E Unibus Plurum

The casual observer of the current presidential polling data requires little expertise to identify a trend stretching back over the last two presidential elections. The population of the United States has been, and continues to be, split almost 50-50 in their support for a national leader.

At the same time, however, the division of country on a national level stands out in sharp contrast to what is happening locally. In his new book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, author Bill Bishop demonstrates how communities are becoming increasingly homogenous as people sort themselves into demographic cliques. The most striking irony, Mr. Bishop explains, is how the increasing singularity of ideas and values in neighborhoods across the country is resulting in increasing divisiveness throughout the country as a whole.

The statistical evidence is compelling. In 2004, in an election decided nationally by one closely contested state (Ohio) and less than 1% of the electorate, almost half the counties in the country recorded landslide victories locally for either one candidate or the other, nearly double the percentage recorded in 1976.

Here are a few samplings from Mr. Bishop’s introduction:

Freed from want and worry, people were reordering their lives around their values, their tastes, and their beliefs. They were clustering in communities of like-mindedness, and not just geographically. Churches grew more politically homogeneous during this time, and so did civic clubs, volunteer organizations, and, dramatically, political parties. People weren’t simply moving. The whole society was changing…

Marketing analyst J. Walker Smith described the same phenomenon as extreme and widespread “self-invention,” a desire to shape and control our identities and surroundings. Technology, migration, and material abundance all allow people to “wrap themselves into cocoons entirely of their own making,” Smith wrote. People are unwilling to live with trade-offs, he said…

As people seek out the social settings they prefer — as they choose the group that makes them feel the most comfortable — the nation grows more politically segregated — and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups. We all live with the results: balkanized communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible; a growing intolerance for political differences that has made national consensus impossible; and politics so polarized that Congress is stymied and elections are no longer just contests over policies, but bitter choices between ways of life.

Is it ever possible for there to be too much agreement? The mishna teaches that if the entire Sanhedrin votes to convict the defendant in a capital case without a single dissention, the death penalty cannot be given. No matter how overwhelming the evidence, the sages did not trust their own objectivity if none of their members could find even one mitigating factor. Brothers cannot testify together in beis din because they share a common perspective that calls into question their collective objectivity.

The more single-minded a group becomes in its opinions, the more calcified its thinking becomes in its evaluation of unfamiliar ideas, and the more quickly it rejects and condemns opposing viewpoints. Moreover, homogenous groups are more likely to devolve into parodies of themselves, shifting to ever-more extreme positions and allowing arguments that might once have been rational to descend to dogma and character assassination.

This is why candidates lean to the extremes in primary elections, laboring to attract support from the farthest wing of their respective parties, the one that is generally the loudest and most vehement. Then, once they have secured the nomination, the candidates tack back to the center for the general election to try and attract voters from across the political divide. Whichever side eventually claims victory will almost inevitably shift back again to the extremes, fearful of antagonizing the clamoring minority by appearing too moderate.

This is certainly one angle of the mishna in Pirkei Avos that praises machlokes l’sheim shomayim: when debate and dispute are motivated by a genuine desire to achieve true understanding, then such debate endures by producing greater clarity, by yielding new truths, and by bringing together ideological opponents who are devoted to intellectual honesty and ideological integrity.

Such was the nature of Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai, who fought fiercely in the study halls but retained love and respect for one another. One has to wonder, given the increasing factionalism within the Torah world, whether students of the two academies would even speak to one another if they were alive today.

After the death of his main disciple, Reish Lakish, Rabbi Yochanon lamented that he had no one to challenge him any more. By posing 24 problems to every law his rebbe taught him, Reish Lakish stimulated the learning of Torah in a way that benefited both students and teacher. The replacement the sages found, Rav Eliezar ben P’das, brought 24 proofs for everything Rabbi Yochanon said, literally driving him mad.

The ideological differences between the different camps within the Torah world are not (yet) so insurmountable that we have any justification for refusing to bear one another’s company. This does not require compromising one’s principles. Rather, it requires a willingness to concede that the world is a sufficiently complex place to allow the coexistence of different but equally legitimate points-of-view, and to not be afraid that the slightest exposure to alternative outlooks within the mainstream of Torah thought will somehow lead to a swift descent down the slippery slope of apostasy.

