Sunday, September 04, 2016

The Way Things Could Be

Conference participant Dr. R. R. Reno, editor of First Things
That’s what I’m talking about! The kind of Achdus that Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein wrote about on Cross Currents is the way things should be. Bright young thinkers from Yeshiva University, Chabad, Brisk, Mir, Ner Israel, Lakewood, and  Satmar getting together in common cause is a wonderful example of my dream of Achdus for the wider Orthodox Jewish world.Which would go a long way toward fostering Achdus with all of Jewry.

We are far from reaching that goal. But at least some very bright representatives from each of those groups have come together with the shared value of positive engagement with our fellow secular citizens, both Jewish and non Jewish.

Rabbi Adlerstein says he was (and still is to a degree) exhilarated by the 3rd annual conference of Tikvah Program for Yeshiva Men. The political philosophy of this program is conservative. I tend to lean conservative on most issues although on some I would be considered fairly liberal. But it doesn’t really matter to me whether they were poltically liberal or conservative. The fact that they were all there in common cause is what stokes my imagination about what could be.

The theme this year was pragmatic isolationism vs. an obligation to share the Torah’s vision with non-Jewish Americans.  Rabbi Adlerstein points out something that truly pleased him (and me). The vast majority of participants felt as I do: that we must engage with the community at large so as to be a light unto the nations… spreading the light of the Torah’s values and ethics to as much of mankind as we can. And in that sense Judaism has much in common with the politically conservative point of view.

I fully expect that this would be hotly disputed by those who are politically liberal. They will argue that political liberalism is the real Torah Hashkafa. But for me, there is little doubt that the politically conservative point of view has far more in common with the Torah’s values than does the politically liberal point of view. Albeit with some notable exceptions.

The question is however, do the participants reflect the view of their respective communities, or are they the exceptions? Rabbi Adlerstein correctly notes that by merely attending this conference they show an individual bias towards integration for purposes of sharing our values - rather than being isolationist/protectionist. In a vote taken by the group – integration was by far the preferred model.

But as he also notes, the isolationist/protectionist model was supported by some of the participants (I would venture a guess that it was the Satmar faction). They said that dealing with the government should only be for purposes of self preservation - seeking out programs that would provide the Jewish community with financial benefits (e.g. tuition tax credits or school vouchers) and to fight for legislation favorable to observant Jews (e.g. the right not to be penalized for not working on Shabbos). This - they argued had always been the model for dealing with governments throughout the diaspora.

The participant lecturers were from a wide variety of conservative thinkers that included observant Jews, secular Jews, and non Jews. From Cross Currents: 
R. Ahron Lopianksy delivered a major shiur on what could – and could not – be gleaned from the gemara concerning economic policy and government intervention. While that topic leaned towards the theoretical, a conversation between Rabbi Gedalya Weinberger and Dr. Irving Lebovics (Agudah, California) was entirely about the nuts and bolts of problems facing the charedi community, and advocating for our positions in hostile state legislatures. 
William Kristol, one of the acknowledged neo-conservative leaders (and one of the first of that group to announce that he cannot bring himself to vote for either Trump or Clinton) spoke about the future of the two-party system in the US, and the very different dangers to Jewish interests of the expected policies of either of the two candidates. 
(BMG CEO) R. Aaron Kotler engaged Dr. R.R. Reno (editor of First Things, the most important US journal of religion in the public square) in a vigorous discussion about maintaining one’s moral positions while dealing with political figures and a polity that held conflicting views.
I can’t tell you how pleased I to see the variety of Orthodox Jews from Lakewood to YU participating in this. If only this would spread to the rest of Klal Yisroel – both here and in Israel. We need the participants in this conference to teach members of their own Hashkafa what they have learned there.

That said, I think that to a certain extent it is already happening in America in what I often refer to as the new centrists - defined sociologically rather than Hashkaficly. But - as I indicated above - we still have a long way to go.

I do not however seeing it happening in Israel right now. I see the opposite. The factional fights there are too strong – even within a single Hashkafa. Like the Charedi one. Which is why there are two rival Charedi political parties and why there is a virtual war between the Rav Steniman faction and the R’ Shmuel Auerbach faction. Not to mention the divide between the Chasidim and the Litvishe Yeshiva world; Askenazim and Sephardim. The Religious Zionist faction has its own internal fights. And then there is the  controversy over the Chief Rabbinate. Israeli Orthodoxy is just too polarized.

I do however like what Rabbi Adlerstein says should be our take-away. I will therefore end with that thought – just as he did: 
Too many people have argued that, notwithstanding the breathtaking numbers of adherents to the yeshiva system, the price paid has been a uniformity in dress and group-think imposed attitudes that stifle individuality and creativity. The Tikvah Program for Yeshiva Men proves that this is not the way it has to be.