Over the past couple of years various fights have broken out in the American Modern Orthodox community as well as the Israeli Dati Leumi world. In the states, Rav Avrohom Gordimer and Rav Ysoscher Katz (as well as others) have gone head to head over a sleuth of issues. On various forums, these rabbis have argued over the nature of Halacha, mesorah, the role of women in our communities, relationship to the LGBT community, Biblical criticism, and more. At times, these arguments have crossed (or maybe trampled) the borders of how discussions of these types should be held. People have lost their tempers, insults were exchanged.
Personally, being somewhat conservative on these matters (and something of a fuddy duddy in general), I am more comfortable with the more right wing approach. However, the right wing’s willingness (eagerness?) to cut people out of the camp leaves me cold.
In Israel, over the last year an extremely fierce fight has been going on over the 929 project. 929 is a learning project in which Israelis learn one chapter a day of the Bible. Participants can then write up their impressions of that chapter on the 929 website. There has been a huge response to the project. Participants come from a huge range of the Israeli Jewish population, from right wing religious Jews to the completely secular. Needless to say, many of the commentaries made on the website don’t fit the traditional pattern as to how to look at the Bible, its stories, and its personalities.
Defenders of the project, starting with Rav Benjamin Lau, and Rav David Stav, defend the project as a way of getting everyone, the secular and religious, back into our common denominator. Lacking any common language, concepts, or sense of history, we are in danger of splitting back into various tribes instead of the one nation that we aim to be. The project’s opponents on the other hand see much of what has been written on the website as a complete and absolute abomination. No one can cooperate with a project that includes materials that are so abhorrent. One of the most prominent opponents of 929 is Rav Yaacov Meidan, someone who has been working for decades to make Biblical studies relevant to our times. Rav Meidan has faced endless criticism from more conservative rabbanim over his work. Yet Rav Meidan feels that 929 crossed lines that simply cannot be crossed.
The issues involved in all of these controversies are huge. I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that they involve basic Torah principles. To illustrate just how big the issues are, I’m going to do something that I don’t like doing and compare these fights to other fights going on.
Take a look at the various intramural fights that have gone on over the last couple of years in the Chareidi world. Can anyone tell what theological issue was at stake in the fight between Bobov and Bobov 45? Or the DECADES long split between Satmar and Belz? Everyone knows that despite the Bnei Brak and Jerusalem yeshiva world being split into two, there is almost no disagreement what-so-ever between the camps on any issue. The only question is who is going to run things. Every couple of months there is some minor blow up when a Chareidi school refuses to admit students coming from the wrong ethnic group. And so on. These fights over big nothings hasn’t stopped the people involved from going to great lengths to crush the other sides (I’m not going to detail this stuff).
The discussions/fights going on in the Modern Orthodox/Dati Leumi world are about the critical issues of our times. That we’re having them shows our vibrancy, intellectual awareness and strength, a willingness to engage each other at a basic level. No one is running away from any challenge. They aren’t distracting us from anything.
A personal plea: Rav Gordimer and Rav Katz – take it down a notch. You won’t lose anything.