Engaging the Orthodox

Rabbi David Eliezrie has an opinion piece in this week’s Forward — Bring Orthodox to Communal Table. As he points out, it’s a two-way street. The “mainstream” Jewish organizations are slow to reach out to the Orthodox, and the Orthodox are reluctant to participate in what he calls the “alphabet soup” of Jewish organizations. But, as he says, that needs to change.

As the number of Orthodox continues to grow, [Steven] Bayme had the intellectual courage to ask, will the establishment organizations make room for representatives of the community’s fastest-growing population? For all the liberal Jewish groups’ talk of pluralism, the answer is far from clear.

Establishment organizations have long been wary of engaging their more Orthodox brethren. When they do, they usually limit that involvement to the most liberal segments of the Orthodox world…

The very forum in which Bayme participated was indicative of this discomfort. The scholars at the AJCommittee seminar, all of a liberal bent, made repeated reference to “fundamentalism and extremism” in the Jewish world. It seems that if you observe Shabbat, keep kosher and follow the Shulchan Aruch you are automatically labeled a member of a fringe group.

Just imagine if Orthodox scholars had a major seminar and referred to the AJCommittee as “liberal extremists,” “ultra liberal” or “being on the fringe.” The front-page headlines would scream, “Orthodox attack AJCommittee…

To be fair, it’s not just the liberal establishment that needs to confront its prejudices. The Orthodox community tends to think in a narrow parochial fashion. Many Orthodox fail to recognize the achievements of the federations, the defense agencies and other groups. They need to start looking beyond their world and understand the broader Jewish community.

Change is already happening. The Associated Jewish Charities of Baltimore (the local Federation) has Orthodox participation at every level, including the directors of at least two of its agencies. Howard Tzvi Friedman, a prominent local businessman, Ner Israel alumnus, and long-time advisor to Project Genesis, is now the head of AIPAC.

A slow rapprochement will benefit everyone, but will inevitably affect the agendas of the various organizations. Rabbi Eliezrie’s full article is worth reading for his elaboration of the issues we’ll face.

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9 Responses

  1. HILLEL says:


    How do you reconcile this reconciliation with the ban on joining the New York Board of Rabbis, alongside of the Conservative and Reform clergymen?

    “BeHisChaBercha Im RaSha, HeFer E’ es MaaSecha-When you join those who abandon Torah, G-D destroys your efforts.”

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Informed judgments need to be made as to which of these organizations should continue with Orthodox participation or even direction, and which should be allowed to fade away. For example, the AJCommittee mentioned above serves no useful purpose, and survives mainly because of inertia. Where existing Orthodox organizations and existing non-Orthodox organizations have overlapping mission statements, some may be redundant.

    Impressive press releases, glossy brochures, and magazines showing well-dressed people giving each other plaques do not necessarily indicate organizational merit (this applies to Orthodox organizations, too). If we want to consider high-level participation in an organization, we need to do our homework, including a comprehensive financial audit and review of accomplishments.

  3. Harry Maryles says:

    As you probably know Rabbi Eliezrie is a Lubavitcher. Unlike mainstream Orthodoxy, they have never been shy about sharing the stage with other streams of Judaism where most of these organizations come from. They look at it as a Kiruv tactic to ingratiate themselves with non-O leaderhip. They may have a point about loosening the rules of engagement with non O streams of Judaism. But it is disingenuous to share a stage with them implying acceptance of their religious views while in truth they are as disdainful of them as are the mainstream Orthodox.

    This was made quite clear years ago during the height of the “Who is a Jew” controversy in Israel. Most non-O Jews thought of Chabad as the most tolerant stream of Orthodoxy. But the L Rebbe told them to protest any proposed changes in the law that might recognize C an R conversions. Boy were the Non-Os ever shocked to find out what Chabad really thought of their religious views.

    What they don’t tell these people when they shake their hands and praise them publicly is how much disdain they have for them religiously. Very deceptive and very wrong… no matter what their intentions are.

    I’m not sure if we should or shouldn’t be interacting more with non-O streams of Judaism. But whatever we do, it ought to be with honesty about our veiws and disareements… and not through deception… even if it is only deception by ommission.

  4. jr says:

    >>>Just imagine if Orthodox scholars had a major seminar and referred to the AJCommittee as “liberal extremists,” “ultra liberal” or “being on the fringe.” The front-page headlines would scream, “Orthodox attack AJCommittee…

    To quote a fellow blogger: When is there a conference, other than EDAH, where Orthodox scholars (or Rabbis, Gedolim, etc.) do not say these things and worse?
    It seems to me (I am Orthodox) that the only time Orthodox Jews (yes for the most part I am talking about the more right wing segment) want to sit at the “communal table” with the heterodox movements is when it comes to receiving funds, usually from the heterodox. In Israel it is even worse, a segment of the population expects to receive funds from another segment, and refuses to sit at any common table whatsoever. So before we cry foul at the exclusion of Orthodox organizations by largely heterodox ones, we should take a long hard look in the mirror and examine our own behavior.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    I thought that R Eliezrie made an excellent point. In fact, one can point to the example of none other than R Herman Neuberger ZTL who sat on the Federation board in Baltimore-thus gaining access, respect and support for Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in ways that otherwise probably would not have happened if the yeshiva had eschewed participation in a communal body .

  6. Neil Harris says:

    I read the article the day it came out and was impressed. The problem is that our own frum leadership isn’t united to begin with. I had heard that Rav Gifter was also involved with the Federation in Cleveland. The reality is that those of us who have to pay tuition can’t give as much to Federation causes as everyone else. However, Federation does a lot for our day schools and our causes. In Inidanapolis, IN the local Federation basically saved the local OU shul by helping to generously ease the financial burden of building a new roof.

  7. mycroft says:

    Of interest is that Steve Bayme went to YU. Of course, rough contemporaries of his there include Marc Stern of the AJC, and Daniel Kurtzer former ambassador to Israel and Egypt.
    After all we are Am Echad.

  8. Jewish Observer says:

    “Of interest is that Steve Bayme went to YU. Of course, rough contemporaries of his there include Marc Stern of the AJC, and Daniel Kurtzer”

    who says it is mutar to publicize these things? maybe they have children in shidduchim …

  9. Dovid Eliezrie says:

    It was suprising to see my article discussed on this forum. I think however a few points neet to made clear.
    1. In no way I am advocating joining the Board of Rabbis. There is a clear Issur from the Roshie Yeshiva issued decades ago. An Issur that was supported by the Rebbe TZL. In fact this Issur poses certain challenges. For instance when I was requested to provide a Chabad Rabbi for a TV broadcast to US liberal Rabbis by the UJC-the Federation umbrella- prior to Rosh Hashanah for a presentation of Chomer Ledrush. I told them no. I said we can not participate with Rabbi Dawn and Rabbi Larry etc. They where quite upset but we stood our ground.
    2. In a meeting just a few weeks ago with a top national Federation official on a delicate issue I told him clearly we in Chabad are guided first and foremost by Halacha and would not compromise. This was despite the fact that our position on that issue in prior years had caused a termination of major funding to us.
    3. We need to ask ourselves a broader question. It’s not just what we can get financially from them its how can we influence their agenda to have a greater reflection of Yiddiskiet. Today most top Federation officials have a connection to traditional Judaism-mostly to be honest due to interaction on a personal level. or through their extended families with Chabad Shluchim. Its not the leadership of decades ago that was hosttile personally to Torah.
    Dovid Eliezrie

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