Friday, July 01, 2022

Imposing One's Stringencies on Others

Image for illustration purposes only (NBC)
There are many colors to the rainbow. This is how I see the observant factions of the Jewish people. As long as they do not impose their ways on others - or harm the fabric of the rest of society - I believe that every observant faction has the right to observe Judaism as they see fit. No one has a monopoly on truth. No one really knows exactly which version is the most accurate form of observance – the way God intended all of us to observe. 

The best we can do is become as Jewishly educated as we can and then choose the one which makes the most sense to us. Whether that is Charedi, Chasidic, or Centrist. I believe God accepts each version as ‘the right one’ as long it conforms to the basic outlines of the Torah as interpreted by our sages throughout the generations. This is what Elu V’Elu Divrei Elokim Chaim means. Sincere interpretations of Halacha and  custom may differ widely. But since they are sought in earnest by the greatest rabbis of each generation - they are equal in the eyes of God.

This is why we can – and do - have a plethora of widely differing versions of observant Judaism. Some versions being unrecognizable from another. By way of example many of the customs of Yemenite Jewry  will seem strange to Ashkenazi Jewry. The melodies used in prayer; the mode of dress; and many other customs are as different from each other as  night is from day. But Elu V’Elu means that we are both right.

The same is true about Chasidic world, the Lithuanian/Yeshiva world, and the Centrist world.  Customs vary widely. To each his own. 

There was an incident recently that brought this into focus - not in a positive way. Rather than going into the specifics, I want to make the following general observations. 

Sometimes the rabbinic leaders in one world actually believe that their more stringent way is the only way. And seek to impose it on others. They will then call for a boycott of an event that is not within that standard. 

That is not only wrong it invites conflict which often turns violent. There are people (usually young people with lots of time on their hands)  that take it upon themselves to make sure that boycott is honored. They will show up and disrupt it. Sometimes with violence.  

Making matters worse is when these rabbis don't condemn the violence (done on their behalf albeit not told to do so) by those protesters. The message is clear. They are happy with the result since their standards were upheld. At the same time they have deniability in the sense that they can claim they never told anyone to protest. And that those protesters have nothing to do with them. 

The result is resentment by increasing numbers of people who do not live by - and are not required to live by - the standards that those rabbis insist are the only Torah True standards. Turning a lot of good people against these rabbis. 

These rabbis  might believe they are doing God’s work by insisting on their Chumros. But to much of the rest of the world they are seen as extremists who wish to impose their stringent standards on everyone else. Which is surely the opposite of their intent. If they want people to follow their more stringent ways, forcing them to do so will simply not work. It will just make enemies of them. 

And that makes me angry.