Israel, Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, Short Fiction, Career Guidance

Location: Israel

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Judaism vs. Western Culture and The Boom of Vice

There was a time, apparently decades ago, when “Western Culture” was what could be called ‘prudish’. There was a concept of modesty. There was respect. There was an expectation that most people were decent, honest and hard-working. It was a time when a religious Jew could more comfortably interact with the secular world and both learn from it and contribute to it. There were of course major barriers and challenges that don’t exist today. Nonetheless, it was a time when the philosophy of “the Rav”, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, grew and flourished in America. He formulated a vision of a halachic person that could be strong in their observance, yet be a major participant in the secular culture of the day.

This is one of the founding pillars of institutions such as Yeshiva University and today’s Modern Orthodox communities.

Secular culture has changed dramatically since then. Morals are out. Instant gratification is in. The diseases of materialism and superficiality have infected Modern Orthodox communities far and wide. In many communities, Judaism has evolved into being part of a social group, with minimal spiritual or moral depth. The duality of paying lip service to Jewish ritual yet being immersed in western culture, has led to the inevitable disenfranchisement of our young. The teens who go astray take two general directions. The more honest ones discard religion altogether, as they see their parents negligible commitment and don’t bother going through the motions themselves. Many though, to the parents’ relief, follow the parents’ style of duplicity, and generally take it a step further.

To further add fuel to the flame, the gods of Marketing, have exposed us and our children to nudity and outright sexual innuendo on an unprecedented scale. Our children’s heroes and role models are the movie, music and sports stars who also happen to worship themselves.

The percentages of all of the vices and social ills of the religious commitment now parallel the percentages in the secular world. We are fully integrated now. Alcoholism, drugs, gambling, divorce, spouse and child abuse, have all exploded in recent years to levels never seen before in the Orthodox community.

Some of these disturbing trends are slowly but surely becoming legitimized by growing use. Gambling has become an acceptable pastime for children. Alcohol abuse has become commonplace. It is now being explained that these things have become socially and culturally acceptable in our communities and therefore one should not make a case of it.

I believe that the exact opposite is true. We must fight the negative influences of this culture with all our might. The Orthodox Union has been courageous in leading the battle against alcoholism via the ‘Kiddush Clubs’ which had achieved a certain amount of acceptance, if not respectability.

I’ll illustrate the problem with something becoming ‘culturally or socially acceptable’ with an extreme but true example. In a certain Jewish “religious” community in a South American city, it was common practice for boys of bar-mitzvah age and older to make use of prostitutes. This was done with the parents consent and sometimes even encouragement. There were many explanations as to why this was a wonderful thing to do: “It’s healthy”, “It creates a better marriage”, and other reasons. The bottom line was that this was a halachically impermissible act that had become so commonplace that it was accepted by the community and even explained as a good thing.

The regular use of prostitutes was done by boys who otherwise put on tefillin daily, davened very nicely, were serious learners and overall wonderful people. The same problem is happening with many other vices that are clearly unacceptable from a halachic point-of-view. However, the addict has no problem finding the authority that approves of his vice, and the addict curiously becomes a talmid-chacham when it comes to explaining why his vice is okay if not actually recommended by halacha.

The first step in dealing with the issues, addictions and abuses that are ultimately generated by our Western Culture, is to admit there is a problem.

[to be continued…]


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