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The Relationship of Orthodox Jews

By Yeshiva Unniversity

   In the past two decades, formal denominational relationships organizationally in Jewish life have declined and yet the interaction between Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews on personal and family levels and in the work place has never … see full wiki

1 review about The Relationship of Orthodox Jews

This book contains a solution to a very divisive problem

  • Nov 5, 2010

The Relationship of Orthodox Jews with Believing Jews

Of Other Religious Ideologies and Non-Believing Jews

Edited by Adam Mintz

Yeshiva University Press, 2010, 401 pages

ISBN 978-1-60280-140-0


            What causes the lack of a positive relationship between Orthodox Jews and their non-Orthodox co-religionists and is there a solution to this problem? Thirteen writers, sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Orthodox Forum - rabbis, professors, heads of schools, a teacher with a Ph.D., and a lawyer - offer their opinions about the divisive gap between Orthodox and other Jews. The writers describe the problem, its history and the halakhah, and how the problem is manifested in the workplace, the Israeli army, schools, trans-denominational activities, communal agencies, and intermarriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox partners.  


            The differences, disagreements, fears, and inability to interact and work together existed in America from the very beginning when “observant Jews” saw “non-observant” in this country. Their antagonism reflected European and Far Eastern attitudes. Associations were discouraged because of the fear that allowing meetings with non-observant might result in observant Jews dropping their observances, question their beliefs, and intermarry. This fear was so strong that some rabbis expressed their feelings with vitriolic language, using Hebrew words that describe non-observant Jews as apostates, epicureans, and blasphemers.


            This anxiety, one of the contributors writes, was one of the factors that prompted many rabbis of the nineteenth century to speak against Zionism, because it brought diverse elements of Jewry together. Yet, the contributor says, it was Zionism that lay the foundation for the reestablishment of the State of Israel.


            Judaism uses labels today. But Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch complained in his essay “Religion Allied with Progress,” that the term “Orthodox” was created by the Reform movement to differentiate itself from those it called Orthodox. This is unfortunate. It increases the problem. We need to stop using words that separate one Jew from another. Rabbi Yona Reiss, Dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, focuses on the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 55a, in this book. The Talmud states that righteous people were punished with sinners. Reiss explains that they, even though otherwise righteous, “were punished because of their provincialism – their attitude that the other Jews who were not observant were not even within the realm of the universe.”


It is significant, another writer points out, that many Orthodox rabbis today encourage Sabbath violators to come to Synagogue Sabbath services and turn a blind eye to the fact that they are riding to the services. The rabbis also encourage their congregants to invite non-observant Jews for Shabbat meals. They recognize that even though many Jews violate Shabbat, they observe some Jewish practices, such as lighting Shabbat candles, Chanukah, Yom Kippur, and support Israel. Admittedly, the purpose of these invitations is to draw non-observant Jews to Orthodoxy. But if contact for such purposes is allowed, why not allow other meetings and cooperations as well?


Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva, offers a halakhic solution. He notes that the halakhah, Jewish law, in recent generations have found ways that allow participation with non-observant Jews. The halakhah sees non-Orthodox as unintentional sinners, or insufficiently educated people, or simply mistaken. Thus there is no reason for shunning them. Additionally, as a practical matter, we know that there are different levels of Judaism, even among Orthodox. So why separate from Jews who do not call themselves Orthodox?


            Cherlow suggests using the model of a mixed marriage, one partner is observant and the other secular. There is no halakhic ruling requiring the observant partner to obtain a divorce. He suggests that a rabbi can see that his responsibility must be to preserve the family unit and save the “woman from loneliness and distress and therefore go the extra mile in order to find a halakhic way to assist such a union.” He continues: “In the past, the answer to this question was simple: The Jew’s first and foremost obligation is the fulfillment of the commands of God.” But, he writes, there is a “more lenient position which is prevalent today.” It is “more complex but is possible. It is grounded in awarding paramount importance to the sanctity of the Jewish family. The solution is based upon the well-known Midrash: ‘The Torah says that in order to bring reconciliation between husband and wife, My holy name may be erased’ (Shabbat 116a).”


            Rabbi Cherlow suggests that, as in marriages, rabbis must be careful not to cause a rift between Orthodox and non-Orthodox because such a perilous rift would endanger the existence of the Jewish people, destroy Jewish unity, and would teach lack of respect to our children. He quotes the Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 38,6: “Rabbi said: ‘How great is peace, for even if Israel practice idolatry but manage to maintain peace among themselves, the Holy One, blessed be he, says, so to speak, ‘I have no dominion over them since peace is with them.’”


            In summary, the thirteen contributors to this volume recognized that there is a problem: many Orthodox Jews are isolating themselves from Jews who are not Orthodox. Reform Jews invented the term “Orthodox” to distinguish their view from those they considered unenlightened. Yet, the writers recognize that today Orthodox Jews are shunning other Jews. They identify that the problem is based on concerns that associations with non-Orthodox may lead to an adulteration of Orthodoxy. Halakhic decisions seem to support segregation. However, some rabbis have shown that the situation is changing and it is time to change it even more. Non-Orthodox are encouraged to attend synagogues for Shabbat services and Orthodox homes for Shabbat meals. Since rabbis encourage these associations, these rabbis ask, why not take the next step and encourage other affiliations? The solution can be based on halakhah, on seeing the relationship of Orthodox and non-Orthodox as a marriage between an observant and a secular Jew. Very few, if any, rabbis today would rule that the parties must divorce. Furthermore, the Midrash requires Jews to seek unity and peace among all Jews, and that this should be pursued even if one party worships idols.


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of sixteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes Wagner and Drazin’s latest book Let’s Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah.


This book contains a solution to a very divisive problem

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