Whither Honesty And Ethics?
Reader Avner Bloch (Letters, Oct. 25) rightly condemns the widespread apathy among frum Jews to the seemingly never-ending series of scandals that has engulfed our community in recent years.
More problematic than the apathy, of course, is the proliferation of frum Jews who have no compunction about cheating, stealing, lying, and what have you, usually to make money in an illicit fashion but also to cover up the misdeeds of friends and neighbors.
While many Modern Orthodox Jews used to characterize such behavior as a phenomenon found almost exclusively in the haredi sector, such a characterization is no longer true (if it ever was). The fact is, whereas as recently as the mid-1970s it was possible to survey the Orthodox landscape and take pride in the dynamic intellectualism and dedication to derech eretz that suffused large parts of Modern Orthodoxy, the situation today could not be more different.
The stress on ethics and dealing honestly with our neighbors, a hallmark of Modern Orthodoxy thirty and forty years ago, seems to have been replaced by an emphasis on ritualistic minutiae that was once exclusively the domain of right-wing Orthodoxy.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that had an Orthodox Jew been placed in a state of suspended animation in, say, 1975, he would not recognize the Orthodox world if he were to regain consciousness today. What we now call Modern Orthodoxy – it was viewed as mainstream Torah Judaism when I was growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s – has been on the defensive for years.
The general Orthodox public has bought into the notion that stricter necessarily means better, that isolation breeds spirituality, and that our sages in centuries past all wore black hats and spent their days searching out every chumra the human mind could conceive.
As for Modern Orthodoxy, it has atrophied over the past couple of decades to the point where a Modern Orthodox group like Edah, whose leadership was comprised of distinguished rabbis and scholars, was viewed by nearly every frum Jew I came into contact with as being unrepresentative of Torah Judaism – a fringe phenomenon to be shunned or ignored – and indeed the organization disappeared after only a few years of existence.
The reality of Torah teachers who made their living in “secular” occupations, of scholars who counseled leniency within the parameters of halacha, of rabbis whose interpretation of Torah stressed understanding and conciliation between Jew and Jew and Jew and non-Jew – that reality, which was once the norm in the Torah world, is unknown to Orthodox young people today in all but a handful of yeshivas.
Cell Phones In Shuls
Some years ago in a letter to The Jewish Press, a reader complained about Shabbos services in Orthodox shuls being disrupted by cell phones going off. At the time I thought it was much ado about nothing – after all, how frequent of an occurrence could it be?
Recently, however, at least two members of my shul have been getting calls during Shabbos davening. Neither of them has the bad taste to actually answer those calls in the shul; one of them rushes outside while the other either fumbles around in his pocket tying to shut the ringer off or just lets it ring.
I’ve heard from friends who attend other shuls in the area that they too have had their Shabbos davening interrupted by the sound of cell phones going off.
The person who wrote that letter years back about cell phones suggested that shuls install a jammer device to block cell phone frequencies. I’m not sure if that would be legal everywhere, but in locales where it is legal, this may well be a workable solution.
Approving Mixed Marriages
We’ve recently been reading, in The Jewish Press and other periodicals, about the unacceptably high percentage of Jews who marry non-Jews (rachmana l’tzlan).
The problem is that not only do many rabbis of the Reform movement officiate at interfaith weddings, they often have non-Jewish clergymen present to “co-officiate.”
If the Reform movement gives its seal of approval to such marriages, and most affiliated American Jews consider themselves Reform, I’m afraid we have a long, uphill battle to fight.