The war over MK Rabbi Dov Lipman is rising to a crescendo. The mouthpiece of the Ultra-Orthodox American establishment is the Yated Ne’eman. The Yated and its Matzav.com website are leading the charge to discredit and demonize Lipman in every way possible. Meanwhile, the Centrist Orthodox Americans are watching from the sidelines as they watch a potential hero go to zero. The Modern Orthodox Jewish community is becoming enraged as they see their values trudged upon by their charedi brothers and sisters.
It’s a mess.
Two important voices from the moderate camp have invited Lipman to speak. The RCA Convention will be headlined by Lipman and the BAYT Shul in Toronto is featuring Lipman as a Scholar in Residence the last week in June.
For these grievous sins, Lipman, the RCA, and BAYT have come under a severe assault of attacks from the Yated and Matzav. Articles calling for boycotts of these fine institutions, articles condemning the the decision makers and rabbinic leadership of both institutions, and of course articles enumerating the horrible sins of Lipman as ammunition for their war appear regularly in their pages.
The thrust of their arguments against Lipman focus on isolated incidents, out of context quotes, but most of all guilt by association.
I think this is a very important point. There are pundits who “connect the dots” to spin conspiracy tales on a daily basis. People believe it. Others just disqualify the opinions or ideas of others because they have a second cousin who gave money to someone else who has a nephew in Al Qaeda. People seem to be okay with this too. For some, guilt by association is actual guilt. For these people, who you know and with whom you associate determine your credibility.
Obviously, this parlor game is ridiculous. If you search long enough you can connect any two people in the world. Guilt by association is terrible way to make a point. Assuming that the two people are associated, there is no evidence that they agree on anything. They could hate each other. Or they could agree on one thing and completely disagree on another. It’s pure scare tactics and dishonesty to impugn people because of loose ties or even strong ties that they may have with others who might be different or even dangerous.
The same exact thing is happening now in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish media.
Lipman is in the same party as Yair Lapid? And Lapid’s father, Tommy, was virulently anti-orthodox? Lipman must also be anti-orthodox! The RCA asked Lipman to speak? The RCA must agree with everything Yair Lapid says too! BAYT invited Lipman for Shabbos? BAYT is clearly anti-Torah.
These are the arguments being made.
The non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t play this game. They would prefer to hear challenging ideas and thought provoking conversation than disqualify any dissenters by way of guilt by association. Does the RCA agree with every single thing Lipman says? Probably not. No two people agree on everything! Does BAYT co-sign every single thing Lipman has ever done? Of course not. But both institutions pride themselves on appealing to a broad spectrum of orthodox Jews and care passionately about matters of great communal importance. Thus, Lipman is a great candidate for a talk in both places.
But the uber-charedi world it doesn’t work like that. Unless someone is 100% kosher, they can’t get to the table. No matter how salient their points may be, they don’t have the opportunity to be heard. Worse, when two people are associated, and person A says or does something controversial, everyone runs to person B and asks if person B “holds of” what person A did. It’s ridiculous! People can disagree. People can have different opinions. Why is it even expected that if person B associates with person A they would agree with everything person A does? It makes no sense.
This is the best way to seek and destroy any dissent or debate. There is no room for dissent or debate when as soon as someone dissents or debates all that person’s associates are impugned and they are forced to distance themselves from the dissenter or debater. Nothing could be more chilling.
The other way is to analyze ideas, not people. Rambam writes “Hear truth from whoever says it.” These are wise words. The source of an idea is only secondary to the content of the idea. Great people can say stupid things and stupid people can say great things. It’s terribly insecure and unwise to automatically eliminate so many voices simply because they are guilty by association.
I believe that this is the primary issue that is at play here. Since Lipman is straddling two worlds, he is by definition persona non grata in the Ultra-Orthodox world. One can’t be for Torah and also cavort with people who are not for Torah. Therefore he is automatically wrong and all the rules of fair play and honesty are no longer relevant. He is a threat who must be stopped. He is not a voice that must be answered. This is the only explanation for the completely disingenuous and false attacks against Lipman.
It’s an old argument within orthodox Judaism. For some time now there has been resistance against fostering debate and conversation amongst people with differing views and perspectives. Worse, it has long been established that orthodox Rabbis may not sit on organizations with non-orthodox Jews lest it be perceived as endorsement of non-orthodox values. I don’t think it’s a great tactic, nor do I think it’s wise in the long run. Writing for Tradition Magazine, Rabbi Shubert Spero addressed this issue in 1966 and we can see how things have changed since then. Rabbi Spero was writing about engaging non-orthodox Jews. Engaging orthodox Jews wasn’t an issue in 1966.
Look where we are today. We still don’t participate with non-orthodox Jews. In fact the Yated recently addressed this very issue, going so far as to compare Reform Jews in the mid-20th century with the Women of the Wall and MK Lipman. The Yated takes for granted that it would be prohibited to work together with Reform Jews, the additional point was that this rule would also apply to WoW and Lipman. In 1966 Rabbi Spero was hopeful that orthodox Jews could participate with non-orthodox Jews. Here we stand in 2013 and orthodox Jews cannot participate with orthodox Jews who associate with non-orthodox Jews! It seems to me we are going in the wrong direction.
What will it take to change the tenor of discourse in the orthodox Jewish community? I don’t know. Maybe an Asifa. An achdus Asifa.
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About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.
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