How to Say “No” to the Non-Orthodox
Dr David Luchins spoke in LA today. Always a captivating speaker, the piece de resistance of his presentation was a fascinating Torah thought from R Ahron Soloveichik zt”l on how to relate to non-observant Jews:
A Mishnah in Yoma relates that before Yom Kippur, the senior Kohanim used to warn the Kohen Gadol not to make any changes in the avodah. He reacted by crying for their suspicions of him; they cried for having suspected him.
We understand the context. For 200 years, halachic Jews battled the Tzadokim/ Sadducees. The latter often controlled the Kehunah Gedolah, although they generally obeyed the instructions of the Perushim regarding details of the avodah. One of the more high-profile disputes concerned the avodah of Yom Kippur. The Tzadokim argued that the incense should be placed on the coals before the Kohen walked in with them to the Holy of Holies; proper halacha, on the other hand, mandated that the coals and incense be combined only after they were brought in. Chazal had good reason to seek assurance from the Kohen Gadol that he would follow halachic instruction, rather than Tzadoki practice.
But of what consequence was a verbal assurance from a misfit Kohen Gadol, who would not hesitate to lie and follow his own community? Furthermore, this procedure is cited by the Rambam in the Yad – the only “story,” if you will, in a halachic work. Why is this story important?
It is no story. The Rambam means to pasken this way for all time. Here is the background.
A midrash tell us that one year, the Tzadokim offered a negotiated settlement. They had designed a gadget that could hold two measures of ketores instead of one. It could be divided. On one side, the Kohen would carry ketores already ignited on the coals, Tzadoki style. On the other, pure ketores. Using this device, the Kohen could satisfy the requirements – or so they thought – of both the Perushim and the Tzadokim.
It couldn’t work, of course. We don’t compromise on matters of halacha. We had to say “no.” The Mishnah instructs us how to say no, whenever we have to do so. When the Mishnah describes the elder Kohanim as crying, it means to establish a halacha, not to tell a story. That is why the Rambam cites it. He means that whenever we deal with Jews out of the fold, and we have to tell them that we are unable to take part together with them, we should never speak with arrogance and pride. Rather, we should cry. We must tell them that our loyalty to Hashem and His Torah does not allow us to do what they ask – but they must see us shedding tears at having to keep ourselves apart from them.
A corollary of this is that when we are asked to join with them in something permissible, we must regard it as a mitzvah to do so.
חבל על דאבדן ןלא משתכחן
“We must tell them that our loyalty to Hashem and His Torah does not allow us to do what they ask – but they must see us shedding tears at having to keep ourselves apart from them.”
If the request can’t be fulfilled halachically—I’d say the tone of our response should be adjusted according to how the person posed the initial request, and whether that person’s disaffection from Torah Judaism is informed and deliberate or only due to misinformation. I wouldn’t cry all that much if the person was making a demand or trying to embarrass me.
This appears to me relate strongly to a halacha in the Talmud’s saying “le’olam yihye smol doche ve’yamin mekareves” – we MUST push people away (when we have to) in a manner that draws them close at the same time.
See the censored portions (now available in many places) that show that Christianity came about because Rav Yehoshua ben Prachya pushed his student Yeshu away too strongly. And see Gemora Sanhedrin (quoted in Torah Tmima at the end of VaYishlach) that Amalek came to be because the Avos pushed Timna away too strongly.
The guf between the frum community and the rest of the Jewish community is widening. A few generations ago, we lived in the same neighborhoods, davened in the same shuls and were often closely related to one another. Today, frum Jews daven in frum shuls, live in frum areas and have little if any social relationships with non frum Jews. It may be even more divided in Israel. here, at least, the “charedi” and the “modern” do often attend the same shul, at least in Baltimore and work together and live in the same area. I think that we frummies can’t comprehend how far away from observance our non frum fellow Jews are. No one keeps kosher style any more, if you aren’t frum, you eat cheesburgers. No one parks a block away and walks to shul. Even when it comes to Israel, we don’t see things the same way. The gulf is very wide and the demise of the Conservative Movement is making the gulf wider.
