It’s time Orthodox Judaism got better at marketing itself

By Yishai - Posted: Monday, May 17, 2010
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Shortly, we will be celebrating the amazing holiday of Shavuot. One of the most central themes of this day is the commemoration of the giving of the Torah by G-d through Moshe, to the Jewish people. This event was the very peak and pinnacle of our existence as a unified entity. As one collective voice, we demonstrated complete trust in G-d when we were given the opportunity of receiving the Torah, and we said, “Na’aseh V’nishma” —> “we will do and we will listen”. In other words, “we will first accept the Torah and then afterwards look into all the details about it.” What an amazing concept! Can we fathom a world today, where all Jews could be unified about anything?

Lately there has been a huge amount of animosity towards Haredim, and therefore as a result; Orthodox Judaism in general. Sadly, the vocal fringe Haredi few are emotionally moving everyone else into a negative disposition towards all Haredim and what they represent.

The sad truth is that at the crux of this situation, lies power plays and political considerations. Most people will agree even within their own communities that saving lives is more important than preserving the sanctity of ancient bones. This is not being done for a football stadium, rather its being done in order to make way for a reinforced war ready emergency ward. So why go and make this your ideological battleground? The price of turning people off to who you are and what you represent is in my opinion way greater than certain issues such as this one.

To be honest, my main confusion does not stem from not understanding the fringe/extremists. They have an absolute way at looking at things, which to that end does not allow for any deviation from their interpretation of the Halacha.

What I am most confused about is why all Rabbis and other religious leaders whose focus is Jewish unity and Kiruv-based (Achdut) activities are silent on this matter. If things like this continue to play out without people taking a stand, then how will we ever merit the redemption? We are still suffering from what caused the exile and subsequent hardships in the first place, and as long as we view our fellow Jews through the prism of “us and them”, we are doomed. At best, we are looking at a future that will be very similar to our past, full of greater divisions and mistrust, which in a worse case scenario could lead to civil war and widespread bloodshed.

With the Exodus of Egypt and the subsequent receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, we became the Children of Israel – God’s Chosen Nation. Upon entering the Chosen Land flowing with milk and honey, our identity was further solidified.

Today however, there are fractions within the fractions and divisions within the divisions. It seems as if everyone identifies with something else and champions causes other than their neighbors. We need a centralized rally point so that we may persevere and come back to a place of unification in the nation. Until now, the only thing we have been able to agree on is that we don’t want to die. To this end, the Arabs have provided us with the necessary distraction. It’s quite possible, that were it not for the battle with them, we would be in a greater conflict with our fellow Jews.

Those of us who believe in an observant Torah-based way of life have a responsibility to inspire our fellow Jews into seeing the positive side of observance. How can we be a light unto the nations, or a light within our own nation, if we are comprised of rock throwers, harassers, and spitters? Only if we work on additional ways of being inclusive, and I dare say possibly compromise on extreme positions, will we be able to stem the flow of baseless hatred and mistrust.

The message of Shavuot is that of Unity based on the unified acceptance of G-d and His Torah. If we are to avoid a future of negative consequences, as a result of widespread enmity towards one another, then it’s the role of us believers and custodians of the Torah to show everyone else the way back to the Mountain, where we once stood together and proclaimed with one voice the eternally powerful words “Na’aseh Vinishma”.

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4 Responses to “It’s time Orthodox Judaism got better at marketing itself”

Comment from Dovid
Time May 19, 2010 at 9:50 pm

In light of this post, how do you respond to this article in the NYRB?

I would love to hear your opinion on the matter.

Comment from Judaism
Time May 20, 2010 at 1:01 am

At what is probably the greatest moment in human history the Jewish people experienced prophecy “Like one man with one heart.” As you have talked about nicely. But does that mean that everyone agreed with one another. I don’t think so, it doesn’t say that everyone had the same brain, just the same heart. They all loved one another, in spite of their various opinions. In other words, in spite of the fact that individuals may have truly hated the opinions of the other guys and gals, they loved eachother. Anyone who is married can agree that it is possible to disagree while still loving the other in your heart.

Comment from Michael Berezin
Time May 21, 2010 at 11:35 am

I read the article you sent. I think that sadly for many Jews, Israel and traditional observant Judaism is something that for the most part ranges from apathy to outright animosity. I wrote my blog to address the responsibility that those who deem themselves to be the enlightened believers have in order to inspire the masses. We either rise together or sink together. In these tenuous times we need to unite. We can only do that if we care about others and not just ourselves, shabbat shalom.

Comment from Dovid
Time May 23, 2010 at 4:33 am

Thank you for your response.

How do you propose we do that though? Look at the generation in secular colleges and high schools today. How do you ever foresee bringing them back to the fold? It is very disheartening some times to think about the demographic crisis we face as a people.