Friday, August 02, 2013

Ahavas Chainam is a Two Way Street

Rav Matisyahu Salomon
There has been a lot of buzz on the internet about an article published this week in the Yated. It was penned by one of my past critics, Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum. I have received numerous e-mails from those who read it and were outraged by it. Including at least 3 from self identified Charedim – one of whom is a prominent Charedi Mechanech.

Rabbi Birnbaum continues on a theme he first wrote about that was critical of both Rabbi Gil Student and me. His point then was that both of us went too easy in criticizing the misdeeds of ‘one of our own’ whereas when it comes to the misdeeds of Charedim - our criticism is pretty harsh. In this week’s article he asks why we Modern Orthodox can’t have a little more ‘Ahavas Chinam’ (baseless love) for our fellow Charedim.

He points out that when it comes to Ahavas Chinam he claims that we only reserve that for those to the left of us, like Conservative Rabbis. As he puts it: 
Is baseless love limited to those engaged in “alternative” lifestyles, for whom we must bend ourselves in knots to understand and to empathize with?

Is baseless love reserved for “Orthodox” rabbis who don’t believe the Torah was given by Hashem? 
Is there no baseless love left for Torah observant Jews who have a different view than you?
Are chareidim not worthy of a bit of “ahavat chinam,” even at the expense of loving a bit more than you think they deserve? Are they really that much worse than Conservative rabbis and rabbiettes? 
Although he doesn’t actually say it - it is so typical for someone from the right with little actual connection to us to to imply that loving a fellow Jew is tantamount to agreeing a sinful lifestyle or their theology.  I would hope that Rabbi Birnbaum has the same Ahavas Chinam for all Jews that I do – even if he strongly rejects their sinful lifestyles or mistaken beliefs.

His attitude about us apparently stems from a common error many Charedim like him make upon reading criticism that those of us to his left make. He believes that we do so with venom in our hearts. As he says: 
What has been difficult to understand and even painful to recognize, however, is the visceral reaction from so many American Modern Orthodox Jews, and even rabbis, to the chareidi community both in America and in Israel in recent months. 
Rav Hershel Shachter
Perhaps it is difficult to understand because of a preconceived bias that views every criticism as a visceral put-down. If for example he would read my words more objectively he might have a different reaction. One similar to the reaction of those Charedim who are upset by the words in his Yated article. Like Rabbi Avi Shafran who was moved to write a rebuttal of Rabbi Birnbaum’s criticism of both Gil and me. Rabbi Shafran who occasionally disagrees with me realizes that we are both working towards the same end - L'Shem Shomyam.

To the extent that I ever criticize anyone – is to the extent that I want to impugn bad behavior and the wide spread Chilul HaShem it makes when published in the mainstream Jewish media. Which often carries over to the much larger and more widespread mainstream media like the New York Times. 

Condemning such behavior is not intended as an excuse to bash Charedim. It is intended to counter a public Chilul HaShem with a public condemnation of it by an Orthodox rabbi. I get no pleasure from doing that. What I get is pain from reading about those misdeeds and realizing what a  Chilul HaShem they are! But all Rabbi Birnbaum and his fellow travelers see - is the bashing of Charedim at every opportunity. I have no interest in that at all. That is not my Tahclis.

Other issues I tackle here like the situation in Israel I do so with the same sense of devotion to God as I do anything else. My views are consistent with the views of the Torah as taught to me by some of the greatest Rabbinic personalities of the 20th century. I support the idea that not all Chardim in Israel should be exempt from the draft. And I support establishing a minimal core curriculum of Limdei Chol (secular studies) in their high schools. The goal of which is to improve their lives materially without sacrificing any spirituality.

This should not be viewed as anti Charedi. It should be viewed as pro-Charedi. He can disagree with me as do many Charedim including Rabbi Shafran. But what he should also realize is what Rabbi Shafran realizes. That we are both L’Shma - working towards the same goal of serving God in the best way we can.

I do not ‘resent’ Charedi successes as he surmises. Not here and not in Israel. I admire them. It is not their successes that I criticize. It is their flaws which even Rabbi Birnbaum admits to in his article. Chardim are the fastest growing segment of Orthodoxy. It would be irresponsible for me to ignore their problems.

To further make his point about the good side of the Charedi community that we fail to focus on - he presents a lengthy list of Charedi Chesed organization and asks where are comparable MO organizations? What about the Charedi level of Torah study? What about the prolific publication by Charedim of Seforim in both Hebrew and English? Can the MO community compare in any of these, he asks?  I could add a few more things the Charedi world has contributed to Judaism that he did not mention.

Why, he asks, in light of all that can’t we acknowledge the good that Charedim do and instead always bash them? Why can’t we at the very least express some Ahavas Chinam?

Guess what. I actually agree with him. We should be more cognizant of the good that they do. It is not insignificant. But I make the same challenge to Rabbi Birnbaum. Why does his community look so terribly down on the MO community. True we have our faults. But do those faults disqualify us for the same Ahavas Chinam he asks from us? Do we not have any redeeming qualities in the eyes of Charedim like him?

Perhaps the solution to his quest can be achieved with a little proactivity on both of our parts. My hope is that Rabbi Birnbaum will actually read this post and consider working towards that goal. Here is my suggestion.

My dear Rabbi Birnbaum, you want some Ahavas Chinam? I think I know a way to get it. Ask the Roshei Yeshiva in BMG (Lakewood) to invite some of the YU (Yeshiva University) Roshei Yeshiva to give a Shiur Klali in the main BMG Beis Hamedrash. You can start with Rav Hershel Shachter.

I'm pretty sure we can get YU to invite  BMG Roshei Yeshiva to YU - perhaps starting with Rav Matisyahu Salomon. Let them accept and give a Shiur Klali in the main YU Beis HaMedrash.

If we do that a few times, I predict gobs and gobs of Ahavas Chinam. 

Rabbi Birnbaum: Are you game?