}

A Chabad Rabbi Tries Claiming that Jewish Denominational Labels Don’t Matter [but unconvincingly]

Rabbi Mendel Teldon claims he is not OrthodoxLess than a week ago, an opinion piece appeared on the Jewish Week’s website that I’ve seen that has been shared at least a dozen times on friends’ Facebook pages but often without a critical eye towards it.  When I saw that it was written by a Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Mendel Teldon, I initially thought “I Am Not Orthodox” would be about one of two possibilities.  Either he was writing in to say that he realized that he’s “Orthoprax” and not Orthodox and that what is ultimately important is performance of mizvot, since – in Chabad philosophy – they bring light into this world and that’s what’s really important – not beliefs.  Or, it could be that with the so-called “Orthodox Wars” (as The Jewish Week has dubbed it) and some Orthodox rabbis claiming that other Orthodox rabbis are not actually Orthodox, Rabbi Teldon realizes that he might be one of those excluded from being within the Orthodox camp.  Beginning with “I am finally comfortable enough with myself and my Judaism to come out and say what has been lying underneath the surface for so many years.  I just can’t classify myself anymore as an Orthodox Jew”, it really wasn’t clear which way he was going to go.

When I actually did read it, I realized he not only was not making such claims about those affiliations and labels, but actually advocating for getting rid of denominational labels altogether: “I am not Orthodox since there is no such thing as an Orthodox Jew. As there is no such thing as a Reform Jew or Conservative Jew.”  He continues by saying that such labels are “artificial lines dividing Jews into classes and sub-classes”.  Now, Rabbi Teldon has been serving as a rabbi in Long Island for over nine years and should know that there is a difference, in his experience as a Jewish leader, between the denominations and their labels.

However, Rabbi Teldon is spot-on when he claims that “what recent surveys cry out is that people are Post-Denominational. They are tired of being boxed into these silly categories. The overwhelming majority of people don’t even know what they mean.”  This is something I have found to be very true in my work with young adult Jews and I imagine others who work in the Jewish community also find to be true.

However, it sounds strange that not only is a Hassidic Jew trying to do away with labels, but a Lubavitcher Hassidic Jew is trying to say that they artificial.  Rabbi Teldon claims that “these labels are more about tearing us apart than furthering Judaism” – if so, then just be a Jew and not a particularly-labeled Hassidic Jew….

But, what’s more problematic is that if Rabbi Teldon wants to claim that any Jew – Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Renewal, etc. – is a Jew and it doesn’t matter the artificial labels attached, then, according to him, even Jews who converted from those movements would be still a Jew.  Or, even a Reform Jew whose father is a Jew and mother is a gentile, would still be considered a Jew. I would be surprised if Rabbi Teldon admitted this, though, which creates a problem in his claim that these labels are merely artificial and don’t mean anything.

Rabbi Teldon claims that “when we are able to focus on the fact that while we have differences but a family truly remains connected eternally, it will reconfirm what we already knew: Am Yisroel Chai!”, I think that’s a beautiful sentiment, but I don’t know if Rabbi Teldon would include everybody from that family….  I just think that he should be honest with himself about considering any Jew, regardless of denominational labels, as such.

drewlicious

Having begun blogging in the summer of 2005, Drew joined the Jewlicious mega-Jewblog after Jewlicious Festival 6.0 in February 2010.Drew is committed to serving the Jewish people, and is one of a small number of rabbis who were bloggers whilst in rabbinical school.He's thrilled to be a part of Jewlicious: The Blog and aims to spread his views, thoughts, and ideas amongst the masses.

4 Comments

  1. Chaya M

    11/21/2013 at 12:53 am

    I didn’t read the original article, only the part visible on this web page; however, it seems to me that he’s identifying a Jew in terms of being Jewish according to the Torah and instead of being divided into different categories of reform, conservative, orthodox etc. he would identify people as Torah observant. Thereby unifying us as a nation!
    I believe that he isn’t agreeing with Reform and Conservative ideologies, rather he is doing away with the categories/terms altogether. And well, the label of Orthodox was only created by reform and conservative Jews as a derogatory term for the “old” and “backwards” way… (wikipedia as a super reliable source :)) the term doesn’t really stand for anything and therefore is a silly label!

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  3. Rishona

    7/10/2014 at 6:32 am

    I agree with Rabbi Teldon. Label break the Jewish people apart, not bring them together.

    In your second to the last paragraph, you state:

    “But, what’s more problematic is that if Rabbi Teldon wants to claim that any Jew – Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Renewal, etc. – is a Jew and it doesn’t matter the artificial labels attached, then, according to him, even Jews who converted from those movements would be still a Jew. Or, even a Reform Jew whose father is a Jew and mother is a gentile, would still be considered a Jew. I would be surprised if Rabbi Teldon admitted this, though, which creates a problem in his claim that these labels are merely artificial and don’t mean anything.”

    Well it would have to be tackled on a case-by-case basis. The issue is not specifically with the movements, but with their execution of halacha. In most cases, if a Jewish mitzvot is carried out, it does not matter what the denomination of the Jew is, if the mitzvot was performed correctly, then it is ok. For example, if you are a born Jewish man, and was circumcised by a Reform mohel, no Orthodox rabbi would suggest that you go and get a symbolic circumcision (hatafat dam brit) if you choose to become Orthodox later in life. This is because the circumcision is done and the blessings over the act are standard. The problem with conversions done by non-Orthodox movements are 1) did they contain the 3 requirements for conversion as dictated by halacha…mikveh, circumcision (for men), and kabbalat al mitzvot and 2) do the members of the Beit Din (conversion court) believe that the mitzvot are binding? A generation or two ago, the last stipulation could be found within the Conservative movement…and some Conservative conversions were accepted by the Orthodox. However, today it is hard to prove that a non-Orthodox rabbi truly holds that the mitzvot are binding. Therefore, how are they qualified to “sign off” on a convert’s intention to accept these mitzvot?

    Oh and by the way, I wrote a similar article to Rabbi Teldon’s here:

    https://medium...

  4. Yehuda Haskelewitch

    3/21/2017 at 5:57 pm

    If this Rabbi was not repeating some mytho philosophy he would not be sharing something that is obviously false and covers up cruel behavior over many years,

    if he knew better he would do better

    Yehuda Haskelevich

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