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Jews and Judaism

 I have often quipped that one should never confuse Jews with Judaism. Jews are human beings, subject to all human failings, foibles, and various patterns of behavior and thinking that do not always coincide with the values and the true ideas of Judaism. Nevertheless, over the centuries, in the main, Jews and Judaism were attuned and aspired to the same beneficial conditions for society and for individual life.


However, over the past century and a half, perhaps even a little longer, there has arisen a vast disconnect between Jews and Judaism. And in our time, we are witness to the fact that many basic ideas and values of Judaism are no longer held by large numbers of Jews. And in fact, ideas and policies that are antithetical to Jewish values and to Judaism have become almost the mainstream in Jewish life, especially in the United States, and in certain sections of Israel as well.
For example, many Jews, especially those who are on the liberal side of the political spectrum consider abortion to be a right of any woman, no matter what circumstances and for whatever reason she may have to abort the life of the unborn. However, Judaism teaches us that this is infanticide. It is akin to murder. And that abortion is only allowed under certain very narrow circumstances and only at the beginning of pregnancy. As in all cases of Halakha, there are exceptions, but the general rule is that Judaism is firmly against abortion, while many Jews are just as firmly for it.
The same thing is true regarding same sex marriages. Today, this has become accepted in Western society and accepted in Jewish society as well amongst many. However, again, Judaism opposes it. It is anti-family, it is a perversion of the idea of marriage between two people and it is clear that even though a person may have his or her choice as to how one lives one's life, marriage between people of the same sex is not included in the Jewish idea of marriage.
However, again, in our time, certainly amongst those who are of the more liberal political persuasion, same sex marriages are accepted and in fact, one is almost prohibited from remarking about it. And there are numerous other examples. Again, for instance, the land of Israel has primacy in Judaism. It is a holy place and it is a place for Jews and there is an obligation to live there and to support it. However, in many political circles in Jewish life and even in religious circles, the land of Israel is of secondary importance and has no real claim on Jewish life, especially for those Jews who feel themselves comfortably ensconced in Western society. So, I ask the question, why? How come there is such a disconnect between Jews and Judaism? And how did this occur?
On the surface, the answers are simple. The secularization of the Jewish people over the past two and a half centuries has led to an estrangement in Jewish values and in the knowledge of what Judaism truly represents. There are many who say that Judaism is whatever the progressive left adopts as its program currently. There are many that say that because of secularization, there really are no hard and fast rules and no eternal values. Every society can decide for itself, they say, and should decide for itself how it wishes to live and what it wishes to practice. This process of secularization beginning in the 1800s in Germany, then spreading to Eastern Europe and becoming the basis of Jewish life in the Western world, especially in the United States, has completely distorted what Judaism stands for and what its values are.
People can and do adopt views and policies antithetical to Judaism and yet call themselves proud and loyal Jews, without realizing the tremendous disconnect that exists between them and true Jewish values. This is the situation brought about by ignorance of Judaism, of Jewish law and of the basic texts of Judaism - who reads the Bible today? And, it is also caused by the pressures of society. There was a time when the Jewish world was insulated from general society. This was because the general society did not want to have anything to do with the Jews and it was the first enforced antisemitism which brought about Jewish isolation.
In the world of Jewish isolation, Judaism was able to maintain itself within the Jewish family because there was practically no choice. However, as the ghetto walls fell and Jews were allowed into general society, there was no question that general society was then allowed into Judaism. There is a  famous phrase in Yiddish, that the way it is in the non-Jewish world, that is the way it will be in the Jewish world. And, we are witness to the fact that this is the case today.
Another factor that must be taken into consideration is that general society for many, many centuries had values that were not necessarily antithetical to Judaism. Both Christianity and Islam were created from Jewish ideas, and at their core, even though they represented radical departures from the traditions of the Jewish people, nevertheless Jews could somehow identify with those principles and with the society in which they lived.
But over the past centuries, both Christianity and Islam have undergone radical change. Europe is no longer Christian in any sense of the word. And the United States is also becoming rapidly secularized. In such a world, the general society changes and those changes are reflected in Jewish society as well.
Even Islam over the past two centuries has suffered from secularization. Islam today is a religion looking for its soul and looking for a way to express itself. Parts of it do so violently. Other parts tend to deal with it in a different fashion. Nevertheless, living in such a world, and especially an interconnected world such as we live in, has forced the Jewish people to adopt ways of the general world, and secularization has hollowed out the soul of Jewish life for millions and millions of Jews.
How and when this situation will be corrected and how it will play itself out is one of the mysteries that the future contains. Especially now, in a world after the Coronavirus with its attendant disasters, a new world will be formed whether we wish it to be or not. Perhaps this will be an opportunity for Judaism to reassert itself upon Jews so that the disconnect can be narrowed and the future will be stronger and brighter for all of us.
Shabbat Shalom.
Berel Wein

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