Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Is Orthodox Judaism Fundamentalism?

A firestorm of controversy has erupted over a recently released series on Netflix entitled My Unorthodox Life. It features an individual who chose to discontinue her practice as an Orthodox Jew. The individual now alleges that the practices of Orthodox Jews and its commitment to halachic observance as fundamentalism. The individual is not content with her own decision to leave her faith but campaigns her family and others to abandon their commitment to faith. There are too many distortions and inaccuracies depicted in this series and, quite frankly, beyond this space's scope. Instead, I would like to address and respond to a central theme of the series. The show's primary theme is that halachic observance is full of illogical restrictions and results in fundamentalism which the show compares to Muslim Fundamentalism. Unfortunately, this narrative misrepresents the entire purpose of the Mitzvos and why we have an opportunity and privilege to adhere to it. Our Rabbis have taught that Mitzvos are a means of connection to G-d in this world. When a person fulfills a mitzvah, the individual connects to G-dliness and holiness in this world. If an individual does not recognize the true meaning of Mitzvos and halachic practices, he will consider the ritual as a mindless restriction. It is our responsibility to properly educate our children and students that the ultimate purpose of the Mitzvos is because G-d loves us and gave us a medium of connection to Him in our finite days of this world. This idea is articulated in this weeks parsha, as it states וַיְצַוֵּנוּ ה' לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת־כָּל־הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה לְיִרְאָה אֶת־ה' אֱלֹקינוּ לְטוֹב לָנוּ כָּל־הַיָּמִים. This is translated as "Hashem our G-d commanded us to perform these Mitzvos and to be in awe of Him, as it is good for us". Every time a person stands in prayer and utters the words Baruch Attah Hashem or Blessed are you G-d, he gets more connected to the divine presence of the Al-Mighty. Indeed, it is sad and painful to go around mindlessly practicing rituals without appreciating the larger mission of connecting to G-d and having a relationship with Him in this world. Even if a person does not choose to outwardly abandon their halachic observance, they walk around unfulfilled and empty. The damage that this Netflix series will cause remains to be seen. There has been a variety of reactions from the Jewish Twitterverse and beyond. My Unorthodox Life should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to examine the consequences when a healthy relationship with Hashem is not at the foundation of Orthodox Jewish life. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch 

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