Of the entirety of the Jewish people are only the Hareidi and maybe the Orthodox the only real Jews or are the Conservative and Reform just as Jewish and how about Kabbalah or even Reconstructionist and other less popular forms of Judaism? The answer you will receive depends just as much on the individual as it does which particular branch of Judaism the responder belongs. Then there is a question as to whether one need be a Zionist to be a true Jew. This has become a pertinent question which will receive some coverage in the near future due to Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Reform movement’s US conference through a live video link. Hareidi leaders, who are quoted in Hareidi newspaper Hamevaser claimed that the previous Prime Ministers had resisted recognizing the Reform movement claiming, “It is too bad that Netanyahu is adding fuel to the raging fire and pushing the cart further into the abyss.” The Hareidi tied the Prime Minister’s apparent sin to the current political situations adding, “This is even more serious because these are very sensitive days, in which Hareidi Jewry is fighting for its life because of the decree for forcibly enlisting yeshiva students. On days in which the tension needs to be lessened, the prime minister elects to deepen the damage to the Hareidi public, and strengthen the Reform movement that has led to grave assimilation in the Jewish people.” And finally they accused the Prime Minister saying, “By so doing, Netanyahu proves that the struggle is not for ‘equality in bearing the civil burden’ or other clichés. This is a clear plot to destroy religion, Torah and the mitzvoth [commandments]. That is the true aim and there is no other.”
Where the best answers would likely come from learned Rabbis there is a more political way to view this question, namely who will be determined to be Jewish should, G0d forbid, part or all of the world go off the cliff and once again decide the world would be a better place without any Jews populating the planet. Such an event is not as impossible as many had believed it had become as the memory of the horrors which gripped Europe under the hatreds of the Nazis. One need only look almost anywhere on the Earth and evidence points to a sharp increase in anti-Semitism. Iran regularly holds demonstrations with tens of thousands chanting “Death to Israel, Death to America” where by Israel they mean not only the nation but also the Jewish people and they do not mean just the United States when saying America as much as the entirety of the Western world. Then there are the leadership of the Palestinians such as Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Khaled Mashaal of Hamas will regularly speak of removing the Jews from residing in Israel as they claim that once they regain rule over the lands from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea their first order of business will be to remove, read that as murder, every last Jew so as to repurify the lands and remove what they see as a blight.
Throughout the history of Judaism there have been sects or divisions of Jews who strayed from the strict laws, mitzvah, commandments and rituals that the most strictly religious Jews hold to as the essence of being Jewish. Even the manners and practices for the most religious of Jews has altered over the ages. One obvious example are the restrictions on not eating leavened during Passover as the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi rule different items as forbidden during the holiday with rice being one of the most often used examples. Much of the disturbance between the different forms of Judaism comes down to the level of strictness regarding observance of the laws, traditions, mitzvah and rituals. What many do not take into account is all the different forms of Judaism currently are unable of completely following all of the commandments as there is not a Temple in Jerusalem to which many of the commandments and mitzvah require in order to be practiced. Rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, or elsewhere if that is the decision as before King Solomon built the First Temple there were other sites where the Tabernacle had been kept and where the mitzvoth pertaining to it had been held, should be one of Judaism’s highest priorities and that should be accepted as a foremost desire of the Jewish people. Still, there are some among the most religious of Jews who claim that Zionism is a wrongheaded cause and the Holy Temple must await the coming of the Messiah as that is who is to rebuild the Holy Temple. Just what the Jewish people need, another argument dividing us.
Now we can get to the opinion section where whatever I write I will likely receive a ton of grief for every ounce of kudos. My belief is that even the most secularized and unobservant of Jews is still a Jew even if they have completely sworn off their religiosity as there is still that remote glimmer of hope that something will awaken the spirit within them and they will return to the fold and recommit to Judaism. I would ask of those who are most observant and who have great difficulty with those Jews who only practice some of the Jewish rituals and commandments to keep open arms readied for any Jew who desires to rejoin and to remember that even after choosing to return and fully practice Judaism the wayward Jew must be walked at their own pace and care taken not to overwhelm them with changes expecting them to miraculously transform overnight. Were that it was that easy. Many Jews today are not observant because their parents were not observant and they were never taught what is required of an observant Jew. Many of these Jews do not read Hebrew and even more do not understand more than a smattering of Hebrew though they can read the Siddur and say many or even all of the prayers exactly as they are to be chanted. The lack of speaking and understanding Hebrew can pose a very high and difficult hurdle to returning to the fold and becoming a practicing Jew. Remember that even at the worst of times when many if not most of the Jewish people were Hellenized and spent more time practicing the Greek religions and philosophies than they did observing Torah yet still the Greeks were cast out and the majority of those lost Jews found their way back or their children returned to Judaism. The Jewish people are very likely on the leading cusp of such a change in these perilous times. The Jewish people have always bound together in the face of adversity and adversity is coming and very few even see it, let alone prepared for the evils approaching. When the problems strike it will require the religious members of Judaism to embrace their less observant Jews and teach them patiently Torah and the Commandments. They will need guidance and comforting and will stumble many times and will require understanding and support as they climb slowly back to the heights of Torah observance. Many will not understand what is happening to them or even why or how they were condemned for being Jews as their parents were not practicing Jews and held no ties to the family that are the Jewish people. There is a claim that almost every Jew alive today is no more than four or five generations removed from a religiously practicing Jew. Let us pray it will take less generations to bring them back home and that can only happen if those Jews who hold true to Torah are willing to take the time and live by example showing the joys that come with Jewish observance.
Beyond the Cusp