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Spring ’12: Questions

THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX COMMUNITY is experiencing a crisis of spiritual connection, in the opinion of many leaders and observers of the community. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive vice-president of Agudath Israel of America, summed up the matter most succinctly in the first issue of Klal Perspectives when he identified the single greatest challenge facing the Orthodox community as “the increasing numbers from across the spectrum who feel no meaningful connection to Hashem, His Torah, or even His people.” And he was one of the many Klal Perspectives contributors who raised this concern.

That lack of connection is reflected most dramatically in the growing numbers of so-called “adults at risk,” i.e., those who, at some point in adulthood, realize that they do not know why they have been performing mitzvos all their lives, or why they should continue to do so. Among younger people, the symbol of that lack of connection has become teenagers who text on Shabbos. We seek to explore the degree and implications of these trends.

1. How accurate is this perception that there is a crisis in the degree of religious fulfillment experienced by observant Jews? Can a reliable assessment be made and the question answered? Are those who admit their alienation or feelings of emptiness outliers in a basically healthy Orthodox society, or are they but the tip of the iceberg of a much larger group of alienated Jews, who have not fully articulated their discontent or alienation?

2. For those who suffer a lack of connection to Hashem and His Torah, is this disconnect primarily intellectual or emotional? Is it due to a failure to educate in basic issues of emunah and to demonstrate the depth and relevance of Torah, or does it have its source in a lack of fulfillment in life as a Torah Jew? Or does it stem from the intrusion of secular culture and broader experiences into the mindset and lifestyle of Orthodox Jews? And, most important, whatever the source, what steps can be pursued by the community and its members to address these problems?

3. Are there proven methods to inspire observant Jews experiencing a gap in religious enthusiasm? How can yeshivos and seminaries help talmidim connect more deeply with their Creator, His Torah and His people? What dimensions of Torah observance and study should be reemphasized and encouraged to elevate the connection to avodas Hashem in our homes, shuls and batei medrash?

We ask contributors to direct their analysis of the present problems and their causes to the search for concrete ways to lessen the negative phenomena they identify.

 For the responses, click here.