Our Penchant For Defining Ourselves By Excluding Others

  • 0

In the comment threads that follow the two posts I wrote about Esther Petrack (who has been eliminated from ANTM) (Esther Petrack: Modern Orthodox Jewish Girl on America’s Next Top Model Drops Shabbos on Television and Esther Petrack’s Mother Speaks: Esther is observant, it was all editing) I noticed something that I feel needs to be discussed.

Much of the conversation was about whether Esther could be considered “Orthodox” or “Modern Orthodox” in light of her decision to model. The first comment thread assumed that she dropped Shabbos (even though we knew it could be editing and my post was not about her per se) and the second thread assumed that even if she kept Shabbos there was a problem with her modeling.

Quite a few commenters found the need to “draw a line” between what they do and what Esther did. Some said she desecrated God’s name. Others said that violated a law and not being ashamed is enough for them to be ousted from orthodoxy or modern orthodoxy. I debated the merits of those claims on the thread (and even received a number of emails thanking me) and I don’t care to debate them further.

What I find most interesting is this need that has been expressed to self define by whom we exclude.

This phenomena is part of what drove the “separate but equal” laws of the first half of the 20th century. Sure blacks couldn’t be used as slaves anymore, but by excluding them from social life, and certain privileges the white majority still felt superior.

In politics you’ll see the same kind of lines of demarcation drawn. Someone is only as right or left wing as they are compared to the next guy. So political groups find it necessary to define themselves by who and what they are not. The last two major election campaigns (’08, ’10) both focused on change. “We are not like them”.

In religions it is the same way. Folks want to feel superior or more authentic so they say “we are the REAL ____ [Jews / Christian / Muslims (/ Atheists)]. Huge sects of Christianity and Islam are built on this principle. Judaism is smaller and has been united by common persecution so these tendencies may have existed but it did not yield similar results.

Once Jews were freed from the ghetto this phenomena found its way into Judaism. Different sects within Judaism formed and people began to define themselves by whom they were not like. Most people do what their parents do. It wasn’t a conscious choice, yet they self define “real Judaism” as their version. And their version can be so narrowly construed that no one else can fit in to their little world. It’s isolationism at its best.

This is what many Modern Orthodox Jews find so disturbing about Charedi Judaism. The Charedi establishment excludes non-conformists. This includes in action and in thought. For example Rabbi Natan Slifkin performs the same actions / mitzvos as the Charedim. But he is excluded for his thoughts. On the other hand, those who look the part but don’t act like Charedi Jews are also excluded. For some (maybe most) this doesn’t affect them because they have self selected themselves out of the Charedi world. But for Rabbi Slifkin who self selected himself as a Charedi Jew, this created a personal conflict. Subsequent to the entire affair he self excluded himself. The merits of Rabbi Slifkin’s opinions and the merits of the Charedi criticisms are not relevant. The point is that he was excluded for his thoughts.

Modern Orthodox Jews are more inclusive. There is a broader range of activity and thought that is acceptable. But when someone so much as tiptoes over the line they are out. Rabbi Avi Weiss dared tread just across the line and everyone and their grandmother has “excluded” him or proclaimed him to be “beyond the pale”. The truth is that Modern Orthodoxy is more inclusive but only because they have a broader definition of what is acceptable thought and action. However, going outside that self-defined perimeter means you are outside Modern Orthodoxy. There is not more tolerance, just more tolerated activity.

The same thing drove the comments that ousted Esther Petrack from Modern Orthodoxy. Esther’s mother wrote that her family goes “mixed swimming” (and wear bathing suits in public). This is an accepted action within Modern Orthodoxy. (Forget halacha for a minute, this is a social issue, not a halachic issue.) Yet, Esther’s modeling was outside what some people want to define as Modern Orthodoxy so she is out. Esther self defines as Modern Orthodox. Somehow people think they have a right to tell others how they are to be defined.

How does it help Modern Orthodox Jew be a better person or a better Jew by excluding Esther? What is the motivation?

It’s the same phenomena. People need to feel better about themselves and they take the feel good shortcut by telling themselves and others that they are better / more important / more religious / more privileged than someone else.

Isolating others from the place that they define as their place is self serving. Further it can hurt others. Esther is 18 years old. If you care about her as your sister and you want her to be successful professionally and more importantly, spiritually then you would be best served offering her support and reminding her that we are her family no matter what.

