I am not clear on what is bothering Jeanine Lange. There is a system of thought and belief known as "Orthodox Judaism". She does not subscribe to that system of thought and belief. Is she asking them to cease being Orthodox Jews?
Let's take her issues one by one:
"He has done is put on a pleasant public face to cover up the 'true believer' lurking beneath the surface" - she is accusing Rabbi Sacks of duplicity. That is a serious charge. I don't think Rabbi Sacks is trying to portray himself as a non-true believer, and I don't think any listener takes him that way. He is, after all, an Orthodox rabbi.
"Why should I listen to a rabbi who speaks so eloquently of diverse paths to God on the one hand but doesn't back up his words with his own actions?" - Would Ms. Lange expect Rabbi Sacks to attend a church service? To give a non-Jew an honor in the synagogue? Perhaps she would, I don't know how liberal she is. But most liberal Jews would agree that drawing such lines is not inconsistent with being compassionate and tolerant. In other words, we all agree that there are red lines. We can love our neighbor while refusing to participate in our neighbor's activity that we deem outside our theological/spiritual comfort zone, or while declining to include our neighbor in some of our activities. One commenter below wonders how tolerant the rabbi would be of a Messianic Jew. IMHO he would be compassionate and tolerant, but would not honor him in the synagogue - a position taken by the way by most liberal rabbis as well!
"Many within Orthodoxy consider me a heretic, a woman trying to be a man rather than thanking God each day for creating me as I am.... I know that I will always struggle with trying to find a way to accept those within my own religion who cannot except me unless I become the kind of woman they just know God has decreed for me to be, out of sight and silent in shul." It saddens me to read this paragraph. It pains me for two reasons: first, because the underlying assumption is that what goes on in shul (synagogue) is the heart and soul of Judaism. For Ms. Lange and many liberal Jews, that may be true. But for an Orthodox Jew like Rabbi Sacks, the shul is secondary, or arguably tertiary. The primary locales for the expression of one's religiosity is at home and at work. This is not apologetics. This is Orthodoxy.
It saddens me for a second reason because it shows a lack of understanding of what Orthodox men are doing in shul. The best modern analogy I can think of is a men's group. This is a men's group, bonding time. It's been that way for 2,000 years. Men are going there 3x/day, 365 days/year. Women come along and say, "can we join" and men say, "please, don't intrude on our guy time". OK, we'll make you a space if you really want to come, to participate, but don't take away from our guy-time. You want to make your own women's group? Fine. But don't tread on our guy-time. Why is that offensive? Maybe because some communities invest so much money in the shul that its importance gets blown out of proportion. That's a distortion. No one is telling you what kind of woman to be, but the shul thing, that's guy-time, so let the guys have their guy-time.
"I could write a book on pluralism within religion as well". This is a hot potato. The problem with pluralism within a religion is that the more orthodox wings of the group are always by definition going to feel uncomfortable with the more liberal wings. Think of the Catholic Church v. Reformation. Within Judaism it is a complex problem because membership is not - even for the liberal - merely a matter of self-definition. Becoming Muslim merely requires making 2 declarations and bingo, you're a Muslim. Becoming Jewish requires something objective that is verifiable by the community. Comparable to becoming American or becoming French. Speaking fluent French, eating baguettes and drinking coffee from tiny cups isn't enough.
At what point do 2 factions within a religious group become two separate religions? For instance, it is well known that the first Christians were Jews. At what point did Christianity become a completely separate religion? It has been argued that the breaking point is when their children can no longer marry each other without a conversion. If a conversion is required, that is a good indicator that you have two separate religions. By Orthodox standards, Ms. Lange may be 100 percent Jewish and therefore not require a conversion to marry an Orthodox man. But ever since Reform Judaism changed the definition of who is a Jew, a large and growing percentage of liberal Jews do not meet this standard. How does she expect a rabbi like Rev. Sacks to deal with this?
It's as if a baseball team decided to change the rules, instead of 4 bases, let's play with 3. Are they allowed to do that? Of course! Should they expect the other teams to play against them? Of course not. To expect so would be a kind of chutzpa. So they form their own league. Let's call it Reform Baseball. It becomes more and more popular because it's easier, the games are shorter and expectations lower. Soon it boasts to be the largest baseball movement in America, and takes credit for saving the game of baseball. But to the chagrin of its participants, Major League Baseball refuses to relax its old-fashioned orthodox rules. They won't even let women play, for crying out loud. Wannabees like Ms. Lange hate to sit on the sidelines. But why is that a strike against MLB? Reform Baseball is the largest baseball movement in America, so go play with them. As long as the MLB players treat you with respect and dignity, I don't hear the gripe against them playing according to their rules.
"talk is cheap. Incredibly cheap. Hurtfully cheap" - I hear this. When someone talks about love and compassion, or about ethics, but doesn't walk the walk, that's hypocrisy. When I hear of a "religious" Jew who behaves unethically, that's hypocrisy. But fortunately, most "religious" Jews, whether of Rabbi Sacks's ilk or of Jeanine Lange's ilk, do tend to be more ethical, compassionate and connected than they might have been if they were less religious.
To sum up, the quote from Rabbi Sacks that resonates the most with me is "It's when you can feel your opponent's pain that you're beginning the path that leads to reconciliation." Within the Jewish people, we too often set each other up as opponents. Feeling each other's pain perhaps begins the path towards unity. But it's not enough, as Ms. Lange says. We also need to work together. As Jews, that has historically meant first and foremost to learn Torah together.
Alexander Seinfeld, author, The Art of Amazement
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