I am orthodox, so his words apparently are not directed at me and my co-religionists. Or perhaps they are…
Alperson writes that Judaism for the non-orthodox has become too much about tikkun olam (social justice) and too little about building Jewish communities. He opines that in order to maintain a Jewish community, the focus of the community cannot be about social / political issues. It must be about religion. Tikkun olam must be an ingredient in modern Jewish life, but it cannot be the focus, lest we lose our direction completely and divest Judaism from all of its religious underpinnings.
He writes that Jewish education is more important than tikkun olam and the non-orthodox are losing their Judaism because of ignorance and complacency. In his view, Judaism, even if not orthodox, can help people become better people, for themselves, not just to help everyone else.
Judaism teaches us how to be better friends, businesspeople, husbands, wives and philanthropists. It tells us how to help the weak and when to fight evil. In short, Judaism done right makes us better human beings. It is the discipline of leading a traditional Jewish life that also reminds us how best to engage in repairing the world.
Of course, orthodox Jews have been saying this forever. We agree. Perhaps, this would give orthodox Jews a feather in the cap. We are winning. They know it. Tee-hee! Ding-dong the witch is dead!
But I think that orthodox Jews also have a role to play in this. In general, there are two ways that orthodox Jews view the non-orthodox: 1) persona non grata 2) kiruv prospect.
This is undertandable for a variety of social and religious reasons. I am not here to say this approach is absolutely wrong.
But I would like to propose a third view that may help us and the non-orthodox. The third view assumes that many non-orthodox would like and do enjoy religious experiences that can be shared with orthodox Jews. Some orthodox shuls (like Pacific Jewish Center) appeal to non-orthodox Jews even though the services and rabbi and majority of community members are orthodox. The non-orthodox can share in the experience, attend shul, enjoy the kiddush, join for a Shabbos meal but with no kiruv subtext. It is purely for the sake of sharing a common religious experience.
If, as Alperson writes, non-orthodox Jews should be participating in more religious activities and they do. It would great if this could help foster a greater mutual respect and understanding between orthodox and non-orthodox Jews. There does not need to be a “my way or the highway” approach, nor does there need to any proselytizing. Simply Jews with different backgrounds, beliefs and opinions sharing a religious experience.
It works well for us at PJC. I hope and pray, more orthodox institutions and communities can follow our lead.