The Yehoshua ben Perachya story has been shown many times over to have absolutely nothing to do with J. Google it if you don’t believe me. It’s not even chronologically possible. There are zero references to him in the Gemara.
Poshiter Yid: First of all, “Google it” isn’t an answer in a discussion of sources. Second, many Rabbonim clearly disagree with you, as I’ve seen (if I remember correctly) in Sichot Mussar among other places. Third, a quick search around shows that many Rishonim and Achronim disagree with you, including (from what I’ve seen so far, I haven’t learned them inside yet) Abarbanel and Rav Yaakov Emden. Presumably many others may agree with you. Fourth, the issue of “missing years” or “disparity in years” was discussed (if memory serves) by Rav Aryeh Kaplan and many others, concluding with more sophisticated answers than “it’s just not true.”
Conclusion: You can certainly say “it’s not clear that the story was about the same Yeshu” and you can certainly say that “there are opinions that none of the Yeshu references in the Gemorah are J” but what you wrote is only one opinion of many.
All that aside, none of this takes away from our chiyuv to “le’olam tihye smol doche ve’yamin mekareves.”
You are mistaken. There are numerous references to Yeshu in the Gemara, just most of them have been censored from the Vilna edition that is the basis of the current version that is most widely available.
Obviously, not every “Yeshu” mentioned is that one, but there are some versions of the Talmud that are very clear who is meant. See for example, the Munich 95 version of Gitten 57a. There are Jewish story books from the the 1890’s and early 20th century that reference the story there and specifically say it is Jesus.
There are also versions of the Talmud in the Vatican archives that say the same thing.
As for the Yehoshua ben Perachya story, it is not so cut and dried. There are many who say that this is not the same Yeshu, but there are those that say it is. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe being one of them. Just because the chronology is off, isn’t possible that we are right and the standard Christian chronology of events is wrong?
I’m not saying it is the same Yeshu, I’m no expert; but there are certianly legitimate opinions that it is.
Regarding Rabbi Oberstein’s comments, the story is a bit more nuanced. Many trends working at once.
I would certainly agree that most O Jews do not socialize with non-O Jews (and vice versa)–and indeed, do not encounter them at all in any Jewish setting (and vice versa). This has many unfortunate consequences, and on the grass-roots level has led to much ignorance, misunderstanding, name-calling and worse (even as, at the executive level of YU, HUC and JTS there is considerable and even increased rapport).
But traditional rituals–ranging from kashrut to mikveh–are also becoming part of the “toolkit” of the non-O world, both institutionally and otherwise–a phenomenon that would have been unthinkable 50 or 100 years ago. This even as more Jews choose not to identify denominationally or institutionally. That said, Jews who do affiliated with a synagogue–regardless of denomination–often have much more in common with each other than with those who are unaffiliated.
“… whenever we deal with Jews out of the fold… we should never speak with arrogance and pride”
May we not even call them ‘chazir fressers’ as a long-time CC kibitzer is in the habit of doing?
Ok, I will grant you the disparity in understanding the J phenomena. That being said, I fail to see the leap from that and the possibility of his being “pushed away” by his rebbe who was saying Shema at the time, to the development of an entire new belief system and religion ultimately. I don;t think we need to concern ourselves with such things as the downfall of our people and the flight en masse to something more comforting and fulfilling, simply because a good majority of us prefer the separatist approach when it comes to gentiles. Or for that matter, when it comes to the non-frum element either.
If “L. Oberstein” is who I think and believe he is, then he knows quite well, as do I, a 50 year resident of Baltimore, that the divide is as much self-imposed as it is due to “natural” causes. And I believe that there is no solution to it. I have seen this community do exactly as he says, and have experienced all of it personally. The non-frum think we Orthodox dislike them as people, and that we wish to have nothing to dow ith them, except for asking for their money for our institutions. We collectively and admittedly think that they, for the most part, while possibly classified as tinokim shenishbaim, are as adamant about the denial of G-d and Torah as we are about accepting it.
