Thursday, November 23, 2023

Unity? Perhaps. But with One Big Exception

Rabbi Moshe Hauer
I am a huge fan of OU Executive Vice President, Rabbi Moshe Hauer. And I wish I could share his optimistic view about the unity of the Jewish people at this moment in time. But Rabbi Hauer must have been wearing his rose colored glasses when he spoke about the two events that demonstrated it for him. Both of which were indeed very powerful – as he noted. Here is how he describes them:

On the National Mall last Tuesday (November 14th) (…there was a)  massive gathering of Jews… expressing our shared commitment to the future of Israel, to our ability to live without fear as proud Jews in America, and to the plight of our beloved brothers and sisters held hostage. 

Last Monday (November 13th) was similarly impactful. While we could not see it with our own eyes, we knew that across our entire community people were dedicating extra efforts to tefillah, that shuls and schools everywhere were saying extra tehillim, and that in places like Brooklyn and Lakewood you would have to search to find a minyan that was not reciting the expanded tefillos of Yom Kippur Katan. 

Both rallies were powerful. Both rallies demonstrated with intensity and feeling that every corner of our varied community has a powerful love of Israel and Judaism and a deep concern for the soldiers and hostages. 

This is true. There is not a doubt in my mind that the vast majority of the Jewish people regardless of their level of observance or their Hashkafa are united in support of Israel and the Jewish people - in what is perhaps unprecedented ways. What is not true, unfortunately is what he said after that: 

They showed how the Jewish people today, after its most fractious year in memory, have pulled together to focus on what is most important to all of us. 

I wish it was true that we  - ALL - pulled together. But we did not. Monday’s event was indeed participated by virtually the entire observant community – regardless of Hashkafa. But Tuesday’s event was boycotted by the ‘Daas Torah’ of 5 members of Agudah’s Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. 

It was close to being unified. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.

What those rabbis did was the opposite of unity. It was Pirud - separation - from the rest of the Jewish people. Rabbi Aharon Feldman made it clear that the Charedi community should have nothing to do with that rally (for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post).

Unlike Rabbi Hauer who desires  to not focus on that Pirud at a time when unity is so important, I believe this is exactly the time to focus on it for the following reason. 

Agudah is too big to ignore. They are no small organization. Agudah represents the largest and fastest growing segment of Orthodoxy. One of their foundational principles is that disagreeing with their ‘Daas Torah’ (which they attribute exclusively to members of their Moetzes) is tantamount to a violation of the Torah’s commandment not to veer to the  right or the left of Torah law  This is why what those 5 members said on the eve of the March for Israel cannot be ignored. 

Fortunately The Moetzes parted with their tradition of speaking with one voice on this occasion. That allowed for 2 conflicting views about what the Daas Torah about the March really was.  

The problem is that only one voice was made public. The one that insisted on Pirud. 

That the March for Israel exceeded all expectations of attendance (nearly 300,000) did not phase them. Nor did  the multiplicity of Jews from all segments of Orthodoxy. Nor the numerous instances of Kiddush HaShem.  

All of it has thus far been completely ignored. Almost as though it didn’t happen. 

Not a single word about it in any of their subsequent press releases. Which I have received in abundance because of their upcoming annual banquet next week. A banquet that includes a getaway weekend with catered meals fit for for a king. And  numerous Charedi Roshei Yeshiva and many popular Charedi personalities speaking throughout the weekend

Having a banquet like this seems to contradict the somber moment we all feel at a time like this. When the Jewish people are experiencing right now trauma unlike anything since the Holocaust. At best it sends the wrong message at a time when Jewish soldiers - many of whom are observant - are laying their lives in the line for the Jewish people. Some of which have paid the ultimate price, Rachmana Litzlan. 

Now I am 100% sure that the tone of the banquet will be subdued and most of the speakers will be taking in somber tones about these events. Arguing as they always do that the ‘remedy’ for what ails us is stricter observance of Halacha, more intense Torah study, and more prayer.

Which is all fine and good. We need all the help we can get from Above. But I am willing to bet that the idea of having a mass rally in Washington consisting of the tens of thousands of Jews who consider themselves adherents of Agudah’s Daas Torah will not be considered a option for them.

Agudah is calling for the unity of the Orthodox community at this time of travail. But what kind of unity is it that rejects a call for the larger community and instead only seeks religious Jews to be united  in improved personal religiosity?

Please do not misunderstand. I actually support Agudah. It is one of he most active and effective advocacy groups for the Jewish - and especially the religious - community. We all own Agudah a debt of gratitude for all they have accomplished over the years. 

But this does not excuse their Pirud at a time like this. Nor does it excuse their silence over the disagreement in their ranks. That they mentioned nothing about a March for Israel atended by nearly 300,000 Jews of all stripes it speaks as loud as anything they would have said about it in a negative way.   .

When Rabbi Hauer says we should focus on the positive - it is impossible (at least for me) to ignore the elephant in the room. A giant elephant whose prominence cannot be ignored. An elephant whose religious leaders are among the most learned of Torah in our time. You cannot have unity when the Pirud one of the largest Orthodox advocacy group was made so public.