Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Whose Judaism is it Anyway?

Guest Post by Michael Weiner

The Margolese Family, and Rabbis Haim Amselem and Dov Lipman on Chanukah
Photo courtesy Menachem Lipkin 
Every once in a while I will receive a request from one of my readers to publish an essay they have written. My response usually is to send it and if I like it, I will publish it. These essays do not necessarily have to agree with me lock stock and barrel. They can be opposition pieces to what my stated views are. But they cannot advocate positions that I am diametrically opposed to.

More often than not, these submissions are rejected for a variety of reasons – among them: they may not measure up to my publishing standards; or they may not be appropriate subjects for my blog; or are so off the wall that they are embarrassing.  But every once in a while a submission not only meets my minimum standards,they supersede them.. Usually those submissions are from a professional writers who have either published books or articles before.  But not always. Sometimes  I receive a submission out of the blue that is quite exceptional in both style and content.  Today’s guest post is by one such individual. He is all of 15 years old. Here in part is the bio he submitted:

My name is Michael Weiner, I am 15 years old, and currently live in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania. I go to school at Kohelet Yeshiva High School. I moved here from Northern California just a few months ago, in order to go to a religious high school. I went to a Jewish community school from K-8, where I and my brother were 2 out of 3 religiously observant kids. It was, to say the least, quite an experience!     I have gone to a Moshava summer camp for the past 4 years, and am currently involved in Bnei Akiva. I consider myself to be Modern Orthodox, and a Zionist, although I don't hesitate to criticize Israel if I feel it's necessary.

I am a huge admirer of the Rav, and his writings. Reading 'The Lonely Man of Faith' greatly changed the way I view God, Judaism, and life in general. Today, I am most likely going to go to YU, but secular college is not out of the window, because I believe that a secular collegiate experience has many important positive aspects.

However, regardless of one's lifestyle choices, they must always remain a Jew above all else. This entails being Kovei'ah Zman Ittim, and infusing all that you do in your daily life with a perspective filtered by halacha and Jewish values (however you define that, be it Tikkun Olam or Talmud Torah).

One word. Wow! He also has his own blog.  His post follows unedited in its entirety. 

The title of this post is a question that has no one answer. The tragedy that we face today is that everyone thinks they are the sole possessors of the answer, and that their way of practicing Judaism is undoubtedly more meaningful, more traditional, and ultimately more authentic. This, in my opinion, is the greatest barrier to achdus in the frum community, and general Jewish community at large.

Simply stated, it's an inability to recognize that Judaism is multi-faceted, halachah is not monolithic, and that for thousands of years, Jews have looked, ate, talked, and sometimes even behaved differently then each other. This is historical fact. During most of the current galus from Israel, we have been different. These differences however, are not the obstacle to unity. The obstacle to unity is the failure to recognize that these differences are normal, and trivial. 

In the early years of the 20th century, Agudas Yisroel was formed. This was one of the very first organizations where Chassidim and Misnagdim worked together to find creative solutions to community problems. The Gedolei Yisrael, and laymen of that generation understood that the powerful Haskalah movement was a force that needed to be reckoned with. It presented dangers that made it necessary for a wide variety of Jews to come together and decide how best to respond to such a threat. 

The Chafetz Chaim, the Gerrer Rebbe, the Radzhiner Rebbe, and Rav Chaim Ozer Gradzinski decided that enough was enough. Achdus within the religious community was the only way to stand a chance against the roaring fire of modernity that was quickly consuming all of Europe, eventually reaching even the closeted Pale of Settlement, and other Jewish ghettoes. 

Today, we face a worldwide Jewish community that is arguably more fractured than it has ever been in the history of Judaism. Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative Jews are completely ignored by the frum community. In turn, the more liberal forms of Judaism often push back against Orthodox control of the rabbinate, and halacha. Modern Orthodox Jews are considered kofrim by a great many Chassidim. Anyone who goes to YU is demonized by the right-wing yeshivish community.

Neturei Karta is hated by everyone. Satmar is also disliked by many Modern and Centrist Orthodox Jews because of their views regarding Israel. In Israel, most secular Jews find the idea that Chareidim can get out of army service anathema to their sense of civic duty and pride. Some Chareidim in Israel consider the Israeli government to be comparable to the Nazis rule!

Because of Satmar's power and influence, they get accomodated by Agudah, which is supposed to represent everyone! In certain extreme frum communities, women cannot wear red, own a cellphone, go to college, learn gemara, wear pants, walk around with normal hair, or talk to men. In others, all these behaviors are tolerated, and encouraged. 

All this fighting, and I haven't even mentioned Chabad... So the big question is, what will it take for the Jewish people to become united? Halacha leaves much room for creativity and flexibility. In Jewish theology as well, no one has a monopoly on truth. The Rambam can argue with the Raavad and the Ramban. Centuries later, the Rav, Emmanuel Levinas, Rabbi David Hartman, and the Satmar Rebbe can all have divergent theological positions while still remaining Orthodox Jews.

This is, in my view, one of the most beautiful aspects of Judaism. However, in recent times, people that don't dress, speak, or look a certain way are thrown out of certain communities. It is a fact that if you are in Lakewood and don't wear a white shirt or a black hat, you will not get good shidduchim. The fact that the girls you get to date rest on your clothing attire choices is ludicrous. And it's just as ludicrous when the Satmar Rebbe wrote that the Holocaust occurred in retribution for Zionism and the Haskalah. And it's just as ludicrous when modern orthodox Jews make blanket generalizations about ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Tolerance is a Jewish value. The Gemara (Eiruvin 13) brings down the dictum of Eilu V'Eilu, which practically means that in terms of halachic practice, both can be right. With that said, I turn the question to you. What is the single most important thing we can do right now to increase unity within Klal Yisrael? If you have a good answer, share it with everyone in the comments below.