Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Shockingly Honest and Terribly Troubling Piece on Mark Zuckerberg and Reform Judaism

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg's Facebook feed pointed me to a saddening article in the Forward that notes Mark Zuckerberg's public abandonment of Reform Judaism as a jumping-off point to worry about the future of Reform Judaism. Why does a prominent son of devoted Reform Jews, after the full regiment of Reform Jewish education, Bar Mitzvah, confirmation, and even a trip to Israel, now classify himself as "atheist"? She goes on to wonder about what this phenomenon says about the entire denomination. Some critical quotes:
We failed Zuckerberg and will continue to fail young people like him because the pluralistic theologies of Reform Judaism articulated since the 1960s make it difficult to grasp what we Reform Jews believe on any given issue. Our faith is too amorphous. 
Translation: Young people have no idea what we believe because we don't really believe much of anything specific. Far more upsetting though is this:
Also, as a Reform rabbi, it would be hard for me to tell a congregant not to date anyone who was not already Jewish. I would urge congregants to talk about their commitment to Judaism with any potential romantic interest and make it clear from the beginning that Judaism is an important and hopefully central part of their life. But it is simply impractical to tell single people to restrict their dating gaze to those who are of the Jewish faith. Even if we wanted to say such a thing, the reality in our congregations would make such exhortations antiquated and irrelevant. 
I found it truly shocking that a Reform rabbi doesn't feel comfortable telling a Jewish congregant that it's ideal to date someone within the Jewish faith. Moreover, to even suggest such a thing flies in the face of what's happening in the pews, and would make the rabbi "antiquated and irrelevant." Really? Methinks that the rabbi speaks out of both sides of her mouth: on the one hand she calls her faith too amorphous. She wants to stand for something. But at the same time, she won't even stand up in shul and discourage practices that lead to intermarriage. And then she wonders why her young people are bolting from the shul.
It's not really much of a wonder. And it doesn't leave me with much hope that the next Zuckerberg will find any more reason to remain a Reform Jew - or for that matter, stay Jewish at all.


  1. Dear Rabbi Spolter,

    There are people, from both MO and Charedi backgrounds, who go "off the derech", despite the best efforts of parents, rabbis, etc. What about them?

  2. Dear Nudnik,
    Of course people go "off the derech", and we try and do our best to deal with the factors that cause them to do so. But it would be difficult to argue that they abandon their Judaism because it refuses to set boundaries or limits, or define an ideology. Moreover, I've yet to meet the Orthodox rabbi - of any color - who would refuse to discourage his congregant from dating outside the faith because it would make him seem "antiquated."

  3. Actually I'm kind of surprised to find out that Zuckerberg ever identified with anything Jewish. There is a trend amongst us to try and include anyone successful who happens to be Jewish simply because they are "one of us". What never seems to occur to us is that they just might not care.
    A few months ago Zuckerberg went public that he slaughtered his own meat because of his concerns with the meat industry in North America. His favourite food? Pork. BIG hint there.
    Zuckerberg, a product of the Me-First or Mindfulness generation, cares about Zuckerberg (as his performance during Facebook's disasterous IPO showed). Why should this come as a shock to anyone?

  4. The real problem here is the massive arrogance and projections of the reform rabbi and this blog poster.

    a) at least the writer of the original piece had the decency to admit that he had no idea if Zuckerberg had moved away from reform judaism and that his whole piece was one big assumption. The blog writer ignores this part of the article.

    b) both the original article and this blog post make massive assumptions about how zuckerberg feels about why he left reform judaism, even though it is only an assumption to begin with. An assumption about an assumption.

    c) this rabbi defines the problems with the reform as a denomination entirely based upon assumptions about an assumption about a single individual. OMG. Perhaps that's the real problem here, the sheer unbridled arrogance of rabbis who love their own ideas.

    Garnel: perhaps you should read henry blodget's take on zuckerberg's actions during the ipo and why it is the right attitute: a) on his honeymoon and putting family first, b) has from the beginning said that facebook's motivation is not profit c) had particularly stressed that they are not focused on short term share price fluctuations. So perhaps instead of bashing zuckerberg for doing exactly what he said he'd do from the get go, perhaps you should focus on the guys who overhyped the ipo, the bankers who are a product of the generations before zuckerberg... or the investors who refused to take earnings and future earnings into consideration when they valued it at 100* earnings in their purchase price.
    And i eat bacon and loads of other stuff. Grew up orthodox, now an atheist and proud jew. just because someone likes pig, like the vast majority of the world, is no indication whatsoever on how they identify as jews...

  5. It seems that for the non-religious identifying as a proud Jew is much like identifying as a proud Italian. Great culture, food, music, etc.
    For the religious it's totally different. Now it's about identifying with Torah and religious obligation. According to this approach eating pork and calling oneself a proud Jew is a contradiction in terms.

  6. as you say, according to this (orthodox) approach.

    and why exactly would you judge people, if you do feel compelled to judge, why would you judge non-orthodox jews by your orthodox standard.

    If orthodox jews were to be judged by secular standards, the orthodox community could be viewed as extremist, scary, cult(like), idolators (what with the rabbi worship and all), and a deep split from judaism on many levels.

    so rather than perpetuating sinat chinam by judging others in any way but meritorious, let us agree not to judge people with other points of view by our own narrow understanding of the world.

  7. I do want to address your first line, about how the on-religious identify as jews. I will assume the equivocal tone to be my own paranoia and not your attempt to denigrate.

    Having lived as a non-religious jew in the US and now as a non-religious jew in Israel, I think it is a shame that you have such a narrow perspective and understanding of the beauty of non-religious/ non-orthodox Judaism. You should check out some jewish art and books and music and history, which dates back to the beginning of Judaism. You should check out the temples and synagogues and day schools and humanist centers. I just finished a year of teaching Literature and History to non-religious/non-orthodox jewish high-school students from America; from reform high-schools and public school.

    What perhaps you miss, is that non-orthodox jews are not otd (off the derech), we have chosen a different path and different manners for understanding and relating to the world. And given that the non-orthodox are and have almost always been the majority of Jewry, it is a shame you misunderstand that vast percentage of your family and family history.


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