Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two worlds in modern Judaism: reinvention vs. tradition

(how some people see Judaism)

Interesting post on Circus Tent blog regarding two worlds of Orthodox Judaism: one consisting of Jews following an unbroken chain of tradition of how to look at Judaism, and the other, not having that mesora, discovering Judaism de novo.
Today in the US we have a whole range of people under 60, American born, whose knowledge of Judaism is based exclusively on books, and those books are the Shulchan Aruch and Gemora. Most of these people had parents whom I am sure were fine people but left behind the emotional attachment to echte Yiddishkayt in Europe. Here they belonged to Young Israel synagogues and became very acculturated and lost that special hergesh. In America, Judaism was reduced to learning and doing Mitzvos by rote. These people include most MO Jews, the so called Yeshiva community, and even some “Amerikane Chasidim”.

On the other side we have people whose view of Judaism was shaped by seeing how their parents acted, felt, laughed, cried, talked and walked. These people tended to have a genuine Mesorah. They saw Judaism as more than just book learning, and the book learning included Midrash, Chassidus, Sifrei Mussar vechulu. This people tend to be Chassidic and a few Misnagdim who come from European homes. And in the background of all of this loomed the Holocaust, not Coney Island! To the first category Rabbonim are “machinove”, automated people who act in a mathematical way, and have no emotions.
The second category knows that Judaism is more than the dry letter of the law.
Of course, a third category exists: ba’alei teshuva, people whose parents were not religious at all and who “returned” to Judaism. For those people it is a matter of choice which Judaism they are returning to: the one routed in unbroken chain of tradition going back to Mt. Sinai or the one that treats Judaism as a combination of creative writing project and a lab manual.

And I cannot help myself but to bang on the kettle again — within the group that sees the spirit of the law in the letter, two approaches exist: 1) look at Judaism as a path, as a tradition, as a community-preserving/shaping force, 2) look at Judaism as a way of connecting to G-d.

What's in your telephone
(do we care about the phone because it connects us, or because we like it as a gadget?)


Hirshel Tzig said...

I think the Baalei tshuvah group was deliberately avoided, since they really have no choice but to start all over again.

Crawling Axe said...

But, as I said, when they start all over again, they start within a specific context.