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Orthodoxy: American Jewry’s China

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.

Rabbi Waxman: Open Closed Minds

Rabbi Grossman: Shun the Haters

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posted January 3, 2007 at 11:45 pm

The Orthodoxy that is gaining adherents is not the modern Orthodoxy of Yeshiva but the closed ghetto ultra-Orthodoxy that is turning its back on modernity and the vast majority of Jews who are not frum enough. While Rabbi Stern is correct that thus far this group has shown little propensity for violence, a resurgent insular Orthodoxy does pose a problem. We could easily see more attacks on women whose dress is not modest enough, as has happened in Israel, or further attacks on women trying to pray at the Western Wall. I could go on, but the intolerance with which many on the far right wing of Judaism view us liberal coreligionists certainly has the potential to spill over into verbal and potential physical violence. As to whether Orthodoxy really fits the Chinese paradigm, we’ll see. Some experts fear that the retention rate of Orthodoxy will be only about 50%, and that youths with more access to the internet will find ways to have their emunah challenged.

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posted January 4, 2007 at 12:24 am

I definitely agree with Jethro. As someone who’s still trying (maybe will always be trying) to figure out where she fits in the Jewish community, I’m concerned about what looks like a rise in ideological narrow-mindedness, influence of conservative politics, and promotion of reactionary, defensive halakhic arguments. I feel very uncomfortable, as a politically liberal and generally more progressive Jew, within today’s Orthodox Judaism — and I’m not sure that would have been the case even 30 years ago. And while I don’t always agree with Conservative/Reform/Reconstructionist Jews on halakha, I still feel like they tend to be more open, more broad-minded, and more committed to real questioning (as opposed to questioning in order to come to a predetermined conclusion). Some of this, I think, is even evident in the way this blog plays out. R. Stern seems to be in attack mode a lot more than either R. Grossman or Waxman. I can’t imagine saying something as condescending as, “I thought to myself, ‘I could easily have written the exact same piece 10 years ago.'” Everyone here is intelligent and has something to contribute; I can imagine Ben Zoma saying, “Who is wise? He who learns from all people.” Immaturity indeed.

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posted January 4, 2007 at 8:37 am

Senlin, I was shocked to read your (implicit) characterization of R’ Stern as narrow-minded and condescending and your attempt to relate his alleged character flaws to the fact that he is an Orthodox rabbi. Your stereotyping speaks volumes about your own interest in “real questioning.” Yes, R’ Stern likes to argue, which is one of the reasons people like me love reading his posts. But it is precisely his commitment to vigorous debate with his fellow bloggers which reveals his respect for their contributions. He might often be in “attack mode” – but his target is always the elucidation of those issues that he, as well as the other rabbis on this forum, see as crucial to Jewish life and Judaism today.

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posted January 13, 2007 at 6:12 am

Once again,Jews get attacked as the only violent ones,and the only extremeists,when we as a group, are the LEAST VIOLENT.I rest my case.Get rid of this Liberal,stupid,idiotic dogma.I am sick of hearing it,it is always one-sided,and two-faced. That is exactly why I stopped being a Liberal,years ago,and became an Independent.Most Liberals are hyprocritical,and liars.I know them,I used to be one,and I got sick of them,and quit.They are just as bad,or worse,than extreme right wingers.

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