Love and Religious Observance Have Nothing To Do With Each Other

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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.Infinitylove-love-33175096-1920-1200

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.

  • conceptualinertia

    A fine article, thank you. I do have one bone to pick however in the following paragraph:

    “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.”

    I don’t think that is a real difference. Liberalism and pluralism, while they aim to be universal, are certainly not shared by a large majority of humanity, and the Orthodox view the religious (or secular) practices of the Non-Orthodox to be harmful to the wellbeing of Jews (and in some cases non-Jews) as well.

    • Thanks. There is a difference between basing our feelings about others on beliefs that are particular to one religion and feelings that are universal. Not everyone has to subscribe to those beliefs, but they are universally feasible.

      • conceptualinertia

        I don’t see why the beliefs of Orthodox Judaism, or any other religion, aren’t universally feasible (even if some of those views aren’t all that relevant to most of humanity). Take Chrisitianity for example. Many Christians believe they everyone in the world ought to accept Jesus as their savior. Catholics believe that any abortion post-conception is wrong and should not be done. These are viewed as universally feasible precepts. I may disagree with those views but I don’t see the difference (in this context) between those views and those of humanism.

  • zach

    “I love you and what you do or think is irrelevant to that.”

    What you DO is irrelevant? I love you even if a large percentage of your members regularly engage in financial fraud against the government? Or exhibit repugnant behavior towards the unfortunate outsiders that happen to live in the town that you control because of your numbers? I love you even when you disparage pretty much every single animal-soul-only-gentile as an intrinsic component of your theology (Lurianic kabbalah, Tanya, etc etc) and ? I love you even when you delegitimize large swaths of other Orthodox Jews because they have a different approach to, say, Zionism? (And no, it isn’t just the notion that they condemn, but the “Hitler/Haman/Amalek” adherents of such ideas.) I love you even when you delegitimize 100% of non-Orthodox Jews? I love you even when you exhibit a knee jerk defense of the most disgusting sexual abusers and – worse – the further victimization of the abused?

    I’m sorry, it’s time to put a stop to this notion of universal love towards a “fellow” Jew. It’s no different than the Christian notion of turn the other cheek regardless of happened to the first cheek. It’s an idea that sounds good on the surface, until one honestly dissects it and sees the absurd implications. A person EARNS respect. A person EARNS love. And that goes for whether they are Jewish or gentile.

    • Again, if the belief is causing harm then all bets are off. But other than that, I see no reason to even consider another’s beliefs in your love toward the other person.

  • Ethan Cohen

    Do the rules only change when someone hurts others, or also when they hurt themselves? What constitutes harm?

    • Why would you hate someone who hurts their self? Seems like they need love, not hate.

  • Me

    “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”
    If you put religious observance in the same category of importance in somebody’s life as their favorite ice cream, sports team or brand of soap….then I think you and I think very differently of what religious observance is and what it can do to enrich or destroy a person’s life. Religious observance determines how the person thinks about the world and his/her surroundings, it describes the very essence of their being, what it is they LIVE for. I really like ice cream, I don’t live for it. If my religion prohibits me from stealing because my g-d says it will cause harm to society, I do so. And if some other religion interprets that differently or see this law as bogus and wrong, then I would say we’ve hit a very important line of disagreement. What you may view as completely bogus laws or traditions, the ONE DOING SO views them a critical and not to be messed with. If they didn’t view those traditions as such, WHY WOULD THEY FOLLOW THEM? Your whole essay states that one shouldn’t hate or love someone according to the beliefs and actions, then what more is there to a person. You’re actions define who you are as a person, it’s why we hate murders and love saints.

  • Aharon

    I think many Orthodox leaders and even kiruv professionals would probably agree with Rabbi Perrow’s views. However, what was he hoping to accomplish by criticizing other ideologies publicly? If we are concerned about the future of the Jewish people, than lets do something about it

  • Joey

    Rabbi Fink,

    You write:”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.”

    Twice a day we daven “V’ahavta es HaShem Elokecha B’chol L’evovcha”. This is a mitzva, something we clearly strive towards in our pursuit of Avodas H’shem. It requires that we are emotionally attached to Hashem. In other words, his Torah and values. And yes, it says with our heart! By contrast then, wouldn’t it would seem logical that when we are confronted with values that run contrary to those that we love with our heart, we should to some degree feel somewhat saddened?
    As I’m sure you’ve read, a clarification of Rabbi Perlow’s statements articulated that his comments were directed at the leadership of Open Orthodoxy itself, not its followers. That being said, in a religious context where various Halachic and Hashkafic principles are categorized as absolutes, it would seem only natural to find any effort to alter those principles offensive. Wouldn’t it?

    • Does anyone really think that anything is being altered here?