Although clearly dated, this 1984 Jewish classic written by Ahroni Dov Fisch is must-read. It gives a very broad overview of the problem of Jewish alienation, where it had led to up to its publication date, and some suggestions about how to deal with it. For those unfamiliar with what Judaism teaches, it serves as a great introduction. Even for someone like me who has read similar material, the first section on cults was a whole new world and I gained tremendously.
The book is divided in half, and perhaps the halves were reversed but who am I to question. The basic premise of the book is that Jewish ignorance about Judaism is causing major damage to both the Jewish identity and moral backbone of Jews and Judaism. It starts with an introduction to a number of different cults that were prevalent back in the ’60’s and ’70’s, though I here they haven’t gone away, just that they get less press now than they did then. After a thorough explanation, you really don’t understand the draw of these groups other than what Rabbi Fisch says that the modern Jewish establishment wasn’t offering anything better. The second half of the book details, sometimes excruciatingly, what exactly it is that is happening in the Jewish community that’s causing Jews to become alienated from Judaism. He builds the case well.
Ironically I guess, part of it already has become current with the passing of Sun Myun Moon, one of the “great” cult leaders of the 20th century. Understanding what he did to get started can certainly help to stop others from causing similar damage in the future. It should be interesting to see what the Unification Church will do now that their deity has passed on (yes “Moonies” worship him). My guess is that an event that should cause everyone to walk away from it will ultimately strengthen it since it’s getting a lot of press. Also, the media seems to be very afraid to slam it for the damage that it’s done, most likely because of his extensive financial holdings. It really doesn’t help that he started the Washington Times.
There were two weaknesses and they did take away from the book at some level. The first is that the book reads like he’s angry and exasperated. It can even be preachy. It’s very clear that the audience isn’t people that don’t know anything about Judaism but it is rather a polemic against the Jewish establishment and it is meant for them to read as a wake-up call. Your average college student isn’t going to feel like he’s talking to them, and he’s really not. The second issue is he decides to touch the religion vs. science issue. He shouldn’t have because in a debate he’d get smacked down. He doesn’t seem to be aware of all of the science issues or all of the different ways that the rabbis over the generations have handled it. Gerald Schroeder’s books are much better at dealing with those issues. Not perfect but much better. It doesn’t ultimately take away from the message though and any Jew could really ultimately benefit from reading it.