Teens who are at-risk are the darlings of the Orthodox Jewish community. Money, time, resources, blog posts and magazine articles are dedicated to solving their problems. Do we hear anyone trying to exclude them from the places they want to be included? Of course not. I am not equating at risk teens and Esther. All I am saying is that even we have come to understand that inclusion is a much more powerful tool than exclusion.

This is not just about Esther. It is about being inclusive. Halacha tells us how to act. It doesn’t tell us to exclude those who may not follow halacha to the standards that we arbitrarily create.

Above all else: V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha, zeh klal gadol baTorah.

  • Dov Kramer

    I’m not convinced it’s as nefarious as you (and others) make it out to be. The purpose of defining the lines of acceptability and unacceptability is not to exclude others (whether to pump up the ones doing the excluding or for other reasons), but to define who they are and what they are about. An (unfortunate) by-product of making distinctions is that it causes such exclusion, but it is a by-product, not the purpose.

    That being said, it behooves any right-minded frum person to keep in mind that this by-product does result, and to be more sensitive about how things are said, when they are said, and to whom. Unfortunately, most people don’t think about how doing things for themselves impacts others, and the unfortunate by-product of exclusion that results from defining themselves isn’t even on their radar.

    IMO, in order to improve things, rather than trying to mandate that lines aren’t drawn, or trying to blur the lines so that exclusionary attitudes are less prelavent, we must focus on highlighting how wrong not taking others into account is. This means giving at least equal time, in sermons, blogs, etc., to the wrong being done by others because of how that wrong impacts others, rather than mostly on what’s wrong for the soul even if it doesn’t impact others as directly.

    • It’s not nefarious. It is self centered and exclusionary.

      Most of all, it is a meaningless and useless exercise that people use to retain their personal level of comfort.

      But of course, teaching others that they need to think about how their proclamations hurt others is a wonderful idea.

      • I agree with you Rabbi Fink AND I agree with you too Dov. People draw lines and create separate groups in order to feel part of a community. It is an expression of the human psyche that wants to associate with like-minded individuals. It happens in every society, in every denomination, and in every kind of group that exists on Earth. Left-wing liberal also limit who can belong and the moment that you begin thinking outside of their box you are thrown out. The same goes for the right-wing conservatives.

        Rabbi Fink has a great point in terms of groups that define themselves as inclusive. Most are not. Most groups have just expanded their tolerance and therefore happen to include more people. But yes once you go outside the line, as my future Rosh Yeshiva (mertz Hashem) did one is ostracized and cast aside. There are very few groups which tend to be inclusive for the sake of inclusiveness. But they do exist and we can all learn a lesson from them.

        In terms of Halacha, absolutely Halacha (at least used to be) as inclusive as humanly possible by looking at the context and concerns of a given law then applying those to the current situation and circumstances while trying to include as many conflicting needs and humanly possible.

        This way of thinking: inclusivity (not a word but i enjoy coining non-words so why not) needs to be thrust back into society and taught to as many people as possible. It is only through attempting to still our bias, and like Dov said teach that everybody’s opinion is valid in its own right, and respecting that validity that we can acheive a unity of man (or at least countrymen or at least Jews or at least Orthodoxy) that one can only dream about. (btw, I definitely know this is idealistic, but a little can be good for us now and again)

        • Curtis

          Don’t you have it backwards. We have the lines drawn for us by parents, teachers, friends, and community; then we spend the rest of our lives re-drawing.

          And isn’t any group that exists to be inclusive merely chaotic?

          • klc

            “everybody’s opinion is valid in its own right” i don’t understand the meaning of this pronouncement in the context of Judiasm. opinion not based in the tradition is just a personal opinion, not a valid expression of jewish thought.

  • Curtis

    You speak goobledygook well. Obama said about the same thing: “it’s not our borders that define us.”

    Classic logic: A is A; A is not non-A.

    I think Dov says it well (define who they are and what they are about) although too kindly. You’re trying to be too smart and it makes you stupid.

    There are some who exclude others based on a need to feel superior. I find it’s usually those with too much progressive education in their heads.

    Here’s some words that you might find handy to those who agree rather too vehemently that inclusion is more powerful than exclusion: No. You’re wrong. Stop. Leave. I’m dialing 911.

