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Picking New Apples for Rosh Hashanah

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A slight detour from the important discussion of the previous few essays. This is like a case study. We’ll get to the next essay soon.

Everyone on the Internet with a Jewish grandmother went apple picking yesterday and took photos for Rosh Hashanah. It was impossible not to notice Somehow this has become a tradition that more and more people are doing every year. I love it. It’s a lovely addition to the High Holiday season.

We always try to do something creative for our Shana Tova cards. Read…


Cultivating Positive Orthodox Jewish Experiences

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Quick recap: My theory is that belief in God and Torah m’Sinai is not the primary factor in one’s choice to join, abandon, or remain in Orthodox Judaism. The primary factor is how one feels about Orthodox Judaism. There is an infinite number of reasons that one might develop positive or negative associations with Orthodox Judaism that include intellectual, emotional, experiential, and spiritual reasons. Therefore, I suggest that the way forward is to refocus our attention from the overemphasis on beliefs in God and Torah m’Sinai and shift our emphasis to cultivating positive Jewish experiences. We should be giving people the kinds of experiences that make them want to associate with Orthodox Judaism and these experiences should be cleverly crafted and implemented.

Admittedly, this was a bit of an awkward place to pause. The implementation of the theory was open to very broad interpretation and analogies presented in the case for the theory seem to have influenced the kind of suggestions people who agreed with the theory were making. So let me clarify two things that I was not saying before we get to brass tacks.

I was not saying that people who leave Orthodox Judaism leave because it’s easy or fun or based purely on emotion. In fact, I have said many times that it is actually really hard to leave and sometimes people stay simply because it’s too hard to leave. They are miserably stuck. Further, many people discover knowledge that contradicts their religious education and they accept this knowledge as truth. But that’s not usually enough to push a person out of Orthodox Judaism. What happens next is the key. When their newly discovered knowledge is met with scorn and derision by authority figures, or bad answers are given for good questions, or the person realizes that they have been lied to, or when the internal conflict between two accepted truths is too difficult to navigate, the feeling that ensues because of the new data is enough to push someone out of Orthodox Judaism. So when I say people leave because they don’t want to stay, I mean that there are many reasons why someone might not want to stay and very often that feeling is sparked by intellectual discovery. Of course there are people who act purely for intellectual reasons. They are the exceptions. I hope this clears things up a bit.

I was also not saying that Orthodox Judaism needs to be more fun. I was not saying that Orthodox Judaism is just a social club. I was not saying we need more cholent and every Jewish experience should be like NCSY. I was not saying we should simply do a better job marketing Judaism. I was not saying to avoid discussing belief in God and Torah m’Sinai. I was not saying experiences are the only thing that matters. I was saying that we need to emphasize the importance of a positive Orthodox Jewish experience and in this essay I will be explaining what that means to me. I don’t think this will make Orthodox Judaism work for everyone. But I think there are a significant number of Orthodox Jews who would benefit greatly from this approach and I think the risk in maintaining the status quo is great.

A basic paradigm shift needs to happen in Orthodox Judaism for any of this to make sense, but I think it’s an obvious truth that has been ignored for too long.

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A Solution: Keeping the Orthodox, Orthodox

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My theory is that most people who leave Orthodox Judaism, leave because they don’t like Orthodox Judaism. They have negative associations with religion and would feel better outside Orthodox Judaism. There are infinite reasons why someone would develop those negative associations, but generally, if someone likes Orthodox Judaism they will stay and if they don’t like it they will leave. Thus, I propose that beliefs are not the determining factor in observance.

I think that if we believe that this is even somewhat true, we have a viable solution at our fingertips. Read…


Why Do People Leave Orthodox Judaism? Why Do People Stay?

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The most common question I was asked after The Summit last spring was if I learned anything particularly insightful into the Orthodox Jewish experience to explain why some people stay in Orthodox Judaism and why others leave. People really want to know the answer to this question. I think they think that if they know why people leave, future defections can be prevented or at least minimized. Or maybe it’s just morbid curiosity. I’m not sure.

I promised everyone who asked me that I would write something up eventually. I think this is it. Read…


Fixing the Priorities That Form Our Social Circles

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Rabbi Zev Farber asks “Can Orthodox Education Survive Biblical Criticism?” in his latest essay on TheTorah.com. Not everyone cares about Biblical Criticism, but I think there is something raised by this discussion that is vital to the future of Judaism. The essay provides a path towards answering his initial query in the affirmative. In short, his view is that we have artificially created a false choice between “every word is from GD” and “heresy.” If you’re okay with borderline kefira, I don’t think it’s actually kefira, have a look on TheTorah.com.

Rabbi Farber’s approach is a paradigmatic shift in how we look at Torah and God. There is little reason to suspect that Haredi Jews would agree with such a shift. In fact, all the examples and proofs of previous shifts and reinterpretations are summarily rejected by the Haredi world.

There’s a chance that Modern Orthodox Judaism could adapt to Rabbi Farber’s suggestions. But it would almost certainly create a schism separating Haredi and Modern Orthodox groups.

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