Sunday, October 14, 2012

Separate But Not Equal?

What a difference an ocean can make!  Ask the British and the Americans, who formally speak the same language.   Alas, the same is for Judaism.  Israelis, even not religious ones, and Americans view practicing their religion in a different light.

For Israelis, Ben Gurion’s “temporary” status quo agreement with the ultra-Orthodox in Israel, which gave them exemption from army service, had other consequences.  The only form of Judaism that is regarded as proper is orthodox, somewhere according to the practices of the national-Religious vein.  This means keeping kosher, separate men and women in synagogues, and set standards of “modesty”, i.e. women keeping their knees and elbows covered, to mention just a few items.  Most Israelis, including the most anti-religious ones, accept this as the only way to practice Judaism if you are going to do so at all.  Only in 2012 has the government been forced to recognize non-orthodox rabbis.  So, in Israel, all is clear, even if often ignored.

By contrast, the United States is the land of skepticism and variety.   In a recent poll, the second largest religious “sect” is the group of people who have doubts about religion (but not about god, to be precise).  The Pope and the protestant preachers continue to scream at their wayward flocks for failing to toe the line.  Jews are not exempt.  The vast majority of American Jews is not orthodox, but instead conservative or reform, whatever that means.  Therefore, families sit together with koshrut being often partial, if kept at all.  (Granted, many American Jews keep kosher homes.)  As for modesty, well, during my recent trip to L.A., the second largest Jewish concentration in the United States, I happened to walk by the nearby synagogue on Yom Kippur.  The men wore suits and ties.  As for the ladies of all ages, they were tastefully dressed for the most part, but many were showing knees and elbows, if not more.  My Israeli-born partner was a bit shocked and upset by this.  She remarked:  “How can they wear that to the synagogue?”  My comment that not everybody shared her values was not comprehended.  The issue of a different but still acceptable standard of modesty was beyond her grasp.  (To her credit, she could understand why people in L.A. drive to the synagogue on Yom Kippur.)

As an American Jew who has lived in Israel for so long, I explain the difference in perspective to the general attitude of skepticism in the United States.  In my opinion, most of the people at the LA Yom Kippur services do not actually “buy” the rules of Judaism, meaning they fundamentally think they are bubbameisis (old wives’ tales), but agree to pretend on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Pesach in order to maintain some form of being Jewish.  By contrast, most Israelis believe that the Halacha, the Jewish guide to proper practices, is serious business, even if many openly ignore it.   Whether the two practices are equal, I choose to take the Fifth Amendment.

P.S. My apologies for the long break in writing.  I was on a family visit and then had to recover from it.

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