Judaism in the 21st Century
Contemporary Challenges

 
For many Jews the defining event of the twentieth century and the overwhelmingly tragic event of Jewish history was the Holocaust, the murder of almost six million European Jews by the Nazi leadership of Germany during World War II. These Jews constituted over a third of the Jewish people in the world and half of all Jews in Europe. ... No modern Jewish thinker can ignore the challenge that the Holocaust poses to traditional Jewish beliefs of an omnipotent and caring God. Elie Wiesel (b. 1928), who as a boy survived a Nazi death camp in Poland but lost all his other family members and suffered great atrocities, writes of a bitterness so deep that it could prevent him from uttering the traditional prayers to God:
 
Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many othe factories of death? How could I say to Him: “Blessed art Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end up in the furnaces?”
 
Wiesel says that we cannot turn away from the questions about how it could happen, for genocidal actions are being undertaken against other minority groups in our times as well. (Living Religions, 272-4)
 
In a blog that he describes as “A secular, humanistic, non-theistic, rational approach to Judaism, Israel and the world,” Rabbi Jeffrey Falick of the Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism critiques Rabbi Alan Lurie’s response to the question of how God could have allowed the Holocaust. Lurie’s position can be abbreviated as follows:
 
God does know the choices that we will make because our consciousness is in constant connection to God, and for God time is not a limitation, so our future choices are not hidden. Yet God deliberately does not interfere  not out of indifference, but out of great love. God must “watch” in pain as we commit atrocities, because to interfere would negate free will, terminating the relationship and hence the very purpose of creation. This is the reconciliation of Rabbi Akiva’s famous paradox, “All is foreseen, yet free will is given”. ... Where was God in the Holocaust? As God knew the terrible choices made by too many, and wept at the horrific consequences, those who chose love and service in the face of this horror were strengthened and consoled. Good eventually did win over evil, by our own hands. (The Atheist Rabbi)
 
Falick’s response may be summarized as follows:
 
[W]ho says that the Jewish God doesn’t interfere? In the big book about him and much of the commentary that accompanies it, he interferes all the freaking time. We can’t move right or left (or even eat shrimp for that matter) without him interfering. And a lot of what he tells us to do, in the bible anyway, is to commit the very atrocities that he supposedly watches in so much pain. ... The faithful like to assert that non-believers are angry at God. How can we be angry at a non-existent being? If we are angry at all  and everyone should be able to get their hackles up about some injustice in this world  it’s that some people keep waiting for God to make the big difference. Notably and to their credit, Lurie and most liberal rabbis have had the good sense to drop that part of our ancient fiction. They now rightfully place all of the burden on human beings, reducing God to no more than a moral inspiration. Why they continue to waste their time on that is beyond meNo matter how much we are drawn to ascribe it to an outside source, morality comes from within us. It is an evolved behavior. And in ITS absence, holocausts occur. (The Atheist Rabbi)
“Israel versus Judaism” is a website that was “created to expose the violence and oppression perpetrated by the Zionists and their State of ‘Israel’ against the Jewish people who remain true to the Almighty, Judaism and the Torah.” (Israel versus Judaism) Their position may be summarized as follows:
 
Judaism does not condone violence. Judaism demands that Jews be good citizens of the countries in which they reside and that they live peacefully with respect for and subservience to the ruling powers.
 
Judaism teaches us, that the right for the Jewish people to have self rule in the Holy Land is not unconditional. Since the destruction of our Holy Temple over two thousand years ago, the Jewish people have been exiled from this land by Divine decree. The Talmud tells us that G-d obligated us not to rebel against the ruling bodies, and not to take the land of Israel by force (see Babylonian Talmud tractate Kesubos 111A).
 
The aggression that Zionism presents in originally taking the Holy Land from its indigenous inhabitants is the first flag that exposes this movement for what it is — a real deviation from Judaism. Judaism forbids us from taking the land away from those who currently have jurisdiction over it. That such things should be done not only in opposition to Judaism, but in the name of the very Judaism it defies is simply large-scale fraud. Zionism, once exposed, proves to be the greatest enemy, the worst nightmare, to the Jewish religion and it’s practitioners, that exists to date. (Israel versus Judaism)

Orthodox Feminism
The following are excerpts from an article by Blu Greenberg, one of the founders of the Orthodox feminist movement:
 
On numerous occasions over the past years, I’ve been asked: how far can Orthodoxy go in responding to feminism? Sometimes there’s a bit of goading behind the question: What do Orthodox feminists really want? What’s your real agenda? But often the questioner comes with genuine interest. How far can Orthodoxy accommodate the needs of the new Jewish woman without losing its Orthodoxy? ... If the changes that have been wrought during the past decades are any indication, the element of surprise may be a surer bet than any predictions I might offer. Who would have imagined 30 years ago Orthodox women studying and teaching Talmud in places like Drisha [a NewYork-based center for women’s advanced study of classical Jewish texts] or Midreshet Lindenbaum [a Jerusalem-based center for Jewish women’s learning]? Who would have believed that women would serve on Israeli religious councils, or as congregational interns in Orthodox shuls? Who would have pictured a woman reading the Torah portion at a women’s tefillah group?
       When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, even the word bat mitzvah was off‑limits in Orthodoxy, signaling the celebrant as Reform or Conservative. Today, no self‑respecting modern Orthodox family would refrain from marking its daughter’s Jewish maturity with a bat mitzvah celebration. While changes in Orthodoxy may not seem as stark as changes in the more liberal denominations, they are more remarkable in some ways because they represent a greater shift from the status quo. In only one generation, Orthodox women’s roles have shifted from exclusively private to increasingly public, from the household and mikvah to houses of study and prayer, and religious courts of law. ...
 
Years ago I thought everything had to be equal; that less than equal meant sexism, discrimination, hierarchy, and disability. I now believe that distinctive roles can be compatible with equality and equal dignity, and that not everything in life has to be taken to its logical conclusion. Perhaps Orthodoxy may turn out to be the best testing ground for a theology of distinctive‑but‑equal gender roles. However, to serve as a credible model, Orthodoxy cannot be separate and unequal, neither in reality nor perception. With the exception of the agunah problem, which as an outright abuse and violation of Jewish ethics should have been resolved yesterday, the slow time frame of Orthodox decision making may be advantageous to all society.
 
The path that this journey — the transformation of Orthodoxy by feminism and the modulation of feminism under the impact of eternal Jewish values — will take is a function of the interplay between halachists, the lay community, and the sincere petitioning of feminists within Orthodoxy. Judaism has often adapted to innovations based on the dynamic interchange between individual needs and community sensibilities, between the questions and the answers in the literature, between new societal norms and ancient traditions. The full dignity of women, as images of God, is an external idea that we must integrate into our heritage. (myjewishlearning.com...)