On Thursday 9 February, Michael Steinhardt
came to speak at 'Chovevei'
for the first time ever.
He started off with a prepared speech, which lasted 10-15 minutes, and then we entered into a Q&A session for about an hour and a half.(As it is now over three weeks since he spoke, I am heavily relying on my notes....)
He sees a disrespect from the Orthodox towards the non-Orthodox movements of Judaism bad as it deteriorates the possibility for Orthodoxy to have an influence on the others. He would like to see a new and intimate communication on a variety of levels between the two. Quoting Hillel
's statement, he said that one is not to separate from the community. This is a problem, as he sees the Orthodox doing so, perhaps out of a fear of spiritual contamination or for fear of legitimizing the non-Orthodox groups. Because of this, the Orthodox are losing out on the chance to share the joys and sorrow of the Jewish world.
He also shared a concern that the Orthodox community is becoming self-satisfied and myopic, which are traits that are found by all types of people who separate.
However, he said, there are things that the non-Orthodox can learn from the Orthodox: 1) self-sustaining devotion to Jewish practice, 2) a commitment to Jewish education, and 3) the family life.
An important question he asked was, "Why doesn't Orthodoxy work for the majority of Jews?"
He wanted to offer us, the Orthodox, a chance to be a part of the renaissance of the Jewish people.
He said that we need to see each other as equals and that we can learn from each other.
He said one doesn't need to have a methodology or a message in order to reach those who have no Jewish affiliation. He called the roughly two million American Jews who are not affiliated "almost the silent majority of the Jewish world."
As he is an atheist, when asked what he sees as so special about Judaism and the Jewish people, he responded that it was the specialness of the Jewish people. He says this specialness has been transmitted through religious training, though he would like to see some way of developing some other way to transmit it, though this hasn't happened yet. He would like to see a Judaism that will really fuel with joy and excitement.
He said that it's a shame that there is not rigorous outlet for Jewish youth after Birthright Israel
(a successful program he helped start).
All in all, it was an interesting encounter, as we accepted that he was atheist and non-Orthodox, and that we knew he wasn't try to convince us towards his way of seeing things, but rather of trying to garner Orthodox involvement with the rest of the Jewish world.
-----------------------Tags: Michael Steinhardt, YCT, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Birthright Israel, Judaism, Jewish world, Jewish people, Jewish education, Orthodoxy