Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How About the Easy Gift of Respect?

Click to enlarge. Project Inspire (affiliated with Aish HaTorah) is
selling outreach gifts for the "less-affiliated."
     Yes, you know the drill. Same problem as usual: the use of the phrase "less-affiliated." I have mentioned this in several other posts about Project Inspire's holiday outreach campaigns. Read them here, here, and here. (I discuss this in other posts as well, feel free to search this blog using the search feature.)
     While I find terms that appear to pass judgement on anyone's affiliation abhorrent, I was thinking about something else when I read this advertisement. This ad, like many of Project Inspire's other ads,  subconsciously serves to drive a wedge into Jewish culture as a whole, dividing us, in the words of Pink Floyd, into "us and them." This further serves to widen the gap between people who profess a desire to bring non-orthodox Jews to orthodoxy but then once they become orthodox, inevitably treat them and their children as second-class citizens.
     Furthermore, while it is very nice to give people gifts, such gift-giving can be perceived as awkward and even inappropriate in certain settings. Certain questions crop up when gifts from "acquaintances" are received: Why am I receiving this? Do I give a gift in return? Do I now owe this person something? What are the motives behind this gift? If this is a person at work, are there now concerns about job status, favoritism, and the disrupting the delicate social balance that needs to be maintained in the workplace?
     This isn't to say that there's anything wrong with a well-intentioned gift from the heart. And I'm thrilled to say that my own mom bakes honey cake and gives me one every year, but I know that there is genuine love in that gift, in addition to what has always been unconditional acceptance, even when she disagrees with choices I've made. I'm lucky to have a wonderful and diverse set of friends who are similar in that regard: we all accept each other, warts and all, without feeling the need to change each other. Such a gift from any of these people would never be second-guessed.
     I'm not sure if I've previously mentioned this, but a justification I've often heard for kiruv, not from Project Inspire, but from Chabad, was that the Jewish people should be considered like a body, and if one part of the body is hurting, the whole body works together to heal; we don't just cut people off. I think that we need to take this analogy of the Jewish people--and all people, really,--much further. Like a body, there are many different parts, and each part has its own unique qualities that make each part important. We cannot all be the spleen, nor can we all be the esophagus. We cannot all clone each other and be the left pinky toe. In order to be a whole and healthy society, we need to accept that we're not all exactly alike and weren't meant to be copies of each other, and honestly, not everyone is going to become (or wants to become) orthodox. Instead, we should respect each others' differences and see the good we all bring to our diverse communities, rather than focus on an imaginary scale of affiliation.

9 comments:

  1. But less affiliated is simply a way of defining those who have not reached the spiritual level of fully orthodox people. Once a less affiliated people learn Torah they will see how beautiful Judaism is. What's wrong with that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. > Once a less affiliated people learn Torah they will see how beautiful Judaism is. What's wrong with that?

      What's wrong with it is that it's not true.

      Delete
  2. The assumption behind it is that these people just don't know enough Torah to recognize how amazing observing mitzvot is when, in some (many?) cases, they do know. It might surprise you to learn that life outside Torah Judaism is full and beautiful and very fulfilling indeed for many, many people.

    And to imply that people's spiritual level is only elevated by learning Torah...well, that's just 100% false.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent point, Elisheva. It's a shame that this isn't recognized by some of these kiruv organizations.

      Delete
  3. This ad, like many of Project Inspire's other ads, subconsciously serves to drive a wedge into Jewish culture as a whole, dividing us, in the words of Pink Floyd, into "us and them."

    I beg your pardon? Project Inspire is doing this? Subliminally? The Haskala and Reform movements did this overtly, venomously and dismissively over two centuries ago. It is the height of historical revisionism to accuse Kiruv organizations of creating or abetting divisiveness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The two are not mutually exclusive. That the Haskala overtly drove a wedge between Jews of different affiliations 200 years ago has nothing to do with whether kiruv groups are doing so implicitly now.

      Delete
  4. Do you prefer the term "less-committed" ? Do you dispute its accuracy? IMO less affiliated is a limp-wristed PC term.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Less committed to what? Less committed to Orthodox Judaism, sure, but why define a person solely on their level of commitment to your favorite sect?

      Delete
    2. I have to completely agree with G*3. I know of many congregations with adherents who are very committed to their form of Judaism. Sure, they're "less-committed" to orthodoxy, but they're also "less-committed" to Christianity and Buddhism.

      Delete

Your respectful comments are welcome.