"I Am Not Orthodox"

Our definitions should be based on the highest common denominator: the Jewish soul.

Thu, 11/14/2013
Rabbi Mendel Teldon
Rabbi Mendel Teldon

I am not Orthodox.

There. I said it.

Yes, I look like I am. I have a full beard, I am the rabbi of a traditional synagogue and don't eat anything not kosher. But I am finally comfortable enough with myself and my Judaism to come out and say what has been lying underneath the surface for so many years.

I just can't classify myself anymore as an Orthodox Jew.

Truth be told, as I look at the membership list of my congregation here in suburban Long Island I feel that none of my community is really Orthodox either.

Please allow me to describe to you my journey on how I reached this conclusion.

Every Friday night, my wife and I host a Shabbat dinner in our home. Sometimes it is families from our congregational Hebrew school, sometimes a family that just moved to the community and sometimes a family going through a difficult time in their life that can benefit some homemade chicken soup.

After lighting the Shabbat candles some onion challah and a few l'chaims, the conversation becomes intimate, moving and sometimes even provocative.

A few weeks back we had three different families join us; each with their own story on how they joined our congregation and each with their own level of involvement.

I was feeling a bit daring (maybe too much Bartenura) and I posed the following multiple choice question: Do you consider yourself Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, None of the above or Other.

The first guest thought for a few moments and said "I'm not sure. My parents were Conservative, we were married by an Orthodox rabbi, but our kids went to a Reform temple for nursery. I didn't fast on this past Yom Kippur but my daughter's upcoming Bat mitzvah is going to be done by an Orthodox rabbi.”

The next guy said he is Reform since currently he is not a member at any temple but he takes his family to a Reform temple in Westchester every year for the high holidays. Since his parents are on the board of directors they get a good price on tickets so it is worth the schlep. Also, while he hadn't studied much lately, he feels that his beliefs are more in tune with the Reform movements ideas of Tikun Olam.

The third scratched his head and said, “My friends ask me this same question when they hear I am a member at an Orthodox congregation. My response is “Other” since I don't fall into any of those categories.”

That is when it suddenly hit me.

I am not Orthodox since there is no such thing as an Orthodox Jew. As there is no such thing as a Reform Jew or Conservative Jew.

These terms are artificial lines dividing Jews into classes and sub-classes ignoring the most important thing about us all. We share one and the same Torah given by the One and same God. 

We might buy into these labels for social, financial, communal, political or even for emotional reasons. But that is all they are: labels. They don’t define us as a people, they won’t predict our future and most significantly they don’t describe the fiber that has kept us alive and strong for three and half millennia. These labels are more about tearing us apart than furthering Judaism.

Yes, some people are more observant and involved than others. As we well know, when two of us are in a room there is a minimum of three opinions.

But our Jewish experience runs so much deeper than our theories and opinions. Have you ever heard of someone calling herself "Protestant with no religion?" Still, plenty of Jews today are identifying as "Jewish with no religion." Elevent percent of that group says they keep kosher at home! We are all internally and eternally connected with our Father in heaven, whether or not we realize it.

I think what recent surveys cry out is that people are Post-Denominational. They are tired of being boxed into these silly categories. The overwhelming majority of people don’t even know what they mean. Instead, they are yearning for a real connection that has real life application.

It is the job of the Jewish leadership to embrace our responsibility, not as God's policeman but as My Brothers’ Keeper. Our definitions should be based on the highest common denominator. And that is the Jewish soul, the piece of God that was gifted to each one of us and that each of us a have a sacred right and responsibility to cultivate that relationship to the highest level.

When we are able to focus on the fact that while we have differences but a family truly remains connected eternally, it will reconfirm what we already knew: Am Yisroel Chai!

 

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Comments

You might like to compare the appellation given to Reb Shlomo Carlebach, perhaps the most unusual Orthodox Rabbi of the 20th century in that he broke the standard definitions of "Orthodoxy" with his ability to blend into all forms of Judaism. The excerpt here is from the new biography of Reb Shlomo, pg. 413: Menachem Daum, in a video report for Religion News and Ethics, labeled Rabbi Carlebach as the “most unorthodox Orthodox rabbi.” Moshe Stern, the internationally renowned cantor, characterized Carlebach as a combination of “a prodigal tzaddik, a musical genius, perhaps a religious exegete, a hippie in religious-ultra-orthodox garb.” Stern highlighted the all encompassing nature of Reb Shlomo’s personality which defied categorization:

His greatest strength was and remains chiefly his ability to be all encompassing, a kind of prototype for felling the divides, for blurring the borders. This, it seems, is what the ears and souls of many in that younger generation latched onto, seeking as they did an escape path from the rigid categorizing enforced on them by the split reality of Israeli life.

