33 Tisha B'av - Response to Criticism
Chananya Weissman

July 30, 2020

I just submitted the following response to criticism of my recent article "Assimilated Orthodox Jews". I encourage you to first read the exchange here, and then read my response below.


This response is to both you and “D”. Let me preface by saying that I generally do not get involved in exchanges with anonymous people. You know who I am, and I put myself in the crosshairs for what I believe in. It is unfair to expect me to engage with people who criticize me from the comfort and safety of anonymity, when they are free to say what they wish and in many cases (not necessarily here) try to make me look bad, without standing behind their words as I do. If this is a serious, adult discussion, and you believe in what you say, then put your name to it as I have done.

I have to say that I agree with the editor of the Jewish Press: your reading of my article was incorrect. They did shorten it by a few hundred words for space considerations (an issue I often come up against, unfortunately) and I encourage you to read the original version here. I think you will find that my intentions in using the loaded word “assimilated” are more clear there, but it should not have been understood as delegitimizing Orthodox Jews who hold the beliefs I mentioned. It was intended as a wake-up call to examine these vital issues; Orthodox Jews who pride themselves on resisting the influence of secular society have unfortunately assimilated many values foreign to Judaism, and the ones I cited have not gotten enough attention.

You claim that attempting to improve the status quo in Israel by moving there is “preposterous”. Really? I invite you to answer the following uncomfortable questions:

  1. What better way could there possibly be to ever change the status quo in Israel? Can you seriously argue that you can do more to change the status quo in Israel from Monsey and Lakewood? Please explain how Orthodox Jews in these and other such communities have been changing the status quo in Israel, in particular how their efforts in these places have been more effective than had they been acting from inside Israel. Then we can determine whose position is more “preposterous”.

  2. You note that the Arabs and the irreligious in Israel far outnumber you. How do you plan on rectifying that problem specifically by excusing or even discouraging aliya of religious people? I fail to see how that helps balance the equation.

  3. According to your reasoning, religious Jews in Israel are in a hopeless situation – if people follow your ideology they will certainly not be receiving reinforcements – so are they fools? Should they surrender to the notion that they are fighting a lost cause and move to Monsey? Abandon ship completely to the Arabs and irreligious until Moshiach knocks on their door? This seems to be the logical conclusion of your position.

  4. When have religious Jews NOT been in the minority, and when has that ever been an excuse for them to abandon the cause? Don't we celebrate the triumphs of the few over the many and the weak over the mighty? So why is Eretz Yisrael today not worthy of the struggle, yet being in the minority in America is?

I did not base my words about fighting Amalek strictly on one personal experience. I have encountered this over and over again, as have many others. In any event, I don't see any reason to believe that the same frum Jews who have given up on Israel in our days because of the irreligious Jews and defeated Arabs are going to fight Amalek. Sorry, but I'm calling bluff on that one.

D” excuses herself from the mitzva of living in Israel because many Jews there do not keep the mitzvos. Again, I must ask, should the frum Jews living in Israel leave for this reason? Would you support this? Would you not consider this a horrible tragedy and step backwards for our people? Or would you believe that if we abandoned Israel to the non-religious they will one day have an epiphany and beg the religious to return and run the country for them? It seems to me a more likely strategy would be for people who want Israel to be more religious to move here as religious people, influence those around them, and improve the situation organically.

D” somewhat confuses assimilation with learning anything at all from the goyim. Of course the Rambam learned science and medicine from the goyim. We are SUPPOSED to have contact with the outside world. How else can we fulfill our mission of being a light unto the nations and teaching them the Noahide commandments, which are fundamental reasons for our very existence? Assimilation refers to absorbing MORAL lessons from the goyim. The four issues I cited in my article are all foreign moral ideas that Jews have absorbed from outside sources.

D” is also terribly mistaken when she states that the chillul Hashem of galus is our uncorrected sins. The chillul Hashem of galus is our very presence in exile, nothing more and nothing less. There are spiritual reasons for the galus, of course, and we should work to rectify them, of course, but millions of Jews being exiled from Israel is a desecration of God's name. This is clear from numerous Torah sources, and there is not a single Torah source to the contrary.

It is also the basis of Christianity and Islam. The return of millions of Jews to Israel has presented a theological crisis to other religions that depend on the rejection of the Jewish people, as evidenced by their exile from Israel. Returning to Israel – even if we fail to resolve a single sin that we have committed – rectifies this ultimate chillul Hashem. This should be a paramount consideration to every Orthodox Jew in the world.

Finally, I did not write that struggling with a mitzva renders someone assimilated. Everyone has their struggles in various ways. I wrote that Jews who have assimilated foreign ideas into their religious understanding of things – particularly these fundamental issues – have, by definition, been somewhat assimilated.

One of these is for a Jew to live in exile, be at peace with this, and make no earnest effort to return to Israel. I have no doubt that if the Rambam, the Vilna Gaon, the Chafetz Chaim, or any gedolim of pre-state times lived today, they would not live in Spain, Vilna, Radin, Monsey, or Johannesburg. Hashem's will is very clear, the Torah sources are very clear, and Jews who remain in galus are indeed perpetuating the ultimate chillul Hashem. The only difference is that in earlier times it was involuntary, whereas today they come up with all manner of reasons and excuses.

We ask Hashem every day in the Shemoneh Esrei to gather the exiles. This request comes before the request to restore our judges (in essence a Torah-based society), before the request to wipe out evil, before the request to build Jerusalem, before the request for Moshiach, and before the request to restore the avoda in the Beis Hamikdash – all of which are independent requests. We ask Hashem to bring us back to Israel, with no strings attached. Dayenu! That should be enough for us. Hashem has granted this request, and it should be enough for us to live in Israel and be personally involved in the redemption process even before all the other requests are fully granted. Otherwise, the prayers are insincere.

The direct link between exile and chillul Hashem (with no other strings attached) is also illustrated in our daily prayers in the prayer composed by Eliyahu Hanavi right before Korbonos, in which we specifically ask Hashem to gather us back to Israel for the sake of His name.

It is also illustrated in the Monday and Thursday Tachanun, when we repeatedly ask Hashem to save us and redeem up for the sake of His name. Most specifically the following line: “Show us a sign for the good and gather our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth; let the nations recognize and know that you are Hashem our God.”

Whether you like it or not, whether you are comfortable or not, Israel and its millions of Jewish inhabitants is the answer to this prayer. It's time for religious Jews in the diaspora to stop dropping the ball, perpetuating the chillul Hashem of exile, and cooperate with the fulfillment of this prayer. Those who insist on remaining until their lives are in immediate mortal danger in galus will be accommodated.

Enough rationalizing. Come home.