  • Shimon

    I imagine you are familliar with Adam Fertziger’s fascinating work on this topic but I think it is worth linking anyways: http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/toc/14135.html

    • I was not. Thank you for the link.

      • Shimon

        well worth the read.
        you can get a taste here: YU Torah.

  • Jeffrey

    What’s so crazy is that Jews will rush to claim non-frum celebrities as Jews (Sammy Davis, Rod Carew, Bob Dylan etc) with an absolute pride. Some people dig and explore and then assert that people like Elvis etc. were REALLY Jewish (‘His grandmother’s grandmother on his mother’s side…or some such thing) And they proudly stake that claim like as if he put tefillin on everyday.

    However, if a celebrity claims ‘orthodoxy’ we immediatey look for every possible violation or lapse in practice.

    At times like this I reminded of something Berel Wein once said ‘With our history of persecution and exile ~ someone is to be commended if they just call themselves Jewish’ I’m paraphrasing. He’s so right.

    Esther is just one example. If she had just gone on the show and not said anything about her observance or even is she was not-frum ~ she would have had only positive press including from the frum. Just one of those things.

  • OTD

    Well done. If more Orthodox people were like you it may actually be something worth salvaging.

    • 🙂 Thank you.

    • Curtis

      OTD, your ODP (overdose on pride). How dare you, sir, or should I say, hippie, summarize thousands of years of scholarship and life and survival and beauty with the words “something worth salvaging.” How dare you. I demand a retraction and a public apology.

  • Curtis

    Let me ask a question. Say all of America wanted to become Reform Jewish. All of America took classes. Then, tell me, would the converts have to adopt any Reform Jewish practices at all, or in the interests of inclusivity would any lifestyle be respected. If any and everything goes, what’s the difference between a gentile and a jew. The truth is that Reform Jews are still a whole lot more exclusive, at least in their behavior, than they will admit. What a thing! Like Morranos of the past, Reform Jews hide their Jewishness by saying one thing and doing another.

    • Curtis,

      “Who is a Jew” is not self definition. That is the difference.

      • klc

        i know lots of halachikly non-jews who self identify as jewish. for the non-O, that is accepted as adequate, no matter what the lifestyle.

  • Yank

    Rabbi Fink,

    Do you exclude Reform Judaism from Judaism? (My question is not if they are Jewish.) Do you draw the line against pork-eating homosexual-marrying “rabbis”, and consider it to be beyond the pale of Judaism?

    If so, you are a hypocrite based upon your above writings.

    • I’m not a hypocrite. You need to work on your reading comprehension.

      Reform Jews SELF DEFINE as Reform Jews. That is the difference.

      • Yank

        The Reform vehemently insist they are religiously practicing Judaism. You exclude that possibility. You draw a line. They are not Jewish “rabbis” in your book, despite their insistence to be included as such.

        Ah, so you “draw the line” against the Reform insofar as Judaism is concerned. They are “excluded” from being practicing Jews.

        Yes, you are a hypocrite.

        • Again. They are practicing religious Judaism. Perhaps not to the standards of Rabbinic Judaism. But theirs is still a religious Judaism.

          They identify as Jews. They are Jews. Some identify as religious. They are religious.

          They are not excluded from being practicing Jews.

          • Yank

            But theirs is still a religious Judaism.

            With that POV, there is nothing left to discuss. (Religious, ok. Reform is a “religious Judaism”??)

            • I direct you to the definition of religious.

              http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religious

              Not YOUR PERSONAL definition.

              THE definition.

              Reform Jews are religious.

              • Yank

                I granted they can be called religious. I said their religion is not Judaism. You said their religion IS Judaism.

                • It is religious Judaism. Maybe not yours or mine, or chazal’s, or even God’s but it is a system of religious activity based on Judaism.

                  • Yank

                    but it is a system of religious activity based on Judaism.

                    So is Christianity, in that sense.

                    Is the Pope practicing Judaism too?

                    • Christianity began with Jews. It is not based on Judaism.

  • Yank

    Reform Jews SELF DEFINE as Reform Jews. That is the difference.

    Jews for Jesus self-define as Jews.

    Are they Jewish? Or do you “exclude” them too?

    Is there a line in the sand somewhere? Or there is no land, and Jesus is an acceptable belief?

    • Yank

      *Or there is no line

      • Messianic Jews are Jewish. They are apostate Jews or tinokos shenishbu, but they remain Jews.