When two or three schools in one neighborhood, only marginally different in Torah philosophy and united by their inability to make payroll, are each graduating classes of only five or ten students, when men choose to walk into one shul half-an-hour late on Shabbos morning rather than walking into a shul across the street on time because its parishioners wear a different style of kippot, clearly our commitment to the unity of Klal Yisroel is sadly wanting.

From the earliest days of the twelve tribes, the greatest strength of the Jewish people has been our ability to forge diversity into unity. How ironic, and how tragic, that now we have become united against one another.

53 comments on “E Unibus Plurum

  1. Like it or not, both halachic and hashkafic controversy are hardly 21st Century developments. Machlokes on halacha and hashkafa clearly is a phenomenon that can be found way back in our intellectual history. One can certainly maintain that machlokes is one of the key bases for intellectual and spiritual creativity. However, when machlokes becomes a basis for suppressing or disenfranchising legitimate differing views within the Mesorah, then, as the Netziv points out in his introduction to Breishis, the positive nature of machlokses segues into a negative pattern of suppressing “the other”.

  2. That’s ok Ron, I know from the Purim posting that behind the scenes at BBT stream of consciousness rules! (Eats chinese food)

  3. Thanks, I will try to check the Maharsha. In the meantime, though, you did not respond to my post about machlokes at all (see above). I don’t see how you are trying to apply the ethics of the beis medrash to other life situations. (Personally, if someone on the street treated me like my chavrusa does in shiur, I’d probably smack him).

  4. Re: Buses

    On the buses traveling between Monsey, Brooklyn, Lakewood, etc., the overwhelming majority of the passengers are very strictly Orthodox people traveling between very strictly Orthodox neighborhoods. Even so, I have heard comments that since these are public lines, separate seating is technically illegal.

    On the other hand, the buses in Israel attract a mixed clientele. These passengers can include secular and less strictly orthodox people who are traveling to the strictly Orthodox neighborhoods to visit, shop, and study, or perhaps they may just be passing through.

    Setting legal issues aside, the separation in the New York area can be accomplished with a good deal more civility than it can in Israel.

    There are so many stories about acts of kindness and Kiddush Hashem on public buses, in Israel and beyond. In Israel, if all types of Jews can share a scarce public accomodation while being nice to each other, we will be able to add to the list of such acts.

  5. Miracle: As it happens, I just taught the episode of Rabbi Yochanon and Reish Lakish to my high school students today. I suggest you look at the Maharsha on the gemara in Baba Metzia. The incident is considerably more complex and two-sided than you make it out to be.

    David: How dare you presume to suggest that you know what I was thinking!

    Hey, just kidding everyone.

  6. He hit me back first!

    Really, I stopped already. T’is the busy season and I’m way behind in my yontif preparations. If you hear from me again till after Pesach, just tell me to shut up and go to work. Have a freilichen Purim and kosheren Pesach everyone.

  7. They don’t deserve to get abused, but chances are they will, usually by the fringe elements of the provoked. I’d potch up my kids if they were the ones who did it, but frankly, my heart is bleeding borscht for these provocateurs. They asked for it.

    Yawning is contagious. I’m so tired.

  8. I don’t know enough about the situation in Israel

    You should have stopped there.

    So basically your saying that a woman who violates the sanctity of the Monsey bus deserves to get abused. Actually, you may know more about the situation in Israel than you think because that mentality is a big part of the problem.

    As for your anti-Israel tirade…all I can do is yawn. Every yeshiva bocher trots out this trite list whenever the subject comes up. Most if is either ancient history or melodramatic. But it really dovetails nicely into Rabbis Goldson’s point. The government you believe is so evil really IS a democracy (your quotes notwithstanding) and to the extent that these poor, abused people (in their growing and thriving communities) care more about their narrow interests (read money) than the country as whole they are as much, or more, a part of the “problem” as anyone else.

  9. And let’s not forget who killed Reish Lakish… dun dun dun! I’m not sure the moral of that particular gemara is that we should treat our fellow Jews like R’ Yochanan treated R’ Lakish!

