Reading Rabbi Waxman’s post, I thought to myself “I could easily have written the exact same piece…10 years ago when I was freshman at Yeshiva University.” Much of what Rabbi Waxman says is correct. The problem is that it’s too easy, it’s too obvious, and it fails to explain the rise and allure of Orthodoxy.
Rabbi Waxman fails to address the fact that Orthodox Judaism is on the rise. As Steven Cohen put it a few weeks ago at the Association for Jewish Studies annual conference in San Diego “Orthodoxy is American Jewry’s China.” Cohen pointed out the large numbers of Jews under the age of 18 who identify with Orthodoxy and predicated that Orthodoxy will only continue to grow.
While I personally think that other factors may impede Orthodox teenagers from becoming Orthodox adults, the bottom line remains that Orthodox Judaism is not going anywhere and continues to gain adherents. (At a later date I will try to explain the social and religious logic of this phenomenon.)
But the biggest problem I have with Rabbi Waxman’s post is that in the broad scheme of things Orthodox physical violence–and there is no doubt that this group does have a greater propensity for violence than other Jewish groups–is still relatively speaking not much to write home about. For the most part, relative to its cohorts in other religious communities, it is a pretty peaceful and tolerant religious community. Comparing fundamentalist Jewish Orthodoxy with its Christian and Islamic counterparts is like comparing Little Red Riding Hood with the Big Bad Wolf. The bottom line is that no matter how violent fundamentalist Orthodoxy is, it is constantly being silenced, critiqued, and shunned by the broader Jewish community.
We have our crazies. Take Yigal Amir, the Orthodox Jewish assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the rabbis who supported him. But for the most part we do a much better job than other religious groups at ensuring that these groups are marginalized. In this regard I fully support Rabbi Waxman that we as a community must be vigilant in condemning militant and fundamentalist Orthodoxy.
Rabbi Waxman, unlike the Muslim community where a large, violent minority dictates the politics and positions of the mostly peaceful majority, at least 95 percent of Jews and Orthodox Jews object to and condemn all forms of interdenominational violence.