        • Yank

          And I guess you’re forced to consider the Black Hebrews that harass me on the streets of Manhattan, as Jews too. After all they keep yelling at me that they are “the real Jews”.

          You don’t dare exclude them from their SELF DEFINITION, as you so aptly put it.

          • I don’t know a thing about them.

            What is your basis for saying they are not Jews?

            • Yank

              From Wikipedia:

              Black Hebrew Israelites (also Black Hebrews, African Hebrew Israelites, and Hebrew Israelites) are groups of people mostly of Black African ancestry situated mainly in the United States who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Black Hebrews adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism. They are generally not accepted as Jews by the greater Jewish community, and many Black Hebrews consider themselves — and not mainstream Jews — to be the only authentic descendants of the ancient Israelites.
              _____________

              But surely the good Rabbi Fink does consider them to be authentic Jews.

              • They may be Jews. What do I care?

                My entire point is that you and many others have an unhealthy need to decide what other people are.

                WHO CARES?

                • Yank

                  They may be Jews.

                  WOW. What more can I say. One fine morning these people wake up and start newly self defining themselves as Jews, and lo and behold the Rabbi on the Beach at the Shul on the Beach agrees!

                  Puff, the Magic Dragon

                  • I didn’t agree.

                    I conceded that I have no idea, nor do I care.

                    You still have not explained why YOU care so much that you have gone through these pseudo-traps to prove a point??

                    • Yank

                      Forget who the Black Hebrews are. If a Buddhist wakes up one morning, abandons Buddhism, “self defines” himself as a Jew, declares himself the Kohen Godol, and builds a Beis Hamikdash to offer sacrifices, are you going to “exclude” his self definition of being a “Jew”? If so, you admit self definition is irrelevant, unlike your above claims. IOW, your premise of this article is all off.

                      And if you feel “WHO CARES”, why do you have the need to defend the self definition of anyone?

    • Yank, our (Orthodox Judaism) definition of a Jew is:
      * Born of a Jewish mother
      or
      * Converted to Judaism properly

      And the Reform have their own definition that is a bit different than ours. However, any Reform Jew that also meets our definition is a Jew. End of story.

      It’s really that simple.

      • Yank

        Indeed they are Jewish. (At least a portion of the Reform. They count in paternal descent, fake converts, etc.) But none of the Reform are practicing Judaism.

        • Yank – But none of the Reform are practicing Judaism.

          They are not practicing Judaism as an Orthodox Jew sees it, but they are practicing Judaism as a Reform Jew sees it. Just like I, as a Modern Orthodox Jew practices Judaism in a way that an Ultra-Orthodox Jew might think isn’t authentic Judaism.

          Shabbat Shalom Umevorach everyone!

  • Forget who the Black Hebrews are. If a Buddhist wakes up one morning, abandons Buddhism, “self defines” himself as a Jew, declares himself the Kohen Godol, and builds a Beis Hamikdash to offer sacrifices, are you going to “exclude” his self definition of being a “Jew”? If so, you admit self definition is irrelevant, unlike your above claims. IOW, your premise of this article is all off.

    And if you feel “WHO CARES”, why do you have the need to defend the self definition of anyone?

    Insofar as it relates to me, I would not follow this fellow to his Temple. It is entirely insignificant to me what he does with his free time. I don’t care.

    And I care that others shouldn’t care.

  • E Fink – How does it help Modern Orthodox Jew be a better person or a better Jew by excluding Esther? What is the motivation?

    I’ll describe a different, and very real, scenario. At my place of work, I am the only Orthodox Jew. There are also many Reform Jews working with me. All my Jewish co-workers take the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off each year to attend services at their temple. I, on the other hand, take both days of Rosh Hashanah, 2 days of Sukkot, 2 days of Shemini Azeret/Simchat Torah, up to 4 days of Pesach, and 2 days of Shavuot off each year. And people have asked, and continue to ask “Hey, those guys are all Jewish and they don’t take off all those Holiday days!”, and I have to repeatedly answer “Well, they are Reform and I am Orthodox, and we have different rules regarding working on holidays.” And that invariably leads to questions like “But I thought Judaism is only one religion, how can you have different rules?”, etc. So, while I certainly don’t condemn my non-Orthodox co-workers, I do have to exclude them, even verbally, from my sect of Judaism to effect my explanation above. There is simply no choice in the matter.

