Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Judaism and Ignorance

From my life experience I have noticed that the main way that Jewish groups, both in the more liberal groups (reform/conservative) and the more fundamentalist ones (othrodoxy), keep the community in following their current beliefs is by keeping their congregants either uninformed  about certain concepts and/or misrepresenting them.

For the Orthodox my experience has been that the leaders of the Jewish frum communities constantly try to avoid exposing their community to secular concepts, mainly when they pose a threat to Jewish beliefs and sometimes even when they don't. When they do present secular concepts that oppose Jewish theology it is almost always presented in such a way that misrepresents them.

The same goes for the Reform/Conservative leaders as well, but mostly from a different front. The way they keep their congregation Jewish is usually by not informing them of much of what is in the Tanach/Mishnah/Talmud/etc. There is so much ignorance of basic Jewish halachah even. It isn't that they simply disagree with these tenets and halachahs, they are totally ignorant of them. I know of many liberal Jews who don't know what tefillin are? Who don't know when Shavuos is? Who don't know that Jews read from the Torah on days other than Shabbos, let alone that Jews are supposed to pray on days other than Shabbos as well?

Many times when Jewish subjects are discussed I feel that they truly do misrepresent those subjects. I once heard a reform Rabbi claim in front of a Jewish learning group that if Rambam were alive today that he would support driving to shul on shabbos. Although I don't think that Rambam would be as fanatical or fundamentalist as todays frum yidden, I think it is truly ludicrous to propose that the Rambam would actually drive to shul on shabbos. Why is he saying this? To make Judaism more palatable to Jews who already accept much of secular society. I have a feeling if he talked about what Rambam really felt on many subjects, his group would be turned off by it, and I can't say I blame them, but does he really think that misrepresenting the Rambam is really the proper approach?


  1. My feeling is that you are right about the rambam. He had a very definite path in the service of God which is kind of scary. After keeping all of the laws of mishna torah one still would not get into olam haba without being an expert in all of the natural sciences and the metaphysics of Aristotle. He leaves no room for compromise.

  2. It's impossible to know how any historical figure would act if plucked out of time and placed in our context. I sometimes like to think the same things about them. It's a silly comment for the rabbi to have made.

    On the other hand, while most secular Jews who call themselves Reform or Conservative are ignorant about much in Judaism, it's not because many of their rabbis aren't trying. Lately even Reform rabbis have been pushing tefillin and the like.

    My criticism of them is that they hide all of the unappealing aspects of Jewish tradition because they know if people had that knowledge they'd probably become atheists like me!

  3. RJF,

    Your last paragraph was mainly what I meant to say.

  4. Despite your slagging me on another blog, I'll contribute a useful comment here.

    The reason the Reformer mentioned Rambam is because it an established belief in that movement that the Rambam was really a liberal Jew. They point out how the Moreh Nevuchim went against many of the "Orthodox" beliefs of the day and since they believe that being rational means being Reform, since the Rambam was rational he must have also been a Reformer. They explain the Mishneh Torah by saying that it was a concession to the rabbinic leadership of the day to allow him to remain in a leadership role in the community. That he actually meant what he wrote in there isn't part of their belief.

  5. > They explain the Mishneh Torah by saying that it was a concession to the rabbinic leadership of the day

    And the Chareidi world explain away the parts of the Rambam they don’t like by saying he wrote it for kiruv.

    For someone who was wildly controversial in his won day, the Rambam has really made it big. Apparently he’s so popular that both ends are groping for ways to sat that he was one of them. We all know the truth, though. If the Rambam was alive today, he’d really be Modern Orthodox. :-)

  6. G*3, you're not far off. The Rambam was about the intelligent understanding of Judaism and allowing it to interact with the modern world, not so far off from what the Rav and Rav Shimshom Rafael Hirsch preached.

  7. G3- Very funny. Rambam was a very smart guy.
    He knew that sometimes he had to be political. As they "sometimes you have to go along to get along".
    Garnel- I agree with your comment.


  8. Garnel,

    I grew up in a classically Reform Synagogue, where I completed confirmation. Confirmation Class was the first time I had ever heard of Rambam, been given a complete picture of what kosher meant, and learned of the existence of many laws now very basic to me. My Rabbi was quite the mover and shaker in his day, well respected within the movement. And I received no such mesorah from him. He made it very clear that, while the Rambam was indeed a liberal in his own time, that he certainly was and is an Orthodox figure. Yet somehow, he did insist that his 13 Principles of Faith are universally accepted by Judaism in a day when all Reform siddurim carried the line M'chayei haKol. Yay intellectual consistency!

    And sadly, Skeptisher, I have met Reform Rabbis with the same or worse misunderstandings as their congregants. I have even heard them spreading their ignorance on occasion. It appears to be a deeply rooted institutional problem. While I won't be accepted in the Orthodox community, I can never go back to the Reform; it's just too...perhaps "uninformed" is the most polite way I can put it.

  9. QY,

    I feel the same way about my former conservative upbringing.