Friday, May 30, 2008

The State of the Union

Professor Lawrence Kaplan whose translation of the Rav’s Ish Ha’Halakhah is one of my primary Hashkafic sources and evanstonjew who is also one of my most intelligent commenters have both urged me to give up my quixotic quest for Achdus in Klal Yisroel. Unity they say is an impossibility. They tell me that I should instead focus on promoting the beauty of Centrist Judaism. I agree that I should do a bit more of that. But I refuse to believe that my cause is hopeless. Not only do I want Centrist Orthodoxy to be considered on par with right wing Judaism, I want Chabad to re-join us too, as impossible as that may seem. Unity without extremism is what I am all about.

I must admit that these goals seem as distant as ever. After reading the comments of various Charedi and Lubavitcher Jews, as well as comments from those who support me, I am beginning to feel that Professor Kaplan and evanstonjew may be right.

But the key word there is ‘may’. I am not convinced that 'it cannot ever happen'. We in the observant community agree on a lot more than we disagree. I still believe that despite the vehemence of comments on all sides, there is a common ground around which we can all rally.

And it has happened recently that we have joined hands in actual brotherhood. If one looks at the cover of the latest issue of the Jewish Observer one can see it and feel it. It was a photo of the funeral at Merkaz HaRav. There was a genuine outpouring of grief by virtually the entire Torah world. ‘A Tragedy Close to Home’ reads the title. That is so true.

'Home' is the Torah world, that world where all of Orthodoxy resides. That massacre affected all of us because it was a Yeshiva where those Bachurim were slaughtered. The most right wing of the Charedi world called them Masmidim no different than what is found in their own Batei Midrashim. Much of what was said by many Charedi commentators at the time is what I have been preaching virtually all of my adult life. Yes we have our differences, they said. But what unites us is far greater than what divides us. That was the common theme at the time. It is my theme.

But comments I’ve seen recently from the most strident of the right wing reinforces another belief I have. That the only time there is even a semblance of unity is when there is ‘a death in the family’. That’s when we get together and cry. Otherwise, there is a bitter enmity on the part of far too many people, mostly from the right against the left. The enmity from the left seems to be a reaction to that of the right.

What saddens me most here is when a Centrist who is Hashkaficly in line with my own thinking says he has given up hope of ever uniting and now sees the world of the right as anathematic to Judaism. He is unable to reconcile with it.

And yet, I am still utterly convinced that those on the right who are so strident in their rejection represent a minority. I do not really believe that most of Charedi leadership feels the way the rejectionists do. I truly believe that they do not see Hashkafic differences that way. Yes, there are some Charedi Rabbanim who have huge harangues against modern Orthodoxy. But they are the Kanoim – the zealots who arrogantly reject all whose views are not identical to their own as anathematic to Torah. They are the ones who spawn people who make the kinds of comments I’ve experienced here recently.

They are dangerous people. The Kanaaim are the ones who always use the fire and brimstone language of “shove, push, and threaten’ to get their way. They are the ones who are the most apologetic for violent protest on behalf of their Hashkafos.

But ultimately they will not prevail as I’ve said. Humankind naturally abhors violence. And it is naturally drawn to the center. The pull to the right will eventually hit a wall of resistance that will create a backlash - if it is allowed to get that far. The vast middleclass melting pot of moderation is where Torah Jewry truly lives. That is the place where moderate Charedim and Centrist Jews can live side by side culturally as one with a sense of brotherhood.

It is in that climate where Hashkafos can eventually be discussed, understood and even respected if not agreed with. I am therefore optimistic that with the ascendancy of this melting pot society a sense of tolerance will develop wherein both sides will learn to not only understand but appreciate the validity of each other’s beliefs as we embrace in true friendship, understanding, and brotherhood. We should not have to rely on tragedy to become unified. God is watching us.

One final note for the strident Charedim who participate in the discussion. I wonder how your rabbinic leadership would view some of the comments made here recently. Would they for example agree that anything that is modern is unholy as one commenter said? Would they approve of the hateful rhetoric from those who purport to represent them? I realize that these leaders do not approve of blogs at all. But were they to somehow approve their member’s participation - would they approve of how they do it?

I would love to see their reaction to some of these comments. Of course I would expect those rabbinic leaders who so severely criticize blogs to continue doing so just as strongly as ever. I concede that point. But what would they say about the comments made by people of their own stripe?