From the news media:
Instead of the promised visible and permanent pluralistic prayer pavilion under their control at Jerusalem’s Western Wall — passed as a government decision in January 2016 — non-Orthodox Jewry is again to be shunted to second-class prayer status on a slim platform in the corner of an archaeological park creating a Western Wall crisis.
However, that is not a Western Wall crisis – it is much worse, it is a crisis of Jewish identity. This crisis relates to the Jewish identity in the following way.
The Jews are identified collectively and individually but the Western wall is a place where God identifies a Jew (or a Christian) individually
Leaders of Reform and Conservative Jewry should know and no doubt, they know that the Western Wall is place for individuals spiritually connecting themselves with God. All individuals are welcome, and they may be orthodox, non-orthodox and atheist Jews or even non-Jews. Nothing what might be a distraction for individuals trying to connect themselves to God is welcome. Collective events and presence of the opposite sex are natural distractions.
The individual mono-sexual Jewish prayers at the Western Wall are part of the Jewish identity. However, the leaders of Reform and Conservative Jewry demand precisely the collective prayers with both sexes present – that is their political identity, not the Jewish identity.
The identity of Israeli Jews is different from the identity of American Jews and it is frequently misunderstood
It looks like leaders of Reform and Conservative Jewry have a vision of Israel as a Little America with the Western Wall. As an American globalist-kind political vision, it might be a good one but it is wrong from the viewpoint of Jewish identity. The Torah-guided Jewish identity should differentiate between the Jewish ways of life in the Promised Land, the State of Israel, and in the “diaspora”.
In the State of Israel, where the Jews are governing majority, it is up to them to tailor the Torah guidance to their multiple visions of fair and honest society – from ultra-orthodox to atheistic.
In the USA, where the Christianity-minded people are governing majority, the Jewish spiritual obligation is to support the Christian understanding of the Torah-guided fair and honest society – not to fight against it as is often observed, assuming that the Christian understanding is in the framework of commonly acknowledged Judeo-Christian Torah-based morality.
The Israeli citizenship and the Jewish identity are two different things
A dangerous cold civil war currently in play in the USA is a result of neglecting the difference between US citizenship and US identity.
The US identity was defined by the Declaration of Independence. This document explicitly states that the God revealed in nature is the giver of a moral law between peoples. This document gives God the ultimate moral authority making the deity the clear source of morality. This Judeo-Christian morality was given by God in the Torah on Mount Sinai and tailored for the Christians in the New Testament.
At the beginning, when the US immigrants were receiving US citizenship, it was understood they were going to have their public social and political life in agreement with the Judeo-Christian morality of the country.
For the last half-century, the US citizenship has been disconnected – step-by-step – from the US “inauguration” Judeo-Christian identity. Nowadays the US immigration policy is based on many different things such as social justice, human rights, fighting inequality, religious persecution, LGBT status … but not on the honest desire to follow the Judeo-Christian morality. The result: a dangerous cold civil war currently in play in the USA. Something similar is going on in Europe as well.
Israel is not immune from this destructive political process. That is why Israeli government has to provide Israeli citizenship only to those Jews and non-Jews who agree to live along the lines of Israeli Jewish morality – to be defined with participation of Orthodox community but not exclusively by it.
Your assessment of the future of American and Israeli Jewry depends on how you define the Jewish identity.
If you define it, as traditional rabbis are doing, by being born to a sort of halakhic Jewish family, the future is bleak. Indeed, the Jewish majority in America and Israel is increasingly being born to non-halakhic Jewish families.
However if you define it, as the Jewish majority is doing, by the results of a sort of Jewish genetic urge for intuitive Torah-guided actions aimed at making our world a much better place for everybody, the future is great. Indeed, our world is getting better through scientific discoveries, social progresses, economic innovations and technology advances, and Jewish people are the leaders here.
The assessment of Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of AISH community is bleak since he, like all traditional rabbis, defines Jewishness by being born to a “pure” Jewish family. He says: (http://www.aish.com/jw/s/American-Jewry-is-Disappearing.html?s=mm)
The recent Jewish People Policy Institute study found that outside of Orthodoxy, fewer Jews are getting married, those marrying are marrying later and having fewer children and intermarriage rates are increasing. The combination of these three factors raises the daunting question of the future of American non-Orthodox Jews. Among all non-Orthodox Jews in the 25-54 age group, just 15% are married to a Jewish spouse and have Jewish children. Intermarriage rates increase the younger the generation. Among those aged 40-44, 60% are intermarried. Among those aged 35-39, it is 73%, and 75% of those aged 30-34 have a non-Jewish spouse.
The assessment of Michael Steinhardt of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life is very much optimistic since, like a good Jewish intellectual, he defines Jewishness by Jewish actions. He says:
The last 300 years is the most enlightened — it is when Jews really shined. I would use the word superior, except people blanch when I use that word. But it’s really what I mean: Jews have accomplished so much, so inexplicably out of proportion to their numbers, in these 300 years, and it’s one of the great failures of Jewish education that that’s not focused on at all. The modern state of Israel is the Jewish miracle of the 20th century, but it’s the secular part of Israel that’s the miracle. It’s the extraordinary achievement, it’s the technology, the military, the development of a society out of nothing using Zionist ideals, taking people from terrible places and making them Israeli citizens. Israel has become, for me, the substitute for religion.
