The Jerusalem Post

Coming apart at the seams: The darkest data from the Pew Report

- • By RACHEL BOVITZ and MOREY SCHWARTZ Rachel Bovitz is a rabbi who serves as the executive director of Melton Internatio­nal and lives in New York. Morey Schwartz is a rabbi who serves as the internatio­nal director of Melton Internatio­nal and lives in Isr

‘The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifferen­ce.” – Elie Wiesel Anyone concerned about the future of American Jewish life pays attention when a new Pew Research Center report is released. While not always painting a rosy picture, the data have been helpful in stimulatin­g discourse that focuses on Jewish relevance, inclusion and new modes of involvemen­t.

However, the newest Pew Report offers some particular­ly worrisome data: “half of Orthodox Jews in the US say they have ‘not much’ (23%) or ‘nothing at all’ (26%) in common with Jews in the Reform movement,” while six-in-ten Reform Jews say they have not much (39%) or nothing at all (21%) in common with the Orthodox.”

This data, rarely highlighte­d in the glut of articles that came out after the report’s release, reveals an existentia­l crisis facing the Jewish people: We are coming apart at the seams.

Both Conservati­ve (77%) and Reform (61%) Jews say they have “a lot” or “some” in common with Jews in Israel. And Orthodox Jews are far more likely to say they have “a lot” or “some” in common with Israeli Jews (91%) than to say the same about their Conservati­ve and Reform counterpar­ts in the US. The bottom line is that while a significan­t majority of American Jews feel connected to Israelis, they don’t feel the same kinship with their American co-religionis­ts who identify with a different denominati­on.

This is deeply concerning. While Jewish movements have been at odds with each other since Reform’s inception in the 1800s, with Modern Orthodoxy’s emergence shortly thereafter and with the rise of the Conservati­ve Movement in the early 1900s, the nature of the disagreeme­nt has mainly been ideologica­l (“we disagree with their ideas”) and practical (“we don’t like how they do things”).

These disagreeme­nts have, indeed, lead to friction and division. But until now, we don’t have records of Jews affirming so bluntly that they simply don’t have much in common across the Orthodox/non-Orthodox divide. These numbers show the divide is real and serious.

Our tradition warns us about the pernicious effects of the disintegra­tion of the social fabric between Jews: Rabbinic sources suggest that the destructio­n of the Temples in Jerusalem, which we mark on Tisha Be’av, and the consequent Jewish expulsion from the Land of Israel was brought about by sinat chinam: “baseless hatred.”

Often, this is understood as malice without cause, but Rabbi Dara Lithwick interprets it in a way that underscore­s the dilemma at hand, as a kind of self-righteous indignatio­n or “smug indifferen­ce to the concerns of others, fueled by the belief that ‘I must be right, and you must be wrong.’”

These society-destroying postures and society-eroding behaviors happen “when we stop listening and only talk at each other rather than with or to each other.” According to Lithwick, “In short, the Temple was destroyed out of a failure to be able to recognize the holiness – the Godliness – in each other.”

Indifferen­ce is a unique disease. Its antidote isn’t conflict-resolution; it is conversati­on.

It’s okay if these conversati­ons are awkward and tense. Indeed, our tradition is based on rigorous disagreeme­nt. Once again returning to our ancient wisdom, the rabbis who brought the most wisdom to the world were the ones who did so locked in fierce debate with opponents who valued the pursuit of Truth over being right. And in the parlance of the tradition, a machloket l’shem shamayim – a disagreeme­nt which is for the sake of Heaven – will endure, carried generation to generation, indicative of a living, robust and relevant religion.

The Melton School, from its founding in 1986, has been committed to bringing together diverse Jewish voices for learning and for exploratio­n from all corners of the Jewish world. Jews of all affiliatio­ns, from Australia and South Africa to San Diego and New York, learn together in courses taught by Orthodox, Conservati­ve and Reform rabbis, scholars and leaders.

We believe that our Jewish heritage has no single correct embodiment. And we believe that lively discussion and debate, founded on principles of mutual respect, can be empowering and transforma­tive. We would like to continue this tradition by inviting differing voices to join us for an initiative we are calling Round Table Learning, specifical­ly directed at bringing together Jews of diverse background­s to get to know each other through dialogue inspired by Jewish texts.

Our sages knew the power of pluralism: They described the “70 faces of Torah,” the concept that many interpreta­tions can coexist.

So can we – as people. To do so, we need to engage with each other. The more we spend time together, the more we will understand how there is more that unites us than what divides us.

As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, put it: “We are united by a covenant of shared memory, of shared identity, of shared fate – even if we don’t share the exact same faith.”

If we don’t recapture that spirit – if we don’t act now to come together – we may be facing an unraveling of the strong, proud history of the Jewish people.

If you are interested in participat­ing in the inaugural Round Table Learning, please email

info@meltonscho­ol.org.

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