    I think the same might apply to potential marriages between an Orthodox Jew and a Reform Jew whose mother isn’t Jewish but whose father is Jewish. According to Reform rules, that person is Jewish, but according to Orthodox rules, that person is not Jewish. And that leads to lots of problems for a couple that wants to get married in the Orthodox manner and live within the Orthodox community. But it poses no problem at all for a couple that wants to be married in the Reform manner and live in the Reform community.

    What I am pointing out using the above examples, is that many of these divisions are done out of necessity. But the additional divisions, those that are needless, those that are put in place due to spite and even malice in many cases, are evil and ought to be done away with. And they are clear violations of the principle of V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha.

    A perfect example of a needless division is drawing a line placing Esther Petrack outside of Orthodoxy after it was made clear to us that she remains committed to Orthodox Judaism,and did her utmost while working for the show to maintain her practice of Jewish law.

    • And the non-orthodox Jews have self defined as non-orthodox Jews. You’re not saying they are not Jewish and they are not saying that either.

      You all agree.

  • I think it is important for people to understand the difference between different types of Jews. I, for one, do not want people to look at me and think they understand my situation. Just because other people call themselves Jews does not mean others should look at me and think I am just like them. For example, I recently was put in a situation where the administration at my school COULD NOT understand the idea that I could not come in and take a test on Succos. They told me, “But you could take the test if you really wanted to.” I replied, “No, that is conservative or reformed Judaism that you are thinking about.” They said, what is the difference?

    So, the fact that other people try to define themselves as Jews DOES effect me, no? That is why I should care.

    If some Rabbi gets on television and starts spewing false ideas against homosexuals and outright hate, should I not be upset that he calls himself an orthodox Jew? (Yes, homosexuality is against the Torah, but many things he said was foolish and a misrepresentation of how to deal with it.) I am disgusted that he gets to call himself an orthodox Jew and make a huge chilul Hashem. Also, he makes me look bad and now, any homosexual that watched his interview will immediately associate me with him. Is that fair?

    I do think we should define ourselves based on what the standards of being an orthodox Jew is. We need not compare ourselves to others, but define WHAT WE ACTUALLY ARE. The main ideas are shomer shabbos, taharas hamishpacha and kashrus. However, there is much more than just that. Can I be a porn star and honestly call myself an orthodox Jew?

    People might have a right to self define. However, when their self definition effects others, is that still their right?

    What if a guy in UCLA wants to call himself an orthodox Jew. In his class there is an actual orthodox Jew. When the time comes for a test on Rosh Hashana, the guy who just calls himself an orthodox Jew shows up and the guy who keeps the halacha does not. The teacher then goes on to accuse the guy who didn’t show up of lying. “The other guy who is an orthodox Jew showed up, so why couldn’t you?” Is it then right for the guy who isn;t actually orthodox to call himself orthodox?

    however, just because they shouldn;t call themselves orthodox doesn;t mean we shouldn’t love and respect them.

    • E-Man:

      I never said they are no differences between Jews. And you make good points about when it might be NECESSARY to explain, in a private situation, the finer nuances of who is observant of which laws.

      It is not necessary to make public proclamations of whom we approve and whom we don’t when it does not affect us. I think the reasons people do it anyway are outlined in the post.

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  • Curtis

    I well understand a Jew is a Jew according to what Mark said: Born of a Jewish mother
    or converted to Judaism properly (so you get to keep Pamela Geller). What I found “extraordinary” about the post was its denial of logic and reality. We are who we by who we aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t be afraid to discriminate. It’s not a bad word.
    G-d divided . . . The Shabbat is holy . . . by what else than G-d’s command. The Torah is the standard of G-d’s instructions for righteousness; you are still Jews, of course, if you define another standard. But don’t expect me to believe that it’s a good thing for everyone to make their own standard (and that’s what it seems to me. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there doesn’t seem to be even a pretense that it’s an interpretation of Torah; it’s a wholesale piece of idolatory in crafting a new and false Torah) and then hold “inclusive” parties. Call yourself an observant Jew if you will; make up a new crazy type of logic that allows you to do that, okay; just don’t expect sane people to call you anything less than an apostate.