Similarly, Robert L. Cohen asks: Was there ever such an “embodied paradox, a bundle of contradictions?” Cohen enumerates some of the seemingly contradictory aspects of Shlomo’s life. For example:

A thoroughgoing traditionalist, with Orthodox yeshiva education and rabbinical ordination, he outraged the Orthodox; a man for whom “pluralism” was an alien, ill-fitting concept, he was an implicit pluralist – teaching and singing everywhere, honoring rabbis of every denomination and encouraging others’ unorthodox paths.

B"H

I would like to add my own opinion to this great article and address some of the comments below the article- perhaps it can create an element of understanding that's informative.

Personally- I feel some of these comments issued by various commentators below harbor unnecessary doubt or lack of clarity. To point to clarity- we should spell correctly and use G-d in context with HaShem. The spelling of G-d with an O is not of jewish doctrine- it belongs to christian doctrine and beliefs.

And yes- the essential principal is that we are all one people- this is correct. It does however take into consideration if I am not mistaken- that even if a jew worships other G-d or does not keep kosher- he or she if changes his or her manners to acceptable standards of living and sees the beauty and brilliance of only HaShem. The argument is basically:
- That regardless of distance to the religion
- Direction within religion- secular, reform or orthodox etc.
- Or individual belief in HaShem- there is still a belonging...

To give you an example : Secular,reform, conservative and orthodox jews etc. still share this common bond and that we should realize this and stop the infighting between each other about what is right tradition or not- or at least agree and come together and support each other in times of trouble. I think this is the pre-notion behind this principal in context with the description in the Talmud.

To dismiss the historic value of the certain traditions- whether it adheres to Ashkenazi, Sephardi etc. or directions such as orthodox,reform, secular etc. can be misleading to the individuals aspects of history- when attempting to grasp it for one self. And when taking into account the history of the jewish people- it has value and importance. How people moved throughout generations from different countries and adapting elements of other cultures such as languages- makes it principally important to one's own identity- At least that's how I view it.

Secondly- according to traditional view and taking into consideration of both the Torah and Talmud- If your mom is not jewish- a shiksa- Then you are a gentile- Even if your father is a jew. However in some instances and views of certain "standards"- It's not enough with only your mom being a jew- both your mom and dad has to be jews.

For an example: My mothers family comes from Poland and I have have heard stories from my grandmother of instances of people being viewed as gentile- even when their mom was a jew, because the father was not jewish. It could be a matter of opinion whether this right or wrong- but since both my parents are jewish descendant- I have little experience of this topic.

Third- the argument regarding the matter of converts and "ethnicity" that seem to upset so many people. Yes- there's a difference.
- You can be an atheist
- Not religious involved-but belief in G-d
- Or "less" religious then normal and still be consider to be a jew of the jewish people.

If your mom is a jew- your a jew. But by some standards however- both of your parents have to be jewish. Family ancestry is important as a whole for this reason.

Intermarriage is regularly a common problem leading to often difficult family situations. I think the reason the older generations had this mentality of both parents being jewish- was to guard against unwanted family problems.

But there have been instances before- Even King David on his father side had relatives who were converts.

Regards,
Daniel

Interestingly, when living in Paris this last year, we passed a gentleman and his daughter walking to synagogue. Thinking that it would be nice to attend services in France, we asked where the nearest synagogue was located. He did not ask if we were Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox Jews; he wanted to know if I was Ashkenazic or Sephardic, as there were two synagogues nearby. There was no other distinction made.

I terminated my affiliation with a Reform congregation last Spring. I was no longer comfortable with the increasingly liberal social and political positions of the Union for Reform Judaism and the rabbi of the only synagogue in the deep-south city I reside in. I now worship at home and with an on-line group. I want to go to shul to pray, study and learn, not for political correctness, feminism and gay rights activism. Not available here anymore.

I understand other people having different views of what constitutes "social justice" than I have, but people like me are being driven away by what I see as as attempts to attract "non-traditional" congregation members. My cynicism tells me this is more about bringing new sources of revenue to the synagogue, than of social justice.

I don't claim a high level of piety. I have plenty of faults. But I don't find a place for myself in organized Judaism any longer. It's a shame.