The non-frum seem to go out of their way to take the most liberal bent on every issue, from chillul Shabbos to gay marriage. We, on the other hand, not only refuse to go there, but state openly that it is unacceptable and intolerable, and that 1 word, tolerance, is what it always boils down to. That, and “tikun olam”, which has come to be the raison d’etre for everyone who doesn’t want the yoke of Torah on their necks. It has become “better” to save the whales than to keep kosher, “better” to feed the Ethiopian children than to wear tefillin, and “better” to stop driving an 8-cylinder SUV than to keep Shabbos. So how are we supposed to battle that thinking? By inviting them for a cholent? That’s too simplistic and too laughable. Tikun olam is their religion now, much as Comunism was their religion before and after WW1. Cholent and zemiros won’t change it.
I can’t count how many negative comments and follow-up letters I have received, when I send a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times that talks about Shabbos and mitzvos and against gay marriage or anything contrary to Torah that goes on in the community. The non-frum liberals hate it with a passion. I become the symbol of the intolerant Haredi mindset that they despise. There is no longer a single thing that is not tolerated, except incest and bestiality, and I dare say they are next, C”V. Here in Baltimore, we have 2 reform “temples which have not just allowed, but openly invited and installed local church services in their buildings when the gentile congregation’s own church had a fire or otherwise needed a place. They hold such services right there where the Sefer Torah is kept. Are we to “tolerate” such evil without comment for the sake of being a light unto the nations? Not while I’m still breathing, no way, no how. And I’m amazed at how many wrote letters of support for the “good Rabbi” who was so sweet as to invite them. Amazed doesn’t even begin to describe the shade of red I was seeing when I found out about it. Frankly, I wanted to burn the temple down as well.
The branch has bent so far that in my humble opinion it is as close to breaking as it can get. I think drastic measures are needed, not coddling and crying and pretending that we are not in a crisis. A tzelim in a shul? A Jewish community center open on Shabbos? What is left to tolerate now? So no, I will not open my arms and doors to these Jewish criminals. I will not have them at my table to spout their heretical filth. I will not be dan l’kaf zchus any longer. It’s an outrage of the highest order that there are so-called rabbis who perform not only intermarriages now, but gay intermarriages, if there is such a thing. It’s an outrage that a Jewish Times publishes birth announcements for “committed” gay couples who have a bay. Instead of the right hand and left hand idea from the Mishna, we should be first sitting shiva, then start fighting back. We did it for a Rubashkin, we can do it for ourselves as well.
As an aside to this topic brought up by L. Oberstein, there exists another phenomenon that I have never understood. The largest Modern Orthodox shul, and by far the wealthiest in Baltimore, consistently has a full parking lot on Shabbos and overflows on the High Holidays, along with police traffic coordinators and all the hoopla that goes with it. Years ago, there was another Modern Orthodox shul that has since closed, that I used to attend and went to its Hebrew school as well. My family was not observant, nor was anyone else’s that I knew there in my class or otherwise, save for the teachers.
The phenomena is that I would guess conservatively that there were and are (at the one still thriving) not enough members to make up a kosher Shomer Shabbos minyan. We are talking about a few thousand members here, paying big dollars to attend an ostensibly Orthodox shul, and send their kids to its connected school, and none are observant. What is that about? Why do parents send their children there, and why do they partake overwhelmingly in the shul and its various activities, programs, events, etc, showing up in droves for the Megilla reading and Simchas Torah, when most, if not all, reform places are closed, yet they themselves eat treif, are mechallel Shabbos, etc? There has to be something to it. By the way, I used to be one of the park a block away and walk to shul on Shabbos that L. Oberstein refers to, and he’s right, it doesn’t happen anymore.
December 20, 2010 at 9:21 am
The Yehoshua ben Perachya story has been shown many times over to have absolutely nothing to do with J. Google it if you don’t believe me. It’s not even chronologically possible. There are zero references to him in the Gemara.”
Hazal didn’t come to teach us history-but what is very important is the result of what can happen when we push people away. Sadly, the atitude of pushing pweole away has become a desired result by many “my way or the highway” etc.
