Thursday, October 30, 2014

Time to reboot halachic Judaism


Back in 2007, when I started my first blog, my stated purpose was to start a new denomination. I figured that what constituted normative Orthodoxy had become too restrictive, and I wanted a big tent that could encompass basic halachic practice (shabbat, kashrut, etc) with the freedom of more egalitarianism, less dogma, compassion and acceptance of LGB's, etc.

I'm thinking something similar now, more as a thought experiment this time, not to actually start a new movement.

But I'm sick of all the scandal, the excessive chumrot, the heavy handed rabbinical control, the misogyny, the power plays, the conspicuous consumption, the condescension of anyone who doesn't seem "frum" enough according to others' social mores, the sexual shaming, the objectification of women, the worship of rabbis, the sheep-like adherence to "daas torah", the corruption of battei dinim and the Israeli rabbanut, the increasingly stringent demands of kashrut agencies, the indoctrination of children, the out-of-control spiraling cost of living a "frum" life, the mistreatment of converts and the mismanagement of the conversion process, the unearned superiority complex, the racism, the ignorance, and the damaging insularity.
It's time to reboot halachic Judaism.

All the good names are taken. "Reform", "Reconstructionist", "Renewal" are all good ones that have been used already by non-halachic movements. "Reboot Judaism" isn't very catchy, but it just might be enough for an online discussion, or even to become sort of viral: ‪#‎rebootjudaism‬.
So what would your suggestions be for a rebooted halachic Judaism?

Here's one to start with: pare back the control of the kashrut agencies. 200 years ago, if a person was observant, the food in their store was presumed to be kosher. The relationship with customers was a local one. Other Jews were simply trusted. Yes, going back at least partially to that model has risks, but are they really worse than the corruption and ridiculous chumrot in the Kashrut Industrial Complex?

Here's a concrete idea. Instead of a store being under a hechsher, the hechsher is on the proprietor. He or she has to take a class on kashrut, pass a certification exam, and after that, he or she is trusted. This would also lower the cost of kosher food, at least for restaurants and take-out places. I'm not sure if this is workable, but it's time to think outside the box.

Here's one more idea before I "open the floor" to your ideas. Day schools too expensive? How about group home schooling. Get a group of 20 or 30 kids in one neighborhood, hire a few teachers mixed with knowledgeable parents, and do home schooling. The kids can meet on a rotating basis in the homes of the parents. The kids get a good secular and Jewish education at a fraction of the cost.

What would you like to change? It's time to #rebootjudaism

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How could the Freundel scandal happen in the Modern Orthodox world?

There's far too much publicly available evidence now to hope that Freundel is innocent, that this is a misunderstanding, or that he was framed. He was visible on the camera numerous times, setting it up. The courts will eventually deliver a verdict, but at this point, there can be little doubt that Barry Freundel committed the crime.

Now we have to ask ourselves some very hard questions. Many of us have blamed the occasional scandals of deviant individuals in the Charedi world on the cloistered nature of that world, and of the objectification of women that accompanies it.

But Barry Freundel was a leading light of the Modern Orthodox world, which prides itself on opening up roles for women, where interaction between the sexes, while having careful boundaries, is acceptable. Where women are, supposedly, not objectified. Modern Orthodox women become doctors, lawyers, and professors. They are not cloistered in the home, told that their primary role in life is to become a mother.

So what is it that made Freundel do what he did? Every man has a sex drive and every heterosexual man enjoys the sight of attractive women. But this is far beyond just glancing at women, or even looking at online pornography. This was the premeditated setting up of cameras and recording women who trusted and looked up to Freundel. It was the exploitation and abuse of a power entrusted by a community. It was intricately planned. And he did it again and again. Which means it wasn't a momentary lapse by an otherwise praiseworthy individual.

Instead, it means that Barry Freundel was a fraud. A fake. He presented a face to the world that became admired and respected, yet he was fooling us all.

How can such a man have become such a prominent and respected rabbi in the Modern Orthodox community? Was he an isolated case, someone who was just manipulative enough to make us think he was authentic? Or did he start out authentic and became a charlatan sometime over the years?

Either way, we have to ask ourselves if something's rotten in the state of Modern Orthodoxy, something deeply wrong with way we choose our leaders. Was this just isolated, or do we now have to take a second look at all our leaders? Is our supposedly enlightened version of Orthodoxy still guilty of objectifying women in a way that either encouraged or enabled such a man to commit the acts he did?

Where do we go from here?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Shabbat texting app

There's been a lot of discussion over the last few days about the app being developed that might allow texting on Shabbat.

Personally, I don't text much. I'm in my 40's, not my teens, and still prefer verbal conversation. But I can understand the appeal.

There's definitely merit to the arguments that you can make texting halachically permissable.

But the Shabbat observing public has halachic prohibitions, and then they have social ones. And for the past century, Shabbat has come to mean not using electrical or electronic devices. Personally, I'm very thankful for that. I happen to see myself as a pluralist, and I don't think anyone's required to keep halacha if they don't want to, and therefore certainly don't judge anyone for using a phone on Shabbat. Still, I would hate for it to become socially acceptable. It would change the entire flavor of the day.

There's a social aspect to halacha, and social mores that have been established that frame the way we experience Shabbat. And I love Shabbat being that way. So I don't want that tacit social agreement about what constitutes shabbat observance to change.

That being said, I could be persuaded by a Shabbat Kindle...