The real test of new Jewish movements

Open Orthodoxy wants to make Judaism palatable to modern trends. But that is all they are - trends.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

Jewish history has a relatively simple test to determine the survival of movements, ideas and agendas that constantly crop up in Jewish society. That test is one of generational implications. Will those movements, ideas and agendas produce grandchildren and great-grandchildren that will be loyal to those movements and perpetuate them in the future?

Because the results of this test cannot be known when these movements are first formed and attain degrees of popularity, it becomes very difficult to judge the veracity, importance and value of the movement itself. One must wait for the verdict of history to be recorded and sometimes that takes centuries before that is clear.

Hellenism was very popular in the Jewish world for many centuries during Second Temple times. Yet eventually the Hellenists had no Jewish grandchildren who wanted to be Hellenists and they eventually disappeared completely from Jewish society. The early fall socialist pioneers here in Israel, a century later, have proven to have been unable to replicate themselves in later generations.

Their descendants are capitalist entrepreneurs and the old time kibbutz is rapidly disappearing from the Israeli scene.  The great social and diplomatic ideas and programs of the nineteenth century – imperialism, Marxism, racial superiority, social Darwinism, etc. – have all been swept aside as meaningless in our time. The heirs of Stalin and Gorbachev no longer belong to the legions of Lenin and Bolshevism. The test of history has proven their original doctrines to have been false.

Social agendas and religious eternity do not mix well. What looks like a good, necessary and progressive idea in one age turns out to be unappealing and unnecessary at a later time. Climate change, income inequality, health plans, political considerations and gender engineering overall, are important social and political issues in our time. Nevertheless, none of them bear the fragrance of eternity or of true faith.

They are all driven by current social and political agendas that may and probably will look foolish in later times. One of the greatest problems facing the Jewish world is that it is often too current and modern for its own good. History has shown us that there is nothing as irrelevant in human affairs as being completely relevant and ahead of the curve in one’s own generation.

Current attempts to make Judaism and even Orthodoxy more open and progressive, to fix the world according to our very limited understanding of it, to re-engineer human nature and to ignore the realities of desire and greed, are all eventually doomed simply because the next generation will not have grandchildren who will subscribe to such a definition of Judaism… if they are even Jewish at all!

Today’s Jewish world is the graveyard of all of the grandiose and progressive ideas that permeated our world a century ago.  The grandchildren of Reform rarely find themselves in Reform congregations today. Many of the grandchildren of the Zionist founders of Israel find themselves living in the Diaspora, and for the majority of the Conservative movement in the United States, their numbers are shrinking.  The inexorable lesson and test of history and of Jewish survival is taking its toll.

Jewish life resembles the general commercial world. Good ideas abound and there are many divisions that appear on the scene. But unless they can be translated into reality  – and that can only be done through hard work, human effort and great persistence – ultimately they are of little value. They will not pass the test of history and of generations.

Unfortunately history has shown, with abundant clarity, that Jewish life and survival is a winnowing process. By now there should be hundreds of millions of Jews in the world. There are many reasons why our numbers continue to be small, certainly relative to other faiths, countries and cultures. One of the reasons certainly is that over the ages not every Jewish generation has been able to produce grandchildren that identified and practiced the faith and beliefs of their grandparents and their way of life.

This has been especially true of the last few generations of Jewish life preceding and succeeding the Holocaust. While the school systems of many of the more progressive elements in Jewish society are shrinking, there are Jewish communities in Lakewood and other places that have to build new schools every year to accommodate a growing and burgeoning young population. There is a lesson in that if we are wise enough to learn it.