I have come to see, after 40-plus years in my rabbinic work, that very much of Orthodox Judaism, as practiced on the ground, really is a matter of social behavior and custom, not stemming so much from fear of G-d nor from exceptionally passionate love of Him either. It is what it is. I just wish people with issues would turn to therapists or private rabbinic counseling rather than to the internet for their first line of treatment or catharsis.
I see people who never come to shul other than for ten minutes of Yizkor, which they dutifully attend all four times each year, all forty minutes per annum. Those who observe only the Seder, not even Kol Nidre. Those who attend only Kol Nidre, not even the Seder or Yizkor. Those who eat treifos and neveilos — utterly non-kosher meat — with gusto but never would mix it with milk. Those who would eat an exotic meat like wild boar but never a pig product like pork, ham, or bacon. Those who observe almost nothing Judaic but come to shul every Friday night — yet never on a Saturday morning. Those who believe nothing, attend nothing — but pay annual dues only to an Orthodox shul. Those who avoid “The Orthodox,” do not join “The Orthodox,” eat non-kosher and violate all — but leave in their wills that they want an Orthodox rabbi to conduct their funeral and burial. Those who do not care about anything Judaic but insist that their newborn boy not leave the hospital’s maternity ward and come home until circumcised. Those who care less than that but do not want to be cremated.
And I have not even touched on the world of those who attend Lubavitch. Like the time I was traveling cross-country with my family on one of my several multi-state, multi-Civil-War-site, multi-state-capitol, multi-presidential-museum “Great American Trips” and ended up at a city on Shabbat that had only a single small Lubavitch outpost, where we also could eat catered kosher hot Shabbat dinner and lunch. When I saw the eight men at the Shabbat morning davening prayers, six were dressed like bums. However, the two others were dressed in the full Lubavitch “get-up”: black hat (with appropriate Lubavitch brim cut), schmaltzy bekishe-kapote hassidic coat, full beard — the works. At lunch I learned that the “bums” all were Jews. Of the two dressed to The Nines, one was the rabbi of the place, and the other was a non-Jew studying for conversion.
When I was younger, I quietly scowled and sneered at all the hypocrisy around me. I was ever the purist.
That was 40 years ago. I grew up. I lived life. I saw, in time, as life challenges arose, that I had my own mini-hypocrisies to confront. I saw the challenges that confront grown-ups each and every day. My first marriage failed; retrospectively, I am grateful it finally did because otherwise I never later would have met Ellen zt"l who changed my life and became my lifelong teammate, but that failure humbled me.
In my making Aliyah to a new Jewish community I co-founded in Shomron (Samaria) in the mid-1980s, my kablan (home builder) went bankrupt with my life’s savings — and did not even finish building our home — and all my dreams to that time were up-ended. To this day, I get an occasional email calling me a hypocrite any time I publish anything pro-Israel because I was compelled to live again in America, though my life’s savings remained on Aliyah. The correspondents do not know how what transpired internally from that bankruptcy, from medical matters to career plans to marital realities. So be it.
I just wish the true phoneys and real hypocrites would not publish their stuff and just quietly wrestle with their hypocrisies until they get their acts fixed - if they do. If someone is a rebbetzin situated at an Open Orthodox temple and decides one day she is a man, transgendered, I would prefer she not post it on Facebook but instead have a private discussion with her husband, the Assistant Rabbi at the flagship temple of “Open Orthodoxy,” persuade him to take a year’s leave, and quietly figure out where their lives go next. I would prefer that people who self-define themselves as “Modern Orthodox” who drive on Shabbat deal with their compromises privately and confidentially consult with real Poskim (rabbinic authorities) for guidance. I don’t need to know from social media who wrestles with what — be it his homosexuality, his missing a minyan, his eating fish at a non-kosher restaurant, or his attending a temple led by a woman rabbi.
Real Orthodox practice unilaterally and unequivocally forbids (i) women in clergy and (ii) homosexual marriage. Each and every Orthodox Jewish religious association that exists in America is unanimous on this — not only the more haredi Agudath Israel and Igud HaRabbonim (Rabbinical Alliance of America), but also the more Centrist and “Modern Orthodox” National Council of Young Israel, Orthodox Union, and the Rabbinical Council of America, which unequivocally forbids and prohibits any RCA member from hiring, ratifying, or serving at a temple that has women clergy
The internet has given a megaphone and bullhorn, if not an elegant microphone, to everyone. Anyone with a keyboard can blog without being independently refereed. People can sign with anonymous monikers, so can opine without being called to task. And so we learn to co-exist with social media’s megaphone and bullhorn, irresponsible blogs, and Jews whose Judaism is animated somewhat by Torah, somewhat by childhood memories — some warm and comforting, some bitter — somewhat by a charismatic teacher encountered at some point during twelve years of private Jewish schooling, somewhat by neighbors, somewhat by politics, somewhat by the aromas of foods cooked by mothers and grandmothers in kitchens long ago, somewhat by a magnetic summer counselor who played guitar, somewhat by whether he or she met a gorgeous or handsome skier or bungee-jumper in college, somewhat by the latest craze on Instagram.
That is our world. For those of us rabbonim (Orthodox rabbis) on the front lines where Orthodox and non-Orthodox intersect, maybe it is enough that we serve as billiard balls, helping others simply to divert trajectory a bit in the right direction. That seems to have value, too. We steer them away from the perils of “Reform” and “Open Orthodox.” We point them in the direction of Mesorah (Tradition) and observance. And we leave some work for G-d, too.
Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer is Contributing Editor at The American Spectator, adjunct professor of law at two prominent Southern California law schools, Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California, and has held prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations. He was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and served six years on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His writings have appeared in The Weekly Standard, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom, and The Jewish Press. Other writings are collected at www.rabbidov.com .