Monday, December 30, 2019

Is Achdus a Lost Cause?

Can we ever have unity?
As a strong supporter and seeker of Achdus - unity among the Jewish people, I read with interest the OU’s president – Rabbi Mark (Moishe) Bane’s article in the current edition of Action Magazine. He asks whether we (the Orthodox Jewish community) can survive harmony. That is indeed a thoughtful question that may not yet have an answer.

If we have harmony in Judaism we can have unity. But I think we first need to define what being Jewish means. The quick answer is being born of a Jewish mother or by becoming a convert according to Halacha. Unfortunately neither of those definitions are universal.  Reform Judaism now accepts patralinial descent. Reform converts need only identify as Jewish and do not really need any kind of formal conversion process. And for reasons beyond the scope of this post, Orthodoxy does not accept Conservative conversions either.

This means that while all Jews are my brothers or sisters, defining who is and isn’t a Jew makes unity across denominational lines impossible. 

That leaves any semblance of unity possible only among Orthodox Jews. But I am beginning to wonder whether even that is possible. Because even among ourselves defining Orthodoxy has become controversial. In some cases the ideological differences are so sharp, they seem be almost insurmountable. 

That is sad. I have always believed that the one uniting factor is the observance of Mitzvos. Mostly exemplified by Shemiras Shabbos - Sabbath observance. Following Halacha to the best of our ability should be the one thing that unites us all regardless of our worldviews. Not that we are all always meticulously observant of every single detail of Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch or even fully agree on what the Halacha might be in certain situations. But that we realize that this is our obligation. There is no person alive that hasn’t sinned. The point being that we try. And that even when we fail, we realize we’ve failed and that we are supposed to do Teshuva.

Shemiras Shabbos should be the unifier. If it were then there would be unity among all segments of Orthodox Jewry. Neturei Karta, Religious Zionists, The Yeshiva world, Chasidim (even Satmar Chasidim), Chabad, Sephardim, Modern Orthodoxy (Centrist and left wing - even ‘Open Orthodoxy)’ included. All in one big observant Orthodox Jewish tent. That is how I always imagined us. But the reality is that we are as divided as ever. And it seems becoming more divided as time goes on. As our populations grow, we each  refine our ideology to the exclusion of all who disagree with us.

At this juncture in Jewish history it therefore seems that the answer to the question posed by Rabbi Bane is, No! we will not survive harmony because it doesn’t exist! And the way things are going now, it never will.

That being said, it’s true that ideology makes a difference. It determines how each of us see each other as a group. It also determines our personal and communal behavior. So I understand why the extreme ideology of either the right or left produces attitudes and behavior that are unacceptable to the the two opposite poles of Orthodxy and prevents any kind of Achdus even though both are Shomer Shabbos.

The communal responses to events that impact the each of us varies greatly. Each believing that their own path is the correct one while the other is at best ‘Krum’ (in other words - not the straight and narrow path of Judaism but a crooked and maybe even questionable path) - or at worst outside the tent of Orthodoxy entirely.

Just to cite a few well known examples. Open Orhtodoxy’s embrace of Egalitarianism has caused a serious rift between – not only between it and the Charedi world, but even with Centrist Modern Orthodoxy.

The more extreme elements of the Chasidic world reject Modern Orthodoxy completely. So much so that they would boycott an event like the upcoming Siyum HaShas sponsored by Agudah if a Yeshiva University  Rosh Yeshiva were invited to speak. (It remains to be seen whether they will continue to bow to their right and ignore their left – even as they claim to be all inclusive.)

Religious Zionists who see settling all the land of Israel regardless of the cost to human (even Jewish) life is something that is anathema to mainstream Orthodoxy.

The many varieties of Messianism within Lubavitch/Chabad has caused a serious rift between them and some of the more right wing parts of Yeshiva world (and even among some in the Modern Orthodox world.)  There are some people in the Yeshiva world that refuse to eat from meat that was ritually slaughtered by a Chabad Shochet! I also know some people in Chabad that do not trust any meat not slaughtered by a Lubavithcer. Not matter how religious they might otherwise be.

And who among any of us can stomach Neturei Karta whose views on the State of Israel are similar to those of Hamas in the sense that - like them - they believe Israel should be dismantled – albeit peacefully.) 

I appreciate sticking to principle. I admit being ‘guilty’ of that myself. But it comes at a price. An expensive one that may be insurmountable.

At the same time I truly regret that it has to be that way. There ought to be some way to at least get a broad spectrum across the middle of Orthodoxy while leaving out the extremes at each end. But as things stand now, It’s going the opposite way.