It looks like the non-halakhic majority of American Jewry is on the side of Michael Steinhardt, not on the site of Rabbi Efrem Goldberg. They are sure they are not disappearing – they are changing, flourishing, and advancing the better world for everybody. They are preserving their historic greatness.
However, many in the non-halakhic Jewish majority may disagree with Michael Steinhardt on the fundamental question of the source of Jewish historic greatness. It looks like Michael Steinhardt believes this source is the God/Torah-empty atheism. However, it is strongly believed the source is the in-build God/Torah-based guidance. This guidance is transferred from generation to generation genetically and educationally. Some Jews acknowledge it openly, and those Jews are called religious; the rabbis and synagogues guide them. However, many Jews prefer not to have rabbis and synagogues approving their actions – these are called atheists.
Many intellectual Jews are dreaming to see a friendly spiritual discussion between Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt with the sole purpose to find a common Jewish spiritual platform on the Jewish identity and Torah-guided actions in our Judeo-Christian civilization. The following two questions may be addressed at the discussion:
If so many Jews were not asking the rabbis for their advice, why the rabbis who are concerned with the future of Jewish Nation would not approach the Jews who call themselves atheists or non-religious with a convincing Jewish history-based message that says:
We the Jews have been successful because we have in-build spiritual GPS guiding us along the Jewish spiritual values received from our Jewish families and communities – with the help of rabbis and synagogues, if such help is needed, or without such help for those who feel they already know how to do it.
If intermarriage is a contemporary Jewish trend, why the rabbis who are concerned with the future of Jewish Nation would not approach the Jews who decided to intermarry with a convincing Torah-guided message that says:
Your families can be much stronger and purposeful if your families live along the lines of Jewish Torah-guided traditions and we the rabbis are happy to help you.
It seems to me, something is missing in this sermon.
From a sermon by Rabbi Sacks:
Judaism identified three distinct moral sensibilities each of which has its own voice and vocabulary. They are  the ethics of the king,  the ethics of the priest and fundamentally,  the ethics of the prophet.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel talk about their distinctive sensibilities:
For the teaching of the law [Torah] by the priest will not cease,
nor will counsel [etzah] from the wise [chakham],
nor the word [davar] from the prophets. (Jer. 18:18)
They will go searching for a vision [chazon] from the prophet, priestly instruction in the law [Torah] will cease, the counsel [etzah] of the elders will come to an end. (Ez. 7:26)
Priests think in terms of Torah. Prophets have “the word” or “a vision.” Elders and the wise have “etzah”. What does this mean? … Kings and their courts are associated in Judaism with wisdom – chokhmah, etzah and their synonyms. … The prophetic voice is quite different, impassioned, vivid, radical in its critique of the misuse of power and the exploitative pursuit of wealth. … The ethic of the priest, and of holiness generally, is different again. The key activities of the priest are lehavdil – to discriminate, distinguish and divide – and lehorot – to instruct people in the law, both generally as teachers and in specific instances as judges.
I am not a rabbi, I am just a thinking Jew as the majority of Jews are, and I feel we are missed in this triangle. I feel we are the fourth cornerstone of Judaism – we the individual humans of Judaism whose ethics are distinct moral sensibilities as well. We are not teaching the Jewish spirituality; we are not counseling any formal congregation of people; and we are not instructing anybody on any Talmudic rules. We have, at least most of us have, Jewish ethics in our genes clarified and enhanced by our families, education and our encounters with many in the triangle above.
What we are doing is modifying and tailoring the “three distinct moral sensibilities” to our distinctive and unique Jewish lives. We are trying, with the help of rabbis or without such help, to figure out how to be the Chosen and how to build together with our Christian human brothers and sisters a better Torah-guided world for everybody. Below are a few example.
As a scientist and as a socially active person. One of the areas of my professional involvement was American-Russian relationships, and one of the challenges was whether we had to influence their “perestroika” after the dissolution of the Soviet Union – if they are “made in the image of God” as we are, may be it is better to let them find their own way without our forceful interference.
My friend Naum L. was trying hard to strengthen Jewishness of his extensive and politically active family and one of the challenges was to decide what is closer to being Jewish – being politically conservative or liberal.
Another my friend Matus S. was involved in shaping up Holocaust exhibitions – should they demonstrate the survival of Jewish nation spiritually or just the massacres.
Our Jewishness forced my friends and myself to look for spiritual answers to all challenges in the above – probably as the fourth cornerstone of Judaism.
I tried to find an answer to a question of why our rabbis are not a significant help to us, and what I found is discomforting for the rabbis and myself.
