Divrei Torah BlogsReligion

Will the real "Torah-true" Judaism please stand up?

So there's a fun debate going on in the blogosphere about which Judaism is the real Torah-true Judaism.

There are those in the Orthodox camp who like to stake out a claim that Orthodoxy is the only "Torah-true" Judaism.

In a recent post my friend and colleague Rabbi Jason Miller points out that all branches of Judaism change and adapt.  He cites recent changes in Orthodoxy including women leading Kabbalat Shabbat services at an Orthodox congregation in New York, a number of Orthodox leaders signing a statement calling for a change in attitudes toward gays, etc., as proof that all movements change, albeit at different paces, so no one movement can claim to be more "Torah true" than another.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner presents a somewhat confused response (with a mistaken summary at Jewschool) claiming that what's relevant isn't whether you change halachically, but "Perhaps it is a group’s shmirat hamitzvot, keeping of all the mitzvoth, and passionate commitment to torah study and Torah values that determines its Torah true-ness."

Perhaps R. Shafner never noticed that just as there are a lot of Conservative Jews who don't follow all the mitzvot, there are a lot of people associated with the Orthodox movement who don't observe all the mitzvot. When I was growing up the shul we did NOT attend was Orthodox.  You can't really say that a movement is or isn't "Torah-true" based on what a sampling of what the members do or don't do in their private lives.

Personally, I think the rabbis who most loudly proclaim to have the only "Torah-true" Judaism are the ones who are furthest away.  The ones making those claims usually try to show how "authentic" and "serious" they are by piling chumrah (stringency) on top of chumrah.  As if living in an increasingly narrow and confined world somehow defines one as being serious, as being "true to the Torah."

Yet if you look at the "Torah-true" Jews of old — the rabbis of the Talmudic era — they were really a bunch of radical innovators: very much like the Conservative rabbis of today.  Guided by Torah and the basic principles of Jewish law found in the Talmud, they found ways to make radical innovations in halacha.  See my post "radical rabbis" for more on the subject.

I'm a believer in pluralism.  I don't have the hubris to believe that my way is the only way.  As far as I'm concerned, anyone who tries to live his life guided by Torah, who tries to live his life aligned with what he/she believes God wants from him, is living "Torah-true" Judaism, and it's not anyone else's role to judge whether or not someone else's Judaism is "Torah-true" or not.  Worry about your own Torah, not someone else's…

Reb Barry

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

4 thoughts on “Will the real "Torah-true" Judaism please stand up?

  • My perception is that the climate in most Orthodox shuls today would drive away the non-observant, and that the confluence of liturgy, lifestyle, and ideology is far greater than among Reform and Conservative Jews. Reform (my own affiliation) gives us permission to reject what we don’t like, while Conservatives tend to live like we do & think like we do, but want a more traditional liturgy and expect their rabbis to be kosher and shomer shabbos.

    Torah-true by any definition is triumphalist — only WE have the truth. Better is to remember Eilu v’eilu divrei elohim chayim.

  • Which Judaism is the real Judaism?

    Please allow me give you a few little clues:

    In real Judaism, there are no “gay Rabbis” and no “lesbian Rabbis.”

    In real Judaism, there are no “Rabbis” who deny the Divine origin of the Torah.

    In real Judaism, there are no “Rabbis” who eat non-kosher foods.

    In real Judaism, there are no “marriage” ceremonies that unite Jewish men with non-Jewish women or non-Jewish men with Jewish women.

    • Barry Leff

      Mr Cohen, I suppose you’ve never met a gay or lesbian rabbi, for example…they are just as knowledgeable and just as committed to Yiddishkeit as straight rabbis. The Jewish world is strengthened by a more inclusive approach.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *