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September 5, 2015 / 21 Elul, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘zealotry’

Leaning To Eliyahu: The Lubavitcher Rebbe, NCSY, And The Way Forward In Judaism

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

As I wrote last week in my Jewish Press front-page essay “The Argument Against Zealotry,” we live in a world of kana’ut – zealotry and extremism.

Kana’im fail to understand how demeaning their perspective and behavior is to their fellow Jews. Has their kana’ut enriched our community or our people? Has it added to our understanding of the world God created or the blessings bestowed upon us?

Rather than a zealotry defined by Pinchas, how much wiser to consider a religious fervor more like Eliyahu’s.

We commemorated the twentieth yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the 3rd of Tammuz and it befits us to consider the Rebbe’s example and how we can be uplifted and united by love of God rather than divided by it.

While Eliyahu is just as zealous as Pinchas, his way is neither loud nor insistent. It is gentle and caring, calming the pained baby at a bris, uplifting every family at the Pesach Seder, cheerfully bidding Shabbos farewell and wishing good cheer and fortune for the coming week.

The Rebbe inspired his followers to be like Eliyahu, to go everywhere in the world carrying the message of deracheha darchei noam – of a pleasant, loving, embracing Judaism – to each and every Jew.

So completely did the Rebbe personalize this accepting and loving zealotry that his thousands of shluchim go out into the world with the absolute belief that they have a relationship with him, not just his teachings. Such absolute devotion is astonishing.

Many years ago I worked as hard as I’d ever worked trying to recruit ten scholars to come to Pittsburgh to create a kollel. More often than not, I would be asked, “Pittsburgh? Where is that? What is there to do there?”

How I struggled to get scholars to come. And yet the Rebbe, gone for twenty years, continues to inspire young couples to travel to the farthest ends of the earth, to places where they have no friends, no network, no minyan, no kosher provisions, in order to establish a Chabad House.

There is no word to describe what they do, for their behavior is beyond sacrifice, beyond dedication, beyond commitment. Why do they do it? To fulfill the Rebbe’s desire that they reach out and touch everyJewish soul they can reach.

The Rebbe’s deepest message is clear: Embrace and accept. It is awe-inspiring to sit in a Chabad shul and see how many of those who enter are greeted with hugs and kisses rather than apathetic silence and neglect. To be sure, not every Chabad shita or hashkafa is embraced by other Orthodox Jews. That said, as a non-Chabad Orthodox Jew I cannot help but think there is much of Chabad’s approach we would do well to imitate.

How could it be otherwise? Is there any person who, given the choice, prefers being berated to being embraced? Is there anyone who would prefer to be pushed away and belittled rather than brought in and respected?

From the moment he arrived in America, the Rebbe saw that the way forward could only be the way of Eliyahu: teach, inspire, uplift, and encourage – and always with kindness and love.

Similar to the Rebbe’s approach, the Orthodox Union’s NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) engages and embraces. Celebrating its 60th birthday, NCSY was born at a time when many predicted Orthodoxy was on its deathbed. But people like Rabbi Pinchas Stolper and a cadre of visionary lay leaders recognized the Jewish future rested with our youth. They created exciting, motivational, inspiring, loving and embracing Shabbatonim in Orthodox synagogues throughout the country.

NCSY was successful in attracting Jewish kids to come to these non-threatening, joyous Shabbatonim. And now, some sixty years and tens of thousands of NCSY graduates later, we can see that the Eliyahu approach can and will continueto turn the tide of Jewish assimilation and ignorance in this country.

Telling it Like it is – Publicly

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

There is a thoughtful and challenging post by Dr. Yoel Finkelman on CrossCurrents that discusses an issue I touched upon in aprevious post. Therein – among other things – I bemoaned the fact that a Torah personality of renown chose to remain anonymous about expressing some very strong feelings he had. He was disappointed and even shocked at how members of his own Charedi world reacted to a Kiddush HaShem done by an Orthodox Boxer.

I don’t know who it is, but I applaud that Rabbi’s concern. However I still question why he chooses to remain anonymous about it. I felt then, as I still do that had he put the power and prestige of his own name behind his feelings instead of asking a prominent writer (Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein) to write about it, the impact would have been much greater.

Dr. Finkelman uses this as a jumping off point to ask why this Torah personality felt he had to hide his identity from the truth. If he truly felt he was espousing a Torah viewpoint, why not come out and say so? What was he afraid of?

Dr. Finkelman provides us with an answer: The infamous Kanoim (religious zealots). We all know about them by now. These are people who ride roughshod on rabbinic personalities and try and manipulate them under the guise of standing up for Torah values. There are consequences when a given Gadol doesn’t listen to them.

I recall an instance where a Torah personality said something similar to Jonathan Rosenblum about another important issue. He was afraid of being called a ‘Fake Gadol’ by stating his opinion on the matter. He therefore chose to not address the problem personally and allowed Jonathan to do it in his stead.

I have said it before and I will say it again. No matter how altruistic one is – if he is afraid to speak the truth out of fear of being attacked, that is not leadership.

Now I am sympathetic to someone that fears the consequences from a zealous group of ‘defenders of the faith’. If someone is not in a position of leadership that is one thing. But if he is, then he is required to stand up and to lead.

Although I do not hide behind an alias, I am not in a position of leadership and do not face the kind of zealotry that these Rabbinic leaders must face. However with a relatively large readership that spans the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy and beyond – I have certainly experienced some of that zealotry. It is not pleasant when it happens. And it affects my family. I almost stopped blogging a while ago because of it. But I feel it is important to speak the truth as I see it and understand it.  Occasionally I have suffered the consequences for that and have been attacked (verbally) on more than one occasion.

Whatever pressures I have felt, multiply that exponentially for a Torah personality of national or international repute. I therefore completely understand when a rabbinic leader fears the repercussions of his words. So even though our situations are similar, they are not comparable.

Perhaps it is easy for me to judge, not being in his shoes. But the truth is that if one is a leader one must rise to the occasion and overcome the fear. If we are to be a people of the highest morals, values, and ethics, it behooves our leaders to be unafraid to teach us what they are… even if it upsets a few zealots.

I would go a step further, if I were in his shoes. I would condemn these Kannaim and put them in their place publicly and de-fang them. They should be identified and told to cease and desist from the overly zealous pressure they put on their leaders. On the pain of excommunication (or something akin to it) by a Beis Din.

All of this begs the question about the actual value of Daas Torah as the Charedi Rabbanim teach it. The fact seems to be that there are issues they believe in which are not publicly addressed. And yet at virtually every Agudah convention at least one speaker, talks about the importance of listening to Daas Torah and hammers away at it.

Daas Torah defines what Agudah is all about. But if their rabbinic leaders cannot express their Daas Torah fully and freely out of fear, what is it really worth anyway? Partial Daas Torah is not Daas Torah. It behooves the membership of the Agudah Moetzes and other rabbinic leaders of prominence to reassess their fears and stand up for their beliefs. And not fear telling the people the word of God as they understand it.

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