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Does Judaism have any future at all?

Reader comment on item: The Orthodox Future of Judaism

Submitted by Nora Tehillos (United States), Jan 25, 2005 at 14:18

The studied neutrality of Mr. Pipes' "The Future of Judaism" is remarkable. It left me wondering, however, what exactly spurred him to assemble these facts for us and report on such a phenomenon...

Are the Jewish orthodox the mujahideen of tomorrow?

I fear that this is what secular readers of Mr. Pipes' article will come away thinking. In my humble opinion, the unstated equivalence of "orthodox" in today's popular lexicon with fanaticism, fundamentalism, or mindless, Bible-thumping dogmatism is one of the great tragedies in Jewish communal history. We hate the word because religious extremism has been the source of the most bloody and unthinkably shameful "inhumanity" we know -- witness the Islamic extremism of today (its head-choppings and washing of hands in blood), the Inquisition and the Crusades of the past. Orthodoxy always degenerates, then divides, causes hatred -- and we all, on the other side, long for peace and the freedom to live well. And, yes, the American gift to the democratic ideal has been to strive toward defining freedom as an absense of taint from all "ism." So, of course, we must think, this thing called "Juda - ism" -- a religion (strike one), an orthodoxy (strike two), a claim to different-ness (you're out!): no, we can't have any of that....

But what I wanted to say is that these orthodox Jews you are talking about cannot be lumped into the pot with demagogues and fundamentalists. As the article does point out, the notion of "orthodox" only came very late into the Jewish picture, as a term of opprobrium used by those who fell away from Jewish practice but still wanted to be known (or had to be known) as Jews. There has been a lot of cultural and scholarly revisionism in the last century, but does that make the non-revisionists politically dangerous fanatics? Luddites clinging to an obsolete way of life?

Take a good look at the global Jewish community. A tiny sector of this already tiny population is mostly in Israel learning the Torah and trying to raise up families attached to nothing in this world but an ideal of goodness which is peaceful and ethically idyllic. They are extremely separatist and have no interest in politics. Another, larger sector, is educated, professional, high-functioning citizens who are fully participating in a Torah lifestyle. They are enlightened, idealistic and humane. They value life, honesty, peace. Best of all, they wouldn't even think of trying to convert the masses! Do we need to fear them? It seems to me that the nation gave the world all its ethical principles and ideals may have something worth listening to.

But who will stop talking long enough to hear an answer?

Keep up the good work.
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