Thursday, July 05, 2007

Strength in Numbers

One of the interesting things abut the Conservative Movement is that their rhetoric sounds so similar to that of Orthodoxy. A column in today’s Jerusalem Post illustrates that quite clearly. Conservative Rabbi Jerome Epstein’s column today could have been written by Rabbi Avi Shafran, except for the opening two and concluding paragraphs there is very little difference between their views if any.

Which is why I sometimes wonder about the strident opposition to interacting with them on areas of mutual concern. I of course understand the reasons and even agree with them to a point. We can’t be seen as being on the same team with those whose views include heretical ones. I’ve written about this many times. And I’ve pointed out that although that is the case, we should perhaps rethink the extent to which we avoid interaction in a today’s changed circumstances. The principle of course still holds true, but its application should be re-evaluated.

I first suggested this policy change when an Orthodox Charedi Rav, Rabbi Yosef Reinman, was called on the carpet by members of the Agudath Israel Moetzes for writing a book with a Reform Rabbi and then going on a book tour with him. The Agudah Moetezes made him stop and withdraw the book saying that the unchanged position of our Gedolim is that even the hint of recognition of another movement is sufficient cause to forbid such an enterprise no matter what the benefits.

At the time I challenged that position in today’s climate in instances like this one where it was clear that Orthodoxy was in no way endorsing Reform Judaism by simply befriending a Reform Rabbi and then wrting a book together. Both rabbis agreed to disagree without being disagreeable. The Kiruv benefits would have been enormous. Who knows how many more people would be observant today had they permitted that book to be distributed and that tour to go on. And there would be no chance that anyone would even dream that an Orthodox Rabbi was endorsing Reform as a legitimate alternative within Judaism. The mere thoughr of that is laughable. But, the Aguda Moetzes felt otherwise. In my view their decision was counterproductive. And I still strongly feel this way.

But perhaps we should even consider going a step further than that.

In light of article like this one in the Jerusalem Post I once again wonder why, when an issue comes up in Judaism where we are in agreement… that we can’t join forces. Imagine the impact on Mitzvah observance if we were all on the same page at the same time and in the same place. There is definitely strength in numbers.

I realize that this step is a bit more controversial than simply allowing a book to be published. By joining forces on a religious issue it can be misconstrued as endorsement of one group by the other. And that is precisely the objection to it.

But it need not be so. The appropriate mechanisms can be put in place to insure that no one would ever make the mistake that Orthodoxy considers any other stream of Judaism as acceptable. For example public statements by leading rabbinic figures that are published and frequently repeated can serve to eliminate the false perception that Orthodoxy accepts the legitimacy of other streams of Judaism.

I’m not sure how well this would go over with the Conservative movement. I’m sure they don’t like being considered illegitimate by their Orthodox brethren. But they already know that now. That should not diminish the belief in their legitimacy. And perhaps the possible benefits of success on issues of mutual concern would overcome the objections to our attitude about them. The issue of Kashrus in Israel is a case in point. As can be seen Rabbi Epstein’s stated views. His views are identical to Orthodoxy’s on the issue he write about. Would it not be more effective if we came in together in united cause?

I think it would. And it would have the additional benefit of thawing relations between us.

This does not mean we need to dialogue with them on theological issues. That would be wrong as that would imply a Hillel/Shamai Elu VeElu relationship. And that is certainly not the case. But in areas where we agree at least in theory there perhaps should to be a re-thinking on cooperation with them.

If we can unite with Christians in areas of mutual concern in the courts system, we should be able to do the same with out own brothers. I know there is a difference. There is no chance anyone will think we have an Elu VeElu approach to Christianity. And there is a very strong chance that people will think we have one with the Conservative movement. But on a case by case by case basis, where there is a clear statement of disagreement with them, maybe the good that could come from it would outweigh the bad.

None of what I wrote is written in stone with me. I’m not necessarily calling for change to this extent. It is just me thinking out loud. But it is certainly food for thought.