Why Noah Feldman Was Left Out Of His Class Picture

by | Jul 27, 2007 | 0 comments

This past week six different friends of mine forwarded to me an article from the New York Times Magazine Section written by Noah Feldman. Most of them introduced the article by explaining to me how brilliant Noah is. His academic journey took him from Maimonides School in Boston to Yale to Oxford to Harvard. He was a Rhodes Scholar and he won the National Bible Contest. His friends knew not to argue with Noah unless they really know their stuff.

Noah had a Modern- Orthodox education but decided to marry a non-Jewish woman.

It baffles him that the Modern Orthodox school in Boston that he grew up in, an institution committed to embracing modernity, has rejected him, one of their brightest alumni, by refusing to include him in the class picture.

Due to his feeling rejected he stooped to the tactics of the 12th Century Crusaders and exposed Judaism for what we really think about non-Jews. ?Depending on how you look at it, this ruling is either an example of outrageously particularist religious thinking, because in principle it values Jewish life more than non-Jewish life??.

In his expose? and unmasking of Jewish Orthodoxy, Noah tells the world that at least on a theoretical level, Judaism really differentiates between Jews and non-Jews; that Orthodox boys should not have physical contact with Orthodox girls unless they have committed to each other with Chupah and Kidushin; and that we exercise abstinence with our wives during menstruation – concepts that seem to fly in the face of Western ideology.

Armed with equality and apple pie he appeals to the readership of the New York Times, the easiest population for this type of polemic, to sympathize with him for his being excluded from his class picture.

It amazes me that such a brilliant scholar would stoop so low.

It also amazes me that someone so bright who has made a life study of the relationship between religion and modernity can so miss the point of the Modern Orthodox philosophy in which he was educated.

?I have not felt myself to have rejected my upbringing, even when some others imagine me to have done so by virtue of my marriage? wrote Feldman.

A basic reading of the Torah teaches that as Jews we are a ?Chosen? people. Of course, our chosenness has been challenged, battled against and protested for millennia, from Biblical times until today.

If Modern- Orthodoxy believes that they should embrace the challenges of the modern world, certainly they do not reject the idea that as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we were chosen by G-d to receive the Torah, Israel and be a light to the Nations.

I?m sure Noah married a wonderful woman, but when he decided to do so he rejected the fact that as a Jew he was chosen by G-d. He abandoned his special mandate in this world. He can take his children to the Synagogue on Purim but Noah?s children are not Jewish! His family is no longer chosen.
If Noah understood and believed in the real message of Maimonides and the school in Boston named in his honor he would not have married a non Jewish woman! When Noah married a non Jewish woman he discarded the fact that he was an outstanding member of the Chosen people.

All this brings us to the moving words of Moshe in this weeks Parsha.

?For you are a holy people to Hashem your G-d; Hashem, your God, has chosen you to be for Him a treasured people above all the people that are on the face of the Earth. Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did Hashem desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples. Rather, because of Hashem?s love for you and because He observes the oath that He swore to your forefathers did He take you out with a strong hand and redeem you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. ?. You shall observe the commandment, and the decrees and ordinances that I command you today, to perform them? (Devorim chap. 7; 6 ? 11)

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.


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