Why the current use of the term “Torah Jew” is a chillul hashem

Found this interesting piece on the blog To Kiss a Mezuzah and received permission to re-post here.

By Susan Esther Barnes

We Jews seem to have a lot of labels for ourselves these days. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Chasidic, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Humanistic; the list goes on.

In some ways, the labels can be useful. If I’m visiting a synagogue for the first time, what label it gives itself can help me decide what to wear and how to behave once there. For example, in some synagogues I could probably show up in blue jeans and a t-shirt without feeling out of place. In some, I would be expected to wear at least a pair of slacks and a nice blouse. In others, I’d have to wear a long skirt, a long-sleeved blouse, and a wig or other hair covering.

Similarly, in some synagogues, I would be welcome wearing tefillin and a tallit, and in others I most certainly would not. In some, I would find women and men sitting together, and in others the men and women would sit in separate areas.

Therefore, knowing the denomination, or label, the synagogue identifies with helps me to prepare for my visit in a way that will lessen the chance that my clothing or behavior might result in an embarrassing faux pas.

On the other hand, even as the number of Jewish labels seem to be increasing, some people are rejecting such labels. Labels can be limiting. They can also lead to assumptions about the members which are not necessarily true. Some synagogues and prayer groups are using the terms “non-denominational” or “post-denominational” for themselves, although, of course, these too are labels.

One of the labels that has come to my attention in recent years is the term “Torah Jew.” My objection to this term is that currently it seems to be used only by Jews who others would most likely call Orthodox. The trouble I have with this is not that I think the Orthodox are not Torah Jews. It is clear to me that religious Orthodox Jews study and shape their actions according to their understanding of the Torah.

The problem I have with this term being applied only to Orthodox Jews is that it is equally clear to me that all other religious Jews also study and shape their actions according to their understanding of the Torah. We all read from identical copies of the same Torah scroll on Shabbat and at other services.

Applying the term “Torah Jew” to only one minority group implies they follow the Torah while the majority of religious Jews don’t. This is a falsehood, and a chilul hashem (desecration of God’s name). We may not all agree regarding how we interpret God’s intent, but we are all Torah Jews.