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Are Non-Orthodox Jews Still Jews?

Part Four

Q. If Reform Jews have no interest in Judaism, why do any of them care whether or not a Gentile spouse converted to Judaism?

A. The fact is, most of them don't. It is primarily the leaders of their communities that wish to keep the numbers high enough to maintain a viable community. They want to turn back the tide, to stop their communities from disappearing altogether.

However, it is not working. The younger generation is leaving as fast as they can, often marrying Gentiles and not converting them. Sometimes they "convert" the spouses to please their parents, who had slightly more of a Traditional upbringing. But for the most part, the vast majority of the younger generation outside of Orthodox Jewry does not care at all.

Q. Rabbis have contended points of Law for centuries. In Talmudic discussions, Laws have been changed countless times. Why can't we do the same?

Your question brings up two issues: the nature of the Rabbinical debates, and our authority to decide Jewish Law.

Yes, the Rabbis have contended points of Law, but always on minor details of Laws, never on major issues. Nowhere in the Talmud will you find differences on core matters. If you think you know of any, please cite them to me.

Secondly, each and every disagreement in the Talmud is based on strict and unalterable rules and parameters. Each and every point of view is based on the application of specific established relevant and correct rules in each case.

Thirdly, no one voiced personal opinions based on their emotions and "what feels right." They based everything on established Halachic precedent.

When, for example, Bais Shammai (the School of Shammai) and Bais Hillel (the School of Hillel) disagree about the lighting of Chanukah lights, it is never about the basic, major concepts of Chanukah that they disagree.

All agree that each household is required to light one light per night for eight nights.

All agree that a higher level is to light one light per person each night.

All agree that the highest level -- admirable, but not obligatory -- is to vary the number of lights each night.

The problem was that in those days no one could afford to light more than one light per night, so the practice of multiple lights had fallen into disuse. What then was the original Law ordained by the Rabbis two centuries earlier?

Thus, what they differ on is whether to increase the lights or to decrease the lights. Each has a logical theory based on established Talmudic concepts that were applied to other Laws.

Bais Shammai says it should resemble the Biblical Commandments of the Sacrificial offerings of the Succos Holiday, since the Rabbis usually instituted details of Laws in forms that resembled Biblical Law. Since those sacrifices decreased in number, so should the Chanukah lights. We should therefore start with eight and decrease until one.

On the other hand, says Bais Hillel, we have a rule that in holy matters we increase, not decrease. In keeping with this standard, we should start with one light and increase each day.

That is how a disagreement takes place in the Talmud: only on a minor matter, and only between learned scholars who had good Talmudic reasons for expounding a theory.

The fact that such people can disagree does not give license for the likes of us to abrogate any Law of the Torah because we feel we have the right to disagree.

Q. If a pair of pants no longer fits, one may lose weight or alter the pants or replace them. Similarly, wouldn't it make sense to change the Laws, and begin accepting non-Jews as Jews, if they are married to Jews?

A. Someone actually wrote that question to me. Really. So I answered him:

You maintain that losing weight is impractical? That's not a very intelligent conclusion. Losing weight might be very difficult to do, but it is unquestionably the correct solution.

You see, you have mis-diagnosed the problem. The problem is not that his pants don't fit. If that were the only problem, they could be altered. The problem is that the pants have always fit until he began to gain unreasonable amounts of weight.

To be sure, one may continue to alter or purchase pants. That might solve a short-term or temporary problem. But if one is continually gaining weight, one is likely to get very sick and die. The problem will not be satisfactorily solved, if you consider that solved at all. The correct solution is obvious; just difficult to face.

And the answer is not to stop wearing pants entirely.

Another way that pants stop fitting is when you wash them too often and they shrink. But as long as you don't change the pants, and you don't gain unhealthy amounts of weight, the pants will continue to fit. Once you have changed any of those, you have to keep changing things until they fit, and sooner or later, you wind up with a completely different pair of pants.

When Jews follow unJewish paths, we eventually lose them or their children. The answer is not to change Judaism. They've already done that, and it hasn't helped at all. The answer is to observe Judaism in the form that has prevented Jews from assimilating for over 3,300 years.

Changing the Law does not result in more Jews, it results in fewer Jews in the long run, as Jews leave Judaism entirely. Minor changes never satisfy people. They always want to change more and more. You argue that they should keep changing the Laws in the first place, to make them fit better, after they made the first few changes. Where will it end/ When there are no Jews left at all? Will that ultimate change be beneficial?

Do you subscribe to the school of thought that considers the operation a success even if the patient dies? So I reiterate: further eroding of Halachah will only make the problem worse.

The erosion of Halachah is killing Judaism. We see this to be undeniably true. There is only one solution. Stop eroding Halachah! As I have clearly showed in this series of articles, the only thing that works is returning to Torah Judaism.

The problem is not that Judaism is no longer viable. Not only are there many people still observing Judaism, but those who do not observe Judaism are leaving the Jewish fold entirely.

No, the problem is that many people -- people who do not know the joys and beauties of Judaism -- do not want to keep the disciplines of Judaism. They have been busy altering the pants for each generation. And now they're changing to some other mode of dress entirely.

The problem is that many find it so difficult to accept the truth that they ignore the obvious and argue against the Orthodox instead. And the sad part is that they will argue themselves right into extinction.

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