    Now if you are saying that Torah is still the standard and that “inclusiveness” is an interpretation, then that’s better. At least its not outright apostacy. But then you have the problem of explaining such an interpretation. And run into the logical fallacy problem.

  • Izzy

    I am suprised that no one has pointed this out yet, but there are many examples in halacha where defining a Jew a certain way is halachikly determinitave, and often these definitions are by exclusion. Some areas of halacha where defining a Jew a certain way is determinative are: kashrus, eidus, yichud, trumos and maasros, shechita, yayin nesech, etc. Some examples of these definitions are: mumar leteavon, mumar lehaches, chaver, am haeretz, maimon, apikores, b’chlal amecha, not bechlal amecha, shomer shabbos, etc. Some more modern examples of this are the opinions of RMF and other moden day poskim re: Conservative/Reform kedushin, Conservaitve/Reform gairus, participating in synogouge councils with Conservative/Reform, etc. A very recent example would be R’ Hershel Schachter’s (alleged) opnion that ordaining women as Orthodox Rabbis is categorized as yaharog ve’al yaavor. So whether you like it or not, these definitions have important halachik ramifications.

    Halacha aside, its really not practical to live a frum lifestyle without making use of these definitions. For example, if one were to join a Jewish/frum dating site, they are usually required to self identifiy as some type of Jew, so that other people will know what they are about. If I were thinking about moving to a community, I would inquire about whether there are Orthodox schools and shuls, etc in that community. I imagine that if you had a shailoh to ask, you would not ask a rabbi that identifies himself as Conservative and Reform. I would also imagine that if somebody wanted to join your shul, they would want to know whther you are Orthodox, whether the shul is Orthodox, and maybe even what kind of Orthodox. I have Conservative/Reform Jewish friends, and they would not be upset that I describe them as non-Orthodox. Same thing with local non-Orthodox shuls. Really, the only time there is a conflict regarding this issue is when an individual or group wishes to self identify one way, and others take issue with that self definition. As you pointed out, a good example of this is Rabbi Avi Weiss. While I personally disagree with those who would define him or his students as “beyond the pale of Orthodoxy,” I dont disagree with the need to come up with a working definition of what Orthodox means. I am sure there are times when Avi Weiss is required to make distinctions regarding who is and isnt Orthodox. The only disagreement is regarding the parameters of the definition.

    • Izzy: Really, the only time there is a conflict regarding this issue is when an individual or group wishes to self identify one way, and others take issue with that self definition.

      That’s true. The post is more about why we do it then when we need or need not do it.

      Personally, I find definitional barriers offensive unless absolutely necessary (as I wrote to E-Man).

      • Curtis

        “The mind wants to live forever, or to learn a very good reason why not. The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness… The mind’s sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs over easy. The dear, stupid body is easily satisfied as a spaniel. And, incredibly, the simple spaniel can lure the brawling mind to its dish. It is everlastingly funny that the proud, metaphysically ambitious mind will hush if you give it an egg.”
        — Annie Dillard

        In the above articulation by Annie Dillard which rather nicely characterizes the two spheres of natural versus spiritual, is there any reason to conclude knowing “why” is possible. It is what is. And you don’t get to peer behing the curtain. Because it is the Glory of G-d to conceal a matter.

      • Izzy

        A few points:

        1) I dont think you can compare “MO Jews excluding Avi Weiss” to “MO Jews excluding… Esther Petrack.” In the case of Avi Weiss, there was a lot of attention from the press (both Jewish and secular) and blogs, rabbinic literature, and most significantly, a decision, reached by membership vote, of the major MO rabbinic body to reject Avi Weiss’s hashkafah. In the case of Esther Petrack, you had a handfull of bloggers commenting on her appearance on ANTM.

        2) Your stated preference is not to define by exclusion, unless “halachkily mandated” or “absolutely necesary”. Using Avi Weiss as an example, I think that those that felt the need to publicly reject his hashkafa (i.e., Agudah, the RCA, and many individual rabbis) DO find it necessary to so because they believe it is their reponsibility to teach the generation about what is and isnt authentic Judaism, according to the Torah. After all, they are rabbis, and I think it is well within the role of a rabbi to teach Torah. There are many examples in our history of great rabbis taking public stances against what the view as encroachments against authentic/Torah Judaism, and in many cases publishing seforim on these issues. A few examples that immediatiely spring to mind are R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch, the Chasam Sofer, the Vilna Gaon, and the many examples of book bans in our history. Which brings me to my next point…

        3) For the sake of clarity, when you state your preference not to define by exclusion, unless “halachkily mandated” or “absolutely necesary,” and that you “find definitional barriers offensive,” is that preference something you see as rooted in halacha/Torah hashkafa, or a completely personal preference? If it is based on the Torah, I wonder what your precedents/sources for that are?

