We Are Going in the Wrong Direction

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe war over MK Rabbi Dov Lipman is rising to a crescendo. The mouthpiece of the Ultra-Orthodox American establishment is the Yated Ne’eman. The Yated and its Matzav.com website are leading the charge to discredit and demonize Lipman in every way possible. Meanwhile, the Centrist Orthodox Americans are watching from the sidelines as they watch a potential hero go to zero. The Modern Orthodox Jewish community is becoming enraged as they see their values trudged upon by their charedi brothers and sisters.

It’s a mess.

Two important voices from the moderate camp have invited Lipman to speak. The RCA Convention will be headlined by Lipman and the BAYT Shul in Toronto is featuring Lipman as a Scholar in Residence the last week in June.

For these grievous sins, Lipman, the RCA, and BAYT have come under a severe assault of attacks from the Yated and Matzav. Articles calling for boycotts of these fine institutions, articles condemning the the decision makers and rabbinic leadership of both institutions, and of course articles enumerating the horrible sins of Lipman as ammunition for their war appear regularly in their pages.

The thrust of their arguments against Lipman focus on isolated incidents, out of context quotes, but most of all guilt by association.

I think this is a very important point. There are pundits who “connect the dots” to spin conspiracy tales on a daily basis. People believe it. Others just disqualify the opinions or ideas of others because they have a second cousin who gave money to someone else who has a nephew in Al Qaeda. People seem to be okay with this too. For some, guilt by association is actual guilt. For these people, who you know and with whom you associate determine your credibility.

Obviously, this parlor game is ridiculous. If you search long enough you can connect any two people in the world. Guilt by association is terrible way to make a point. Assuming that the two people are associated, there is no evidence that they agree on anything. They could hate each other. Or they could agree on one thing and completely disagree on another. It’s pure scare tactics and dishonesty to impugn people because of loose ties or even strong ties that they may have with others who might be different or even dangerous.

The same exact thing is happening now in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish media.

Lipman is in the same party as Yair Lapid? And Lapid’s father, Tommy, was virulently anti-orthodox? Lipman must also be anti-orthodox! The RCA asked Lipman to speak? The RCA must agree with everything Yair Lapid says too! BAYT invited Lipman for Shabbos? BAYT is clearly anti-Torah.

These are the arguments being made.

The non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t play this game. They would prefer to hear challenging ideas and thought provoking conversation than disqualify any dissenters by way of guilt by association. Does the RCA agree with every single thing Lipman says? Probably not. No two people agree on everything! Does BAYT co-sign every single thing Lipman has ever done? Of course not. But both institutions pride themselves on appealing to a broad spectrum of orthodox Jews and care passionately about matters of great communal importance. Thus, Lipman is a great candidate for a talk in both places.

But the uber-charedi world it doesn’t work like that. Unless someone is 100% kosher, they can’t get to the table. No matter how salient their points may be, they don’t have the opportunity to be heard. Worse, when two people are associated, and person A says or does something controversial, everyone runs to person B and asks if person B “holds of” what person A did. It’s ridiculous! People can disagree. People can have different opinions. Why is it even expected that if person B associates with person A they would agree with everything person A does? It makes no sense.

This is the best way to seek and destroy any dissent or debate. There is no room for dissent or debate when as soon as someone dissents or debates all that person’s associates are impugned and they are forced to distance themselves from the dissenter or debater. Nothing could be more chilling.

The other way is to analyze ideas, not people. Rambam writes “Hear truth from whoever says it.” These are wise words. The source of an idea is only secondary to the content of the idea. Great people can say stupid things and stupid people can say great things. It’s terribly insecure and unwise to automatically eliminate so many voices simply because they are guilty by association.

I believe that this is the primary issue that is at play here. Since Lipman is straddling two worlds, he is by definition persona non grata in the Ultra-Orthodox world. One can’t be for Torah and also cavort with people who are not for Torah. Therefore he is automatically wrong and all the rules of fair play and honesty are no longer relevant. He is a threat who must be stopped. He is not a voice that must be answered. This is the only explanation for the completely disingenuous and false attacks against Lipman.

It’s an old argument within orthodox Judaism. For some time now there has been resistance against fostering debate and conversation amongst people with differing views and perspectives. Worse, it has long been established that orthodox Rabbis may not sit on organizations with non-orthodox Jews lest it be perceived as endorsement of non-orthodox values. I don’t think it’s a great tactic, nor do I think it’s wise in the long run. Writing for Tradition Magazine, Rabbi Shubert Spero addressed this issue in 1966 and we can see how things have changed since then. Rabbi Spero was writing about engaging non-orthodox Jews. Engaging orthodox Jews wasn’t an issue in 1966.

Look where we are today. We still don’t participate with non-orthodox Jews. In fact the Yated recently addressed this very issue, going so far as to compare Reform Jews in the mid-20th century with the Women of the Wall and MK Lipman. The Yated takes for granted that it would be prohibited to work together with Reform Jews, the additional point was that this rule would also apply to WoW and Lipman. In 1966 Rabbi Spero was hopeful that orthodox Jews could participate with non-orthodox Jews. Here we stand in 2013 and orthodox Jews cannot participate with orthodox Jews who associate with non-orthodox Jews! It seems to me we are going in the wrong direction.

What will it take to change the tenor of discourse in the orthodox Jewish community? I don’t know. Maybe an Asifa. An achdus Asifa.

  • Eliyahu

    “Here we stand in 2013 and orthodox Jews cannot participate with orthodox Jews who associate with non-orthodox Jews!” Such a stance is as old as R. S.R. Hirsch, and has been taken by many Orthodox leaders in the past 150 years. Your underlying point is no less salient, but this is not new.

