|One of the founders of Reform Judaism in America, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise|
But in his latest Times of Israel article Rabbi Muskat suggests doing something I cannot agree with. Which is that we seek to create joint programs with heterodox movements with a goal that would actualize what he calls Ahavat Chinam - the unconditional love of fellow non Orthodox Jews.
It’s probably true that a lot of heterodox Jews think that Orthodox Jews hate them. That is false but somewhat understandable. It is based on an assortment of issues where we find ourselves at odds with each other. Such as our opposition to heterodoxy’s attempt to gain recognition in Israel. Most of Orthodox rabbinic leadership is opposed to that – as am I for reasons that will become obvious later in the post.
But that does not mean I have any animus towards heterodox Jews or even non denominational Jews. I love every single Jew regardless of which denomination they belong to. What I don’t love is their denominations. Which I believe are based on false notions about Judaism. I can’t love something I believe is false.
What Rabbi Muskat suggests is doing away with the decades old prohibition of interacting with heterodox rabbis. He believes that past fears about legitimizing them are no longer realistic. And that it is far more important to - instead of just paying lip service to it -.do something concrete to show that not only don't we hate fellow Jews - but to show much we love them!
I actually agree with his goal. Just not his method. Even though the dangers of recognition are no longer significant, that does not mean we can do things that make it appear as though we legitimize false views and practices. By creating a joint program, we give the false impression that all streams of Judaism are legitimate. So that if Jew does not want to be observant, then joining the Reform Movement is a perfectly fine expression of their Judaism. That it’s just a different way of doing God’s will. Which is completely false. We believe that serving God means doing what he told us to do in the Torah– as interpreted by the greatest rabbis of each generation since Moshe.
The question then becomes, if I believe in Rabbi Muskat’s goal but not his methods, how do we get his message of Ahavas Chinam across to our non observant brethren? How do we put our money where our collective mouths are?
There are a variety of acceptable ways to do that. For example there is the case of Rabbi Yosef Reinman, a Rav from Lakewood. A few years ago he befriended a Reform Rabbi and ended up writing a book together for purposes of showing that we can be friends and respect each other across denominational lines even when there are profound differences between us.
They began a promotional book tour where Rabbi Reinman met many Jews he would otherwise never would have and made a positive impression upon them. By making it clear that there was no endorsement of Reform Judaism there was no way to say he was legitimizing it. But the ‘Daas Torah’ of the Charedi world told him to stop because just by being on the same stage with them - it implied legitimization.
I disagreed with them then and still do. But Rabbi Reinman was not about to disobey his ‘Daas Torah’ and acceded to their wishes. He stopped participating in that book tour. However, upon doing so he commented that his only regret was no longer being able to meet with them and having the above-mentioned positive impact.
For me there is a difference between joining them with a clear message that you don’t agree with them – and what Rabbi Muskat wants to do. Which is ti simply join with them in some sort of collaborative venture that would not indicate any disagreement.
True, as he says the theological divide is so great today that there would be no way to mistake one denomination for the other. But that does not preclude individual Jews participating in those programs from seeing it as some sort of legitimization. There is no way that we can be seen as legitimizing things we believe to be false.
By saying all this, I realize that to those on my left will it will reinforce their perception of me as a closet Charedi. Just as some of my other posts make me seem by those on my right as clearly left wing Modern Orthodox. (e.g. yesterday’s post on the sad state of secular education in the more right wing Yeshivos).
But I am neither of those. I am a Centrist. Which is not some sort of mathematical midpoint between the right and left. Although some of my views are shared by the left and some by the right, they are all based on the thoughtful consideration of the values I received from a variety of role models I have been involved with along the path of life thus far. (…and I’m still learning). People that include my parents, my Rebbeim, my wife, my peers, my friends, and even my children. As well as other significant individuals - either in person or through their writings.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!