Sunday, December 21, 2014

Moving the Goal Posts

Banned by the Agudah Moetzes
The current Hamodia (republished at Cross Currents) has an article by Rabbi Avi Shafran on a subject of great interest to me – the interaction between Orthodox and non Orthodox Rabbis. In it he tells us about respectfully declining an invitation to participate in a panel discussion about Chanukah with such rabbis.

The invitation was extended by Abby Pogrebin, a non Orthodox Jewish reporter who decided to be observant of all  Jewish holidays and fasts for a period of a year. She has learned a lot about those holidays... and now for example understands that Chanukah is about not giving in to assimilation. It is about daring to be different than a surrounding culture beckoning you to be a part of it. Chanukah is anything but about the ‘spirit of the season’.  It is about being separate from that spirit.

Rabbi Shafran expressed his warm feelings for Ms. Pogrebin and said some very nice things about her as a Jew.

While I agree that Rabbi Shafran made the right decision, this is one of those areas about which I truly have mixed feelings. Engaging with heterodox rabbis on matters of theology does indeed place a mantel of legitimacy upon them. This was a matter upon which Gedolei HaDor of the previous generation agreed - including Rav Soloveitchik.

On matters pertaining to theology, I don't think there is any room for debate. But in other matters that affect Jews on a national, non theological level (like support for Israel or in other matters that effect the Jewish people sociologically) I agree with Rav Soloveitchik who said we may join with them.

My problem hearkens back to what happened several years ago when Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Reinman and Reform Rabbi Amiel Hirsch wrote a book about their friendship and their religious differences - and then together embarked on a book tour. The Agudah Moetzes reprimanded Rabbi Reinman and told he must stop since it violated the principles laid down by previous Gedolim. Principles that forbade any interaction at all with heterodox rabbis saying that joining them at any level  grants them legitimacy and is therefore forbidden.

Rabbi Reinman, a Charedi adherent of Daas Torah expressed through the Agudah Moetzes acceded to their demands and withdrew, but not without expressing some regret since he found himself getting through to masses of Jews he would otherwise never have come into contact with.

I am aware of the pitfalls of starting down that slippery slope. Open Orthodoxy has gone down that road with the best of intentions and that and has resulted in crossing the hard and fast line drawn by their spiritual mentor, Rav Soloveitchk. This is why my feelings are mixed. There is always the fear of starting down a road that can lead to the perception that legitimizes the illegitimate.

However, in the current climate where heterodox movements are dying, what better time than now is there to reach out to them in any way we can? Giving legitimacy is still wrong... but the line where that is crossed should certainly be moved a bit to allow the kind of opportunity created by Rabbi Reinman to not be missed.

Projects like Rabbi Reniman's book and tour have tremendous Kiruv potential with little downside WRT giving them any legitimacy. Especially when distinctions and disclaimers are made as was the case with Rabbi Reinman at the one appearance he made (and I assume he would have continued to make).  

I wrote about this at the time. And I feel even stronger about it now. Isn't the time more than ripe to For members of the Moetzes to ‘move the goal posts’ – and take advantage of this situation?