Unity — Why Not Now?
One of my themes here is unity. I am a firm believer in the concept. We, the Jewish people are all united by the common bond of our Judaism. Whether we are observant or not. Whether culturally Jewish or halachicly Jewish. Or both. It doesn’t matter. We are all bound by the covenant God promised to our forefathers.
For an observant Jew who understands the concept of Arvus (responsibility for one anther) demanded of us in the Torah, we should love our fellow Jew and strive to teach our non observant brethren the value of observance and the beauty of an observant lifestyle whenever we can. And do so in the pleasant ways the Torah demands of us. Never by force of legislation (…as is sometimes the case in Israel).
Observant Jews have an additional bond that should have give us an additional internal sense of unity. And yet it seems like an elusive goal sometimes. If one believes as I do that the defining characteristic of Judaism is observance of Halacha; belief in the fundamentals of Judaism; and adherence to tradition – then our hashkafic differences ought not matter. Because that is just a difference in approach. Not in essence. Disagreement should therefore not mean disrespect! This does not negate the brotherhood we should feel with every Jew in the world. But it does mean having a bond in the shared behavior of Halachic observance.
For the most part we all observant Jews regardless of hashkafa — observe Halacha in the same way. Our observance of Shabbos, Kashrus, and Taharas Mishpacha as well as all the other Mitzvos in the Torah are pretty much identical. We all have our own individual differences — Chumros and Kulos. Meaning that among each Hashakic group there are those who do things more stringently and those who rely on leniencies. But all of us are in theory acting L’Shem Shomyaim – in the name of Heaven.
There are of course insincere observant Jews in all segments. I call them Lites – in the sense that their observances are more often social or cultural rather than sincere. No Hashkafic group has a monopoly on that. But hopefully, the majority in all segments are observant for the right reasons. Because we are Charedi L’Dvar HaShem – we fear Heaven. It’s too bad that one segment has co-opted that term for themselves.
Whether one is right wing (Chasidic or Yeshivish) or Modern Orthodox the goal is the same. Serving God in the best way we know how. Our differences therefore define us less that do our commonalities. ‘Torah Only’, ‘Torah Im Derech Eretz’, and ‘Torah U’Mada’ are only the means of getting there. Not our essence – which is the same.
There are some people in all segments that feel that other segments don’t respect them. When I have criticized those segments That do not fit into the above parameters of Orthodoxy as being unaccepted by the right, I often get a retort that the right doesn’t respect my Hashkafa either. That the only Hashkafa they respect is their own – rejecting as completely illegitimate any other Hashkafa.
Well, that is only partially true. I have encountered plenty of people on both sides of the religious aisle that feel that way. But as Yeshivat Shalavim’s Director of Alumni Relations, Rabbi Reuven Unger demonstrates, in a Cross Currents article there is unity at the top. Meaning that when it comes to the leadership in Klal Yisroel there is evidence of real respect if not agreement with differing Hashkafos.
That is what unity is truly about. Respect. Not agreement. We can respect each other even when we disagree about how to approach Judaism. This was true in the past when as Rabbi Unger points out Rav Ahraon Kotler of Lakewood showed his respect for Rav Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University at a fund raiser for a Charity they both supported, Chinuch Atzmai. But it is true today as well. Here is an example excerpted from his article:
Approximately a decade ago I was on a flight to the US. As usual, the ticket was for economy class. Not as usual, I received an upgrade. This was well-received as I enjoy comfort as much as the next fellow. However, the true upgrade was of a spiritual nature.
To my great privilege, I was seated next to Rav (Moshe Mordechai) Chodosh (A Charedi Rosh Hayeshiva in Israel). I timidly inquired if I was speaking with the Rosh Yeshiva and received a response in the affirmative… The Day Yomi cycle at that time was up to Masechet Yoma. In order to gain deeper insight into the Avoda, I had with me Shiurei HaGrid (= Rav Soloveitchik) on Avodat Yom HaKippurim.
The first edition was prepared for publication by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, of blessed memory, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. The second edition was prepared by Rav Yair Kahn, a rebbe in that yeshiva. In his modest, low-key fashion, Rav Chodosh requested if he may take a look at the sefer. My pleasure, of course.
The rav devoured the sefer. Rav Chodosh was palpably taken by the insights of the Rov (the topic of the Ketoret held special interest). He remarked what a joy it was to learn from the sefer, mentioning how he would like to obtain a copy. As one “holding” in the world of the yeshivot, he was aware of the author, and of the hesder yeshiva whose leadership prepared the volume for publication.
No matter; Torah is Torah, there is no room for politics in the Beit Midrash.
This should completely refute the idea that Centrists (Modern Orthodox Jews) are rejected by the right. At least as far as the leadership goes. That they do not agree with the Hashkafa of Rav Soloveitchik and his protégé, Rav Lichtenstein, does not prevent them from respecting their Torah. The Torah of men that personified Centrist version of Modern Orthodoxy.
In these few days before Yom Kippur, I pray that this kind of respect among observant Jewish leaders of widely ranging Hashkafos filters down to the rest of us. The sometimes bitter hatred of one side against the other is unwarranted and unjust. We should never base our feelings towards one another on the few among each segment that might embarrass us by behavior unbecoming of a sincere and devout Jew. Or the few exceptions among rabbinic leaders that prove the rule.
We should look at the example cited in this essay as well as to the great leaders in the past – on all sides – that respected all of observant Jewry despite their Hashkafic differences. The last time there was even a semblance of this was at the last Daf Yomi Siyum on Shas. An event that was sponsored by Agudah was well attended by a lot of Modern Orthodox Jews that had completed the cycle right along with everyone else. There was unity by all in that one moment. I’m sure it will happen again at the next cycle some years hence. But why not think about dropping all that enmity now? Isn’t that what God wants of His people?