Great article to read on the secular new year. Im sorry I missed it when it first came out. Having belonged to Conservative and Orthodox shuls at various times, observing the strengths and weaknesses of the "movements" trying to learn from all and reject nonsense which all movements also project, I feel we need all movements but personally cannot really belong to any. There is so much stength in each that I conclude reflects Torah, and so much hypocrisy and idiocy in each that can only reflect our evil inclinations. Of course there are financial issues. Synagogues and Rabbis and Cantors need to be supported and we need our professionals and hence for practical reasons need to pay our "dues" but in terms of labels it makes little or no sense to me. When in a Conservative shul I'm called Orthodox, when in an Orthodox shul, I"m called Conservative. Labels mean little when it comes to individuals and individuals in the end are all that should matter to each of us individuals. So thank you movements, I'll try not to be a freeloader and pay may share to your upkeep but dont fool yourselves, you are not Judaism, we individual Jews are and you (I hate to be insulting) are a necessary compromise. I have always felt, don't confuse institutional Judaism with Torah, use one's environment to build ones Judaism but avoid labes.

HATRED BETWEEN BROTHERS supposedly, according to the rabbis, caused t he destruction of the terrmple and t g e loss of our land. If so, we why do we continue to d divide ourselves into enemy camps. I was told that my paternal grandfather, when hearing an MOT call him or herself by any of these labels, would spit and say "I thought you were a Jew" We have so many enemies among the goyim why do we need to make more from within tt he tribes?

Of course, when you're a convert, the automatic response to this is "Well, that's a different matter". Then, the boxes and labels become mandatory, along with who the sponsoring rabbi and members of the beit din were and blah blah blah... Unless the convert's talking to people who REALLY know Torah and know that we're commanded to love the convert as one of our own. There are just a lot of people who've come to cling to the words of men instead of the words of Hashem.
Five years since my conversion, I've grown enough thick skin to dismiss the people who treat me in a hateful, narrow-minded fashion. But I have to stand up for other gerim and remind people -- if we're going to behave as post-denomination and be ONE PEOPLE, just remember -- you need to treat gerim the same way. EVERY DAY. No matter how you interpret the Torah, no matter if you "recognize" the conversion or not, that IS your responsibility as a Jew. SHOW LOVE TO THE STRANGER IN YOUR GATES AND NEVER EMBARRASS THEM. PERIOD.

"Othodox Judaism" refers to a certain clearly-defined set of tenets and practices. Open identification using a specific name is a matter of historical fact--the perushim vs. the tzedukim; in the time of Purim, those who kept to Torah were called Yehudim, etc. The need for such a term arises when some Jews separate from tradition, as is obvious. Also, we definitely see that the Rebbeim used it. While the author of the article is at it, he should stop calling himself "male," "American," and "Jew," because after all, those are "just labels" (not).

I agree. The rabbiu is playng a silly, dangerous game to increase attendance at his synagogue. Saying you are not something when when you are implies that there are no definitions and this is what causes confusion and allows virtually anyone these days to define Judaism and proper Jewish practice.

What about me, raised Reform and involved with Reform/pluralistic but patrilineal? My mother never converted so I'm only accepted as Jewish in the Reform community. I identify with all Jews considering my heritage and upbringing, but am only accepted by one denomination (well, maybe Reconstructionist and Renewal as well). I guess the label has to apply to those marginalized by Judaism such as myself.

You are simply not Jewish Yet.

Like Rabbi Mendel Teldon ("I Am Not Orthodox", November 14) I have refused to be denominationally labeled. I've consistently had to explain my view on this matter to many puzzled faces. Even more seriously, these pre-determined labels actually inhibit further Jewish growth however it's defined. We've all heard others try and explain their Jewish level by expressing a variation of "Oh, I'm not THAT religious". Their attempt to describe some sort of "extreme" as a reason they are not observant gives them a basic excuse not to stretch beyond their personal understanding and involvement. Pre-conceived notions of what each denomination is supposed to mean are preventing us from distinguishing between the true meanings of "religious" (internal) and "observant" (external). Those are words wrongly used interchangeably. We are confusing being "religious" with being a serious, committed part of the Jewish community. Some may argue that these are just semantics but I believe this limiting view is preventing many potential participants from finding a place for themselves in our vast, rich community.

Well I bet a million bucks that people will do what they want behind closed doors. I"ve seen plenty of black hatters venture off to different neighborhoods to eat tref and pick up woman of different religions and races. And do you really think the frum men aren't pushing their frum wives to have sex all the time and do have sex all the time. Boys will be boys.

Normally, I would let this type of comment go unanswered, which is all it really deserves. However, this strongly smacks of the writer's very
antisemitic, self-hating, hypocritical view of the world, and nothing but unsupported speculation and self-projection. It is a blatant attempt to try to justify his own ignorance of Judaism and lack of observance. Having lived in very observant, "orthodox" communities for many decades, what I have experienced is that observant Jews "behind closed doors" are pretty much as observant as they are "outside," and certainly no more hypocritical than others... except maybe for this person. If this person is doing the things which he projects onto others, maybe he needs the help of a good rabbi, or a good counselor or psychiatrist.

