I thought that he had some good critiques of Orthodoxy - things which needed to be said.
I was already aware, going into the speech, of his ideas on Orthodox not being so charitable with the non-Orthodox, while the non-Orthodox are big supporters of the Orthodox (as reported by the Jewish Week) (although this brings to mind a statement Rabbi Wein made that decades ago you would see a lot more non-observant Jews giving to Orthodox institutions, though it has been slowing up in recent times), which he did bring up, but he had the following to say on the separateness and lack of ability on the behalf of the Orthodox minority to [positively] influence the rest of [North American] Jewry:
...one must ask why Orthodoxy, with its relative isolation and insulation, doesn’t work for the overwhelming majority of us. Orthodox Jews go to different schools, eat different food, marry different people, often live in different neighborhoods, and have, in some important areas, different values.It's a good question. I don't have the answer now, though trying does help. And that's what we as
Even being sent by the God I don’t believe in, and educated by a Rabbi I adore, a group of one-gender Orthodoxy “young ‘uns” are going to have a little difficulty changing this miserable Jewish world.That's tough, though somewhat pessimistic. His challenge?
I would like to offer you the opportunity to be a partner in renaissance with all of kelal Yisra’el. I ask that you recognize that non-Orthodox Jews have values also, and that these values are not empty. To do that, you must learn to judge non-Orthodox with the benefit of the doubt (“le-kaf zekhut,” as the Rabbis say). I ask you to focus not only on their glaring weaknesses; try to respect the commitments of non-Orthodox to education and critical scholarship, to family and tsedaqah, to Israel and to solidarity with all Jews. I do not deny the excesses, the materialism, the assimilation and the ignorance that are eroding the non-Orthodox world. But the impression that non-OrthodoxJews are living meaningless lives is a caricature. We need to see each other as equals who are able to teach the other something. Frankly, this is quite a challenge.He put the issues on the table. I thought, however, that he was preaching to the choir, as we already are sensitive to those issues. Nevertheless, it was good to hear a concerned outside voice on this topic.
As to his trying to build up the Jewish community (at least in North America), he is concerned about demographics - he wants more involved. What struck me about this concept, at the time, was that I, as an observant Jew, often see things with regards to leading more qualitatively Jewish lives, though not so much on the agregate level. He and other major Jewish philanthropists are concerned about demographics, per se, which strikes me as weird. However, one would be blind to ignore the tremendous benefits that they provide on a large scale.
There was some further discussion, especially that he admired the Orthodox commitment to Jewish education and family life and that what he sees as the specialness of the Jewish people (I noted this in the earlier posting, though it is elaborated on in this Jpost article from a week ago:
It comes from one thing - the history and continuity of Jewish values, the overwhelming first of which is our overwhelming focus, in terms of time and energy and money, on learning, on education, on memory. That has continued for 3,000 or 4,000 years and has made us the people we are. It is not the only Jewish value but it is the predominant Jewish value, along with tzedaka and some other things... I think if we introspect hard we may find a few others that are Jewish values and that's what makes us Jews as far as I'm concerned. And they don't require a belief in the supernatural.The problem with a Judaism without God is figuring out direction, for starters. I'm sure there are many more problems with this sort of God-less Judaism (I'm sure many would be quick to point out the oxymoronic value of that term).
He continues on in that article to speak of a "21st century Judaism":
I am in the midst of trying to create - this sounds arrogant, so you'll forgive me before I start - I am trying to create a 21st century Judaism, Common Judaism, and Common Judaism is Judaism for all of us. It combines the best of our past with the recognition that we have to somehow be relevant and we have to recognize change.Although he did not articulate this idea at the time of his visit, it is what's underlying his thinking regarding Judaism and the Jewish world today.
One last thing which I think is interesting is the end of that article, where the author states about Steinhardt
This is the financial brain, remember, who made hundreds of millions by bucking trends and defying conventional wisdom. This is the iconoclast, don't forget, who planted birthright in the heart of a barren, even hostile, Jewish establishment landscape. This is his lueprint for wooing the complacent, assimilating multitudes - provocative, determined, unconventional, just like Steinhardt himself. And this is his Judaism - an insistently, if sorrowfully, God-free Judaism that will challenge, I suspect, the many who lazily consign the things they don't understand to a force they conveniently call God.What may come of his ideas, time will tell, although now that Birthright is about to reach its 100,000th participant (I was somewhere in there), time has already started to tell. Although, as Steinhardt admitted to us, that that has been by far his most successful program, but with none to match or follow up with it.
Okay, let the comments begin.
Tags: Michael Steinhardt, YCT, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Birthright Israel, Judaism, Jewish world, Jewish people, Jewish education, Orthodoxy, Edah Journal