|Rabbi Yehoshua Weber - Photo Credit: Jeremy Melnick|
That column was written as a sort of epiphany about the concept of uniting all of observant Jewry – realizing that what unites us all is far greater than what divides us. This is a theme I have written about many times. I call it Achdus.
Now before I get accused of not including non observant Jewry under the tent of Achdus, I want to clearly state that I do indeed include them. We are all Jews and are treated equally in the eyes of God. The God of mercy judges us all in the context of our circumstances. So that given a similar set of circumstances God may view the behavior of a non observant Jew or even a non Jew more favorably than the behavior of an observant Jew. But I do believe that observant Jews have observance of Halacha as a uniting factor that binds us as a group.
And yet there is an attitude superiority among some of our observant subgroups. It is an attitude of ‘We are more religious than you… and therefore we are better than you’. I see it all the time here on this blog – almost every day in fact – where both right wing and left wing Jews express not only sense of superiority but a sense of triumphalism. A triumphalism that would prefer just cutting off anyone that does not agree with them. They will even vilify observant Jews for not measuring up to the standards of their community. They would rather just draw a sharp dividing line between ‘us and them’ and just let the other side fall off the cliff they are chasing.
Where do they get this attitude? I can only surmise that this is the kind of Chinuch they get. They are indeed told from the earliest ages that their approach to the Torah is the best approach… and that the approach of others is at best B’Dieved and at worst completely illegitimate. Just to cite one tragic example of this, the Hirschean philosophy of Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) that Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch felt was the ideal way to observe Judaism is seen by the right as B’Dieved at best and a philosophy that should not be followed.
No one has a monopoly on the truth. All we can do is try and seek it. The best way to find that truth is to listen to what others have to say… and not close our minds to it. This is why for example I respect both Rav Kook’s views about the legitimacy of Zionism and the Satmar Rebbe’s views about the illegitimacy of it. Both have legitimate sources in the Torah upon which to base their views. And both views should be respected. It’s called Elu V’Elu.
(My issues with the Satmar Rebbe are not based on his views on that subject, but on the way he expresses them and on the vilification of Rav Kook – which is the inspiration for the disgusting anti Israel rhetoric on the part of his philosophical heirs, and the extremism one finds in the streets of Jerusalem - and elsewhere - in opposition to the government. But I digress.)
Getting back to Rabbi Weber... I think he did in fact see the light at a reception he hosted at his home in Toronto for Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, former Chief Rabbi of Israel. It included rabbis from all segments of Orthodoxy. Rabbi Weber marveled at Rabbi Lau’s ability to speak with one voice which resonated with all the assembled. The rabbis there spanned the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy in that city, from Left Wing Modern Orthodox to Charedi.
His epiphany occurred when Rabbi Lau started talking about the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) from the perspective of a Jew who survived the Holocaust. That study, said Rabbi Weber, had some bright spots. It noted that if 100 Charedim that have 6.72 children per family and a low intermarriage rate, it will produce 3,401 Jewish descendants after 4 generations. 100 Centrists with their average 3.39 children per family and equally low intermarriage rate will produce 434 Jewish descendants in that time.
Sadly, 100 Conservative Jews with their average 1.74 children per family and 32% intermarriage rate will only produce 29 Jewish descendants. Reform Jews with their 1.36 children per family and intermarriage rate of 46% will produce 10 Jewish descendants; and secular Jews with their 1.29 children per family and their 49% intermarriage rate will produce only 7 Jewish descendants.
Now I don’t know how accurate these numbers are. Nor do I necessarily believe in linear projections – since trends can change for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is an increasing dropout rate among observant Jewry. But I do think that in a general way, it is a fair assumption that Judaism will mostly survive in increasing numbers and percentages via those of us who are observant.
I don’t mean to sound triumphalist. I am not and am in fact saddened that so many Jews will be lost after only 4 generations. But I mention this statistic for the same reason Rabbi Weber does. We have a responsibility to unite and to try and change that trend. When it comes to Jewish survival all of our Hashkafic differences are trivial and irrelevant, says Rabbi Weber. I could not agree more. Furthermore we can all learn from each other. Every community has its strengths and weaknesses. I only wish that message would enter the hearts of the dividers.