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Thoughts On Bridging The Great Jewish Divide

Silber-012012

We recently observed the 10th of Teves, which, historically, represents the beginning of the siege of Yerushalayim by Nebuchadnezzar. It was this siege that began a string of calamities that resulted in the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash.

According to some sources, it was on this day that Yosef was sold into servitude by his brothers – the first act of sinas chinam (baseless and unwarranted hatred) within the ranks of the Abrahamitic family.

Unfortunately, sinas chinam has lately been rearing its ugly head, with a vengeance, in Israel.

There are some who will claim that those who yell slurs at another Jew because he (or she) does not dress like them, look like them or believe like them are fighting for the honor of Torah. That calling someone a “shiksa” or spitting on a child is acceptable Jewish behavior. I call it a horrific desecration of God’s name.

Let us not, however, simply blame the haredim. A couple of weeks ago an 11-year-old haredi boy in Israel was hit in the face by two secular Jews. Is this what we have come to? After 2,000 years of Diaspora, when our children were beaten and abused by others, we pick up where the nations of world left off?

We know the individuals who perpetrated these acts do not reflect the feelings and beliefs of the larger groups with whom they associate and identify. But actions of individuals that go unchallenged by the masses soon become the acceptable norm.

No one group has the right to impose its beliefs on the greater public. No one group can claim to have cornered the market on Torah and Judaism and dictate how the collective must behave. We must learn that we can coexist beautifully even if we disagree vehemently. Creating a dialogue with a fellow Jew does not mean you have to accept or condone his beliefs or practices.

I say this to haredim and chilonim, chassidim and misnagdim, daati tzioni and haredi daati leumi; to Modern Orthodox, centrist Orthodox, left-leaning Orthodox, right-wing Orthodox, Conservative and Reform; to those from Lakewood, Yeshiva University, Chovevei Torah and every other group, denomination and faction.

People often ask me what my hashkafa is. I identify with the teachings of chassidus and gain much from the insights of Nechama Leibowitz; I am uplifted by the ideas of Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik and feel inspired by the Torah of the Satmar Rebbe; and I say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut with a berachah but do not feel that Religious Zionism is the most important aspect of Judaism. I wear a black hat and a velvet yarmulke but believe in engagement with the outside world.

So what is my hashkafa?

It’s simple. I’m Jewish. I believe in Hashem and that it is my responsibility to observe His Torah and perform His mitzvos. I believe I do not exist for myself but for the benefit of the klal and therefore it’s my responsibility to contribute to the Jewish people in a positive fashion. I believe we can impact the greater society without compromising our values and beliefs.

I believe Judaism is not about what feels good or is politically correct but what the Torah tells us we must do. And at the end of the day I believe v’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha (love your fellow as you love yourself) is not to be selectively applied to people with whom I identify but should serve as the guide for dealing with those to the right and left of us.

We all bear responsibility for the current state of affairs and we are all charged with trying to find a solution. There is no quick fix or particular selection of Psalms to remedy this situation, but allow me to suggest three things:

Engage your fellow Jew. There are times when a new person walks into shul and he can sit for an entire davening without someone coming over to wish him a Good Shabbos. Whether the person looks more observant or less observant, go over, connect and help build the Jewish people. When you pass someone in the street, make sure to greet him with a Good Shabbos. When thinking about whom to have at your Shabbos table, consider those who may not have a large social circle and include them at your meal.

Do more chesed. We are all busy with the various demands of life but we must make time to do for others. If the only things we are occupied with during the week are our own needs or the demands of our own family, we can forget we are part of something bigger. We must create time and open our hearts for others.

Spend less time focusing on hashkafa and more time focusing on Torah. We spend so much time trying to figure out what religious label to attach to ourselves even as we carefully analyze the hashkafic implications of every move in our shul and community. Let’s stop wasting our time. Torah is the great common denominator that unites us all.

I know these suggestions will not fully solve the challenges we face – but they are a place to start.

I hope and pray that just as the turbulent chapters in the relationship between Yosef and his brothers paved the way for familial unity and connectedness, these difficult times will inspire us to do our part in bridging the divides and healing the wounds while we always keep in mind how fortunate we are to belong to such a spectacular people.

Rabbi Shmuel Silber is rav of Suburban Orthodox Congregation in Baltimore. He is also an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and a senior lecturer at the Women’s Institute of Torah. He can be reached at rabbisilber@suburbanorthodox.org.

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We recently observed the 10th of Teves, which, historically, represents the beginning of the siege of Yerushalayim by Nebuchadnezzar. It was this siege that began a string of calamities that resulted in the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash.

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