Working Towards Achdus

Achdus exists on many planes. It is as simple as a group of Jews uniting for Tefilah. It is as complicated as asking why there are so many different variations of Torah observant Jews. I don’t pretend to have any answers but I will pose some observations on how to promote achdus .These comments are meant as my observations on the state of the current Orthodox scene. Others may disagree, but they reflect my observations over a long period of time.

With respect to our not yet observant brothers , sisters , whether they are your parents or contemporaries., the key is to always aim for making a Kiddush HaShem. On the micro level, that means that you should avoid debates, rants and critiquing any of your peers who are not yet frum. It is just a guarantee for alienating them from a way of life that they don’t understand in the first place. I find blogs the best way of discussing these issues among all types of Jews.

Between different groups of frum Jews, I personally like the eclectic approach of borrowing from the best of the Charedi and Modern Orthodox worlds and rejecting their extremes. I find that it generally enriches and enhances my Avodas HaShem.

I think that we all have to realize that the Torah is what you unifies all of Klal Yisrael-as opposed to the organizations that speak in its name. In other words, none of the well-meaning organizations have a monopoly on Torah but certainly we all have been the beneficiaries of their actions and programs.Just for the sake of discussion- The OU’s support of NCSY and Kashrus and the Agudah’s sponsoring of Daf Yomi come to mind. Even if you are active in either the OU or the Agudah, that should not compell you to reject the benefits of either the OU or Agudah completely.

Unfortunately, if you are active in one organization, you will see that Orthodox Jewish life, especially the organizational aspect of it , unfortunately is driven by institutional agendas, urban myths and stereotypes that come perilously close to consituting Sinas Chinam. Too many of the organizations do worry about their respective left and right flanks. I also think that just as the OU would not do itself a service by even thinking about a Siyum HaShas of its own, Agudah could not and should not think that it can develope a teenage kiruv program that serves kids as well as NCSY. Likewise, while I am a YU grad and have enormous hakaras hatov for YU providing me a place to gain familiarity with and learn Torah while in college, and it runs the best Seforim sale in the world, I reject those aspects of YU that IMO and in the view of my Rosh Yeshiva are either misplaced or just a waste of time. Similarly, I believe that no one should put down either Mir, Lakewood or the RIETS Beis Medrashim without spending time in such a venue. You should come away from a visit to any of these Mkomos HaTorah with an enhancement of your Ahavas HaTorah and Ahavas Yisrael.

I think that the key is to recognize their wonderful work without swallowing the stereotypes. I have one friend whose wife belonged to every high school group from Bnos to Bnei Akiva because they all served a wonderful goal. She inherited that midah of achdus from her father. In other words, at least a sense of hakaras hatov could and should cause us to recognize that we should recognize the innate merits of an organization’s programs without requiring us to ask ourselves whether giving to such an organization either compromises our present life or will be perceived as such by our kids as impedding a shidduch! Halevai that more of us had that attitude.

9 comments on “Working Towards Achdus

  1. Someone commented that Orthodoxy was losing adherents in th 60s and 70s. I think that most sociologists and communal activists from that not so distant era will tell you that Orthodoxy sustained most of its losses with the combined effect of the white flight to the suburbs and the high water mark of the heterodox movements, and especially Conservatism, in the 1950s. The stand taken in favor of the Mechitza and the development of kiruv in the 1960s and 1970s, together with a favorable view of expressing one’s ethnicity, etc, in the mid 60s , were some of the major factors that helped turn things around from the seemingly desperate days of the 1950s.

  2. Not joining organizations is one thing, being at loggerheads with them is another. I believe the point of the post was that sure, there are going to be many attitudes and hashkofos within Judaism. There always were. Bais Hillel and Bais Shamai are a good example. But they had more in common than they disagreed about. Why not try to gain knowledge and respect for more than one field. Do our individual Jewish worlds need to be that stifled in order to foster growth, as certain camps dig in their heels and become so successful and yet so narrowly defined?

    I will probably never become a chassid, but from time to time I will dabble in a chassidc sefer or two. I may not be an X or a Y type Jew, and my Rosh Yeshiva may even have strong words against some of their attitudes, but this doesn’t preclude me from taking the good out, and learning from them, and respecting them – where there is agreement.

