Last February 12, my post titled “I’m back in the middle again” appeared on this site.
It was a follow-up to an earlier post, “It’s lonely in the middle.”
A few people still aren’t talking to me, outraged that I dared to suggest that there’s anything wrong with frum Jews dividing themselves up into smaller and smaller enclaves, despite the strain upon already inadequate financial resources, or that fear of different legitimate hashkofos within Yiddishkeit is symptomatic of the very reason why the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed and we remain in galus.
I was delighted and gratified, therefore, when barely a week later the current issue of Jewish Action arrived containing an article by Rav Emanuel Feldman, in which the preeminent author laments the increasing divisiveness within the Torah community. I urge everyone to read it here.
With his characteristic eloquence, Rav Feldman laments a state of affairs wherein many Chareidim look down on Modern Orthodoxy as essentially irreligious while many Modern Orthodox prefer the company of irreligious Jews to that of Chareidim. Instead of looking toward the vast ocean of halacha and hashkofoh we have in common, we pick on the few differences, magnify them beyond proportion, declare they are symptomatic of some profound spiritual contagion, and keep our distance lest we or our children become infected by the ideological illness of the other side.
Frum Jews to the right or the left of us are not our enemies. Perhaps our children could benefit from experiencing the broadening reality of a multifaceted Torah community in which sincere people can recognize that their differences are a source of strength. A single school might have different tracks, with more gemara for some students and more secular studies for others. Weaker or less committed children would grow from association with more serious students, while stronger students would learn to feel a sense of obligation and connectedness to Jews not exactly the same as they are.
Would it not be good thing for the next generation of b’nei Torah to learn to appreciate other Torah Jews without having to “convert” them to their own hashkofic perspective or else invalidate them for being different? Could we not at least try a little harder to emulate the twelve tribes as they were back in the glory days of the Jewish people?
I have heard Rav Noach Orlowek comment more than once that he recommends families to choose smaller communities where frum Jews on the street say hello to people they don’t know, or to people from other shuls. As one who has lived in both types of community, I know the value of a “Good morning” or a “Gut Shabbos,” or even eye contact and a cordial nod. It’s a travesty that there are communities in which these are rare.
But why are we so afraid to show our children that Jews not exactly like us can still be good friends, good neighbors, and good Jews, beyond the five seconds it takes to say “hello”? Maybe, amidst all the different agendas, a little more mesiras nefesh for achdus should find a place at the top of everybody’s agenda.