Well, let me tell you something. I was once at Kennedy airport, on my way to Israel, & the flight was delayed so long that they fed us in the airport. There was a kosher line, & a non-kosher line, & then dining tables set up between them. I noticed that 2 'black hats' had gone to the non-kosher line. I debated whether I should say anything or mind my own business, then decided that these guys would want to know if they'd gone to the non-kosher line by mistake. So I told them they'd gotten their food from the non-kosher line. They told me that they knew...

As my Chabad friend says, "Labels are for shirts, not for people." While there are obviously differences among Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues and rabbis, it turns out that many "Jews in the pews" do not identify themselves with any single one of those denominations, even if they belong to one (or more) of their synagogues.

Oh my Goodness. I love all the responses! Holy Moses. TJW does it again.

I think you all missing the point.
Onion challah? Seriously?

Thanks Rabbi Taldon for the good article.

Really well said! The point of this article is that we all should not judge one another, and we are all one despite the labals I think people are missing the main message that this Rabbi is trying to give. Really well said!

Jewish Peoplehood has to do with ethnicity/ethnicities rather than religiosity. That's why one can say one is Jewish but without a religious consciousness. Episcopalians can't say something similar because their identity is based solely on their embracing a religion. It is always wonderful to draw someone close to Judaism because our religion can be so life giving and meaningful. But there are plenty of Jews who live happily as Jews but don't find meaning in any one of the streams of Judaism. We shouldn't reject those folks. Kol Yisrael areivim l' zeh.

Dear Rabbi Teldon,

Would you be happy for your non-labeled children to marry Reform Jews, who are only "Reform Jews" by the nature of patralineal descent? Would you still consider your grandchildren as Jews (if your son married a Reform Jewish girl, who considers herself Jewish based on the Reform defintion of Judaism...accepting of patralineal descent). Its very simplistic and touchy-feely to say "we're all Jews in this together, regardless of labels"...yet halacha clearly does not accept someone as Jewish based solely on patralineal descent.

Sincerely,

An Anonymous Jew living in Eretz Yisrael.

Why even go that far?
Would he accept a reform girl who IS halachically Jewish?

It is sad that Judaism has several denominations of religious aspects. However, you miss the overall point in several regards. First of all, in regards to Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform; those 3 labels refer to overall modes of philosophical Jewish thought. More than one of those labels should not be applicable to a Jew that has thought about G-d in the same way that no Christian will identify as both a Catholic and a Presbytarian. Second of all, you miss the point of labels as a whole, that while they may not be perfect all encompassing terms, they are useful to generalize. So by using the term orthodox or conservative or reform, while every Jew might not fit under one of these umbrellas, is still a useful guideline in addressing different groups of people. Third of all, in regards to "Have you ever heard of someone calling herself "Protestant with no religion?"" While on the surface level that appears smart, you're missing the point. There is an aspect to Jews as a nation and peoplehood that does not exist for Christians, since they identify much more with specific nations (French, Italian, etc.). So while to be a Christian and an atheist is impossible, you can refer to someone as Jewish who doesn't undertake the philosophy of Judasim but is part of the Jewish ethnic people.
tl;dr Sects are different Jewish philosophies, while not perfect are pretty solid ways to identify, and people can identify as an a-religious Jew since Judaism is both a people and a religion

Stop with the philosophy and come to Israel!

Why go to Israel? It is easier being Jewish in America.
The Israeli Government promotes everything but Judaism that is derived from the Torah.
I still believe a Jew is Jew if his or her Mother was one. But you can be an American Jew without going to Israel.

How about those of us without Jewish parents who feel Jewish? That may sound weird to you, but G-d is G-d, and what about the rest of us? Why not make easier to convert? Why be a race and not a religion? I was raised Christian, but Jesus in my reading was a reformed rabbi and that's all, who got transformed through mythology by his followers.

Dear Rabbi Teldon,
Thank you for writing this. I appreciate your love of all yidden and your joy in the love of bringing all together. However, at the end of the day, there will always be divisions between the various facets purely based of Halachik observance. As a general rule, one can usually delineate the various jewish sects by what halachos are observed vs which are not. At the end of the day the jew who keeps kosher but not shabbat will not likely be trusted for his kashrus by the frum community (I have learned this the hard way and I know the pain of that rejection). The jew who holds by "The Rav" or agrees with Rabbi Nosson Slifkin will always be considered ""Modern." The jew in name only, the one that does the yom kippur/Rosh Hashana thing will usually consider himself reform. These labels make me sick, but Halacha rules all, and in Yiddishkeit the Spirit of the Law alone just doesn't cut it, unfortunately. Middos alone will never effect "jew" in the eyes of the Torah world. One can be the nicest yid in the world, huge baal tzedaha, give pple jobs, adopt 30 kids -- and still it's not enough. Still, if one doesn't keep taryag mitzvos, it's only half the perceived yid. I have struggled with this for years, and it's the conclusion I keep coming to. The cholent, the wedding music, the great uplifting shiur, the shabbas zemiros with five harmonies - all still require the obligation, the commandment to abide by Halacha. That is the core - levels of halacha -- that end up defining who fits where.