There has been a radicalization of positions in many quarters. However, in addition to a fashionable and regretable left-wing agenda, there are positive signs even in the reform movement and certainly in the formation of new RW conservative movements after 25 years of its moving left. We need to acknowledge the latter developments, without being condescending, while wholeheartedly rejecting any violation of halakha. It is sad but true, that the greatest positive religious influence on the former prime minister of Israel came from mussar addressed to him by the head of the reform movement. That does not speak well for orthodoxy; I think we orthodox jews can do better.
When these issues become communal issues, often for no positive purpose, positions harden. Outside the spotlight, RAS ztl’s advice becomes easier to follow. It is well known that RAS’s brother maintained a warm personal relationship with a few conservative rabbis while banning even hearing shofar in a conservative shul. They understood his position because they felt his sincerity.
Dr. Bill: “… the greatest positive religious influence on the former prime minister of Israel came from mussar addressed to him by the head of the reform movement.”
Can you give more details? Who? When? Circumstances?
“By the way, I used to be one of the park a block away and walk to shul on Shabbos that L. Oberstein refers to, and he’s right, it doesn’t happen anymore.”
Sadly it hardly happens anymore-not that those people have becomeshomer shabbos and go to shteibles but in general they and their children don’t attend anything anymore. It would be far preferable if they even attended non halachik synagogues then no connection with the Jewish people.
Probably most of the fallout would have happened no matter what we did-but some sadly is due to the raising of the bar and where frankly those who are not totally like us are effectively shunned.
“It is well known that RAS’s brother maintained a warm personal relationship with a few conservative rabbis while banning even hearing shofar in a conservative shul.”
The technical ruling was not to hear shofar in a synagogue of mixed pews. It is an interesting question since there is no current mass movement for acceptance of mixed pews in Orthodoxy-would the Rav have given this psak today. After all it was not based on technical halachik grounds-but on public policy grounds.
“Here in Baltimore, we have 2 reform “temples which have not just allowed, but openly invited and installed local church services in their buildings when the gentile congregation’s own church had a fire or otherwise needed a place. They hold such services right there where the Sefer Torah is kept. Are we to “tolerate” such evil without comment for the sake of being a light unto the nations?” – Poshiter Yid
Wasn’t there a court for the gentiles at the Temple in Jerusalem a little over 2,000 years ago ?
A generation or two, there was a much sronger ethnic identity. Jews in New York especially didn’t belong to a shul but knew a lot of Yiddish, kept more or less kosher in the house, and attended an orthodox shul from time to time. Those Jews are mostly gone and their children have no qualms about eating cheeseburgers and have no awareness that riding on Shabbos is inappropriate. The Judaism that has has remained is either more secular or more deeply religious. The orthodoxy of today is being pulled to the right because the ones who had the most success in inspiring the youth they reached are those who have very strong , uncompromising and often anachronistic beliefs. The prime example is the destruction of Slifkin and the retread from his defense by many who originally endorced him. How can anyone who gives any concern about attracting 95% of the Jewish People to observance demand that only one believes in the literal view of creation is not a heretic. If even the Rambam and Hirsch are no longer valid sources for believing that there is another way to understand creation, then the real meanng is this”We the true believes are the real Jews and the rest are lost”. This type of belief is very comforting and it attracts those who are confused and unhappy because it offers certainty. It also drives away most educated western Jews and closes the door to kiruv of anyone with any sophisticated understanding of science and history. In the olden days, Jews didn’t really care about this. They were Jewish because it was our way of life- tradition. Now, you have to believe enough to make the changes demanded of orthodoxy. Thus the success of the mnority is also a big turn off to the majority. I think that is a crying shame.
“It would be far preferable if they even attended non halachik synagogues then no connection with the Jewish people.”
