This week Rav Lau commented on Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to a Conservative school in the US. Instead of more mud-slinging, dialogue is what is really needed to save the Jewish people.

Some thoughts:

  • Rav Lau, both personally and as Chief Rabbi is entitled to his opinion on Conservative Judaism. Whether in his view it is or is not an authentic form of Judaism and whether their education strengthens or weakens Judaism is of course his business.
  • I am reminded of the remarks of the former Chancellor of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, reflecting on a lifetime as a pulpit Rabbi and defender of Orthodoxy –
  • “If I treat a person with respect, it doesn’t necessarily mean I approve of what he or she is saying. When I was in the rabbinate … I used to pound the pulpit and storm against Conservative and Reform and secular ideas and practices. In retrospect I think it may have been the wrong approach … The only thing that happened as a result of all these anti-Conservative /Reform/secular groups is that we have less people davening [praying] … I like the idea of having Conservative day schools and Reform day schools….”

    1. The mosaic that makes up the Jewish people is a patchwork and looks very different in the USA relative to Israel. It would seem fundamentally impossible to lead the Diaspora Affairs Ministry on behalf of the government of Israel and ignore the millions of Jews that identity as Conservative or Reform Jews. While ever there is a ministry, I would expect the minister to continue to build relationships with Jews from across the spectrum.
    2. By his comments Rav Lau is clearly limiting the scope of interest that the wider Diaspora community will continue to have in the Chief Rabbinate (clearly one could make the claim that they are already fairly disinterested). An interesting side effect is public and many private expressions of sympathy and support for Bennett’s visit. Ironically, this may enhance the legitimacy that Rav Lau is trying to deny the non-Orthodox movements.
    1. It is incumbent upon senior religious figures to remember “חכמים, היזהרו בדבריכם” – Sages, take care with your words. Making sweeping generalisations about Conservative Jewish education, and who may have Conservative lineage only causes damage to the fabric of the Jewish people, notwithstanding religious or ideological differences. (Worth noting Rabbi Amnon Bazak’s (Yeshivat Har Etzion) post about him marrying the results of that same Conservative Jewish education).
    2. The Chief Rabbi and Bennett have an opportunity to widen the reach of dialogue within the Jewish family — not to argue rights and power but rather show genuine care for one another.
    3. At Gesher, we are building models of Jewish unity and dialogue to address a critical need.  There will always be areas of great disagreement, and in the same way as we are sensitive to the needs of one community or stream of Judaism, we must be sensitive to all. Sometimes, this means squaring the circle as value-sets collide. In this case, a very widespread Orthodox and Haredi view about what constitutes acceptable interactions with non-Orthodox streams, and concerns about giving legitimacy from their point of view. Together with this sensitivity we need to create inclusive dialogue about our Jewish future with as many parts of the Jewish people as possible. We must constantly challenge assumptions and stereotypes on all sides. And all sides must show genuine care and concern alongside difference.
    4. I and the team at Gesher will continue on this mission, because the health and possibly the future of the Jewish people depend on it. We will continue to navigate these waters with care and by trying to give the utmost respect to people’s views and beliefs whilst doggedly building more and more understanding, respect, and cooperation, strengthening the Jewish people — not at the expense of each person’s values.

    We will always be different in opinion, but we must also always be together.

    Or as we say at Gesher #BeDIfferentBeTogether.