Even if we must ‘fight’, let us fight as brothers

Punching and wrestling, my brother Eric and I rolled around on the soft grass. Though the intensity of our fight would not remind anyone of MMA, we were serious enough that a concerned counselor came over to find out what was going on. “Don’t worry, we’re brothers” said Eric, which apparently was enough to convince this counselor from the camp we were visiting, that everything was okay.

Growing up, Eric and I shared a bunk bed in a bedroom that was not much bigger than a closet. We remained rommates until the day he got married. With one exception, I rooted for the same teams he did. He comforted me when I was scared, lent an ear when I needed to vent, and told me jokes and stories as we lay in bed, at night. Although we had our share of arguments, as far as I remember, we only had that one fight. Eric was my counselor that summer, and we were a little too close for comfort. Even so, we got it out of our system without any bloodshed and made our peace.

Recently, I wrote about the ideological battle that is going on between right-wing Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy over various halachic and philosophical differences. Without taking sides, I suggested that no one knows how things will work out, and that such fighting, as rough as it may get, shows that each side is passionately committed to God and His Torah. The post led to a spirited and respectful discussion over on my wall on Facebook. I invited two of the participants in the discussion, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, Chair of the Talmud department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Rabbi Gil Student, Founder, Publisher-in-Chief and Editor of Torah Musings to join me in an online discussion on ReplyAll. My goal was for this be a discussion, where the overwhelming amount of common ground would be shared, and the differences would be respectfully discussed. I hoped that in this manner, the current disagreement between their respective worlds, would be seen to be a “machlokes l’sheim Shamayim” (a disagreement for the sake of Heaven). Rabbi Student responded by saying “Dialogue went on for 15 years and it didn’t work”, essentially suggesting that it is too late for such a discussion. I refuse to accept such a conclusion.

While I do not know what the future of Modern Orthodoxy will look like, or whether, as some suggest, Open-Orthodoxy will slide into Conservative Judaism, there is one thing I do know. Both sides in this debate are passionate and committed to God, His Torah and mitzvos, and Klal Yisrael. Rabbis Student and Katz embody these very traits. As such, I can not give up. I am publicly inviting the two of them to join me in helping to re-frame the debate in a respectful manner, where ad hominem attacks are off limits, where people talk to each other rather than at each other, and where disagreement, no matter how strong, is expressed with respect and love. Even as we passionately debate, let us not do so as combatants. Let us ‘fight’ as brothers.

About the Author
Pesach Sommer is an Orthodox Rabbi, fundraiser, educator and runner. He is married and has eight children. He currently works for Just One Life, where he directs special projects including their charity running program Team Just One Life. Pesach is 42 years young.
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