The rabbis are trained to teach everything what Judaism created for the last three millenniums, and it was enough when the Jewish majority was isolated from the rest of the “native” people where the Jewish majority lived. For the last two centuries, this situation has changed drastically. Now the Jewish majority lives peacefully together with the non-Jewish population and is building a better world together with Gentiles. Now the Jewish majority lives in the democratic societies where all problems are being resolved by listening to each other and finding a consensus with the others. However, our rabbis are not trained to do that – they are trained to indoctrinate. And the Jewish majority is figuring out, on their own, what to do – how to stay the Chosen and how to build a better world with the others.
From the news media:
The study, released by the Pew Research Center, which surveyed the residents of 18 countries, found that only 80 percent of respondents would accept Jews as fellow citizens.
Thus, the 20% of the Gentiles would not accept the Jews as fellow citizens. May it be that this 20% are the Gentiles reside nearby the strictly orthodox Jewish enclaves and observe the unwillingness of these Jews to find a consensus on how to follow common society rules and build a better world for everybody.
Let us first define Judaism as rabbinical profession and Judaism as Jewish way of life.
Judaism as rabbinical profession has, like any other profession, its higher education institutions the yeshivas with their curriculums, accreditations, alumni-type associations, publications, and of course the spiritual competition among them.
Like in any other profession, there are sages and authorities (rabbinical authorities) such as for example Rambam, Hillel or Lubavicher Rabbi Schneerson – they are the greatest in the profession who earned the trust of their pupils the Jewish majority.
At the core of this profession is the Jewish understanding of God’s guidance in the Torah on the human morality and the rituals in support of this morality.
The professionals in this profession, the Rabbis, have been teaching all that to their pupils in the synagogues and other places of Jewish education.
Judaism as Jewish way of life is the application of the rabbis’ teachings to the day-by-day life of Jewish families – at home, at work, in politics, etc. in the variety of places where Jews may live – how to do the Jewish rituals and how to live morally Jewish.
In the historic Jewish past, there was no misapprehension between Judaism as rabbinical profession and Judaism as Jewish way of life. Judaism as rabbinical profession provided complete guidance on Jewish way of life. That was so since the Jewish communities were separated from the “natives” in countries of Jewish residence and the haredim orthodox rabbis were the ultimate legal authorities on the rituals and the morality in segregated Jewish communities from the birth to the death. The rabbis’ teachings and instructions had no competing forces – it was a sort of spiritual guiding dictatorship.
In the contemporary Jewish life, everything is different – now most of the Jews are exposed to numerous competing spiritual guiding ideas. Only about 20% of Jews are under the old-style haredim orthodox rabbinical guidance. The rest of the Jews are under competing influences of non-haredim Jewish spiritual streams (Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist) and various non-Jewish spiritual streams.
Pew Survey of U.S. Jews shows that less than one-third of American Jews belong to a synagogue. Among them, only twenty-three percent attend synagogue on a regular basis. It looks like only about 20% of the Jews in America have a rabbi as a personal spiritual adviser on the Jewish way of life. The great Jewish majority in America is “under influence” of many non-rabbinical authoritative forces which are shaping their morality – the government, the employment, the neighborhood, the Gentile news media, the Christian and Atheistic realms, the Gentile social circles, etc.
However, and that is very important, in the Jewish families, as Pew Survey of U.S. Jews shows, 96 percent are trying to raise their children as Jews. It means the Jewish majority is eager to preserve their Jewish way of life through their own understanding of Judaism for contemporary diversified life conditions.
That means that nowadays the Judaism as rabbinical profession is separated from the Judaism as Jewish way of life for about 80% of American Jews.
Nowadays no traditional rabbinical authority is directly guiding the Jewish majority in many morality decisions. Here are just a few examples.
Orthodox Judaism maintains the historical understanding of Jewish identity. A Jew is someone who was born to a Jewish mother, or who converts to Judaism in accordance with Jewish law and tradition. However, that is not the case anymore. Many Jews are marrying Christians not to abandon Judaism as way if life but rather to include the newcomers to the Jewish family in the Jewish way of life. They would like to get traditional rabbinical guidance on that but they do not get it. For the traditional rabbinical community the adherence to professional doctrines is more important than helping the intermarried Jewish families preserve their Jewishness in a sort of renovated form. This pushes many Jewish families to the non-traditional rabbinical authorities (Reform, Conservative) and then out of the rabbinical guidance at all.
The politically correct directives of US government on what is Good and what is Bad for the society are changing and challenging the Judeo-Christian definitions on what is Good and Bad. However, there is no traditional rabbinical guidance on all that and the Jews are making their moral decisions here being influenced not by traditional rabbinical authorities but rather by anti-Judeo-Christian forces.
What to do? The answer is obvious: for all Jewish spiritual authorities – traditional and non-traditional, religious and non-religious, pro-Judeo-Christian and anti-Judeo-Christian, political and non-political – get together and propose a set of Jewish morality guidance for the Jews living happily in Judeo-Christian civilization. Could it be done?