GOOD MORNING! I was brought up in Reform Judaism in Portland, Oregon. Though I saw very few Orthodox Jews, I grew up with certain perceptions and perhaps even misconceptions. As I went off to college (University of Washington) and later traveled, I found that many people shared my perceptions of Orthodox Judaism. (I later found out that the term “Orthodox Judaism” is a relatively recently coined term to distinguish it from “Reform Judaism” which arose during the late 18th Century, one of a number of break aways over the past 3,300 years of our heritage. I also found out that “Orthodox Jews” prefer the term of “Torah observant” or “Torah-true Jews” — true to the belief that God gave the Torah to the whole Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, what is written in the Torah is true and it is incumbent upon us to fulfill all of His mitzvot, commandments.)
While I and others carried these beliefs about Orthodox Judaism, there was also a certain fascination about them — the closeness of family life, low divorce rate, happy kids, integrated lifestyle. When I was 22 I started learning about my heritage while visiting Jerusalem. I found it fascinating to finally find someone Orthodox to discuss my understanding (or misunderstanding) about the Orthodox and the Torah way of life. I thought it might possibly be of interest to share with you what I found out.
4 MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ORTHODOX JEWS
1) “The Orthodox judge me. They look down upon me. They don’t consider me to be Jewish.”
What I found out: God is the One Who judges, not us. Ultimately, at the end of one’s life, it is between the individual and his Maker to determine how he led his life. This is what Orthodox Jews believe. There is widespread confusion that Orthodox Jews look upon anyone who is not Orthodox as not being Jewish. Untrue! If one is born of a Jewish mother or converted according to the Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, one is Jewish — even if he espouses Hinduism, Atheism, Christianity or any other ‘ism’.” They may whole-heartedly disagree with the “ism” a Jew professes, but they don’t negate the fact that the person is a Jew. Of course, there are always individuals who will write off others who don’t believe what they believe — whether they identify as Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, Atheists (or Republican or Democrat)!
2) “It’s all or nothing. I either have to do all the commandments or none.”
What I found out: No one, no matter how observant, is able to fulfill all of the mitzvot. Fulfilling all of the commandments is a goal and a means to perfecting oneself and this world. If one finds a diamond mine, he may want every last diamond in it, but he won’t refuse to dig because he cannot have them all. The mandate of every Jew is to do the best that he or she can to fulfill the commandments and to grow in understanding, knowledge, belief and observance.
3) “Orthodoxy takes away all joy in life. One’s life is restricted as to what he can do, eat and enjoy.”
What I found out: Just like parents want us to have everything that is good, the Almighty, our Father in Heaven, wants the same for us — to get as much pleasure as possible. It takes wisdom to know true pleasure and to understand the value of restrictions. The Torah is the instruction book for life. It teaches how to obtain real pleasure from life! From the outside it may look like a prison. With understanding, from the inside it looks like boundaries and limitations within which to grow. Loving and caring parents place limits on their children to keep them safe and out of trouble. Society places boundaries to keep us safe from others (and sometimes ourselves).
4) “Being Orthodox is an escape from the real world. You don’t have to think anymore.”
What I found out: It is interesting that one can make that statement — and in the same breath lambaste the Orthodox for their “Talmudic point of view” … turning over a point 100 different ways. The Almighty made us personally responsible to seek truth and know truth. That is why a Jew is always answering a question with a question. We are taught not to blindly accept assumptions. (To answer a question in the manner it is asked, means that you accept the assumptions it is predicated upon.) The Almighty also commands us in the Torah to take responsibility for the whole world — Tikun Olom — to take care of it, improve it and to care for our fellow human beings. This is what the Torah teaches, the Orthodox believe and what they have given to the world.
Orthodoxy is the wellspring of our 3,300 year tradition. It is worth knowing our roots and the wisdom of our heritage. After all, so many other religions have drawn from it to form their own, it must have something of value to add to our own lives! (I recommend The Non-Orthodox Jew’s Guide to Orthodox Jews by David Baum.)
As taken from, http://www.aish.com/tp/ss/ssw/433442863.html on July 11, 2017