  10. Regarding Ron Coleman’s post above, I will just add what I hoped he was going to say (but didn’t, diverging instead into an equally enjoyable explanation and defense of his shul preferences):

    I don’t think Rabbi Goldson effectively makes his argument here because of an erroneous comparison between the proper derech in learning and the proper derech in avodas Hashem. It is true that in learning, machlokes is prized above unity of approach, but the reverse is true in avodas Hashem. That’s why there’s is a psak din on every single one of those arguments brought down in shas, so that our avodas Hashem is not willy-nilly with each following the argument he likes better. So to generalize from learning to assume that disagreement, respectful or otherwise, is somehow a part of the spirit of yiddishkeit is at best suspect.

  11. “I have heard and read horror stories of women being verbally and sometimes physically abused…”

    And I have heard and read horror stories of Palestinians being verbally and sometimes physically abused… for no reason at all. Yeah, right, poor things.

    I don’t know enough about the situation in Israel, but if anything happened in the US, you can be sure those poor little ladies were provocating frum Jews on their own turf, refusing to abide by the rules for which they have set up their own bus routes. If they don’t like it, let them ride Port Authority!

    (BTW, you heard what they did to the mekoshesh eitzim? And to the ben sorer umoreh, poor boy?)

    As for lashon horah, where were you when the lashon horah was going strong against the frum Jews? I suggest you learn the laws about who is included in עמך (of לא תלך רכיל בעמך) and who is excluded. The Chofetz Chaim must be turning in his grave knowing how his monumental work has been stood on its head. People spitting venom against frum Jews start yelling “lashon horah!” as soon as the criticism is directed against reshaim about whom we are PERMITTED to speak out against and DISCOURAGED from judging favorably. (see Chofetz Chaim 4:7.)

    “Yes the same “vicious anti-religiosity” that has helped build thousands of yeshivas, shuls, and mikvas…”

    Don’t get me started on this one. (I know, I know, I shouldn’t have started it.) Desecration of graves… compulsory autopsies… spiritual genocide of the Teheran children, Morroccan Jewry, Yemenite Jewry, Iraqi Jewry… kidnapping Yemenite children… mixed club and pool next door to Meah Shearim… brutal, sometimes fatel, beatings of frum protestors, even little children… allowing, sometimes abetting, missionary activity… keeping the Rabbanut hostage in the hands of Bagatz… importing and kashering non-Jews… “Perfect, not yet”?… The understatement of the millenium.

    Would you accept such treatment from Ahmadinejad? Obama? Would you defend the US that it has helped build thousands of yeshivas if it had treated its frum Jews that way? Because the Israelis are Jews, because they’re our brothers, because all their ancestors were religious, you expect LESS of them?

    I’m sorry I opened this can of worms, but now that I did, I can’t let them crawl all over the place. I promise bl”n I’ll never do it again.

  12. gentlemen — this is spinning way off into a different thread altogether. #15 latched onto the “calcified thinking” clause of the author and ran with it, apparently because of a festering sore spot with “frummies.” Ok, there’s a need to be heard. But does it really have anything to do with the author’s intent to turn this hurt into a hammer?

    Davka his call was for unity. He claimed that fixating on my-tribe interests undercut that. Others have tried to bring out the virtues of calculated insularism based on mesora.

    And then came the down side.

    Ok, we got the message. Been there done that MANY times already.

    Next chapter.

  13. Pesach, all I can say is that you have completely misread me. I live, literally, on the front lines with RBS B. I don’t think I need to say more.

    The loshon hora I was referring to was that which many people so casually speak about Eretz Yisrael, especially from those in Chu”l. We have lots of issues here, and there’s nothing wrong with addressing them constructively, which I don’t feel was the case in comment 31.

    Neither do I have a problem with a woman sitting next to me. I was pointing that what’s nice about our bus is that, generally, people are considerate of the other’s sensibilities… in both directions.

  14. As long as Pesach calls them “frummies” over here, something is not quite right, lashon-wise.

    Ironically, he misunderstood Menachem’s intent and direction altogether.

    The fact that Pesach has no problem sitting next to a woman on a bus does not mean he should have zero tolerance for those men who are uncomfortable with that.

