Judging Judaism By The Jews

. . . My rebbeim have always taught me that if you want to judge a yeshiva‘s success, look at its’ products. Not a year later – but ten years later. You judge a rebbe‘s success by his talmidim. If they are continuing his approach to life then he was successful and if not, he wasn’t. Many movements have popped up in our history and we prove they were wrong from the fact they couldn’t withstand the test of time. So yes, I think you have to judge Judaism by Jews.

. . . I always teach people when responding to charges against frum Jews – don’t defend the indefensible. If people say, “why do religious Jews throw stones?” Don’t respond by saying, “Well you have to understand that other people have offended their sensibilities. They feel really strongly about it.” Condemn them! Say the truth. There are almost no Orthodox Jews who throw stones . . . That’s not to say no one does. But when it happens it represents a lunatic fringe, a fraction of a fraction of a per cent . . . So while, you can’t defend stone-throwers you can defend the religious public.

Every issue has to be examined the same way. Are there problems? Of course, and they need to be corrected. But just to say don’t judge the adherents to Torah Judaism is a terrible disservice to the thousands upon thousands who try every day to make themselves better people. Is there a community in the world that spends so much time and effort encouraging people not to speak ill about another person? Can you imagine a society where that’s even a value outside of ours? In the secular world, if you can find someone terrible about another person and publicize it, you’ll win a Pulitzer Prize! Of course people still fall short, but look at how people are working so hard to improve!

. . . The gemera works with the concept that “yisroel kedoshim heim” – Jews are a holy people. We choose the right path as a people. As they said about Senator Leiberman, “he works 24/6”. Thousands of people close down their businesses, turn down lucrative positions and in his case, risk the presidential election in order to keep the Shabbos. Ari Goldman, who considers himself Orthodox, wrote in his autobiography that when he was working for the New York Times he had to work past sunset one Friday to finish an article. His story created a firestorm in the Jewish community. He later wrote saying that he couldn’t imagine another religious group where his action would have elicited such a strong reaction. Now, it’s true there are areas in hilchos Shabbos where we fall short, people perhaps don’t focus on the spiritual aspects as much as they could, but that’s aside from the fact that they’re keeping it. Can we improve? Of course and people will go to shul every week to hear the Rabbi castigate them because the system works and people want to be better.

Reb Levi Yitchok Berdichiv was sitting at his seder table when he suddenly asked his chassidim to find Turkish tobacco. “Rebbe“, they shuddered, “the government has a boycott. Anyone found with it is punishable by death”. “Find me some” he commanded. The chassidim went out and returned with a barrelful of the tobacco. “Now go to the Jewish community and find me chometz“. “Rebbe, it’s Pesach night! No one has chometz“. “I don’t care, find me some”. Hours later they returned and announced that there wasn’t a piece of chometz to be found. Looking up to heaven he cried, “Master of the World! The Czar has threatened anyone owning tobacco with death. And he has an army and a police force, but it doesn’t help. But You decreed that there is to be no chometz in the houses of your people and without army or police your people comply.” That’s called a working system . . .

. . . But tell it like it is, and let’s remember the next time we want to do something we shouldn’t – people are watching us as representatives of the Torah.

– R. Dovid Orlofsky, Jemsem.org


2 comments on “Judging Judaism By The Jews

  1. Princess Lea says:

    “Do not confuse Jews with Judaism” is commonly said, but it gets too many off the hook. Rabbi Orlofsky puts it better. However, while many of us have our struggles, some are more obvious than others. We all try to be observant Jews, and we don’t get everything right all the time.

    Sure, we take certain things like Shabbos very seriously, but not every Jew keeps the 613 perfectly all the time.

    Although, when it comes to hurting others, that’s where I draw the line. Anyone who hurts others in supposed religiosity has got to be dealt with.

  2. Rachel says:

    I understood R. Orlofsky’s point to be not that we should judge Judaism by the Jews because we always get it right, or because we always keep 613 mizvos perfectly, but because we are trying so hard, because we earnestly want to be better (not everyone does), because we hold ourselves to higher standards, and we do not lower those standards to spare ourselves the effort of raising ourselves to them. Many times we fail and fall short, but more often we are successful. We should judge Judaism by those successes.

    Also, no one individual is obligated in 613 mizvos unless s/he is both male and female, Kohen, Levi, and Yisroel, single and married, living in both Israel and the diaspora, etc., etc. A rabbi once noted this in a lecture, and it made me smile 🙂

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