        • 1) Same phenomena. Different scale.

          2) It’s not necessary. Teach your congregation and teach your family as you see fit. Weiss is not a “threat”, nor is a non-tzanua MO girl.

          3) It’s personal. But based on the LACK of precedent to the contrary in the classic sources.

          • Izzy

            1) ..and different actors.

            2) Why is it OK to teach your congregation, but not the rest of klal yisroel? For leaders, such as R’ Hershel Shachter (who gave a shiur to the RCA membership prior to their vote regarding Avi Weiss), would all of his talmidim and those who look to him for guidance (in that case, the RCA membership) be considered his congregation? YOUR assessment is that RAV is not a “threat,” which would imply that you would be more inclined to support a public stance against his hashkafas, were they sufficiently threatening. That being the case, are the learned and experienced rabbis not entitled to make their own assessment of whether he is a threat (which sounds to me like a judgement call).

            3) That is an honest (and telling) answer. When you say “lack of precedent to the contrary in the classic sources,” do you mean that you are sufficiently versed in the classic sources to make such a statement, or just that you are not aware of any precedent to the contrary? What if I were to find support in the classic sources (whatever that means) that our leaders are expected to speak out against threats to the Torah, and that they will be taken to task after 120 if they had the opportunity, but failed to do so. Would that change your opinion?

            4) What do you mean by “classic sources?”

            5) Do you not look to our great rabbis, such as Rav Hirsch, the Chasam Sofer, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and their writings for guidance as to the Torah approach?

            6) The point that I am trying to get at is that it is all fine and good if you have your own, personal penchant not to define by exclusion, because you find it personally offensive. I just hope that your readers (and congregants) don’t confuse your personal predisposition on the issue with an opinion that is based on a careful review of relevant halacha, Torah hashkafa, and rabbinic literature and practice.

  • Curtis

    BTW, I’m definitely not calling you a hypocrite. Any rational philosophy has contradictions or difficulties.

    And I don’t like using the world apostate, but it seems like any adherent who dismisses their canon by dissolving it through “Inclusivity” is one.

    • You are so dramatic.

      I have not “dismissed any canon”. I am discussing a social phenomena.

      • Curtis

        I admit to being a little dramatic. But what’s wrong with that?

  • >What I find most interesting is this need that has been expressed to self define by whom we exclude.

    >Once Jews were freed from the ghetto this phenomena found its way into Judaism.

    >But when someone so much as tiptoes over the line they are out.

    I will not talk about Esther herself, but about your general complaint and specifically, these three comments. First of all, I agree with Dov Kramer on top. You take a vastly nefarious outlook on people that don’t “tolerate” every thing you feel should be tolerated. The truth is, you write a post, you bring this to the public WANTING discourse. In this case, with Esther, you see something odd here and out of bounds, with what we normally see, so you post it. Then, you are shocked that people are angered by what they see. Yes, some want to kick her out of orthodoxy. Some think she did a chillul hashem (which if they did not play around with the editing….I agree). But nobody, identifies themselves by whom they exclude. The exclude her, for her actions. They exclude her, because YOU posted about her and called upon people to chime in. They exclude her, the same way people would have excluded idol worshipers. Did they identify themselves back then based on these idol worshipers that they excluded? No. They had their identity, proud of it, but when someone did something wrong, they excluded that person.

    If a person is constantly looking at the world through the prism of tolerance, than now I can understand why they come at this from the other end, psychoanalyzing some awful reason for their self identity.

    Regarding your ghetto comment, you are wrong. Jews have always done this. There are interesting letters found between the Essenes and the Temple priests of how they are doing things wrong and blasting them for it. Essenes looked upon themselves as doing the REAL will of God while others did not.

