(This is a rant. I’m not overly concerned if you don’t agree with its conclusions. But sometimes, enough is enough.)
Way back when I was doing software development, I read an article (really a letter) by computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra called “Go To Statement Considered Harmful.” Lots of software developers read it, because it’s about a basic bit of programming technique. And because I think The Forward has continued to make the same error, over and over, and does so at the risk of harming individual lives and the broader health of the Jewish community, consider this my Dijkstra moment.
I’ve lamented before the apparent backwardness of The Forward. Once in a while, The Forward does something that gives just a little hint of promise, like starting its Seesaw column. And then it takes steps back.
Oops, it did it again.
The problem is the most recent post in The Seesaw.
Now, I’m a partisan on the issue of whether you can have a successful cultural or secular Judaism that can be passed down to your kids. (My answer: yes, particularly if you combine it with meaningful and relevant ethical and other formative education and community life.) So, to the extent anyone in this recent Seesaw column says otherwise, obviously I disagree. I’m not actually going to focus sharply on that here, though I’ll circle back to it a bit.
Instead, I want to focus on the advice The Forward is doling out. Specifically, I want to note how actively harmful it appears to be. Two of the answers basically say, “You may not believe a word of the tradition–but you still have to do it, or else your children won’t be Jewish because you’ll be a bad parent.” (Do yourself a favor and skip the comments section. Awful stuff, as usual.)
Here’s the thing. Give an answer like that and the possible result is that the questioner leaves Jewish life. If you’re looking to pull up someone’s connection to Jewish life by the roots–and if you’re looking to actively harm individual Jews–you’ve hit on a good way to get that done. And as much as The Forward and other Jewish media sources agonize about assimilation and reduced Jewish population, they continue to push the same solutions: guilt, shame, and avoiding intermarriage.
Never mind that The Forward knows of the existence of positive cultural and secular Jewish options and routinely disregards them, or edits them down. And never mind the irony that The Forward is basically the product of left-wing secular Jewish life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. (Can we leave the self-hating Jews stuff to the side? No? Okay. Hey, Forward editorial board: who’s self-hating now?!)
If you’ve read the stuff The Forward’s been putting out there and have felt put off, please know that there may well be a real home for you in the Jewish world. The Society of Humanistic Judaism and the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations are both dedicated to providing secular, cultural, ethical, and meaningful Jewish experiences and communities to those whose integrity prevents them from compromising on their values.
There is a home for you.
Am I continually disappointed in The Forward’s relentless omission of those homes for Jews? As a stakeholder in one of those organizations, of course I am. But I’m far more disappointed that the advice being doled out so often looks down upon questioners’ real concerns, and discounts the possibility that there’s more than one way to be Jewish–all at the expense of individuals and the broader Jewish world in the United States.
“The Forward” Considered Harmful? Unfortunately, you know my opinion for right now.