Why we Should Continue to Befriend the Modern-Orthodox and Wide-Ranging Jewish Community

While I’m not a supporter of Shmuly Yanklowitz’s ideas, based on the couple of times I’ve read what he’s written, nor do I know him personally, nevertheless, I will react in this instance concomitantly by repaying bravery with bravery. The recent article he wrote deserves no less.

I do not know for sure how my compatriots will react, especially when I say that his article is well received and correct in principle. It deserves a positive response since it took guts and was pretty objective at that (take note of some of the Facebook comments and vitriol thrown his way).

To be sure, I do not speak for any official Orthodox denomination, least of all the one I belong to — Chabad-Lubavitch — where I hold no official position and am nothing but a simple laborer in its vineyard. I speak only for myself as a private citizen and a small-town Orthodox rabbi.

Within those parameters and subsequent to the above-mentioned disqualifier, I’d like to say that at a minimum what Shmuly Yanklowitz has remarked on must be a stepping-stone for conversation and intellectual accommodation. It can become a portal through which all Orthodox denominations can talk and dialogue in an arena of respect.

If he remains strong in the face of pressure and doesn’t subsequently recant, his principled dissertation must be taken seriously. Ultimately, it can lead to vistas heretofore unimagined and untapped.

In the past I myself have written that ultra-Orthodox groups — as opposed to the ultra-Orthodox way of life — have a lot to repent for and until they do will never garner the respect they deserve. Many of their hierarchical decisions, independent of halacha and connected to politics, have caused, and still do, a widening rift between Jews of all kinds. What should be a people of unity and brotherhood has become an entity of tribes and disparate conclaves. It’s as if we are no longer the “Ahm Echad” but have become the “ahm echad mefuzar u’meforad” to quote an infamous anti-Semite of two and a half millennia ago.

What has happened? Why is there this yawning and ever widening schism? Why is there a palpable hate between the irreligious and the religious? Why are the simple folk so leery and wary of our Torah-sages and ecclesiastical leaders?

Now, to be sure this is not a new phenomenon. It’s as old as the hills. What is newer however is the animosity regular folks, even religious ones, have toward the ultra-Orthodox and what they view as an arrogant self-righteous attitude. You’d think, since they keep to themselves and don’t bother others, the same should be afforded them. Yet, it seems it’s all a mirage. The idyllic scene is not so peaceful after all and the resentment continues to build.

I contend therefore that just as Yanklowitz is fighting the trend and is big enough to admit that the ultra-Orthodox deserve respect for all the good they accomplish the time has come for chareidim to do the same. “Ka’mayim ha’panim l’panim kehn lev ha’adam el ha’adam!”

Such for example is the general rule of thumb in Lubavitch, the philosophy I hail from. In halacha, Lubavitch takes a back seat to no one. Halacha and its scholars have always been sacrosanct to me and my family or community. No one is asking any religious Jew to dilute or negotiate away his bedrock principles. However, there are many areas of permitted discussion — as opposed to debate — which at a bare minimum gives anyone of sincere intent a voice to legitimately opine under the banner of Torah and its enduring principles. Torat-chayim and Torat-emet is a big tent and can endure all voices and opinions even within the scope of clear and ancient principles.

While we believe in its inherent infallibility and the basic creeds carved into our psyches we may talk and venture into the minutia of halacha and Jewish philosophy in order to restore some comity and respect for all sides and opinions. Disagreement need not be disassociation! On the contrary association can lead to affinity and symmetry. The pure joy of Torah-study for its own sake can be a sufficient balm to heal past wounds and perhaps be a bridge to talk and honor the sincerity of the other.

To cast the less “ultra” outside the pale and to accuse them of apostasy is ineffective and only moves the sides further away and the chasm widens exponentially. What positive outcome does it serve?! On the contrary, does it not serve to weaken all our camps?!

As such, seeing Shmuly openly lauding those he disagrees with as vital to all Jewish communities and crediting them for all the positive impact they have on us all tells me he’s an individual who respects Jewish tradition and Torah-culture. This is a starting point for all halachic scholars to initiate talks and find commonality for the communal good as opposed to aggrandizing the usual individuality which tends to serve one’s own private interests.

Respect and humility must be shown to all. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew and, as such, is your brother and sister. Demeaning them, even silently and passively, is self-defeating and against that which the BSHT and the greatest Chassidic masters taught.

We may not ignore and demean those who come with an outstretched hand to discuss halacha. Even as they understand it. Even if they wear a “kipa-seruga” or don’t wear huge “Talitot ketanot” with Tzitzit hanging down to their ankles. Or because they or their women may not be dressed exactly as the chareidi community deem proper.

None of this disqualifies discussion and friendship or even a bridge of social and cultural bonds. Can you imagine if “chareidim, datiyim, datiyim-modernim” and even “cheylonim” sat together and broke bread? Only “pat yashan” and “pat Yisrael” with no reliance on the Rabbanut Shemita “heteirim” would be on the menu. But conversation would be allowed from one end of the spectrum to the other in friendship and resepect.

As a Chasid, it’s what I am after and what we should all strive for.

About the Author
Graduate of the Rabbinical College of Greater Miami and Central Lubavitch Yeshivah in NY. Rabbi in Hollywood, FL leading its community as the Chabad Emissary and member of Florida Friends of Lubavitch for over 25 years. "Father and grandfather is something I'm most proud of and strive to get better."
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