  15. Menachem,

    Lashon hara? Why is it Lashon hara when someone speaks the truth. Chareidim put their pants on one leg at a time like I do. And I will surmise that you condone the Rubashkin Meat scandal as well. Torah = Truth plain and simple and to sugarcoat it with the term ‘Lashon hara’ is unacceptable. I ridden on the 170 Bus from Beit El and had no problem with a woman sitting next to me. Jewish women are not a ‘disease’ as the frummies make them out to be. This all infantile nonsense that is devoid of Torah and it needs to stop! No wonder Maschiach hasn’t come and I thought the Arabs under Islam were backwards…

  16. Sorry, just one more then I’ll go to sleep…

    It’s ironic, to me, that Rabbi Goldson used the U.S. electorate as an example of the problem he’s addressing. Having just been through an Israeli election I came to realize that our electoral system is a paradigm for creating divisiveness, while the U.S. system fosters compromise.

    The Israeli hyper-democracy with its fractured small-party parliamentary system encourages ideological “clustering” of the type to which Rabbi Goldson refers. The effect of this, in simple terms, is that it promotes selfishness. Why vote for a broad-based party that must compromise on my strongly-held ideals in deference to the greater good when I can vote for a narrow-issue party that closely matches what’s most important to me?

    It may even look good on paper, e.g. yeshiva money, welfare money, settlements, pensions, pot, there’s a party for whatever tickles your fancy, but we’ve seen that in reality it doesn’t work. These parties derive their strength by pushing issues, not people, and certainly not the nation as a whole.

    Even if the US is segregating itself by community, those communities are still stitched together into electoral districts in which their representatives must take into account the needs of everyone.

    Israel as a nation and the nation of Israel both need some type of “redistricting” in order to move forward spiritually and nationally.

  17. Where else but in “the only democracy of the Middle East” can you find such vicious anti-religiosity backed by the gov’t.

    Yes the same “vicious anti-religiosity” that has helped build thousands of yeshivas, shuls, and mikvas. The same one that created the infrastructure that has once again made Israel the Torah center of the world. The one that brought the Hebrew language back to life which, among other things, puts the typical yeshiva kid in Israel miles ahead of his counterpart in the diaspora. The one that created a Rabanut which, for all it’s flaws. sees to it that virtual every Jew in Israel eats Kosher food.

    Perfect, not yet. Deserving of this type of Loshon Hora, certainly not.

  18. I have taken the bus from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem pretty much every day for the past 2.5 years. The bus I take is non-mehadrin. It begins in RBS A (a mixed but majority chareidi light neighborhood0, then through RBS B (a chareidi stronghold with many of the most right-wing sects), makes a couple of stops in our mixed neighborhood and then out to the highway.

    I know that there have been several highly publicized bus problems here and there. Mostly the issues are on buses that are not “officially” mehadrin like the #2 bus that goes from the kotel through Mea Shaarim. Yet are perceived as such by most of the riders.

    Because of a pending law suit, Egged has been enjoined from creating any new “mehadrin” lines.

    Now back to my bus. From my anecdotal observation over hundreds of trips it’s truly an ideal of what could be. Like I said, it’s not mehadrin, yet by-and-large most people self segregate by seat pairs, (but not men in the front and women in the back). This generally includes pants-wearing women, and non-kippa wearing men as well. People often rearrange themselves to maintain this segregation. On the other hand, if a man and woman do sit together nobody says boo. This also allows the chareidim to sit with their wives and families, which of course they often do.

    The money issue that some have referred to usually involves a private company that tries to start up a Mehadrin route. Because Egged is a publicly funded company it has the economic power to undercut the start-up lines.

    With regard to US mehadrin lines, I have heard and read horror stories of women being verbally and sometimes physically abused similar to the stories you hear in Israel. It probably happens more here, for various reasons, but let’s not get carried away.

    I’ve heard that the Rav of Kiryat Sefer specifically does not permit mehadrin buses so as to avoid over zealousness.

  19. My, my, that’s kfiah datit!

    Where else but in “the only democracy of the Middle East” can you find such vicious anti-religiosity backed by the gov’t. If it happened in the US we would be up in arms.

