A Recent Returnee To Traditional Judaism Speaks Out: Unrighteous Indignation

Sfasi Teeftach
A Recent Returnee To Traditional Judaism Speaks Out: Unrighteous Indignation
August 26, 2010

I am what one would call a recent returnee to traditional Judaism … a baal teshuva, a ‘newly orthodox’, a ‘born-again Jew,’ or what have you. While becoming more observant has been the most rewarding decision in my life, it has not come without its fair share of challenges—as I’m sure many of you who have incorporated more Yiddishkeit into your lives can relate. I am far from being very learned or very pious (the two often go together in Judaism). However, I wish to share my experiences and hear about yours no matter your affiliation or level of Jewish education. The entire Jewish mashpacha is invited to bring their perspectives to the table. There is a popular saying that proclaims: ‘two Jews, three opinions’ so I’m excited to see how this will turn out.

In this blog I wish to share my insights and observations since adopting a more observant lifestyle and stimulate the much needed dialogue and discussion about issues of concern to the Jewish community here in DC and throughout the world. It is my hope that you the reader will get involved and tell your fellow Jews what you think. All I ask is that you please keep your comments clean and respectful.

The first issue I want to address is sinas chinam (groundless hatred) within the Jewish community. The Talmud teaches us that it was for this sin that we lost the Holy Temple. However, we must acknowledge that within the Jewish community there is a diverse tapestry of different levels of religious practice, Jewish education, affiliation, and outlook. We are religious and non-religious, Chassidish and Litvish, modern and insular, Sephardic and Ashkenazi, liberal and conservative, etc. The differences are there and always have been to some degree or another. This is not a bad thing. The key is working with each other despite our differences to promote more harmony within the Jewish community.

Some things to ponder: Do you ever feel stereotyped or looked down upon by other Jews? Do you yourself feel that you may be a little too judgmental or discriminating when it comes to how you view the wider Jewish community? Is Gather the Jews doing a good job of bringing different kinds of Jews together in DC and the DC area? How do we increase in our observance of the mitzvah of “V’havta l’reacha kamocha,” i.e. “Love your neighbor as yourself,”(Vayikra 19:18). How can each of us better promote ahavas Yisroel (love of our fellow Jews)?

We are in the month of Elul, a special time devoted to teshuva (repentance) and introspection. Now is an especially good time to think about these issues as we prepare to start the new year off in a positive way. Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Sfasi Teeftach is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.

6 replies
  1. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    Editor’s Note:

    As I’ve mentioned to one friend who is currently transitioning to a much more religious lifestyle, I’m not bothered by, offended by, and I don’t look down on the beliefs and lifestyle practices of the ultra-orthodox per se. But because the rest of the world considers these Jews to be a bit bizarre and these Jews perpetuate some negative Jewish stereotypes (recluse men who could do with more exercise and who need a good shave), I don’t celebrate what they do for Jews in greater society.

    My friend often retorts that “it shouldn’t matter what others think.” And to some extent, it shouldn’t. But while we can forever fence ourselves, we cannot fence the world out. And our history has taught us the peril of not gaining a stronger stake in society.

    Reply
  2. Sfasi Teeftach
    Sfasi Teeftach says:

    Thank you for bringing up some relevant points to this discussion.

    Another serious issue I wish to address at a later date is prejudice toward observant Jews that I sense is pretty pervasive both within and beyond the Jewish community, although it is more hurtful when it comes from within.

    I’m hoping that with more dialogue such stereotyping and prejudice will lessen. For sure some of the more insular groups will likely not engage in such dialogue. I too dislike an insular, isolating approach to Judaism even if I understand the logic behind it. I do however side with your friend in that it shouldn’t matter if other people think us ‘bizzare’ for upholding our customs and traditions. If we are confident in who we are and we keep true to the teachings of the G-d of Israel we have no need to fear the biggots in society!

    Reply
  3. Sfasi Teeftach
    Sfasi Teeftach says:

    Sitting around fretting about anti-Semitism will not solve the problems of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are spiritually impoverished right now. The Holocaust that murdered over 6 million Jews was not launched in a country in which Jews had no power or influence in the society. It was started in Germany, which had Jewish population that was largely assimilated into gentile society. Clearly the non-Jews weren’t upset with us for keeping to ourselves or refusing to shave.

    Now is the time to reach inside ourselves and with the Torah as our guide spread more light into the world. We must make the world a better place and hasten the coming of Moshiach, may it come speedily.

    Reply
  4. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    Excuse me? We had power in German society? We had power relative to our past perhaps. And we were integrated relative to our past perhaps.

    But how many Jews were part of the German government? How many Jews lived in secular neighborhoods? How many Jews were CEOs of major secular companies?

    No. We’d begun integrating, but we were still outsider who were still easily identified as an appendage that could be removed without causing vital harm to the body.

    Reply
  5. Sfasi Teeftach
    Sfasi Teeftach says:

    Jews were still much more integrated into German society than they were in other parts of Europe.

    Someone commented that “ultra-religious” Jews perpetuate stereotypes that make the gentile world think us bizzare. It was claimed that religious observance keeps us out of society and, weakens our social position and makes things like the Holocaust possible.

    By reminding everyone that the Holocaust was started in Germany and not in a place where more Jews were religious I was demonstrating that how we are treated by non-Jews often has no correlation with our observance of Jewish law. How religious or secular we are does not change the fact we are vulnerable and they’ll always be people who find reasons to hate us.

    Honestly, if anything I wouldn’t be suprised if more non-Jews detested Jewish self-hatred rather than Jewish religiousity. If we don’t respect ourselves we can’t expect anyone else to respect us.

    However, the point is that religious or not makes no difference. Anti-Semitism is a fact of life and it does no good to worry what other people think about us, b/c people who want to hate us don’t need a reason. If we want to ensure Jewish continuity we ought to explore our heritage and traditions.

    Reply

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