    Your third comment: Welcome to Judaism. A religion of parameters. You simply move the parameters a little farther. But if you want unadulterated tolerance I suggest you join a different religion. Unadulterated tolerance is not a Jewish value. Yes, we need to love our fellow Jew, but there is also the ideal of rebuke. I say, people are Jews. Let them in anytime they want, but rebuke them if you must. This reminds me of that old saying: That Christianity is a religion of love but no din, while Islam is a religion of din but no love. Judaism strives for both. There is a time for love and there is a time for din.

    **Please don’t interpret any of this as me agreeing to exclude Esther. I don’t. I just take aback by some of the things you presume**

    • Then, you are shocked that people are angered by what they see.

      Shocked? Where?

      But nobody, identifies themselves by whom they exclude.

      Absolutely false. Everyone does it. Not just orthodox Jews.

    • Regarding your ghetto comment, you are wrong. Jews have always done this. There are interesting letters found between the Essenes and the Temple priests of how they are doing things wrong and blasting them for it. Essenes looked upon themselves as doing the REAL will of God while others did not.

      You just MADE my point. When we were in the ghetto we did not do this (to the same extent). In contrast, during the Temple period when we had autonomy and post-ghetto we do employ this exclusionary attitude.

    • No. I want unadulterated tolerance unless halachically mandated otherwise. End. Full Stop.

      • >Shocked? Where?

        your post.

        >Absolutely false. Everyone does it. Not just orthodox Jews.

        If true, than nowhere near what you are trying to imply in your post or the example at hand about Esther.

        >You just MADE my point. When we were in the ghetto we did not do this (to the same extent). In contrast, during the Temple period when we had autonomy and post-ghetto we do employ this exclusionary attitude.

        Sorry, than I read your statement wrong.

        >No. I want unadulterated tolerance unless halachically mandated otherwise. End. Full Stop.

        Then you really are defeating any sort of spirit that Judaism tries to impart on the man. It all boils down to black and white halacha. Somethings are technically permitted, but should it be done? Somethings we don’t tolerate even if technically, halacha does not forbid it. A comment like Esthers, SHOULD be looked at with disgust, and if she goes through it, while still claiming to be “an orthodox Jew” then I am not surprised by peoples disgust toward her in general.

        • “Spirit” is man made. And it has utility for one’s personal observance, but it only hurts us when spirit is the excuse with which we alienate others.

  • Adam

    Rabbifink said above:

    Personally, I find definitional barriers offensive unless absolutely necessary

    The definition of “Who is a Jew” is absolutely necessary, and clearly elucidated in halacha.

    The definition of which actions (and which non-actions) constitute shmirat hamitzvot is also absolutely necessary.

    Using a term like “Judaism” goes into a gray area. Many shomrei mitzvot equate shmirat hamitzvot with “Judaism”. By that understanding of the term, any theology that steps outside of halacha cannot be considered “Judaism”.

    Use of the term “Judaism” in any other capacity is entirely subjective. I try not to use the term whenever possible, because it (along with “Jewish”), means too many things to too many different people.

    • The issue of MO Jews excluding Avi Weiss and Esther Petrack has nothing to do with “who is a Jew” it is simply “who do I like”.

  • OTD

    Curtis, you overdose on drama.

  • OTD

    I think Curtis is just jealous that he’s not a rabbi.

  • Rabbi Dovid Fink

    Hmmm, and I thought i was the progressive thinker in the family. While the disease of putting others down to make an individual feel better about them self is rampant in all branches of Judaism (and our culture in general), I think the alternative is not to pretend that such lines should not exist. We can love someone and accept them even if they cross our lines. (Let he who is without sin…) Nevertheless, lines serve to keep us who we are. It is unfortunate that many feel the need to measure others by “our” lines or Halachic lines, but those lines are real. There is a real danger of erasing them by stating that strict adherence to them is just a means of defining ourselves through putting down others. We are already defined by Halachic principals. I thing the real danger is those who claim Halacha stands for principals which it does not. Those who use the banner of “Halacha” to brand other people as “non Orthodox” are often the biggest ignoramuses of all. Indeed, isn’t a principal of Halacha not to embarrass someone in a public forum? We should all look in the mirror and do what we can to improve ourselves without wasting so much time violating Halacha and pointing out others shortcomings.

    • Well stated.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      (and which delusional person called you progressive…?) 😉

    • To your point, that there is a danger in erasing lines completely:

      I don’t really disagree with that. But those are personal lines, they are private, not public. And using self defined lines in public to the detriment of others is what I find most offensive.