On the one side are the “secularists,” or those who identify themselves as Jews but are not necessarily religiously observant. On the other side are the Orthodox-religiously observant to the letter of the law, or in this case Halakha (Jewish Law) as embodied in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses), the Talmud, the Midrash and other sacred texts that govern everything in their daily lives, including marriage, diet, morality, business dealings and more.
One expert who is trying to bring peace and greater understanding between the sides is David Baum, author of the new book The Non-Orthodox Jew’s Guide to Orthodox Jews.
“There is a misunderstanding among secular Jews that the Orthodox are reactionary and a hindrance to Jews’ greater acceptance by society at large,” says Mr. Baum. “The fact is, we’re not a bunch of militant fanatics. We’re not confrontational and we don’t believe in holding back progress. We’re modern, twenty-first-century people who maintain a covenant with G-d that stretches back more than twenty thousand generations! And that includes following His laws.”
Indeed, some Orthodox are concerned that the very future of American Jewry might be in doubt because of the lifestyle of the secular Jews. Their skyrocketing intermarriage rates, declining birth rates, languishing synagogue affiliation and inadequate Jewish education all paint a bleak picture. Studies by the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000, the Jewish Center for Public Affairs, the Hebrew Union College and the American Jewish Committee bear this out.
Though many Orthodox disagree with the behavior of non-religious Jews, Mr. Baum understands the root issue. “It is very easy to be seduced by a sexy, all-encompassing, national secular culture promulgated by Madison Avenue and Hollywood” he says. The solution, he believes, is educating the non-Orthodox about what they are missing so that “we as Jews can all come together again as one nation. It’s never too late for any Jew to come home.”
To that end, Mr. Baum’s helpful message is decidedly upbeat. Judaism, he says, brings joy, enlightenment and fulfillment when one practices the 3,000-year-old religion’s traditions, rituals and laws.
But what specifically is in it for secular Jews? According to The Non-Orthodox Jew’s Guide to Orthodox Jews, they will find:
Greater happiness and contentment in life
A sense of meaning
Stronger family bonds
A decreased likelihood of marital conflict and divorce
The means to become better parents
Better spousal relationships
Increased serenity and peace of mind
In addition, readers will learn about:
The nation of Israel and why Jews are in exile
Why assimilation into gentile cultures does not work
The Jewish understanding of the messiah
Men’s and women’s true roles in life and how they have been distorted by modern-day society
The mitzvot, or the divine commandments by which Orthodox Jews live
“It’s estimated that there are over five million Jews in America, of which eleven percent-just six hundred thousand-are Orthodox,” says Mr. Baum. “Orthodox Jewry is growing while other parts of Judaism are shrinking, and I want my secular friends to know what they are missing.”
An entrepreneur, a philanthropist and an ordained rabbi, David Baum is active in both the for-profit and non-profit fields. His businesses have ranged from telecom and online sales and marketing to real estate and venture capital. Mr. Baum is active in many local and international Jewish charities and organizations. He lives in Passaic, New Jersey, with his wife and seven children.