Monday, January 29, 2018

Orthodoxy - Right or Left?

A beautiful Esrog - one example of Hiddur Mitzvah
One of the things that I have discovered in recent years is that there are some Jews that call themselves Orthodox that go out of their way to criticize fellow Jews to their right or their left -depending on their orientation. Not that there isn’t ever anything to criticize them about.  There often is. When there is wrong doing anyone from any segment of observant Jewry, it needs to be called out. And I have done my level best to do just that. But to some, it isn’t enough to call out wrongdoing when they see it.  

For some on the Left it is almost as if it was their life’s goal to make sure that religious Jews are seen as the most immoral and unethical human beings on the face of the planet! 

If you are a young Jewish child studying about Judaism in an Orthodox school and are told how the Torah is the most ethical document in the world because it is the word of God…  and you have a parent that has this attitude and constantly points to wrongdoing on the part of the most religious looking Jews among us, what conclusion is that child likely to draw? 

In my view the only conclusion an intellectually honest young person can come to is to look at what his school teaches him as a fairy tale because the reality of the Orthodox world we live in is immoral, dishonest, and unethical.Talking about the high moral and ethical values of great people of our past is not something a child can relate to as much as he can to the realities of our day.

Unfortunately there are too many examples of bad behavior that such a parent can point to to back up that view. But when that is virtually the only message they get at home, Orthodoxy will surely be seen as a lifestyle to avoid by such children.

By the same token the Right is just as guilty of that. In some cases they do their level best to vilify anyone even slightly too their Left. Case in point is the oft cited ‘hit piece’ obituary of Rav Soloveitchick in the now defunct Jewish Observer.  

This was not just one man’s opinion. It was pretty much the view of most of the right wing. I recall the author of that piece defending it – saying that he ran it by a member of the Agudah Moetzes and got his OK for it.

This is the mindset of the right. It is what they preach – at least subliminally if not overtly. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that about 10 or 15 years ago, a young man that I know from Lakewood refused to date the daughter of one of YU’s biggest Talmidei Chachamim because of his association with that school. Or that many years ago a right wing Kollel refused to host this same Talmid Chacham as a scholar in residence for one of their annual community wide Shabbatons fearing they would lose the constituency to their own right. 

Some parents in these respective communities tend to take these prejudices to even higher levels. And there is no greater influence on children than their parents.

What is it that these parents want to accomplish? What in the end is it that they want their children to learn from them? On the left - is it that ethical values are more important than Halacha? Is it that those who are the more observant are going to be more prone to ethical lapses? Do they even care about Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Makom (man and God)? And on the Right is it that they are afraid that their children will become lax in the Mitzvos Bein Adam LaMakom? lax that they may drop observance  altogether?

In last week’s Torah portion we read one of its more quoted lines: Zeh Keli V’Anveihu – This is my God and I will glorify him – in fact this phrase is part of our daily morning prayer service. It is sometimes referred to as Hiddur Mitzvah.

What does that mean? How does it apply to this issue? The Right would say that it means that we need to enhance whatever Mitzvah we are required to do. Like buying the most beautiful pair of Tefillin we can afford - or the nicest Esrog on Sukkos we can afford. These are Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Makom. Being careful in this manner are examples of Hiddur Mitzvah. But Hiddur Mitzvah applies to the Bein Adam L’Chavero (man and his fellow man) too.  For example being extra careful to be ethical in all behavior and being meticulously honest in business. And certainly to void even the appearance of fraud.

This is an area that both the right and the left can teach each other. It would serve us well if we realized that each side has something to offer. Of course there are many on both sides (the religious Right and Left) that are careful about both. But as a rule it seems like it is the Right that focuses on Bein Adam L’Makom the most while it is the Left focuses on Bein Adam L’Chavero.

But instead of teaching each other how we should practice our Judaism in both realms too many of us end up vilifying each other. Which all too often leads to bad results Some on the right paying deep attention to an Esrog while ignoring ethical concerns to the point of fraud in all to many cases. Which ends up in Chilul Hashem and our young going OTD.

It would do us all a lot of good if we each stop vilifying each other despite our differences. Because as Orthodox Jews we have more in common than we might think. We should instead learn from each other. Because I truly believe that this is what God wants.