Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Is Judaism Headed for a Schism?

This was initially going to be a comment on my last "Things People Blame the Jews For" post, but I realized it needed it's own space.

One of the things the MK who blamed an earthquake on Reform Jews also said was that Reform Jews should "take the money you invest in the State of Israel and build a Kotel in the U.S." Comments like these are part of a larger pattern whereby the Israeli government is more and more overt in seeking to define non-Orthodox diaspora Jews out of the Jewish community outright. In this account, the Kotel (indeed, all of Israel) isn't "for" non-Orthodox Jews. As the MK succinctly put it: "What do you have to do with the ancient stones of the Kotel?"

The Kotel, Israel -- under this view, we outside the Orthodox branch have no claim on these things. They're  for Jews, and we might as well be another faith entirely. What was it that Miri Regev said? "I've met reforms in Argentina. They were very nice, but they should be reform in Argentina. Here in Israel they should behave [like they're in Israel]". In Israel, Reform Jews aren't Jews.

Comments like these makes me wonder -- in all seriousness -- whether Judaism is headed for a schism. One that goes well beyond just being "more" or "less" observant. I mean like a Catholic Church/Eastern Orthodox style schism, basically breaking down along Israeli and American lines, where we no longer recognize each other as even being part of the same religion.

It's possible. Right now, we're seeing a few dangerous threads that may well start intersecting in the mid-future:

  1. Increasing acceptance of intermarriage in the American Jewish community at the same time as the Israeli Orthodox establishment is clamping down harder on matters of who counts as a Jew.
  2. Increasing frustration from non-Orthodox Jews regarding the hammerlock the Orthodox rabbinate holds over normative Jewish practice.
  3. Increasing political antagonism between American (non-Orthodox) Jews and the Israeli government.

The first and second threads provide the theological and/or social rationales necessary for both sides to stop recognizing the core Jewish legitimacy of the other. I know for my part that my response to Orthodox Jews who question my or my partner's Jewishness is to volley the skepticism right back their way -- it's not just that I disagree with their assessment, I also don't accept their authority to adjudicate the matter at all. They have as much authority to tell me I'm not a Jew as I have the authority to tell them they're not.

The last thread frays the desire of either party to check these tendencies. That is, when an "open" case comes up (e.g., regarding who counts as a Jew), there will be less internal pressure to take up a position that maintains the unity of the Jewish people.

We're already seeing the emergence of a "new diasporism" outside of Israel -- still mostly confined to the Jewish left, but starting to edge more mainstream -- that is explicitly centered around building a robust sense of Jewish culture and identity that is largely detached from anything emanating out of Jerusalem. Couple that with Israeli's societies vague (sometimes not so vague) contempt for the galut and it seems we're headed towards a division of the Jewish people where neither hemisphere is particularly interested in, or feels much connection to, whatever is going on in the other.

So yeah, I don't think it's out of the question that in 50 years time, "Judaism" will have completely split in two -- Zion and diaspora. There will be outposts of both camps in the lands of the other: Orthodox Jews in America and non-Orthodox Jews in Israel, but it will be functionally akin to Catholics living in Russia or Eastern Orthodox Jews in Western Europe. There will be no doubt who holds what territory, and the two camps will not see each other as cohabitants of the same faith.

No comments: