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October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul, 5776
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Whose Judaism is it Anyway?

The tragedy that we face today is that everyone thinks they are the sole possessors of the answer.

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Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik



Today, we face a worldwide Jewish community that is arguably more fractured than it has ever been in the history of Judaism. Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative Jews are completely ignored by the frum community. In turn, the more liberal forms of Judaism often push back against Orthodox control of the rabbinate, and halacha. Modern Orthodox Jews are considered kofrim by a great many Chassidim. Anyone who goes to YU is demonized by the right-wing yeshivish community.

Neturei Karta is hated by everyone. Satmar is also disliked by many Modern and Centrist Orthodox Jews because of their views regarding Israel. In Israel, most secular Jews find the idea that Chareidim can get out of army service anathema to their sense of civic duty and pride. Some Chareidim in Israel consider the Israeli government to be comparable to the Nazis rule!

Because of Satmar’s power and influence, they get accomodated by Agudah, which is supposed to represent everyone! In certain extreme frum communities, women cannot wear red, own a cellphone, go to college, learn gemara, wear pants, walk around with normal hair, or talk to men. In others, all these behaviors are tolerated, and encouraged.

All this fighting, and I haven’t even mentioned Chabad… So the big question is, what will it take for the Jewish people to become united? Halacha leaves much room for creativity and flexibility. In Jewish theology as well, no one has a monopoly on truth. The Rambam can argue with the Raavad and the Ramban. Centuries later, the Rav, Emmanuel Levinas, Rabbi David Hartman, and the Satmar Rebbe can all have divergent theological positions while still remaining Orthodox Jews.

This is, in my view, one of the most beautiful aspects of Judaism. However, in recent times, people that don’t dress, speak, or look a certain way are thrown out of certain communities. It is a fact that if you are in Lakewood and don’t wear a white shirt or a black hat, you will not get good shidduchim. The fact that the girls you get to date rest on your clothing attire choices is ludicrous. And it’s just as ludicrous when the Satmar Rebbe wrote that the Holocaust occurred in retribution for Zionism and the Haskalah. And it’s just as ludicrous when modern orthodox Jews make blanket generalizations about ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Tolerance is a Jewish value. The Gemara (Eiruvin 13) brings down the dictum of Eilu V’Eilu, which practically means that in terms of halachic practice, both can be right. With that said, I turn the question to you. What is the single most important thing we can do right now to increase unity within Klal Yisrael? If you have a good answer, share it with everyone in the comments below.

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Michael Weiner

About the Author: Michael Weiner is a high school student at Kohelet Yeshiva High School.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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