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Norman Lamm, the highly respected former president of Yeshiva University–the flagship of the Modern Orthodox movement–stoops to a surprising low in his critique of Noah Feldman’s essay on intermarriage and Modern Orthodoxy, on the Forward‘s website. He says that Feldman “succeeded in supplying via the New York Times article enough anti-Jewish material to last a few good years.” It’s the oldest trick in the book, and it’s been used to quell honest criticism of Israeli policies for years: don’t air our dirty laundry because it just gives the anti-Semites fodder for their hate.
But this argument rests on a false and cowardly premise. The “dirty laundry” argument assumes, ridiculously, that if only there weren’t negative information about Jews, Judaism or Israel, anti-Semites would realize that Jews really aren’t so bad. It also assumes that authentic critiques of Judaism are any more valuable to anti-Semites than the stuff they make up, like the Jewish blood libel and the Elders of Zion. But worse, crying anti-Semitism prioritizes the prejudices of idiots over the value of honest dialogue between intelligent Jews. And effectively, it doesn’t really matter. Anti-Semites are some of the most active and savviest users of the Internet. Don’t you think, Rabbi Lamm, that they can find all the anti-Jewish material they need (whether from Jews or non-Jews) on the World Wide Web?
To blame Noah Feldman for the fact that non-Jews are asking Orthodox Jews critical questions about their faith is a cheap shot. And, due to their substantial Jewish education, aren’t Orthodox Jews the best-equipped to respond to these questions in an intelligent and informed way? Indeed, one of the premises of Modern Orthodoxy is that one can be Orthodox and involved in the secular world; inevitably, this means responding to non-Jews’ ignorance about the faith. Feldman’s essay didn’t start this phenomenon any more than Michael Lerner gave birth to anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semites hate Jews, regardless of the facts. Non-Jews who encounter Modern Orthodox Jews know little about Judaism, and will continue to do so. Rabbi Lamm should rethink who we should spend more time educating.
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