I can't speak for the author but I believe the main point of this article is the baseless assumptions people can make about others who term themselves based on titles. People can be very inconsiderate to others for such reasons to a point which boarders on hatred. He points out that our initial assumption should always be a favorable and positive one as we share one destiny. Now while the Halachik system may determine particular practice and the like, it should always be performed while keeping the sensitivities of others a primary focus. Everyone agrees upon the need for such man to man sensitivities, but people of all sects tend not to understand the full implication of what sensitivity actually means. So often when one asks a question as to what kind of Jew are you they are assuming they can make assumptions about the person by how they categorize themselves. That is ridiculous, and the question can be very inconsiderate and box people into particular perspectives they don't truly agree with. If someone wants to actively associate themselves without instigation that is something slightly different, but still doesn't allow someone to judge their character or treat them with any less dignity. In this sense people and Jews must be treated as individuals not based on an already ambiguous title- as each sect actually contains diversity in its beliefs and personal morals of congregants.
I have read many comments which fail to understand this point.
It saddens me to see that even when someone asks for such titles not to define him or others in regards to awarding others sensitivity, there can be those who are still insensitive in the responses.

i read withinterest all these replys. I have a question for anyone that has already replied to this article: Can you be an orthodox, reform, conservative, humanistic Jew when there are no other jews around?
I ask this because I am a Jew. I am conservative, reform and orthodox. I beleive in G-D, and torah BUT WHO IS to tell me what i believe in is more or less jewish? There are no other jews by me. Can I keep kosher: no, but am I still jewish.. Of course, what resides in my heart is all jew. Can I go to shul....sure, drive over an hour but on shabbat?
No my learned friends, being jewish is what binds me to you and every other Jew in the world and this argument of who is what type of jew misses the point.....division means the END. We cannot seperate out who is jewish based on some "formula"
Many years ago, a rabbi I consulted to help me with my sons bris...refused, because my wife was not jewish, I asked isnt it better to add 1 more jew to the world, then to subtract 2( myself and son). He was only able to say not to an orthodox jew. Luckly i found a wonderful "conservtive" rabbi who helped me me with his bris, arranged for a mikva for all my children, and now the world has 3 more jews.
Include, not exlcude. I applaud rabbi teldon

I agree that labels can be divisive. But the bottom line is that it is the "orthodox" Jews - whatever "flavor" you may call yourself - who are really the norm in terms of keeping the mitzvot, and it is the rest of Jewry which moved away from the traditions of their ancestors. Most importantly, only a halachic ie orthodox conversion of a non-Jew is one where Hashem gives that person their Jewish soul at the mikvah and thus Jewishness can only truly be defined halachically. The level of one's observance and what labels, if any, one chooses to give oneself are between each Jew and Hashem, whether that Jew was born from a Jewish mother or received their Jewish soul at the mikvah with a halachic conversion. THAT is the real problem of the differences of Reform, Conservative et al..... that is actually causing divisions and pain to those people who believe they are Jewish but actually are not. And this includes all the descendants from a woman who calls and believes herself Jewish but actually, however deeply associated with Jewish practice, in essence is not. Judaism is not a "feel-good" religion - though we can feel VERY good with every mitzvah that we keep - dependent on a postmodern type of thinking which is so prevalent in our societies today (ie you do what you believe is right and I will do what I believe is right and everything is all right because it FEELS right) - but is rooted in the commandments that Hashem gave to Moshe. So throw out the labels, love every Jew wherever and whoever he or she is, and respect and try and be sensitive to everyone, because we are all beloved children of Hashem whether we are Jewish or non-Jewish, but remember that halacha still defines the essence of who we are (or sadly, for those to whom it applies, who we are not).

Nice attempt at Kiruv.

If you wanted to gain my respect you would have said the following..

"I am not Jewish. I'm a human-being.
These religious labels are artificial lines dividing humans into classes and sub-classes ignoring the most important thing about us all. We share one and the same universe. We are all equal human beings.
We might buy into these labels for social, financial, communal, political or even for emotional reasons. But that is all they are: labels. They don’t define us as a people, they won’t predict our future and most significantly they don’t describe the fiber that has kept humanity alive. These labels are more about tearing us apart than furthering humanity."

Gene S,

If you wanted to gain my respect you would say as follows:

I am not human, I am a creation just like animals are"

Enjoyed the article...basically I agree, and have my own movement which I belong to, it's "Reform-adox-ative," and embraces the best of all the "movements" of our people...I don't belong to one particular Synagogue, but rather go to any one that lets me do my Torah raps (yes, I have written raps in English and in Hebrew about each and every one of the 54 parshas from the Torah). So, I go to Sefardi Orthodox one time, and Ashkenazi Orthodox another time, and to Conservative another time...and feel equally at home at all of them...I, and most of you reading this are one thing, and that is Jewish, so let's embrace that, and encourage others to do that, too...call yourself Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Black, White, whatever, but if you are a Jew, you are my brother / sister, and if you are not, why not join us formally? Nuff said. Happy Hanukah and Happy Thanksgiving to all...

What the rabbi is saying, is that from a prospective of being Jewish, there is no labels, that dosent mean he will go against what the Torah says regarding the requirements for a shul or being a rabbi.

"I am not Orthodox since there is no such thing as an Orthodox Jew. As there is no such thing as a Reform Jew or Conservative Jew"...But there certainly is when it comes to the status of a Ger.- Double-standard, MUCH?!

Sadly, well said.

Dear "rabbi"i have never heard such a rediculous point of vue! conservative reformed orthodox? really u compare all to be equal and the same? Do you even know what reform believe? let alone have you ever even walked in to a reform or conservative temple to state such immature comments? A jewish neshama is a jewish neshama you can never take that away but to state that all categories are simply the same and to accept eachothers beliefs? not cool...

What makes an "Orthodox" Jew better then a "Reform" Jew? Because he was born into a "Orthodox" family? That's ridiculous! A Jew is a Jew whether "Orthodox", "Conservative", "Reform", "Yellow", "Purple", "Green", "Blue", etc. All these Jews still have the obligation of believing in Hashem. As long as they do that, the rest may or may not come, but that is the main thing that makes you a Jew! Just because I may not daven in a Temple where Men and Women daven together, doesn't split the religion. It's the same as me celebrating Thanksgiving, but you don't. We're both still American. They're Jews and the observe their way, and I'm a Jew but will observe my way. If they only go to Temple once or twice a year is better then not going at all and it still connects them with Hashem for a day, which is what being Jewish is about. Just believing in Hashem, no matter how many times you pray or which temple you pray in. It's not about accepting everybody's customs, but respecting everybody's customs because they are a Jew just like you!

I agree that labels can be divisive. But the bottom line is that it is the "orthodox" Jews - whatever "flavor" you may call yourself - who are really the norm in terms of keeping the mitzvot, and it is the rest of Jewry which moved away from the traditions of their ancestors. Most importantly, only a halachic ie orthodox conversion of a non-Jew is one where Hashem gives that person their Jewish soul at the mikvah and thus Jewishness can only truly be defined halachically. The level of one's observance and what labels, if any, one chooses to give oneself are between each Jew and Hashem, whether that Jew was born from a Jewish mother or received their Jewish soul at the mikvah with a halachic conversion. THAT is the real problem of the differences of Reform, Conservative et al..... that is actually causing divisions and pain to those people who believe they are Jewish but actually are not. And this includes all the descendants from a woman who calls and believes herself Jewish but actually, however deeply associated with Jewish practice, in essence is not. Judaism is not a "feel-good" religion - though we can feel VERY good with every mitzvah that we keep - dependent on a postmodern type of thinking which is so prevalent in our societies today (ie you do what you believe is right and I will do what I believe is right and everything is all right because it FEELS right) - but is rooted in the commandments that Hashem gave to Moshe. So throw out the labels, love every Jew wherever and whoever he or she is, and respect and try and be sensitive to everyone, because we are all beloved children of Hashem whether we are Jewish or non-Jewish, but remember that halacha still defines the essence of who we are (or sadly, for those to whom it applies, who we are not).

"These terms are artificial lines dividing Jews into classes and sub-classes ignoring the most important thing about us all. We share one and the same Torah given by the One and the same God. "
Yes, but the Orthodox are the ones who believe that. Conservative and Reform are the only ones who believe in the concept of denominations at all. Orthodox are the ones who say, look, either the Torah is divine and we are obligated to keep it to the best of our ability, or not. The Orthodox say yes, Conservative hedge around and can't decide, Reform outright deny it. that is NOT an artificial division. That's a fundamental understanding of the entire universe and our purpose in it. (If that doesn't matter to you, I hold out no hope of convincing you of anything un-quotidian, ever.)

