Ay, There’s the Snub

Leave it to Julie Wiener of The Jewish Week to come up with an original take on Noah Feldman’s The Orthodox Paradox.

Rather than use her column as an opportunity to critique or praise Feldman, she ponders the value of the snub–both Maimonides School’s snub of Feldman and Feldman’s snub of the school and the Modern Orthodox community. Does the snub work? Does it lead to a desired change in behavior, or does it just piss people off?

Wiener certainly leans toward the latter option. Feldman’s case provides a double dose of evidence that the snub doesn’t work: Feldman intermarried and was unashamed of his life decisions despite his exclusion from the announcement section of his day school’s alumni newsletter while the Modern Orthodox community has responded to Feldman’s essay not by reconsidering some of its policies but by counterattacking Feldman with often virulent force.

Wiener relates the “the snub factor” to the question of officiation at intermarriages, which we have taken a big interest in lately:

By refusing to officiate, are rabbis discouraging intermarriage and defending the integrity of Judaism, which has traditionally viewed intermarriage as damaging? Or are they simply pushing people away?

Wiener also lays responsibility on the snubbed as well as the snubber:

Bob Levy, the Reform rabbi who performed my Ann Arbor, Mich., wedding back in 1998, says he doesn’t accept the argument that refusing to officiate will discourage Jews from marrying non-Jews — but he also objects to “the idea that if I don’t marry someone then I’m dooming them to a life of never feeling welcome in a synagogue.”

“It’s my job to create avenues of openness that people can take,” he explains. “But it’s the responsibility of the individual to find his or her own place in life.”

Levy’s philosophy is very close to our own Rabbi Lev Baesh’s. He humbly feels that he is neither gatekeeper nor savior of Judaism. He’ll help anyone explore Judaism, but he’s under no illusion that all, or most, of the people he helps will become Talmud-quoting synagogue-goers.

Wiener’s article also points out a worrying trend of snubbing among younger rabbis. She relates the story of how a couple found that younger rabbis were less receptive to officiating at an intermarriage than older ones. A 2004 Jewish Outreach Institute survey found that younger rabbis were generally more traditional and conservative in their outlook than their older colleagues.

None of us–not InterfaithFamily.com, not JOI, not Julie Wiener, not Rabbi Bob Levy–can say with certainty that welcoming any particular intermarried family will lead them to greater Jewish engagement, but we have plenty of proof that not welcoming them will lead to greater alienation.

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One thought on “Ay, There’s the Snub

  1. In my experience it’s difficult to overstate the destructiveness of the “snub factor.” The excluded person need not even feel wounded by the experience. I’ve known too many people who were receptive to learning about Judaism and to making it a part of their lives, but experienced enough snubs that they concluded, “Well, clearly I was wrong, a tradition/community this silly and provincial mustn’t have much to offer me.” That’s pretty much the story with my own wife. Is is that she’s not serious enough for Torah, not able for its heavy demands? Well, she works 80 hours a week as a medical resident at a county hospital, and is well capable of shouldering enormous responsibilities if she thinks they’re worth undertaking. The problem is that based on incessant silly snubs she and people like her conclude that Torah’s not serious enough to merit a place in their life.

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