why does this always become some odd call for freedom of speech or religion? We do put limits on our "freedoms" and one of them is that it's a crime to beat someone up because you don't like what they are doing. It is really getting difficult to be a "Zionist" these days with the kind of repugnant behavior our "leaders" are defending.It's rather embarrassing.

Johnny Anderson said...

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil--that takes religion." ...Steven Weinberg

Itamar said...

Great post. I do take issue with these lines:

"There is still a sense among too many (even too many liberals) that being fanatical for your god is a good thing; that liberal religionists are weak willed and inauthentic; and that only the extremists are true to their faith."

Liberals are often weak willed and inauthentic, or at least they speak from a more shallow sense of purpose. Liberals don't need to be fanatical or hate anyone who disagrees with them, but they do need to seek Truth and speak it. And they need passionate faith to fight the battles that Noa Raz is fighting.