Those who aren't Orthodox, yes are definitely still Jews, 100%, and no Orthodox person would ever deny it (unless they're really stupid, because that's not true according to their own laws which they have to believe in if they're still defining themselves as Orthodox.) All Conservative and Reform people should know that the Orthodox do think you're Jewish, we just don't think that you define what Judaism is correctly.

We're all Jews. But we ARE different. Some people are Bostonians and some are New Yorkers. No, not everyone is the same within those labels. Some Bostoners might even root for the Yankees or vacation in the Catskills. But there's still a difference between the two groups and using those monikers has a useful function, it tells you something about where the person is from. It doesn't mean that the labels shouldn't exist or that if you grew up in Boston and live there to this day you can just decide to stop calling yourself a Bostonian.

TL;DR- Labels aren't so terrible in and of themselves. This whole article is silly.

Dear Rabbi Mendel,

Will you daven in a shul that is not Orthodox? Will you sit next to a woman who is also davening, and consider yourself yotse? Will you pray in any shul, regardless of denomination? Do you recognize those with non-Orthodox smicha as rabbis? Do you count women in a minyan? Will you daven, in tefilla b'tzibur, if there are women forming the minyan of ten? Will you share a pulpit with a woman who is a Rabbi in doing a wedding, or leading a service? I imagine that you would say yes to all of the above, since you have publicly claimed you are not an Orthodox Rabbi. If you cannot say yes to all of the above, I encourage you to publish an apology and a detraction of your public statement about being not being an Orthodox Rabbi. If you cannot say yes to all of the above, to claim one is not Orthodox is both disingenuous and inaccurate.

Thank you

You have obviously missed the point of the article.

His word is healing and revealing. Read it, say it, pray it. Heart over heads.

Thank you, Rabbi Teldon, for your wise words -- there is no Orthodox, no Reform, etc. We are all Jews and as you say, "These terms are artificial lines dividing Jews into classes and sub-classes ignoring the most important thing about us all. We share one and the same Torah given by the One and the same God." Now, I ask you, with deepest respect, and in all sincerity, are you willing to enter into authentic dialogue with me, and recognize me as an authentic rabbi, well-educated, recipient of two semichas, one from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and one from Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi? Are you willing to recognize me as a rabbi? I am a woman who has a Ph.D, in History with a specialization in Jewish Studies from UCLA, and have taught for almost 30 years in excellent universities and who teaches rabbinical students now? Recently, I wrote to my colleagues the following: "I believe that denominations divide us. I believe that we need now is a paradigm shift and a new approach. This new paradigm might be described in the way my dissertation advisor described life in the medieval Iberian peninsula, as a place of "osmotic interchange" — an osmosis, a cross-fertilization of ideas, minhagim, many new mahlokot l'shem shamayim, perhaps what we might call a new era of argumentation and intellectual, spiritual and cultural dialectical exchange, — a "new Talmudic era" — when so-called 'Reconstructionist' and so-called 'Conservative' and so-called 'Modern Orthodox' and so-called 'Renewal' and so-called 'Reform' and so-called 'Independent' and so-called 'Haredi' Jews – male and female –might engage in vibrant, dynamic and deep and ongoing multi-logue (not just 'dialogue') and multi-conversations — this type of engagement would usher in an era of an exciting, renewed and renewing, refreshed and refreshing Judaism that folks might actually care about, be inspired by and want to be connected to. We don't need to build more bricks and mortar institutions, and we certainly don't need more ideological walls between us." Rabbi Teldon, if you are truly serious and honest about what you write, then you WILL recognize me as a rabbi and you will have the "ometz" to go beyond the halachic designations and the male definition of a rabbi and see me and many female scholars who have received semicha as rabbis and engage in the exciting and vibrating sicha kedosha I propose. With respect and hope, Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D.