Curious why you would say that. I don’t agree at all. Having been involved in Jewish outreach for many years, I haven’t seen any clear benefits associated with non-orthodox affiliation. I have an equal number of students who have never had any affiliation as those who’ve had some and the former are usually far less confused about Judaism and what it really is all about. Moreover, some of them only grew interested because they felt that they’d never been exposed to Judaism as opposed to many who’ve gone through the Con/Ref Hebrew School system and gotten turned off forever.
dovid 2: Rabbi Ellenson, the head of the reform seminary, was making havdalah after shabbat. a president of an Israeli university was astounded and said he had never seen it done before and was unfamiliar with the ritual. Ellesnson told Olmert that the anti-religious tilt in Israel, regardless of its origin, was leading to a disaster. the impact on olmert from the mussar was strong, at least as i read. (olmert is one who famously celebrated kedushat shabbat by eating chazir in a restaurant!) In recent months tzippi livni, as the new head of Kadima, has on occasion sounded more like a rebbitzen than a politician. while some will doubt their sincerity, i do not.
mycroft: i do not believe the Rav would give that psak today, given that little is in flux to the left; but that is highly debatable.
“A generation or two, there was a much sronger ethnic identity. Jews in New York especially didn’t belong to a shul”
Victor Geller in his book lists statistics of the number of schuls in Metropolitan NY from about 1940 to the next half century or so and the number of schuls has decreased greatly.
“The orthodoxy of today is being pulled to the right because the ones who had the most success in inspiring the youth they reached are those who have very strong , uncompromising and often anachronistic beliefs.”
How much of the change to the “right” is solely a Rabbinic change is an open question-see American Modern Orthodoxy:Confronting Cultural Challenges by Chaim Waxman. The following footnote of his may explain a lot of the “rightward shift” ” 7 This may, in part, help explain the perception of the “move to the right.” It may well be that Modern Orthodox rabbis,including those ordained at RIETS in the latter part of the twentieth century, were considerably more to the right than were their predecessors. In other words, the move to the right may have been within the RIETS semikhah (ordination)
program, under the influence of a revisionist approach to the thinking of its revered head, the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (“the Rav”), rather than within Orthodoxy as a whole, but is so glaring because rabbis are much more visible than the laity. On revisionism with respect to the Rav, see Lawrence Kaplan, “Revisionism and the Rav: The
Struggle for the Soul of Modern Orthodoxy,” Judaism 48,3 (Summer 1999): 290-311.”
““It would be far preferable if they even attended non halachik synagogues then no connection with the Jewish people.”
“Curious why you would say that. I don’t agree at all. Having been involved in Jewish outreach for many years, I haven’t seen any clear benefits associated with non-orthodox affiliation.””
Just to give one obvious example people are more likely to marry other Jews if they associate with other Jews.
The following from a letter by RYBS why he could not attend a dinner that will celebrate the dedication of a new Conservative synagogue he states that he will not attend because “My presence…would be tantamount to a tacit approval of mixed pews, aa thing which would greatly disturb my conscience…” However the Rav earlier had written: “… I do recognize the importance of this new house of worship forthe Jewish population of Brighton as a means of communal organization and unification…” Both quotres from page 126 Community Covenant and Commitment (a book of letters of the Rav)
“mycroft: i do not believe the Rav would give that psak today, given that little is in flux to the left; but that is highly debatable.”
I tend to agree-Certainly that is the current opinion of at least some who were probably the closest to the Rav.
What actions have Olmert and Livni taken to grow as Jews and help religious Jewish communities since their personal “changes” occurred?
you must be kidding! The religious communities are not their focus; i suspect most (chareidi)) religious communities pray that they do nothing to change the status quo. Instead, read livni’s recent stump speeches to her “north tel aviv” crowd, talking about increasing jewish identity. While i cannot judge her sincerity, i give her the benefit of the doubt. (Olmert is a tad pre-occupied these days.)
“The technical ruling was not to hear shofar in a synagogue of mixed pews. It is an interesting question since there is no current mass movement for acceptance of mixed pews in Orthodoxy-would the Rav have given this psak today. After all it was not based on technical halachik grounds-but on public policy grounds”
WADR, that is NOT the tradition I heard. When I attended RIETS, I heard from several RY’s that the basis for the psak was bekhukoseihem — since mixed seating had its origin in Xtian worship, and then was imitated by Reform and later Conservatice movements. (I believe that R. Herschel Schachter printed as much in one of his Nefesh Ha Rav series.) That is as valid today as it was 50 years ago.
And I am dubious about telling someone not to fulfill a deoraysa on “public policy grounds.” The Rav, as great as he was, was not the Sanhedrin.
