Live And Let Live
Recently I attended an event in Jerusalem during which acclaimed Israeli singer David Broza was interviewed. He is known for his very optimistic efforts at creating peace through music. I’m not a real fan, but was curious.
During the interview portion of the evening, he told about being tossed out of a high school and subsequently being enrolled in an Orthodox school in the United Kingdom. Many in the audience, mainly US or UK olim (immigrants to Israel), groaned, as if he had been sentenced to prison or some dreadful work camp. I was, to put it mildly, astonished.
It led me to think back on recent instances where those who are not Orthodox have taken pot shots at those who are or, to be fair, at the beliefs of Orthodox folks without differentiating among belief systems that are included under the catch-all label of Orthodox.
There were only six of us at Shabbat lunch at a friend’s home. In a discussion about criticism being leveled at different streams of Judaism, the only other woman guest said, “I would kill myself if one of my children became haredi (fervently Orthodox).” I was stunned, absolutely stunned. I know parents who are disappointed in choices their kids make to become more or less religious, but never have I heard someone say that death would be preferable. Yes, I know this was hyperbole and that she probably would not literally die if this happened, but to even have that thought enter her head is troubling.
Tisha b’Av is less than three months away and examples abound that remind us that we Jews need to do better at getting along if we truly want or deserve the establishment of the Third Temple. That same morning, in a Masorti (traditional but not strictly observant Jewish stream in Israel) shul, I left during a rabbi’s drash (sermon) when I heard him start to allege that Orthodox people do not care enough about animals.
Clearly, he doesn’t know the same people I do who seem to take in dogs and cats even when it is not convenient. Nor the many frum (religious) people who are vegans. Maybe it is not fair of me to have not listened to the whole drash, but it also led me to decide that I will not engage nor be part of anything in which streams of Judaism bash the other. I returned for Mussaf and lowered my annoyance level during the Amidah, finding my peace in prayer.
One of the joys of aliyah and life in Jerusalem is that we get to see the full breadth of Jewish life. From secular to Reform to Traditional to Dati (mainstream Orthodox in Israel) to Chabad to Haredi. But it is tinged with sadness because some of these groups tend to try to boost their relevance by denigrating others. That being said, because I have friends in each of those groups, my experiences are varied.
I have never sat at a Shabbat table with Orthodox friends or davened in an Orthodox shul where another stream was denigrated. Never. But, and this leads me to make conclusions, it not a rare occurrence when I hear those who identify as Traditional or Reform or even secular denigrate Orthodox beliefs and lifestyles.
This has also led me to face some tough decisions as a religious Jew living in Jerusalem. Every stream of Judaism might interpret halacha (Jewish law) differently and every stream has made some good points regarding treatment of women, educational opportunities, and approaches to human rights.
But all of this gets lost in the finger pointing. If the minhagim (customs) of any stream are not within your halachic understanding, then it is not for you and find your own path. I am not harmed at all by women wearing tallit and kippot, but it is not my minhag. And they are not harmed by women who choose to see those practices outside of the norm.
Live and let live.
For example, a rabbi I know (Masorti) would use an offhand joke when speaking to visitors in the kehillah from abroad. In talking about the egalitarian nature of the kehilla (valid and something to be proud of), he would compare it with the synagogue up the road as the “not-so-great synagogue” (not only not valid, but mean).
The desire to promote beliefs by denigrating others’ beliefs is beneath us as Jews. After listening to this being said a few times, I confronted the rabbi and he no longer uses that phrase. We can not say this enough: If, in an effort to promote your beliefs, you need to denigrate others’ beliefs, you are harming your argument, not enhancing the status of your beliefs.
Here is my caveat. When assimilated and secular Jews in America say Kaddish for dead terrorists, I will speak up. When I hear anti-Israel comments being made, even by other Jews, I will speak up. But I will not engage and will extricate myself from situations in which the norm has become “us vs. them” among Jews.
Halachic observance comes from within and denigrating other Jews regarding their observance is not proving that your level of observance is better. If you need to denigrate others to feel good about yourself, you are on the wrong track. Especially when it comes to halachic observance which requires thoughtfulness and knowledge.
Recently, a friend told me he had stopped into a Reform synagogue in Jerusalem on Shabbat and a video camera was set up. I laughed as a deflection from chomping down on my tongue and swallowed my thoughts of criticism. Looking back, I am so glad that I did not let the thoughts in my brain pour out of my mouth. It would have served no purpose. And it serves no purpose for people to overtly criticize Orthodox Jews, in all of our varieties, from the bima or at the Shabbat table, or publicly. And it serves no purpose for religious Jews to publicly scorn those less observant.
Am Yisrael just needs to do better.
Should we continue to mourn the destruction of the Temple in this day and age, when the Jewish people once again have sovereignty in the land of Israel? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
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