Thursday, March 15, 2018

Achdus – More Elusive Than Ever

Jewish unity: Reality? Pipe dream? Fake news? (Easton)
Sometimes I wonder if unity is possible at any level. As a seeker of Achdus, this depresses me. And yet I cannot deny the facts staring me right in the face.

You would think the Charedi world is united. You would also think that the Modern Orthodox world is united.  Each having its own specific set of values and Hashkafos. Even taking those differences into consideration you would think that both communities would be united by the common denominator of being observant. But nothing could be further from the truth. The divisions between us are major. They are so strong that unity seems impossible.

As far back as I can remember I realized that there were certain divisions among Orthodox Jews. There was the Yeshiva world, the Chasidic world, and the Modern Orthodox world. Even though the differences were obvious, I thought there was unspoken consensus that we were all observant and part of the same community. That is because we had a lot more in common by being observant than any of the differences that separated us. 

That is not however the case. Not only are those three major categories strongly divided, there are divisions within those categories that divide us even more. The enmity expressed even within one camp has generated some of the most vile name calling I have ever heard.

My first realization of how divided Orthodox Jews even within the same faction can be, happened during one of the most troubling periods in Chicago’s Jewish history. I was a Semicha student at HTC. Which was a Modern Orthodox Religious Zionist Yeshiva that had on its Hebrew faculty the very controversial Dr. Eliezer Berkovits. He taught Jewish Philosophy. 

Rav Ahron Soloveichik was the Rosh HaYeshiva at the time. His mission to eradicate the Traditional Movement caused Dr. Berkovtis and many Traditional rabbis -  some of whom were on the board of directors at the time - to turn on him. A war between Rav Ahron and his board ensued.That wasn’t surprising. 

What was surprising to me was that some of Rav Ahron’s own Roshei Yeshiva turned on him. Some of course took his side but others bitterly opposed him. I recall the shock at being told by a Rosh Yeshiva who backed Rav Ahron that another Rosh Yeshiva who opposed him called him a dog! Although I supported Rav Ahron, I respected the other Rosh Yeshiva and couldn’t believe what he had said. Especially since they both had similar Hashkafos.

One would think that the Chasidic world was united by the Hashkafa of Chasidus. But one would be wrong. It is no secret for example that for may years Chabad and Satmar couldn’t stand each other and wouldn’t even intermarry. Although that has changed somewhat, the fact that kind of divisiveness existed at all between factions that both believed in the same thing was surprising.  

Then there is the fight within Stamar itself. Two brothers are still fighting over which one is the heir to the Satmar throne. They have identical Hashkafos.  And Chabad has its own internal problems between their mainstream and their overt Meshichsists.

Modern Orthodoxy (defined for purposes of this post as having a positive attitude toward  secular studies and secular culture) has never been more divided. There are those that follow Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) who vehemently reject those that follow Torah U’Mada (TUM). You have a Centrist Right that rejects an extremist Left.

Things are no better in Israel. There is clearly no love lost between the Chasidic religious factions and the Litvishe (Yeshiva world) factions. So different are they that they each have their own political parties –combining only when it serves their combined interests. Often blaming each other when things goes wrong. Case in point: The Yeshiva world blamed Ger Chasidim for Charedim losing the mayoralty of Jerusalem to the secular candidate. 

And within the Lithuanian Yeshiva world there is the ‘war’ between the mainstream Yeshiva world centered in Bnei Brak and the Peleg faction centered in Jerusalem. Despite their virtually identical Hashkafos. And let’s not forget about the internal war in Poenvezh  Yeshiva where after many years - it is still undecided who is the heir to Rav Shach as its Rosh HaYeshvia.

The one place I thought that there might be some unity is in the Dati Leumi-Religious Zionist (DL/RZ) camp. Although I know they too have a right and left, I thought that they were more cohesive and united by their religious Zionist worldview despite some differences of interpretation about it. I thought they had a common attitude about their own religious institutions. Like the Chief Rabbinate, Hesder Yeshivos, Merkaz Harav, Bnei Akiva, and army service. What better to unite them that a shared worldview about observance, Torah study, and Zionism. I could not have been more wrong, as pointed out to me by a DL/RZ reader by the name of Nachum who comments here frequently. Here is what he said: 
Do you really not know, for example, about the deep divisions within the Dati Leumi world? Do you know what the word "Chardali" means? Do you know what the "Kav" is? Do you know that the leader of the Kav- do you know who he is, by the way?- has a deep personal animus against R' Stav? Do you know why? (They are a fringe numerically as well, but an influential one.) Do you not know how much these people wish, literally, that they were Charedim?
R' Aviner has written bizarre stuff about how Charedim are the only authentic Jews. He recently "paskened" that it's literally assur to learn with someone who goes to the Har HaBayit… 
All of the above is but a small sampling of the kind of divisions that exist in Orthodoxy.  It is off the top of my head. I don’t, however, think I even scratched the surface of the amount of vehement divisions that exist in Orthodoxy today. And it will no doubt increase. 

There is no such thing as Elu V’Elu  anymore. There is no such thing as respecting the other side even when there is disagreement. Everyone hates everyone else. Observance? A common denominator? Ridiculous! 

The more we go forward in time, the more backward we go.