The big elephant in the room


For about 42 of my 48 years I had been a member of three of the larger Conservative shuls in the D.C. area. I always enjoyed the rabbis, was actually married by two of them and was somewhat active in their communities. I was happy where I was Jewishly and had no interest in changing. I was uninformed and becoming more apathetic.
One day my wife pushed me to attend a High Holiday service at a Jewish outreach center in Rockville. I went fighting because I was stubborn and stuck in my ways and had negative views about any other way of Judaism except my own.
After much learning, I can see the big picture and the results of my growth. I have a relationship with my wife and family, not based on the whims of society and the way people around think we should live our lives, but based on the values the Torah teaches that have lasted thousands of years. I have children who actually run to shul on Saturday mornings. My life and my family are so full of blessings that I can’t imagine going back to the way I was.
The Torah teaches us practical knowledge such as how to raise kids, how to have a great marriage and how to get the most pleasures out of life. To those people who would say, “It’s not for me,” I would say, get back in the line with me. I remember seeing the other Jews walking to shul as I drove by and thinking to myself, I’m not one of those Jews.
The results from the latest Pew report are not surprising. A decline in the Conservative movement from 43 percent to 18 percent since 1990. That’s not a drop-off, that’s a collapse. And there is an intermarriage rate in the nonobservant world of 71 percent. How can you be a Jewish leader or rabbi and not think to yourself that whatever it is you’re doing isn’t working? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
I know all the rabbis love the Jewish people and will stop at nothing if they know it will help them. So here it is, the big elephant in the room, staring at us right in our faces. Trying to be Jewish in America but not TOO Jewish isn’t working. The idea of interpreting the Torah so we can assimilate into American culture is a death sentence for the majority of nonobservant Jews. That’s right, get out your computers and start writing how crazy this is and that I’m nuts, judgmental, etc.
Jews have survived thousands of years by following laws given to us at Mt. Sinai, and there was never a question the Torah was a document from God. Either God authored the Torah or he didn’t. If you don’t believe that the Torah is from God, then you might as well be a Scientologist. It’s a lot easier, and you don’t have to fast on Yom Kippur.
What does it say when shrimp is being served at a bar mitzvah? Why would children be inspired to stay Jewish? It reeks of hypocrisy. Rabbi’s can rationalize their interpretation of the Torah and say how things written 3,000 years ago are not relevant anymore. They are relevant to me because now I have a guidebook to follow. Imagine going in for a test in school and the teacher telling you that while the whole class gets 100 questions you are only getting 10. I guess if that is what you want to learn Jewishly, you should be happy because that is exactly what you are getting.
We have done a great job of interpreting the Torah in a way that fits in with our American lives. It’s up to you to decide if that is taking us in the right direction. We can argue all day about the differences in interpretation, but I’ll stick to the one that was given to our forefathers and foremothers thousands of years ago and has lasted through the test of time. It’s time to stop the insanity.
Daniel Ratner is a coin collector in Rockville.

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