30 January 2011

Abandoning Judaism for Religion

Last night, while reading in bed, I came across the following passage that certainly was something that has been on my mind, but was nice to find an articulation of Jews abandoning their heritage because of "religion":
If Judaism was presented in an immature manner during a youth's earlier years, he has an obligation to himself and to four thousand years of stubbornly proud ancestors to boldly seek out his roots. No sensitive, enlightened youth should reject Judaism because of the way assimilated regions of American Jewry have corrupted it.

It is not intellectually honest to abandon the Jewish faith because it was presented foolishly during childhood years. It is an insult to every cherished principle of enlightened inquiry to dissociate oneself from Judaism because "other religions" are chaotic, devoid of reason, and frequently counter-productive in terms of the bloodshed they occasion. It was Christianity which perpetrated the crusades, inquisitions, and blood libels "in the name of God." It was not Judaism. What a tragedy it would be if, in addition to the millions who died martyrs' deaths at the hand of Christian zealots, future thousands of Jewish youths will forsake their heritage because those bloody massacres have tarnished the reputation of "religion"!

- Dov Aharoni Fisch, Jews for Nothing: On Cults, Intermarriage, and Assimilation (Jerusalem & New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1984), 312.


Conservative said...

Actually Dr. Fisch doesn't know what he's talking about, at least in my case. I got the typical Conservative Hebrew School experience, for which I dropped out after by bar mitzva, but I kept active in Jewish youth groups for social reasons, and became a shabbos regular at our shul when I was in high school. This was mostly because the shul was one place where I was treated seriously, respectfully, and like an adult.

I spent a year in Israel, and took every Judaic studies class in college I could find, and also learned a lot on my own. When I started my career, I joined a shul, and became a regular, and for a while, a leader in the congregation, plus I would go to every rabbi's Talmud class and other learning experience I could find. Even though I'm not Orthodox, I live in a neighborhood full of frum Orthodox people, and I have had the opportunity to learn with them and observe their community very closely.

And for all of this, now that I'm in my late 50's, I'm ready to ditch it all. And it's mostly because what I see in the the traditionalist Judaism to which I have been so strongly exposed. The corruption, the lashon hara, the communal demands for conformity, who in their right minds would want to subject themselves to that. And the study of the Jewish texts and traditions shows that "Judaism" is hypocritical, with a halachic system that goes out of its way to overturn inconvenient laws in some cases, but not in others. And furthermore, the texts of Judaism of philosophically incoherent, which might be better than the alternative, but in the end, there's really nothing unique about Judaism, except some tribal folkways. I enjoy some of these folkways, which is why I haven't totally divorced myself from Judaism. But it's getting harder and harder to keep this up, the more I learn of the truth of my heritage.

Drew_Kaplan said...

@Conservative - I believe you are referring to a totally different type of case than to which Rabbi Fisch is referring. He is talking about a common way in which many Jewish youth are turned off from Judaism, without really knowing much about it; an instance that would contradict it would be where someone doesn't know much about Judaism but sticks to it qua religion, nevertheless. Your case sounds different in that you at least were educated to some degree about it.

Susan B said...

I don't see what the sentence "No sensitive, enlightened youth should reject Judaism because of the way assimilated regions of American Jewry have corrupted it." has to do with the rest of the quote.

The rest of it sounds like he's talking about people who don't learn anything beyond the age of bar/bat mitzvah. But that has nothing to do with whether those youth thing Judaism has been corrupted in more assimilated areas.

Then again, I'm of the opinion that Judaism is much more corrupted in less assimilated areas, but maybe that's just me.