    • Nachum

      No, R’ Hirsch didn’t associate with non-Orthodox Jews. (And many of his contemporaries- even the Orthodox rabbi of his own city!- disagreed.) He didn’t then shun Orthodox Jews who did.

    • yitznewton

      With Austritt, Hirsch was dealing with integrating or not integrating with the religious political structure; Germany at the time had official state channels for governing religious life. I don’t know that he would have opposed working together in a secular government context.

      • Rav Hirsch was even more outspoken about voluntary association with non-orthodox movements than with the compulsory official community membership. But this was very much a matter of not recognizing—even passively—non-orthodox movements as legitimate forms of Judaism; I don’t know how far this extends to not working with non-observant Jews.

  • Adam Kenigsberg

    “For these grievous sins, Lipman, the RCA, and BAYT have come under a severe assault of attacks from the Yated and Matzav.

    Since when has the RCA cared about the opinions expressed in Yated or Matsav?

    • Yerachmiel Lopin

      They now care enough, I hear, to have invited Jonathan Rosenblum for a counterpoint. This is the hack attacker who slandered Lipman according to a well written post by Natan Slifkin.

      • Shades of Gray

        “They now care enough, I hear, to have invited Jonathan Rosenblum for a counterpoint.”

        I think it’s important to hear his perspective, and debate what one diasgrees with. He makes good points in an essay the Jewish Action published in 2004(available online):

        “the Chareidi community is by nature an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, one. What changes take place will come in an incremental fashion, primarily generated by pressures from below…An entire body of social science literature documents the disastrous consequences of many efforts at social and ecological engineering, and the frequency with which those efforts generate consequences far more grievous than the problems they are designed to cure(Jewish Action, Summer 2004, “Israel’s New Economic Reality: Will Israel’s Charedi Population Have To Reinvent Itself?”).

        • Yerachmiel Lopin

          Yeah, well, on this round, a man like Lipman, who is trying to support those on the bottom who want change is being battered by a spokesperson for the leaders of that community who do not want to let their followers have the opportunities created by secular literacy and exposure. He is bent on denying them the benefits of his U Chicago BA and Ivy League law degree that make him an effective propagandists. We need honest dialogue, not demagogues.

  • David Sher

    Yes. We are going in the wrong direction, but at the same time we do have some real leaders. Dov Lipman is one such because he is willing to accept the arrows for doing what is right. We will be ok as long as we have some leaders like Rabbi Lipman, and Rabbi Stav and Rabbi Amsalam who are willing to stand on the principal of Jewish unity. There is an old saying that you know that you are closing in on the target when you start taking a lot of anti-aircraft fire.

  • J

    When I was in yeshiva, one of my rabbeim used to say over a yiddish expression that translates loosely to “as the non-Jews so, so the Jews go as well.”

    The negative rhetoric and guilt-by-association tactics is similar to the highly partisan discussions you hear in Washington and in most discussions of American politics these days.

    On another note, subtlety and nuance are a thing of the past. People like Chris Christie (who I’m not a fan of) and Jon Huntsman get ripped every time they say something that deviates from the party line.

    Many parts of the Orthodox Jewish media operate with soundbites and out-of-context quotes. We have kol koreis instead of tshuvos with detailed analyses of the issues.

    It’s time to change the tone of the discourse out there. I am honestly sick and tired of the sinas chinam out there. Chareidi, modern, yeshivish, chassidish, whoever, whatever. No use in pointing fingers because no group is guiltless. But I’d love to see things change out there, and the ideas in this post are certainly a step in the right direction.

  • Joe Cashtan

    Eli Fink-The paradigm of achdus and positivity.

  • Aharon

    Its seems that the spokesmen for the Haredi community have been the MKs, a few Gedolim, and like you said Yated. The statements have been very reactionary about how yesh atid wants to destroy torah, and have not offered any alternatives. I don’t understand why there is such vehement opposition to any secular studies. However, I am not convinced that all the Haredim in Israel think like this. I believe many of them would like to have some English and Math in the curriculum so them can have more options after high school. However, it seems the moderates have been primarily silent. Are they afraid to be marginalized to speak out? Rav Fink, what is your take on this?

  • Steven

    Rabbi Spero lost the argument then. And regurgitating it now will not change that fact.

  • mixed meals

    I tend to think that being a representative of a party led by someone who is anti charedi is not a far fetched association.

  • Matzav

    Am I wrong but I get the feeling “Rabbi” Fink that your venting your anger at matzav.com because they removed the article you wrote a little while back about the RCC

  • Jonathan

    “Lipman is in the same party as Yair Lapid? And Lapid’s father, Tommy,
    was virulently anti-orthodox? Lipman must also be anti-orthodox! The
    RCA asked Lipman to speak? The RCA must agree with everything Yair Lapid
    says too! BAYT invited Lipman for Shabbos? BAYT is clearly anti-Torah.

    These are the arguments being made.”

    In this case, I think that both BAYT and the RCA are well aware of the controversial nature of Rabbi Lipman’s opinions and I think it’s fair to say that the invitations to Rabbi Lipman were extended precisely because they wish to show a measure of support for him and his stances. You can hardly apply the tag ‘McCarthyism’ when he is invited to be the keynote speaker at the RCA convention; such an invitation, particularly during the heat of the debate certainly can be understood to be a show of support (if not an endorsement.)

  • laboyzz

    Toronto had an achdus asifa… to discuss the anti-torah matzav is Eretz Yisroel, led by Lapid and Lipman. If you honestly think that the points you brought down are the reason the charedim have a problem with their policies, you are delusional

  • laboyzz

    You misunderstand the problems with Lipman and the party. Part of the problem is that Lipman thinks he is on the level of the Charedi Daas Torah, so he doesn’t feel a need to consult them despite claiming to be charedi!