Friday, August 02, 2013

Look In The Mirror Rabbi Birnbaum.

In the Yated, Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum finds himself in search of “Ahavat Chinam.”  He laments the fact that the American Modern Orthodox community expresses “unprecedented enmity” towards the Chareidi community.  According to him, we have Ahavat Chinam (baseless love) for those to the left of us, but for those to the right, only contempt.

It’s ironic, of course, that in the course of the article, instead of searching to find common ground between his community and the left upon which to build a foundation of love, he instead engages in bombastic “we’re better than you” chest thumping.  Instead of finding something good to say about the left, he instead chooses to accuse them of baseless hatred.

What Rabbi Birnbaum fails to realize is that one of the key issue at hand is legitimization.  Very simply, we recognize Chareidim as legitimate in terms of their observance of Judaism.  Yes, we may not choose to lead such a lifestyle ourselves, but that doesn't mean that we don’t think that learning Torah, restricted modes of dress or following the strictest possible interpretations of halacha are bad things – they’re just not what we do.

It’s too bad, however, that you don’t see the same tolerance from Rabbi Birnbaum’s community.  How ironic is it that he asks “Is there no baseless love left for Torah observant Jews who have a different view than you?” when it is this very same baseless love that is completely absent on a communal level from his side of the aisle.

While we on the left may have complaints on the way the Chareidi community does things, we don't seek to delegitimize the movement.  We view it as a fully valid form of Judaism, albeit one we do not observe ourselves.

Imagine the following scenario:  a nineteen year old Modern Orthodox youth, about to move out and embark on his own, goes to his parents and says in a serious voice “We need to talk.”  He then sits them down on the couch and says “I’ve decided to become more frum.  I’m going to learn more, I’m not going to have a television or cable in my home.  I’m going to keep Cholov Yisroel and dress only in standard yeshivish clothing.”

What would the parents’ reaction be?  Would they weep and cry and ask themselves the soul-searching question of “where did we go wrong?”  The answer, of course, is no.  They may have concerns about the welfare of their child (which parent doesn't?), but, on the whole, there isn’t going to be any real anguish over the situation, because the parents see yeshivish as a valid, frum lifestyle.

On the other hand, many Chareidi parents practically insider their kids "off the Derech" if they wore a kippah s'ruga (you know, the article of clothing that makes you partof Amalek according to Rabbi Shalom Cohen?) or didn't keep the strictest standard of halacha or even believed that there was value in secular learning for its own sake.   The Chareidi parents whose children become Modern Orthodox would likely spend the rest of their lives wondering what went wrong with their kid.

It’s ironic that Rabbi Birnbaum talks about intolerance of the left for the right when, in fact, the reverse is far more common.  You don't have those on the left screaming at little girls because they keep their particular brand of tznius in dress.  You don't see those on the left yelling at women who chose to sit in the back of the bus.  You don’t the Modern Orthodox community protesting against or threatening to shut down stores where there are separate shopping hours for men and women.  You don’t see the left causing a chillul HaShem at the Kotel by protesting Charedi women who don’t wear a tallis and choose to daven by themselves.

The real issue at hand is the very fact that, in the eyes of many Chareidim, we may as well not even be frum Jews.  I've heard of instances where people who aren't dressed as Chareidi or yeshivish weren't even counted as part of a minyan.

A friend of mine told me of a time when he was in an airport and a group of Chareidim/yeshivish people went looking for a minyan.  When they finally had one, one of the men asked if anyone was a chiyuv.  My friend said that he was.  The person asked again if anyone was a chiyuv, hoping to find someone more acceptable to him.  Again my friend said he was a chiyuv and was ignored.  The man then went ahead and began to daven for the amud himself.  Yes, this was only one incident and only one person, but it is this type of attitude toward those on the left and in the Modern Orthodox community that is pervasive in the Chareidi world.

Rabbi Birnbaum spends a great deal of time talking about the institutions that the Chareidi world has built – and, yes, they are great institutions.  No one argues that organizations such as Hatzalah, Misasksim and Tomche Shabbos are wonderful things, and no one seeks to take the credit away from the Chareidim and Chassidim who built and run those institutions.  Kudos to them and may they continue to do great things.  But that’s not really the issue here.  The issue isn't who does more chessed.  The issue is “do you really love us enough to consider us as Torah-observant Jews?”

We've all heard the expression that there are shivim panim laTorah.  However, the Chareidi community tends to take the Henry Ford approach to that maxim.  Ford was famous for saying “You can have the Model T in any color you want, so long as it’s black.”  Well, the Chariedi community is a bit more open than that.  They’ll recognize a different form of frum Judaism, as long as it’s black, onyx, obsidian, jet or ebony.

Until the Chareidi community learns to accept those on the left as legitimate, I can’t see how Rabbi Birnbaum can preach about Ahavas Chinam.  It is those on his side who do not love the left as a whole.  Yes, they may love us as individuals, but as a community, Rabbi Birnbaum’s claim of Ahavas Chinam for us falls flat.

I agree with Rabbi Birnbaum on one point - it is better to Look for Ahavas Chinam than to look for Sinas Chinam.  But perhaps, he should first tend to his own house before projecting his feelings towards others onto those saw others.  So, how about it Rabbi Birnbaum?  Can you bring yourself to say that Modern Orthodox Jews are fully Torah-observant Jews and that the movement is a perfectly valid form of Judaism? Can you bring yourself to publicly state that there is nothing wrong with living a Modern Orthodox lifestyle?  I'm not asking you to state that the movement is perfect -- heck, just as you acknowledge that the Chareidi movement has it's problems, I'll be more than happy to acknowledge that the Modern Orthodox community has it's own issues.  But will you recognize us as we recognize you?  If not, then perhaps you had better look at yourself before asking where the Ahavas Chinam is.

The Wolf