Many Jews, Orthodox and non-Orthodox are left with a bitter taste in their mouths about the way Agudath Israel of America thinks about the non-Orthodox. In essence, their creed is something like “love the Jew, hate the Judaism.” It’s not precisely same as the “sins of sinners should be destroyed” of the Talmud. The modern version adds a few layers of contempt and derision above and beyond simply detesting the sin.
Although it should work intellectually, this kind of expression of love does not work for our hearts. We don’t appreciate it when people say “I’m sorry, but…” and we don’t like it when people say “I love you, but…” either. Whenever we temper statements that should be unequivocal, we make our statement less impactful. It can even completely undermine our starting premise when we qualify our emotional responses. “I love you, but” can sound a lot like “I don’t really love you.”
In the Forward, Editor Jane Eisner engages this issue in a self-critical way. First she argues that in one sense, Rabbi Perlow is making a fair point. Secular Judaism may disappear because of intermarriage and assimilation. Just because it hurts to hear it, doesn’t mean that it’s not true. Further, Eisner claims that secular Jews make sweeping statements about Orthodox Jews that sound awfully similar to “love he Jew, hate the Judaism.” I admire Eisner’s candor and honest struggle with these issues. Seeing criticism in others is easier than seeing it in one’s own world. There are certainly similarities between the way both groups talk about each other.
Of course there are differences too. The reason the Orthodox may hate the Judaism of the secular is almost always purely based on religious beliefs that may not be shared universally. The secular Jew who hates the Judaism of Orthodoxy may be coming from a place of liberalism and pluralism. They may feel that religious practices which are misogynistic or harmful to the emotional and physical wellbeing of other Jews are deserving of derision because of universal principles of fairness and humanism.
Either way, Eisner argues that non-Orthodox Jews must deal with the way they perceive the Orthodox Jew. Is it the same “love the Jew, hate the Judaism” as the Agudah? Indeed, it is close enough. Instead, Eisner suggests “Love the Jew even if you don’t quite understand or endorse the Judaism.”
I like it. But I don’t think it goes far enough.
In my community, whether on the beach or the Internet, I encounter this potential challenge on a regular basis. Here’s my approach: I just don’t bother with who is right and who is wrong. There is no moral judgment about another Jew’s Judaism. I do what I think is right and give others the same opportunity. If you do more or less or do it differently, it’s got nothing to do with my relationship to you as a person and as a fellow Jew. So my slogan is “I love you and what you do or think is irrelevant to that.”
Loving another person has as much to do with their preferred flavor of ice cream , favorite sports teams, and brand of soap as it has to one’s religious observance. They have nothing to do with each other. Don’t put them in the same sentence.
In other words, as I’ve said in other contexts, “Don’t make your relationship with others dependent on the other’s level and style of religious observance.” We simply divorce the two, really unrelated, ideas completely. It’s more a “don’t ask, don’t tell” than “love the sinner, hate the sin.” This approach makes our relationships about people. Religious debate and discussion can happen in an environment of mutual respect and comfort. We don’t lob grenades over the fence. Religious discussion can only take place in a safe and non-threatening manner.
The only caveat is if you harm others in a physical or emotional manner under the guise of religion or secularism, the rules change. If someone is hurting people, then we may be obligated to become judgmental. But again, it’s not because of the religious practices or preferences that we object or criticize. It’s because of their behavior, irrespective of religious beliefs.
Shavuot is a holiday of national pride and unity. It’s the day we celebrate the covenant of Torah with the Master of the World. This was the day that our national mission began. That’s our national pride. But that covenant required us to feel connected to each other. Our rabbis teach us that we were of one heart.
One heart. Our hearts beat together. We express love for each other. Unity comes when we are able to connect our hearts together. Unity does not require that we be of one mind. That’s not even a factor.
There’s room for right and wrong opinions in Judaism. But our love for one another has nothing to do with our religious beliefs and opinions. That’s all in the mind. Unity is in the heart. In the heart there is no place for debate and argument. The heart is where we express our unbridled, unconditional, untempered love for our brothers and sisters. “I love you” without qualification and without compromise.
— Eliyahu Fink (@efink) June 3, 2014