Monday, April 19, 2010

Could the failure be one of vocabulary?

As unfortunately expected, some from the RW Orthodox community responded rudely to Rabbi Hayon, and his answers to my questions. The nasty comments shared a common theme, claiming that by choosing to call himself a Jew and a Rabbi, Rabbi Hayon was deceiving himself, and perhaps the public, too.

This perspective also informed some of the polite, but pointed questions asked by readers who wanted to know if Rabbi Hayon wears t'fillin, or posts a mezuzah on his wall, or eats pork or shellfish. When Rabbi Hayon did not answer, some readers took his silence as a sort-of-confession and asked how a Jew, not to mention a Rabbi, justified these violations of the Torah. They wanted to know how someone who follows no religious law, and performs no religious actions could consider himself "religious".

The failure here may be one of vocabulary. Many mainline Protestant denominations (quoting Wikipedia) "have tried to come to terms with the impact of modernity, critical biblical scholarship, and the scientific method. They tend to be open to new ideas and societal changes" They ordain women.  Most of their members attend Church rarely, and church services consists of hymns and a sermon. They have no rituals, and make few demands on their communities.

Contrasted with Catholicism, these mainline Protestant groups don't seem very "religious" at all. The mainline Protestants have no sacraments, no majesty, no mystery. Their approach to religious is rational, not ecstatic or emotional. The Protestant cleric is not believed to have supernatural powers. He can't conjure bread into the body of Christ. And he makes few doctrinal demands on his followers: The mainline Protestant can eat what he likes, when he likes. He and his wife can use birth control, and abortion isn't a sin.

However (and here's where the bit about vocabulary comes in) Christendom, unlike Judaism, has an umbrella word that includes all of its sects. That word is "Christian." While any Catholic would insist (correctly) that a mainline Protestant is non-Catholic, he'd never dream of saying that a mainline Protestant isn't a Christian.

We Jews don't have an analogous word. We no longer have a word that emphasizes what the different Jewish sects have in common, a word that all the different sects can fairly and happily claim as their own. Once upon a time, that word was "Jew", but the evidence of RW commentary on this blog, and others suggests that nowadays  RW OJs are unwilling to share this word, or to use it in a sense that includes those, who as a matter of theology or doctrine, deny that Torah law is binding.

So perhaps what we need is a new word. Ideas? 

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