How does using “Xtian” help matters?
WADR to those of you who can debate what the Rav would or would not do today, it would be a tragedy if centrist/normal orthodoxy became “toiteh chassidim” i.e. if they were like the Besslovers whose one and only rebbe has long died. I can bettr understand Lubavitch not replacing their Rebbe than mainstream orthodoxy keeping an empty chair forever. This is not a normal way for a vibrant stream of Judaism to function. Who has replaced “the Rav’ in 2011? In the many yeshivot are there no talmidei chachamim whose words can carry weight.
In the chareidi world,there are numerous names that are bandied about, but most are closer to 100 in age and one is concerned that their leadership is tethered to their gatekeepers. But, that is another issue.
L Oberstein, to better answer your question of who replaces the Rav ztl, think about who was like him in previous generations. Restricting him only to the combination of talmud and philosophy, he had no equal for at least the 200++ years before him. In the 20th century he had (a very few) equals in talmud and perhaps one or two equals in philosophy (both sets named in RAL’s shloshim hesped.) That is why he remains so much of a presence. In all due respect to RAK, RMF, RSZA, ztl and others, they had many an equal in pre-war Europe.
(BTW his knowledege extended to many a discipline. a maaseh Rav i witnessed was someone quoting a sefer to him that suggested a practice which he did not follow. He said: he (the author) knows as much about X as I know about, as I know about, as I know about, and then left the room still unable to name an area where his knowledge was so limited.)
Despite that I fully agree both from my very limited interaction and mainly through others, the Rav would recoil from being quoted about contemporay issues based on what he said at a different time and place. and i also agree that the MO/CO orthodox world he dominated, can do better in learning how to move on. However, if we are waiting for his equal it might take a tad longer than 2011.
Mycroft-the bottom line is despite RYBS’s praise for the heterodox house of worship, he would not attend its dinner nor approve of hearing shofar in such a house of worship. Cutting and pasting a letter cannot serve as a replacement for what we know was RYBS’s written record on these issues, which was recentlty supplemented by the drashos printed in RHS’s magnificient new sefer, Divrei HaRav.
Dr Bill: The great people of the previous generations were greater than those we have today. That is a fact. However, what we desperately need is a voice of normality, a leader who is cognizant with contemporary society and its realities. We need someone whose scholarship and leadership qualities are recognized who will speak on the tough issues and be respected. I am troubled to see numerous broadsides i.e. kol korei’s with the signature of top roshei yeshiva. Rabbi Moshe Heinemann told me this week when I mentioned one of these to him, “who knows what they told him”. Doesn’t that make the point ?
Rabbi Oberstein, I do not agree that our current leaders are not the equals of previous generations, with obvious exceptions of the 4-5 yichidai segulah of the last 200 years, who by and large were not poskim. I for one do not lack for rabbinic figures to whom I can turn, nor do I believe they qualify only under the “yiftach bedoro” rule. The issue is that not everyone is seeking what you call: “a voice of normality, a leader who is cognizant with contemporary society and its realities. We need someone whose scholarship and leadership qualities are recognized who will speak on the tough issues and be respected.” I suspect everyone requires the latter sentance without also requiring the former.
Quintessential Reb Aaron Soloveichik. The issue becomes what do we say no to and what do we co-operate with. The reality is that Conservative is a dying institution and Reform Judaism has little to do with Judaism. We Orthodox have to engage them as much as possible so there is no split. The battles of the past are over and Orthodoxy is here to stay. Conservative and Reform Judaism are teaching their congregants Am Haratsis. I attended a Bar Mitzvah in Encino, CA and I was depressed. I loved being with other Jews, eating Cholent in a conservative Synagogue, but their services are lacking. I would love to go back, bring in a dynamic rabbi, great choir and have an orthodox Minyan. Compare them to the greatness of Congregation Anshe Sholem in Chicago, which is modern Orthodox, and brings their people closer to Frumkiet. I may not be the right one to comment because I do have three kids that are barely Orthodox. I want to feel that they will remain in the fold and I want them to meet rabbis that are dedicated.