Three news items recently surfaced in the same week.
1) America’s Reform movement states that 50% of their rabbis now officiate at marriages between Jews and non-Jews, even without quickie Reform conversions. In effect, the movement, offering no objections to this behavior, now sanctions raw intermarriage.
2) The Israeli Chief Rabbinate reacts angrily, and calls the non-Orthodox movements “destroyers and saboteurs of Judaism.”
3) Non-Orthodox groups around the word, including the supposedly non-partisan Council of Jewish Federations in America, attack the Chief Rabbinate with the usual vitriol: “medieval … entrenched … intolerant … corrupt … divisive.” The list of epithets goes on and on.
We have danced this dance before, a three-step choreography always accompanying the crisis du jour of Israel-Diaspora relationships. As inexorably as day is followed by night, Step One is followed by Step Two which is followed by Step Three.
But it is not of the tragic non-Orthodox breaks with Torah that I write. Every sentient Jew knows that they are Exhibit-A of the proverbial slippery slope which began several generations ago with mild adjustments of the daily Siddur, continued with ever larger breaches, peaked with their sanctioning marriages which the Torah calls “abominations,” and now climaxes with hundreds of Reform rabbis performing intermarriages.
Instead, and with apologies to and respect for the dedication and scholarship of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, I would wish to tweak their justified — but inevitably angry — reactions to non-Orthodox abandonment of halachah. Such anger, while understandable, plays directly into the hands of those who would persuade millions of Jews throughout the world that Torah Judaism is not for them.
Granted, the non-Orthodox agenda is destructive of classical Torah life. We take no issue with that sentiment. The problem is the delivery and packaging of that sentiment. Shouting at the top of the voice persuades no one. Sledgehammers make no friends. What is needed is a rapier thrust. Thoughtful, restrained language is extremely effective, especially in this instance where we are dealing with a threat to survival — intermarriage — that even non-Orthodox Jews can appreciate.
No one asked me, but here is a sample statement that, had it come forth from the Rabbinate, might have elicited some understanding from millions of Jews, instead of resentment and bitterness:
We learn with sadness and dismay of the latest non-Orthodox breach of Torah and halachah. No one should be surprised. Jewish history has constantly demonstrated that movements which disregard the strict parameters of Jewish law ultimately end up undercutting the very foundations of Judaism: the family. It is little wonder that non-Orthodox groups around the Jewish world have dwindling adherents, and that large numbers of their young people are opting out by abandoning Judaism altogether. This is a tragedy for the entire Jewish people. We call on our non-Orthodox brethren to realize that their escalating ruptures with Torah have led them to the very brink of religious suicide. Surely this is not the path they want to follow. We pray to the G-d of all of us to enlighten those who have strayed from the path of our hallowed and ancient faith, and to bring them back to the eternal ways that have preserved our people for millennia. It is not too late to return to the bosom of our G-d and our holy people who await them with open and loving arms.
Is such a statement a pipe-dream? One realizes that Israeli culture is much rougher than Western culture (Israelis, after all, live in tough neighborhoods) and that yelling at the top of one’s voice is not unusual — witness Israeli talk shows which are actually shout shows, and the normative intemperate behavior in the Knesset. But such behavior on the international scene, with the Jewish world watching, only exacerbates the negative image of Torah that prevails among non-Orthodox Jews.
A restrained reaction would not only disarm those who wait with heavy PR artillery to attack Orthodox rabbis and Torah. More significantly, instead of alienating Jews and convincing them that Torah is not for them, it might even bring them a step closer to Torah. A caress is far more effective than a slap across the face. Says Koheles, “Divrei chachamim b’nachas nishmaim — Words of the wise are heard in gentleness” (9:17).
This, incidentally, is something all Orthodox Jews, not only rabbis, might take to heart. Orthodox Jews are viewed as representatives of Torah. Rage and invectiveness against our non-observant brothers only harm the cause of Torah. If Orthodox Jews are concerned with sanctifying G-d’s name, then sincere understanding and compassion are the keys. Surely we take Solomon’s words seriously:“Deracheha darchei noam — [Torah’s] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peaceful” (Mishlei 3:17). If we implemented this, we could eliminate Step Three of the perennial choreography.