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Idolatry: walking away

by Rabbi Myer Kripke

A sharp-eyed commentator on the Torah noticed the special use of the verb “to go” (vayelekh) in a verse in our Sidrah. In a passage about idolatrous worship, the text has it: “a man or woman who has affronted the Lord your God and has gone and served other gods…” (Deut. 17:2-3). Our commentator noticed that not only here, but in several other passages about idolatry in the Torah, the text uses the verb “to go” as the beginning of idolatry. One defects from Judaism by walking away, by voting with one’s feet.

It may be that Rabbi Mecklenberg’s comment derived from the fact that he lived in 19th century Germany. In that country, and in that century, there were many defections from Judaism. It was easy for a Jew to enter the intellectual, scientific, cultural, musical, literary and social life of Germany, enter its best circles—provided he paid the price.
The price was baptism.

Heinrich Heine, for example, was one who paid that price. He hated himself for doing it. And he detested the Christian establishment and the Christian populace that heaped honors on Heine the Christian but couldn’t abide Heine the Jew. The ticket of admission was apostasy.

Rabbi Mecklenberg pointed out that apostasy doesn’t happen all at once. There are recognizable steps of wavering. These steps have to do with “going,” with “walking away.”
At first there is a weakening of loyalty. Then incipient alienation grows to a conscious rejection.

American Jewish parents have to give attention to their teenagers and possible incipient alienation. There is much attraction in getting out from under the burdens of Jewishness. In our society, one can get away from anti-Semitism; one can find himself in a larger crowd; one can find easy, simplistic answers to grave problems; one can escape from commitment to a minority and the need to defend it; one can find certain career doors opened; one can find himself surrounded by “love” in a fake “we love you” situation. The allurement of the cults, of majority religious groups, of indifference to problems and the shedding of responsibilities are many.

The Jewish community deserves the best shot that parents can give. Conscious defection and the defection of indifference endanger our very survival.