With everything going on in the world and our community as I sit down to write for Ha-Kol this month, I have decided that rather than sharing an article that I’ve written I would instead like to share one of the best articles I’ve read this month. Why get wisdom from one rabbi when you can learn from seventeen! Taken from Forward’s Rabbi Roundtable Series, this article includes a variety of opinions from some of the country’s most fascinating, most influential, and most diverse rabbis. The question for them, and for us all during these turbulent times, is “What is the biggest threat facing the Jewish people today?” As you read their responses, how do they resonate? What do you think is the greatest threat facing the Jewish people today? I’ve chosen some of my most and least favorite opinions, you can read the full article at http://forward.com/opinion/385223/rabbiroundtable- biggest-threat-jewish-people/.
Let’s start a conversation! Email me at [email protected] with your thoughts.
We Asked 17 Rabbis: What’s The Biggest Threat To The Jewish People?
Shmuly Yanklowitz, Open Orthodox, Author of “Torah of the Street, Torah of the Heart”: The biggest threat facing the Jewish people today is the concept of “real estate.” In the past, existential threats may have been losing Jews to other faiths, or pure secular assimilation, or intermarriage. But today, unfortunately, many Jews leave because of an unmet desire for excessive material accumulation. They feel lost, but there is no one to guide them. Instead of pursuing a life of spiritual meaning, there is a growing obsession with materialism and comfort. These factors threaten individual spiritual enrichment and also inhibit the Jewish community from reaching its unmet potential.
Asher Lopatin, Orthodox, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School: The biggest danger to the Jewish people is that we are too beloved by the nations we live in; they want us to be an integral part of their cultures and even to marry their children. Our religion seems to work best in a majority Jewish culture like Israel, or when we are a despised, barely tolerated minority, as we were for 2,000 years. The challenge for Judaism is to survive in an environment where Connie Francis, an Italian- American icon, has an album of Jewish and Yiddish songs! I love it, but I’m scared!
Ayelet Cohen, Conservative, the New Israel Fund, N.Y.: At a moment when anti- Semitism and white supremacists are emboldened and empowered in this country, it is especially disturbing to see Jews turn on one another. As a Jewish people we must come to terms with our own power: our influence and privilege here in the U.S., and the profound responsibility of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. Our very real vulnerability and our history of persecution does not exempt us from the Jewish imperative to justice, nor from the consequences of our power. Rather, it should deepen our empathy and call us to action. A Jewish McCarthyism that condemns anyone who dares criticize Israel and its occupation of Palestinians, the demonizing of difference of opinions, injures the soul of the Jewish people and is a rejection of our sacred inheritance of robust disagreement.
Shmuly Boteach, Orthodox, Author of “Judaism For Everyone”: The biggest threat facing Israel today is Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other radical Islamic organizations with genocidal intent towards the Jewish people. In addition, assimilation and the loss of Jewish identity poses a risk on the Jewish continuity and the Jewish future.
Rachel Timoner, Reform, Congregation Beth Elohim: Being willing to sell out our values for a misapprehension of what will make us safe.
Rachel Barenblat, Renewal, Author of “The Velveteen Rabbi”: The biggest threat facing the Jewish people today is apathy and lack of interest. For secular Jews, it’s apathy and lack of interest in the spiritual and community aspects of Jewish life. For the right-wing, it’s apathy and lack of interest in other forms of Judaism, except as sources of potential ba’alei teshuvah (those who choose stricter Jewish practice). For those whose Jewish education was lackluster, it’s the risk of “checking out” without ever discovering our tradition’s richness. And to make matters worse, the disconnect between liberal Jews and ultra- Orthodox Jews makes it hard to see ourselves as part of the same whole. Hidden in this problem I see the seed of its solution: Can you envision a program that connects liberal Jews (grounded in secular knowledge but not in Torah) with ultra- Orthodox Jews (who know the mesorah [tradition] but might not see how it dovetails with secular education)?
Scott Perlo, Conservative, Sixth & I: I know why we ask this question — thousands of years of oppression will do that to you. I just wonder if we should keep thinking about the Jewish people largely in terms of what threatens us. After all those millennia, it turns out that we have a gift for survival. It isn’t that threats don’t exist, especially in this time of resurgent hatred, but I don’t doubt our longevity. The point isn’t academic. When the Enlightenment hit Europe, a few hundred years ago, the possibility of Jewish selfdetermination was reborn. It’s grown steadily since. So my question is, can we think clearly about who the Jewish people should be, what the Jewish people could be, if our frame of reference is what threatens to end us?
Denise Eger, Reform, Former President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis: The biggest threat facing the Jewish people is our own apathy. There are threats from outside, but I think the bigger threat is that many Jews are disconnected from anything Jewish, uneducated Jewishly, and simply don’t care about their Jewish identity or Jewish connection.
Avram Mlotek, Open Orthodox, Co- Founder of Base Hillel: The greatest threat facing the Jewish people is Jewish illiteracy and Jewish fundamentalism. The Jewish people are inheritors to a legacy that spans thousands of years of history, culture, literature and practice. To not be engaged with the vastness of Jewish culture and text is the equivalence of selling one’s birthright for a pot of hot stew. If we do not know who we are and from whence we came, how can we say Judaism has anything remotely relevant to offer to today? In the same breath, Jewish fundamentalism is an equally if not more dangerous threat. To be so isolated from secular society and so suspicious and insular from the new is to undermine the ongoing creation of God’s world. Retreating overly inward fosters a tribalism that is dangerous and unhealthy.
Rabbi Toba Schaller