While I recognize it's Rabbi Teldon's response you seek, I wanted to just share a thought in response to your heartfelt writing. Clearly Judaism is extremely important to you and I am sure you have tremendous knowledge. Without labeling myself, I grew up with very little Judaism in my life although it somehow always spoke to me and once I was married and began to raise a family, I became more serious about Jewish study and observance. We now keep Shabbat and only eat kosher and have moved to an observant yishuv in Israel. So the thing I understood from the article wasn't that everything else that everyone else is doing under the umbrella of Judaism is acceptable to those who would define themselves as "observant". And he is not being hypocritical if he would say that he doesn't recognize a certain semicha or will say he disagrees with specific teachings that might be accepted by certain Jewish groups. I do believe we are all Am Yisroel and I would very much like to see us united and supporting each other. But that doesn't mean that I accept the teachings or practices of all Jews. The most amazing experience I have had since being in Israel is attending a Jewish dance class. The class is filled with women from every religious and socio-economic segment of Israeli society. The woman dance together, embrace each other and have built amazing friendships. I see the beauty in all of these women dancing together and I love it. But I still wouldn't eat at the homes of many of these women. I still would not necessarily want my children to marry theirs unless they were committed to a different lifestyle. But I can welcome them in my home and I can appreciate them as Jews. I think that's the message of the article and it's unfair and unrealistic to expect Jews who live a life that's more aligned with authentic and traditional Judaism to accept your ways and your role as a religious leader amongst them. No one disputes your status as a bright and educated woman with much to offer. But the problem for me in accepting someone as a Rabbi who did not learn in an "orthodox" institution is that you would have learned and would be teaching something other than the Judaism that I live and have grown to love. I am sure that you might be upset by what I am saying and that's not at all my intent. We should all treat each other with respect but that doesn't mean we have to accept each other's beliefs or practices.

Dear Rabbi Gal-Berner. I've participated in and am appreciative of Reconstructionist and Renewal Judaism and like you (as noted earlier) am skeptical of Rabbi Teldon's message of inclusiveness and universalism. Still, I had a visceral reaction to several thing you've said and am sharing them in the spirit of constructive feedback:
- Your questions to Rabbi Teldon need to be about any and every liberal rabbi, not just one in particular.
- Jews you are looking to attract are likely to find terms like "osmotic interchange" "over their heads". This is a lay forum, not a scholarly journal.
- It is imperative for the greater Jewish community to "usher in an era of an exciting, renewed and renewing, refreshed and refreshing Judaism that folks might actually care about, be inspired by and want to be connected to", as you write. Orthodox, Haredi, Hasidic and Chabad Jewish leaders, however, feel that they have already created such a Judaism and that streams outside their circle are irrelevant, except for providing funds or recruits.

Labels can divide and oppress or they can highlight and celebrate.

Ice cream shops sell multiple flavors, not just one. They also don't just blend them all into one vat. Yet, the flavors are not at war with each other. Chocolate is no less ice cream than strawberry. We have different preferences at different times. Sometimes we enjoy just one flavor, other times we combine. Yet, we'd laugh at someone who would declare "there is only one ice cream". So with Judaism. It's true that Hitler didn't care what kind of Jew someone was, but that does not negate the fact that Jewish thought and practice has been diverse through the ages. In today's Judaism, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform and the many other streams have all made distinct, positive contributions to Jewish life and deserve to be named and celebrated, just as the diverse Hasidic sects do.

I've experienced Jewish life with all the major streams and several Hasidic sects. been around long enough to hear declarations like Rabbi Teldon's. They always come from Jews who will privately declare themselves as "frum", "religious" or "Torah-true", in other words, Orthodox. And the call for unity is for a Judaism that resembles theirs. As other commenters noted, the test of Rabbi Teldon's "inclusiveness" would be which Judaisms' rabbis he'd break bread and sit on a panel with, whose teachings he'd quote, whose writings he'd have on his shelf and whose kids he'd be happy for his children to date.

The author neglected to ask his guests if any of them defined themselves as Reconstructionist, leaving out the 4th main stream of Judaism. As a proud and dedicated Reconstructionist Jew, I relate to the journeys many of us are on, and am glad to have found the movement that allows for so much questioning and a range of beliefs while keeping "feet in two civilizations" - the secular and the Jewish/ritual/traditional.

I think it's important to define a Jew as Torah Observant Jew/Shomer Shabbat - lest we forget what our goal is. When people tell me they are not "orthodox" or not religious - its a little meaninless - the point is do they keep shabbat or not - if not then they probably are less strict on other things i.e. kashrut, intermarriage, etc and there goes the hope for Jewish continuity. If the Jew embraces any part of Judaism, even just Zionisim, we should embrace him/her that at least they identify with the Jewish people. Our ultimate ruin is via intermarriage and assimilation.
We are in the modest swimwear business and I get customers calling me and needing to define themselves as "not religious" before they buy modest swimwear - it's funny to me - I dont really need to know if they follow the Torah - but the fact that they want to cover up in any way (we offer variations of modesty to encourage modesty) is pleasing to me. (FYI www.MarSeaModest.com)

Thank you. I am moved to tears and agree. We need to find the points of contact and deep sharing and not get hung up on the superficial differences. The S'fat Emet talks about the "inner point" in each Jew. That inner point is the opening through which the thread that connects us all passes. Yeshar Ko'ah.
Reuben

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.