Friday, February 24, 2023

Consensus or Confrontation?

OU Executive Vice President, Rabbi Moshe Hauer  (Jerusalem Post)

I have to express my sheer admiration for Rabbi Moshe Hauer, Executive Vice-President of the OU (Orthodox Union). He has had the courage to engage with the Union of Reform Judaism president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.  The Jerusalem Post reports the following: 

As the rift between Jews in Israel deepens, the head of one of the strongest Jewish-American organizations has called for peaceful dialogue between brothers.

“I have fundamental differences with [Union for Reform Judaism president] Rabbi [Rick] Jacobs and I’ve expressed them to him many times,” Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union told The Jerusalem Post this week. But “by talking to him, my principles have not shifted at all.”

Hauer and Jacobs sat together during the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations delegation to Jerusalem this week.

Hauer added that the OU runs by the logic that there are “two fundamental ideas: the first, that we believe in the Torah as the eternal and unchangeable word of God, and the second, that we believe a Jew is always a Jew. The particular choices which they make don’t matter, neither do affiliations or their level of observance.” 

I am so happy to see this happening. It is not a simple matter. Charedi leadership - like that of the Agudah Moetzes - has been quick to condemn any public interaction with heterodox rabbis. The reason for which is the fear that doing so would indicate tacit approval of Jewish movements that are considered antithetical to the Torah as interpreted by the sages throughout Jewish history. 

The last time this happened was when a Charedi rabbi did the same thing. Several years ago, Rabbi Yosef Reinman befriended Amiel Hirsch, a pro Zionist Reform rabbi. They collaborated on a book and began a tour together promoting it. Showing that they can dialogue despite their religious differences which were clearly spelled out – both in the book and on the tour. Unfortunately the book tour lasted for only one appearance.

The Agudah Moetzes got wind of it and immediately forbade Rabbi Reinman from continuing the tour – expressing their traditional fear of legitimizing Reform Judaism by merely appearing on the same stage with a Reform rabbi. 

That both Rabbis Reinman and Hirsch freely and openly acknowledged their differences didn’t matter to the Moetzes. They still felt that the implication of their being together in any public way gave an impression of some degree of legitimization. They asked Rabbi Reinman to cease and desist immediately. 

He did, explaining that he would always defer to ‘Daas Torah’ despite his regret that this tour gave him the opportunity to engage with non Orthodox Jews he would otherwise never have been able to meet - and thereby present Orthodoxy in a positive light. 

I recall at the time strongly questioning that move. While I agree that legitimizing Reform Judaism in any way is wrong, I felt that both rabbis making it clear that this is not what he was doing accomplished that. I felt that Rabbi Reinman’s lament was indeed valid and that a golden opportunity was lost.

I‘m am happy to see that now - many years later - an Orthodox Rabbi who a huge Talmid Chacham and heads one of the largest Orthodox institutions in the world – has picked up exactly where Rabbi Reinman left off. 

One of the reasons that it may be a propitious time for engaging with Reform leadership is that not all that long ago they started seeing the practical value of encouraging Mitzvah observance. This - after over a century of rejecting participation in any ritual at all. Their leadership had finally realized that practicing only the ethical side of the Torah was not necessarily the best way to identify as a Jew since ethics are part of every civilized culture. 

Reform rabbis who in the past rejected the idea of wearing a Kipa even in their temples were now wearing it themselves. Their prayer books had reinstated some of the liturgy that had been removed by their predecessors. Sukkahs could now be found on the front lawns of their Temples. What better time to engage with them than now - when they are beginning to restore some Judaism into their way of life?

That being said, I cannot forget what 200 Reform rabbis did just a few days ago at the Kotel. Which is clearly part of an agenda to establish themselves as a legitimate form of Judaism in the holy land and to be recognized as such by the government. That would enable them to sell Reform Judaism to the majority of Israelis that are not fully observant or not observant t all.  Observance being voluntary by Reform standards makes them a perfect fit for each other. 

Legitimizing Reform Judaism is something all Orthodox rabbis oppose. This doesn’t mean that Rabbi Hauer shouldn’t engage with them. I absolutely believe he should. If he can. I’m just not sure where any consensus might lie at this point. I am, however, sure there is confrontation.  I don’t see how that would not get in the way of any dialogue.

Which is why I admire Rabbi Huaer for trying. As a huge Talmid Chacham and proven leader - if anyone can improve the relationship between heterodox Jews and Orthodox Jews it is Rabbi Hauer. 

With so many of our secular brethren abandoning their Jewish heritage there is more reason than ever to engage. Anything would be an improvement over what exists now.  More power to him.