Thursday, October 29, 2015

What we can do about the OTD?

In yesterday's installment, I discussed the first of the two pressing questions Agudah will address at their upcoming convention (Why Do People Go OTD?) and told you what you will - and will not - hear from the panel. Today, we look at the second question:

What can we do about it?

The *real answer*: Stop thinking of the OTD as people who have lost an essential aspect of their humanity. Just as the bike club wouldn't radically change its view of a member who decided to try Judo, we shouldn't start making assumptions about the character, personality and mental health of people who are tired of shabbos rules and dietary restrictions. A guy who has left the bike club has only left the bike club. He hasn't metamorphosized into the sort of person you need to warn your kids about. He isn't suddenly damaged gods.

Instead let's follow the fine example of Isaiah Berlin (an OTD Jew himself), who said: "I believe that there is a plurality of values which men can and do seek, and that these values differ. There is not an infinity of them: the number of human values, of values that I can pursue while maintaining my human semblance, my human character, is finite -- let us say 74, or perhaps 122, or 26, but finite, whatever it may be. And the difference it makes is that if a man pursues one of these values, I, who do not, am able to understand why he pursues it or what it would be like, in his circumstances, for me to be induced to pursue it. Hence the possibility of human understanding." (In the first comment I explain why this is not moral relativism)

The *expected* Agudah answers: Show them how lovely Judaism is, open your house for shabbos, familiarize yourself with cheap kiruv tricks and find situations to employ them,etc. Aside for the last item on the list, this is all good stuff so long as it's not done in a condescending fashion. The fact that you keep kosher or shabbos doesn't, in of itself, make you a better person. It makes you someone who is pursuing a particular set of legitimate human values, and there is no reason to look down on someone who, for reasons of his own, decides another set of legitimate human values are a better match for his temperament. To see ourselves and the OTD in this light may require some reorientation, but is we're serious about achdus, understanding and continuity its an effort worth making.

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