What the Orthodox think about us… and what we think about them

I work very closely with Simi, a Jew who is very Orthodox (she’s my age and about to get married) and very modern (she associates with Jews of all types and started wearing pants last week).

Right before Rosh Hashanah, she was surprised to discover that there are observant Jews (Reform, etc.) who only do one day of yom tov. And yesterday she turned to me and said, “So I hear Reform Jews do actually fast on Yom Kippur.” I was dumbfounded.

A little while later, she saw an article someone posted on Facebook that had something to do with the Orthodox. A comment on it read, “I am almost always impressed by the trends of thought in Judaism. The only exceptions are anytime I encounter information about the Orthodox.”

Simi turned to me and said, “What is this about? Why do people think this?”

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6 Responses to What the Orthodox think about us… and what we think about them

  1. Larry Kaufman September 28, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    Nu, so what did you answer her?

    As it happens, I found your post just as I was on my way to respond to a post on the RJ blog about branding Judaism.  So sometime after Shabbat, and possibly after the one day of yom tov, you’ll be able to see what I might have answered.  But given that her ignorance about Reform practice — one day yom tov and Yom Kippur fasting as the two items you mentioned — is OUR fault, not hers, so too the lack of understanding on our part about them says as much about them as about us.  

    Incidentally, I don’t know if you’ve covered it in New Voices, but the changing of the guart at YCT is likely to be “good for the Jews,’ including improving communications between at least the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy and the rest of the Jewish world.  


    • David A.M. Wilensky September 29, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      I agree with you about fault — up to a point. There’s also an element of chauvinism and willful ignorance on the part of both sides.

    • Jeff October 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

      What’s going on at YCT?

  2. Alter October 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Most reform Jews have not heard of Shavuot. Most drive to the temple on Yom Kippur (despite the Torah’s explicit forbidding of that.) They just don’t consider the 5 books of Moses to be the word of God, or something that Jews are Divinely bound to keep. How on earth should Simi know that Reform Jews fast on Yom Kippur? After all – they don’t keep Shabbat, most don’t refrain from driving, or wearing leather shoes (I have seen this myself.) or other traditional behaviors. In fact, one who does not know the reform community intimately, but only historically, and through their reform acquaintances would wisely assume that if you mention any bit of Traditional ritual still preformed by the orthodox – that the odds are that todays reform Jew does not keep that. Wouldnt that be the most intelligent assumption? It is only when this is presented as “and thus I am a better human being than you” that this can be taken as offensive. Heres an example of something that one person might say about another group of Jews that could really be offensive ““I am almost always impressed by the trends of thought in Judaism. The only exceptions are anytime I encounter information about the Orthodox.”” Or another thing offensive just like that would be a blog post dedicated to showing another person, clearly not a malicious one at that, to be a backwards closed minded ignoramus, just because she is orthodox – despite her education and cultural acumen.

    • Yonatan October 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

      While I do not drive on Shabbat or Yom Tov, I am 100% certain that there is no text in Torah explicitly forbidding this action, as the Torah never mentions the automobile, let alone what one may or may not do with it.  It may be considered forbidden d’oraita as a form of kindling fire, or because it is functionally the same as riding an animal, but that was an interpretation that could only be made after the thing was actually invented.
      I read David’s post as underscoring the yawning gap in understanding among Jews of different persuasions, the same one that apparently requires you to testify about Reform Jews wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur as if you have returned from a foreign country none of the rest of us have visited.  Perhaps he and Simi are breaking rare new ground by actually discussing this instead of engaging in further stereotyping.  Reminds me of a discussion I had in a guard booth in the shtachim many years ago, explaining the essential idea of the Masorti movement to an Orthodox (specificaly used the English and not the Hebrew “dati”, since I would also call myself, a believing and practicing Masorti Jew, “dati”) man from the settlement.  He was fascinated, actually speaking to someone who lived that way instead of the straw man that was being vilified in the billboards and pamphlets.
      The gap gets bigger as we move out of the Jewish world.  I had a brief talk with the president of my (Conservative) shul this morning about a tour she gave to a group from a local Catholic university.  Apparently several of the students could not fathom the idea that Jesus did not celebrate Christmas, and neither did we (though I am fairly certain that Jesus, Mary and Joseph did, in fact, celebrate with cupcakes and presents every December 25th – who ever heard of Jewish parents not celebrating their son’s birthday?).  Several did not understand the role of a rabbi, or how we achieved “salvation.”  And I would venture that plenty of Jews, while knowing that we don’t observe Christmas and Easter, don’t understand what it is that we are so assiduously not observing.
      In the words of Pirkei Avot: “V’eizehu chacham? HaLomed mi kol Adam.”  “Who is wise?  One who learns from every human being.”

    • james jordan October 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

      “or wearing leather shoes”
      does pleather count as leather?