    The more we try to see what we have in common, the more we can all have happier, more peaceful lives. And the more energy we have to learn more Torah and enjoy keeping Mitzvos.

  3. So many things that you wrote rang so true. But I have some rhetorical questions to ask (or maybe not so rhetorical – someone may want to respond). They say that “Orthodoxy” is changing; and in my opinion it is growing. With growth, don’t you think this situation will worsen before it improves? I mean in the 60s and 70s when Jews were leaving Orthodoxy in droves, shuls had to band together to survive. Now (depending on the area), shuls are breaking off into these different camps. The growth of the machmir segment seems to be faster than centrist Orthodoxy. Also, wouldn’t unification involve compromise? For example, to have the Yeshivish community work together with Chabad may sound nice – but truth be told their priorities clash quite a bit. If you were non-Chabad (or non-MO, or non-Breslov), would you feel comfortable sending your young ones to join organizations who hashkafa may confilict with the one presented at home?

  4. Great post, Steve.

    Gershon, great elucidation. Rabbi Schiller went in to some detail on this point in “A Helpful Eitzah for BTs” which can be accessed by clicking on Rabbi Schiller’s name under contributors.

    If I were a bit more adept at this I could post the link, Mark?

    Here’s the link for “A Helpful Eitzah for BTs”.

  5. Excellent post Steve.

    Not many people nowadays are prepared to belong to multiple “camps”. Many feel that “belonging” has to mean being a full card carrying member. And it’s hard to read all the rules of being a card member – lots of fine print. With such an entry, it’s possible to take on rules or attitudes that have little to do with all that original enthusiasm. What a shame.

    The thought has crept into my mind from time to time that one of reasons why people are often fascinated with Baalei Teshuva, is because they see in them an interest in the religion without “towing the party line”. They would like to catch this religious fever too. – Funny though, the Baal Teshuva is often envious of those who were born into it. They belong. They can pronounce all the words. They can quote references. They get the jokes. But you know what? That’s great and all, but that’s just the culture. You, Mr. Baal Teshuva, you’ve got the excitement. And it has nothing to do with what color your yarmulke is, or how you pronounce your words. Or who you vote for. You’ve got the greatest commodity – enthusiasm.

    Sure you’ve got to find a Derech. But don’t lose yourself in the process. And don’t live out someone else’s Derech because you think that’s what’s expected of you. Life isn’t black and white. Lots of gray out there.

  6. Steve – I was making a general statement and not direct my remarks towards you, sorry that that was not clear.

    I think that this site illustrates the problem with boxing a human being into a classification. Most of the contributors and commentators here defy the categorizations currently available.

    What if we would look at a person and say that their just like us in that they are trying to better themselves, make this world a better place and get closer to Hashem. Once we decide that we’re really on that same team, I think we can really start to accomplish some amazing things.

  7. In an ideal world, labels of all and any nature would be superfluous. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is far from ideal in many ways. Like it or not, they do reflect a certain halachic, hashkafic , sociological and demographical reality. That was my term of reference in using the well known terms which I think are also elastic and subject to drashos , articles, etc. i trust and hope that I did not offend anyone on the blog in using these terms.

  8. When organizations are created to serve specific functions they often do wonderful things as you have noted.

    I think that the problems starts when we start to think of the organization as being representative of the Yiddishkeit of its typical members. This is a false construct and it is leads to sterotyping, depersonalization and divisiveness.

    I think we will go a long way towards Achdus if we move away from the idea that these organizations represent types of Jews.
    And while we’re looking towards the ideal, it would be great to do away with classifications such as Charedim and Modern Orthodox as I think that they often serve to divide us.

  9. Thank you for this article!
    Definitely one of the most pressing issues facing Jews today, especially if we look at the current situation in Israel.

    I like what you said about focusing on the benefits and sharing these between different religious organisations – we need to minimize our differences and emphasize that which we all agree on (and if we stop to think, we’ll realise there’s a lot)

    As for those who are “less observant” we should focus on middos and good character traits, which unbeknownst to those who hold them, are just as much as mitvot as shabbat and kashrut. I once had an interesting conversation with my non-frum family explaining how they are actually a lot frummer than they thought (due to their honesty, kindness etc.) Those who see Judaism as antiquated and ritualistic need to be shown the human side of the religion.

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