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Friday, June 24, 2016

Dershowitz On Halacha and Animal Sacrifices

Image from jewishleadership.blogspot.com
Alan Dershowitz, in his 1997 book called The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century, has an interesting quote about halacha and animal sacrifices (italics mine):
Jewish Halakah — the methods used by rabbinic authorities to derive religious law — is a wonderful institution of which we should be very proud because it has contributed so much to the quality of our lives as Jews as well as to the lives of all humankind.
But it is an ever-changing institution that must continue to change.
Consider, for example, the elimination of animal sacrifices from the Jewish ritual. If you asked a Jew who lived in Jerusalem during the days of Solomon's Temple what the central ritual of Judaism was, he would answer without hesitation “the animal sacrifices in the Temple.” He would point to verses, chapters, indeed large portions of the Torah as describing these rituals in the most minute detail and commanding them in the most unequivocal terms. Judaism without animal sacrifice would be unthinkable to a Temple Jew. Yet the unthinkable has come to pass without weakening Judaism or Jewish life.
Nor will Judaism ever return to animal sacrifices. Because we need to pretend that Judaism is immutable, we have created the myth that we will return to animal sacrifices when the Temple is rebuilt. No we won't! Not in my religion! Jewish animal sacrifices were no more brutal than the rituals of other primitive religions — indeed, they were far less brutal than human sacrifices. But those days are over and Judaism will never return to them, even if we build another Temple.
The rabbis will figure out some way to justify not returning to so primitive and anachronistic a ritual, because they know that Judaism today could not survive it. Perhaps that is why we will never have another Temple: because the rabbis would not want to be confronted with the dilemma of how to rationalize a Temple without biblically commanded animal sacrifices.
In any event, this was a major change in Jewish life and in Judaism – a change that would have occurred had the Temple remained standing. (Some Orthodox scholars might well argue that God saw to it that the Temple was destroyed precisely in order to put an end to animal sacrifices, which had seen its day go by. So be it, but the result is the same: no more animal sacrifices!)

Survey of Those Who Have Left Orthodoxy

Nishma Research has conducted a fascinating Survey of Those Who Have Left Orthodoxy - June 2016.

The Forward picked up on this and published an article called Ex-Orthodox Feel Pushed ‘Off the Derech’ — but 95% Still Say They’re Jewish:
"Many formerly ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jews who no longer hold the beliefs of their communities feel “pushed off the derech,” yet still retain their sense of Jewish identity, a groundbreaking new study of the group has revealed.
A third of those surveyed have yet to physically leave their communities, and may maintain outward displays of religious observance while having “left” the community in their beliefs and private lives. When they do leave, over half the respondents reported feeling disconnected to any Jewish community, and nearly a quarter have trouble with dating, holding relationships, or finding a job. 
The report surveyed 855 people who once identified (or currently reside in) Chasidic, Chabad, Yishivish, Modern Orthodox, or other Orthodox communities. Many of these individuals now identify as Off The Derech, or OTD, and go to organized OTD Meetups or are members of OTD social media groups. 
Other important factors cited by respondents included the treatment of women within ultra-religious communities and the widespread perception of contradictions, double standards, and hypocrisy. Contrary to widely held assumptions about those who leave Orthodox Judaism, only 2% of respondents cited the influence of the Internet or weak secular education as significant spurs to leaving .
The report was released by Nishma Research, a marketing firm that specializes in Jewish demographics.
A huge majority — 95% of all respondents — still view themselves as Jewish. Two-thirds now identify as either “traditional,” culturally or humanist Jewish, or, simply, “just Jewish.” Only 21% identify now with a mainstream denomination such as Reform, Conservative, or Chasidic. The Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of American Jews,” by contrast, reported that 70% of American Jews identify with a mainstream denomination.
Mark Trencher, the director of Nishma Research, noted that there was an inverse relationship between level of observance while still a part of Orthodox Judaism and level of observance after leaving.
“It seems that those who started out most stringently to the right — Chasidic Jews, Yidishists — after leaving the community, they retained less of their beliefs and practices than other groups,” he said. 
Acceptance by the respondents’ families, Trencher said, also started out lower in the most religious groups.
“But it does grow over time. The understanding and acceptance of the families goes up to about half after ten years. That’s in pretty much every group, too.”

The study was a joint effort with Footsteps and Project Makom, two organizations that help facilitate the transition out of Modern and ultra-Orthodox communities. It may be difficult to leave Orthodox Judaism, or simply leave a specific community, if an individual does not know people outside the community, does not have the material means to leave, or does not have sufficient English skills to live on their own.

“The only surprising thing to us was how many people filled it out in a week and a half,” says Lani Santo, the executive director of Footsteps. “It’s great to have quantitative data on things that we as an organization have known qualitatively for some time.”

Read more here.