Achdus — Where I Stand on Unity

I often talk about Achdus here. Achdus (or unity) takes many forms. While all Jews are brothers and unified as a people – there is a greater sense of Achdus among those of us that are observant. There is much more that unites observant Jews than what divides us. Belief in the fundamentals of our faith and observance of Halacha have a far greater degree of commonality than our lack of commonality in Hashkafa.

But the Achdus I am seeking has been an elusive goal for me. One that sometimes seems to be going in the wrong direction. While there is a growing sociological centrist community that consists of moderate Charedim and ideological Centrists. There is still a lack of brotherhood and unity among us by virtue of the lack of respect from the right towards fellow observant Jews that have a Centrist Hashkafa..

In that sense the Charedi world and the Modern Orthodox world seems to be growing further apart – even as we both are moving to the right.

It is not for the lack of trying to unite. At least on the part of those of us that comprise the majority of modern Orthodoxy – Centrists. We want Achdus. But the right keeps rejecting us or at best tolerating us but not by much. I can’t say that this rejection is universally true. But much of the rhetoric of the right is geared towards exhorting its members to reject much of what MO participates in. In their zeal to insulate itself from the general culture they constantly harp about avoiding it as much as possible.

So that if you are someone embraces any part of that culture – even it is not forbidden by Halacha  – you are looked upon as ‘Nisht fun Unzera’ – a common expression meaning you are not one of us. What that ends up doing is creating a a prejudice that says if you participate in things we reject, then we reject you too. Adding to that rejection is a view of Modern Orthodoxy that violates those Halachos they focus on for themselves. Yesterday someone gave the following list of complaints about Modern Orthodox Jew from the right which emphasizes these points:

“You’re not serious about observance. You look only for “kulos” all the time”
“You don’t care about harchokos, shomer negia, and some of you don’t even know what they are”
“You have no gedolim, and what’s worse is you don’t listen to them”
“Your following sports is childish. Grow up like us”
“You don’t spend nearly as much as we do for arba minim”
“You don’t accept everything the gedolim say, so you have no emunas chachomim”

As if they are all careful about every Halalcha. The truth is that there are plenty of members of the right that are guilty of the same thing they accuse Modern Orthodox Jews of. Only they hide it. I know plenty of Charedim like that.  And they are more than just a few exceptions. Back in the 80s – there were tons of black hatted Charedim at the mixed pool at the hotel in Miami Beach where I used to spend my winter vacations.

And yet Modern Orthodox Jews are not accepted. Some of those complaints against us may be valid. But they do not make the same complaints about those among their own that do the same thing.

Additionally, some of their complaints are just differences in Hashkafa. Or a misunderstanding about what our Hashkafa actually is. The primary identifiers of observance have always been what I call the big three: Shabbos, Kashrus, and Tahara Mishpacha (Mikva). Those three Mitzvos are what makes us unique. And it is what we share completely with them.

And yet even while they rail against with those complaints – they do accept us in a tacit way. This is evidenced in the trust they give  Kashrus Agencies that are run by Centrist organizations like the OU. The vast majority of Charedim in America trust the OU symbol. I know of no rabbinic leader that has ever said you can’t trust them. And yet they refuse to respect us beyond that tacit way. I have never understood for example why a Rosh Yeshiva from YU has not been invited to address an Agudah convention.

My quest for Achdus has been interpreted as seeking the approval of the right. That is not correct. I don’t need the right to validate everything I do – or my Hashkafa. I just need them to respect my Hashkafa even if they don’t agree with it. And to not constantly harp on differences that do not define us as observant Jews – using them to form a wedge between us.

In truth, there are many prominent Charedim that agree with me on this. And even with some of the criticisms I’ve made of the right in the past. They have told me so privately. But they refuse to go public. That perpetuates the lack of respect too many of their members have for us.

There are some who say that we ought to ignore the right and just be ourselves – proud of who we are and in what we believe. I reject that. Yes, we should be proud of who we are. But it isn’t that we ‘pine for acceptance and validation’ from the Charedi right – as someone suggested yesterday. It’s that we don’t like rejection.  As someone else said yesterday:

Rejection by others is unpleasant to some degree in all human beings.

This is especially true when those that are rejected actually respect those that are rejecting you. Instead of rejection we seek unity with our fellow observant Jews. Being proud of who we are does not preclude wanting unity with those that disagree with us. Unity means having a common (not identical – but common…) set of values and respecting each other’s Hashkafos. Not necessarily agreeing with them.

What about unity with the left? I am constantly accused of only wanting unity with the right. That is incorrect. I have always thought we need a vibrant left that can appeal to those of us that see that as the only viable way to continue being observant. Liberal Orthodox Jews that in my view are unduly influenced by the winds of cultural change – still need a place to call home if they wish to remain observant.  Even if I personally disagree with some of those influences.

This is why I have in the past supported people like Rabbi Avi Weiss. He managed to appeal to these groups without crossing any serious lines. But when that happened, I had to part company with him. He has crossed several lines that have traditionally never been crossed and should not have been. Which make it difficult to have Achdus with his new version of Orthodoxy – Open Orthodoxy. It is one thing to reside in the left wing of Orthodoxy. It’s another to cross lines that virtually all other segments of Orthodoxy said should never have been crossed. No matter how well intentioned they are in crossing them.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.