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The Maimonides Option

What religious and cultural survival skills can traditional Christians learn from Orthodox Jews?

Reader Yehoshua Kahan writes:

As an Orthodox Jew (an ultra-Orthodox Jew, even), I follow these intra-Christian debates with some interest. You see, my community has been for many centuries a small and embattled minority, struggling to survive in the midst of a triumphant and hostile majority. Whether in pre-Christian Rome, in Christendom, in the Islamic lands, in Enlightenment Europe and now the post-Christian West, we are and have been a minority. So I find the transition of the Christian majority to minority status interesting, and I wonder if you will learn the lessons of our history?

We fought the Romans. Not once, but twice. We bloodied them in battle, we destroyed Roman armies. And we lost our country, and our city, and our Temple. Our dead littered the land, our young were led off in chains to be torn apart in amphitheatres, or to labor in Roman mines, or to serve in Roman pleasure-houses.

We did not get our country back for a very long time.

Under the Church, we kept our heads down, we understood that we were a minority. We suffered from you–oh, how we suffered!–but we survived. We’re still here. We’re growing, and thriving.

Immediately after the Holocaust, religious Jewry was virtually dead. There were certainly not as many as a hundred thousand religious Jews in the world. Today there are probably over a million. In a hundred years there will be many millions.

We survived because we acknowledged our weakness, we bore children, and we built schools and communities where we could pass our beliefs and our values on to our children.

Do you want to survive in a post-Christian world? Learn the lessons of our history. Accept that you are no longer the rulers, have children, and labor mightily to pass on your beliefs and values to your children. Or you could follow our earlier example and “fight the Romans.” In which case, may G-d have mercy on you, and spare you the suffering which we so long endured.

In The Benedict Option, I have a passage saying that we Christians must now learn from the practices of Orthodox Jews. I planned an entire chapter on that, but I had to edit a lot out. (You should have seen the response my editor sent when I transmitted the first draft of Chapter Two at over 18,000 words, and told her that I wasn’t sure about it, because it seemed sketchy.)

Anyway, I wish some Christian writer would do an entire book on learning cultural and religious survival skills from Orthodox Jews.

Along these lines, a Jewish friend e-mails:

The “Incels and Socialism” author turned my mind toward my own religious world — the “modern” end of Modern Orthodox Judaism. I point that out because it’s not a world where everyone is married by 22 or so — but it is a world where there’s enormous pressure to be married by 24-28 (once graduate degrees are complete or in motion). And … overwhelmingly, this happens. I have single-male-30-something friends out here — and while it’s a different game in the midwest than in, say, NYC, DC, LA, Chicago, or Miami — they don’t despair in the same way. (Are there moments of frustration and sadness — yes — but, I think, in a way that seems perfectly run-of-the-mill).

So what’s different? The shadchen, I think — the matchmaker, whether we’re talking digital versions (online dating services used exclusively by the religious) or the living, breathing 21st-century update of Yente. I’ll admit — fresh from college, on course to be married by 25, I thought the idea of a matchmaker was weird. But it’s not. They’re good at what they do: set up dates that won’t end disastrously between two people with shared religious commitments. If you’ve finished college and not on the Upper West Side or in Silver Spring, MD, I’ve learned, it’s hard to find single people your age you might date. There’s no more shame, within my shul of PhDs, attorneys, and physicians, in having been set up by a shadchen than having met online.

So the matchmaker continues on — and provides an important service. If nothing else, the existence of matchmaking services helps to alleviate the sense of despair that the author of the letter you posted feels, at least among many. He’d say, I suspect, that he’s isolated: from a Jewish perspective, so is my shul. We don’t have a matchmaker among us, but members do connect with those in nearby major cities, or out of NY. It might be worth thinking about this role — as both a profession and a community service — within the context of orthodox Christian communities — both BenOp and not.



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