Boteach Beyond Reach

16 Oct

This time he has done it.  He has just gone too far.   

I have been watching Hollywood hob-nobber Shmuely Boteach from the side lines for several years now.  I, as many others, have been at times somewhat shocked at his methods and his out-there-in-your face way of addressing delicate Jewish and other religious issues (You must admit, when he came out with his book Kosher Sex, it certainly raised more than a few eyebows!) 

He has written and spoken unabashedly on many occasions.  Most recently he took sides with Noah Feldman who publicly slandered Modern Orthodoxy, employing outrageous characterizations, referencing the murderers Amir and Goldstein as examples of what modern Orthodoxy produces, comparing the Tefillin worn at morning prayers to masochistic devices, etc. 

In recent weeks he has been on a kick to make the whole world “Jewish.” In Monday’s Jerusalem Post, Boteach had a column entitled Offer Judaism. (http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1192380553265&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull)  

In the article he asks:

What would a universal Judaism look like? I propose the following as the basis for a worldwide campaign that the Jewish community can launch, to illuminate the world with the light of Jewish values, heal the world of many of its social maladies and inspire Jews themselves to recommit to a tradition their non-Jewish counterparts find awe-inspiring and wise. First, and foremost, there would be a declaration that you don’t have to be Jewish to practice Judaism. Rather, it’s about bringing the following principles into your life, whatever your identity.  

I think Boteach has over-reached this time. If you don’t have to be Jewish to practice Judaism, then why be Jewish?  Even a born Jew might ask him or herself this question! 

He goes on to suggest a whole litany of practices that one can consider observing… 

Marital Law: Have sex in marriage as often as possible. Lovemaking is the glue that keeps a husband and wife intimately connected. But separate sexually for 12 consecutive days each month in order to impose an erotic barrier that both enhances lust and makes your bodies exciting and new. 

On Succot, immerse yourself in nature. Reflect on removing artifice and manipulation from your life and reconnect with your most authentic self.  

Light candles on Hanukka and reflect on the soul’s capacity to illuminate the world’s darkness, and the power of goodness to triumph over evil.

Dietary Laws: Eat only kosher animals, defined as animals that are not themselves predatory and are only vegetarian. They possess split hooves rather than paws, which makes them incapable of preying on the weak. Never mix dairy and meat products, as a symbol of the need to always embrace life (milk) and abhor death (meat). 

Boteach offers all of these as suggestions as to how all human beings can incorporate Judaism into their lives – again, without becoming Jewish.  In order to do this, he has offered a set of values, that are to accompany these holidays and observances, which sell ALL of them short. Not to mention the fact that in addition to his oversimplification of their messages, he has removed from all of them the sense of mitzvah or commandment that makes these actions not only grand ideas, but duty. 

I am all for finding meaning in the commandments, but let us not forget, for many of us – including this modern Lubabivitch  phenomenon – our  fulfillment of these duties is closely bound to the covenant made with Abraham when he was told to leave his family and culture and go to the land that God would show him. God had attempted to make His covenant with the entire world – that failed – they did not accept the commandments of Noah as binding – and without that firm commitment, society was doomed.

When Rabbi Boteach suggests that people incorporate Jewish ideas and emotions into their lives – without the sense of duty – their ability to maintain these wonderful ideas will not be effective – try as they may, there will be no consistency to their practice.

And so while they may find inspiration in Jewish living and rituals, the Chanukah candles next to a Christmas tree or the refraining from putting cheese on an Oscar Meyer wiener will not lead Gentiles down the path that he hopes for them.

Judge Hendel of Bar Ilan University (2001) wrote:

There is, certainly, a difference between the inspiration of the Good Samaritan and that of “Neither shalt thou stand idly against the blood of thy neighbor.”   The Good Samaritan is a notorious important parable with a clear message which had influence for generations; yet it is no more than a parable. “Neither shalt thou stand idly against the blood of thy neighbor” is a religious commandment and a law within a legal system.

Rabbi Boteach should choose his words wisely and reconsider the ramifications of his bold suggestions. 

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2 Responses to “Boteach Beyond Reach”

  1. Barry Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 9:05 am #

    Rabbi Schwartz–I agree with you. It is demeaning to condense the Divine commandments and the millennia of accumulated wisdom of our sages into a newspaper article that might as well be titled, “Torah for Dummies.”

    The nations have enough trouble keeping the 7 Noachide laws, and we have enough trouble keeping those and the other 606. Although the author might fancy himself a modern day Avram in his attempts at “making new souls” among the masses, he is perhaps more like Korach in the way he tries to dilute the meaning of holiness. The concept of kedusha only exists in conjunction with the concept of havdalah. It is for this reason we are to be an “am segulah”–a singular, distinctive nation.

  2. Tamar Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 10:36 am #

    A Question:

    When the glorious days of “ki mitzion tetzeh torah…” will arrive, how do you picture the world to be?

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