Opening Remarks by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo at the introduction of the
Great Issues Lecture Series on Judaism in Crisis. February 3, 2002-Adar 2, 5763
Dear friends, Baruch Haba, Welcome.
We are most happy tonight to begin The first Annual Great Issues Lecture Series: Judaism in Crisis of the David Cardozo Academy, Machon Ohr Aaron. This series is the result of much soul searching, discussions and deep concern for the future of Judaism, Jewish education, the State of Israel and the general situation of the Jewish religious and secular world.
All is not well with Judaism and Jewish education. It is true: great things have been achieved; there is more Jewish learning today in this country than at any other time in the last 2000 years. There are more outreach programs, more institutions for ba’ale teshuva, more Yeshivoth, women’s seminars, primary and high schools than have ever been at any time. Tens of thousands of young women and men are involved in these marvelous institutions.
And yet, we are losing the battle to plant genuine Judaism deeply into the hearts of the Jewish people. We are losing more and more young people. We are presently experiencing a serious increase of drop-outs from the Orthodox world, Chareidi as well Modern orthodox.
We see many young religious people living a religiously boring life with little real commitment. There is a great lack of inspiration and motivation. Many religious people behave outwardly as religious people but inwardly they have left the fold a long time ago. In many orthodox communities and institutions we find mediocrity, dogmatism and stagnation on all fronts.
There is a great amount of intellectual isolation in the chareidi world, with its far-reaching consequences. We see a lack of commitment by the modern orthodox, often shown in their ambivalent attitude towards the demands of Halacha. In the non-religious world we see whole communities of Israeli youth traveling to the Far East to find spirituality with the Daila Lama or the gurus instead of Judaism. What went wrong?
This is the question which all of us have to deal with. Nobody who is concerned with Judaism and the future of the Jewish people can or is allowed to escape this. It should give us headaches and sleepless nights as it does to some of us. There are no easy and comfortable answers. We must probe, research, ask uncomfortable and disturbing questions even to the extent that we may be forced to admit our faults, regret our actions and above all compelled to start thinking in radically different terms than we have done up till now. A critical reassessment of Judaism is necessary. This should take place on several levels mostly intellectual and spiritual.
Intellectually: We cannot implore our critical faculty in all our endeavors and at the same time abstain from asking questions with regards to religion. Our age is an age of criticism to which everything is subjected. The sacredness of Judaism and its authority are regarded by many as grounds for exemption from the examination of this tribunal. But if they are exempted, they become the subject of just suspicion and cannot lay claim to sincere respect. Such respect only becomes possible when it stands the test of free public examination.
By the same token, we should not fall victim to what is so often experienced in University settings whereby religion and Judaism are just further subjects of scientific investigation. Too much scholarship is focused on questions of philology, archaeology and comparative studies without understanding the profound meaning of religion itself. Religion is much larger that science or academic studies can ever offer to be. By its very nature religion touches on issues which academic studies will never be able to reach.
Spiritually the Jewish religious community is in great trouble. There is a serious lack of inspiration and devotion. Judaism has become for many a kind of behaviorism, an outward experience in which our tradition has become a kind of sacred physics.
What we are in need of is a new religious movement, which will be built on integrity and inspiration as well as being invigorated by challenge. We must break the idols of indifference and apathy and shatter callousness. We must show that Judaism is not just a religion, but also an event, a happening of the soul, not a dogma or just a ritual, but a call to take risks for the sake of our souls. We must look for different roads, looks into different corners of the human spirit to find new ways to inspire.
Judaism has to move beyond being a great religious heritage. It has to become a living force in which people will discover their deepest self. We do not need more Jewish continuity, but re-discovery of what we have lost. We are a people with a mission, but we lost the mission without having noticed it. Judaism was not defeated because of secularity but because it became dull, oppressive and irrelevant.
Above all we have to try to do this with a constant awareness that we live in the presence of God. This country, the land of Israel is His palace and therefore we have to behave and think royally. Constantly looking for new opportunities to discover Him in an undiscovered world.
It is the intention of the David Cardozo Academy, to provide the community with unusual lectures to enable all of us to think afresh and create the possibility of allowing us to rediscover Judaism in unprecedented ways.
Our dream is to start a full time school to give our future educators the opportunity to discover the treasuries of Judaism in new challenging ways, not properly explored until this moment. There is a long way to go. Tonight and over the next few months we hope to lay some humble foundations. We have asked some of the most important religious thinkers to introduce aspects of Judaism which need our full attention and above all creativity. We have not asked them to speak about specific topics but in this first series given them the chance to speak their minds on topics they feel are of utmost importance and which relate to the name of this series Judaism in Crisis.
Later on in the year, we will become more focused and ask them and others to concentrate on specific issues and so receive a broader perspective, hearing different opinions and looking for ways to implement them. As well as all the speakers in this first series of Judaism in Crisis, we have invited several other great thinkers. We have a commitment from Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to come and speak for us later in the year. We have also asked Rabbi Norman Lamm and many others and received positive replies from all of them.
I have been blessed by becoming acquainted with my dear friend Rabbi Francis Nataf. To my great delight he has become our educational director and let me say that it has turned into a most marvelous experience working together with him, brainstorming together and sharing insights into our holy Torah. He has introduced me to some outstanding teachers and people who are willing to give us advice concerning fundraising and the proper type of exposure. May he and all of them be blessed.
It would be too much to thank all those who helped us lay the financial and practical foundations for this series and our other activities. On a future occasion I will mention their names. May Hashem bless each one of them. Tonight’s lecture by Rabbi Brovender is sponsored by Rabbi Jay Karzen and Family, and Alexander Gross. We thank them for this opportunity and may they be blessed.
Let us pray that these lectures will contribute to better Jewish living and thinking and let us never forget that we came here to hear the words of God as understood by our teachers and remind ourselves of what Avraham Yehoshua Heshel taught us in such simple words but with such profound meaning. “God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance”
With your permission, I dedicate this lecture to Colonel Ilan Ramon z.l. who has done so much for the Jewish people by making us once more aware of the great privilege it is to belong to this great nation and to carry the values of our Torah even beyond our globe. May God reward him, his fellow astronauts and all our fallen soldiers for all the wonderful things they have done for us and all of mankind and may we hear besoroth tovoth, good tidings, for all good men. Thank you.