Should All Jews be Orthodox?
This post by Jewish Atheist gave me a lot to think about, much of which I left in the comments. But it gave me pause because many times I think similar thoughts when reading posts such as the ones he highlights. I have also had conversations with friends about this topic - what would we do if out children went "off the derech"? or "should everyone be frum*?"
My family isn't halachically observant, nor do I believe they ever will be (a statement which, on a date, got a shocked and reprimanding response of "Don't say that! You never know!" to which I responded, "Yes, I do."). And that's fine with me. I don't think everyone is cut out to be frum (and when I say that, I'm not saying that I think those who are are necessarily better or greater than those who are not - I just think people have different paths that are right for them), nor do I think they have to be.
As someone who follows halacha, I guess I'm supposed to feel like everyone else should also. But I don't. In my perspective, it's a choice and people should make educated choices that they believe in, rather than blindly following what someone else tells them to do. Now, I realize that makes me, in some ways, a hypocrite (which I HATE to admit) because I don't know all the background to all the laws. But I try to understand them as best as I can, I ask lots of questions, and I try to wade through the things that are stringencies and those that are actual law. For me, this is the best way I can serve Hashem. But I think it can be very different for different people - both those more observant and those less observant than myself. But I think the choice is the key.
I have sat amongst friends while one is describing how her relatives have started taking on mitzvos - keeping kosher, keeping shabbos, covering hair or wearing a yarmulke - due to the example of the person telling the story. The group exclaims and awes about how amazing it is and how incredible that these relatives are making such changes. But I have mixed feelings about it. Do these relatives really know what they are getting into? Have they thought it all through? Why are they making these changes? I don't know the answers to these questions, and if these people have considered everything and make a conscious, educated decision to change their lives, that's great. But if it's something they are blindly forging into, not considering how it's not easy to be Orthodox, I'm concerned for them.
To be really honest, I think my concern is due to the fact that I know I personally didn't really do my due diligence when becoming frum. Which is normal. But it has caused a lot of discomfort along the way. Trying to really find my place within Orthodox Judaism. Sifting through the different layers and opinions and observance levels within Orthodoxy; trying to figure out what really is law and what is extra doses added on for "safety." What kiruv* organizations are leaving out. It's been many years, but I think I'm still figuring my way through it, and have gone through many permutations. I think I'm a lot closer to owning my decisions, and I've definitely gotten more comfortable questioning something that is presented as fact, but might not actually be such, but I think there's probably still a lot that I was once told in the name of "mikareving"* me that isn't nearly as clear as presented, and which I haven't yet sorted through.
So, I guess I'm saying that I agree Jewish Atheist in a lot of respects. I don't think Orthodox Judaism is for everyone, and certainly not one stream of it. I wouldn't feel comfortable pressuring others into taking on halacha if they don't choose it for themselves, and honestly, I think each person should feel free to make their own decisions. If people ask me questions about why I choose to do what I do, fine, I'll explain it to them. But when I watch my Jewish co-worker eating a bacon sandwich, I'm not going to give him a lecture, nor am I going to refer him to a kiruv organization. I'm going to be his friend, and get along with him as best as I can - and hope that he respects my decisions to live my life the way I choose as I respect his. Because in many ways, I think Jewish unity across the board is more important than making sure everyone is Orthodox.
*Off the Derech - literally "off the path" or "off the way" - of Torah observance.
*Frum - following Orthodox Judaism
*Halacha or Halachically - Laws from the Torah
*Hashem - God
*Mitzvos - commandments
*Kiruv - outreach, specifically groups that encourage Torah observance
*Mikareving - guiding someone towards Torah observance