  20. To some the problem is that they can’t get on just any bus and find the seating arrangement they approve of.

  21. They may already have both kinds of buses in those parts of Israel. I wouldn’t automatically assume they don’t.

  22. I’m afraid I don’t get the idea.

    “It’s quite another thing to get stuffed onto the only transportation around…”

    Isn’t there both Egged & Mehadrin? Here in NY “the only transportation around” are Monsey Trails & Monroe Bus and things are great B”H. And I’m not talking about Boro Park or Lakewood – this is Williamsburg, Kiryas Yoel, New Square – the frummest & narrowest people in the US! When some drivers became too friendly with some single female passengers (nothing serious of course, we don’t wait for such things) the rabbonim came out with an issur for women to sit in the front seat – and I almost always find it empty.
    Why can’t they do it in Israel like Bob Miller says?

  23. It’s one thing to have a quaint little group bring some fresh air of modesty into a “crazy”, very immodest city. There are so many options; this is just another curious part of the smorgesboard. And besides, many also have car options and generally a much smoother life negotiating the mechanics of materialistic living.

    It’s quite another thing to get stuffed onto the only transportation around with MOST ppl having heavy clothing and bags and kids running bewtween their feet. I’m a little dramatic, but I’m sure you’ve heard abt the scene before. Then there’s the ever hovering threat of your carriage being blown up. And the faces of your political opponents and their grandmothers right next to you. And the guy who goes to the OTHER shul telling you that you should get up for HIS grandmother.

    Money comes in when everyone’s strapped and resent paying for seats that can’t sent in.

    You get the idea.

    Of course within all this is TONS of chessed and tsidkus. Still, the drawbacks of “frum” narrow-mindedness does tend to be felt.

    The theme of this post was about the dangers of religiously uniting AGAINST one another. I don’t believe that such lofty trans-denominationalism is a formula that will work in Israel. At the same time we must learn a compassionate tribalism, if you will.

    Not my way or the highway, but my way as apart of a holy tradition and if that’s hard for you then lovingly assisting you to find YOUR way towards a different but equally holy tradition.

  24. Thanks everyone, I only heard one side till now. I still don’t understand tho why things can’t be normal like in “crazy” NY. Even non-religious Jews and non-Jews use our buses here w/no complaints. Aren’t there mixed-seating buses for those who want them? Is anyone forced to ride Mehadrin? It just doesn’t make sense to me. But then again, not much in Israel does.

  25. Some of this bus issue may revolve around “private” vs. “public” owned/operated buses. I can’t see any problem whatsoever with separate seating on a private bus line that advertises such seating.

    As for public bus lines, the separate seating option should be available in heavily chareidi parts of Israel as long as enough mixed-seating buses are also running for those who want them. Israel is not the US.

  26. I’m not sure how much $ plays a role. Undoubtedly it DOES. But simple culture clash and the ever present power struggle in the holy air over is also part of it. Everyone is trying to assert THE truth over another. And life is often just plain tough and so ppl are tired and cranky and not so accomodating.

    Net result is we often that it’s a hassle to seperate mother’s and children from fathers, that a few hyper righteous types see this as an opportunity to run the show and overall just another situation in which the egos of the many are battered by the Ego of a few.

    But yes, there is also the reaction to the “anti”s. But personally I see this basically subsumed within the last pt about egos. Many of them also feel abused by the control freaks amongst the ultras.

    It’s a vsicious cycle for which there is no simple solution. Utopiaizing the “single-mindedness” of super frummness does not help.

    In sum, pls don’t misunderstand me. I’m with you abt the importance of diyun l’kaf zchus to frum minhagim. I too understand that the basic instinct behind “chumra culture” emanates from a holy source. But it’s a major danger zone none the less.

    Our Rebbe has said privately, on occassion, that in principle our community should also be out there protesting the desecration of holy gravesites. yet the “price to be paid” in losing our derech Eretz and taharas ha’Middos is way to steep to give a green light to let whomever wants to joint the fracus!

  27. yy,

    Sorry, I may be wrong since I don’t live there. The frum in NY are as frum as the frum in Israel and I never noticed any problems here. Can you enighten me about the differences between here and there? Are you sure it’s not about money? Is it possible that the “ultra” agressiveness is a reaction to the “anti” agressiveness?

  28. Now wait a sec, ffb. This time I’m stepping in to the fracus NOT on your side (you did mention mechitza, right?:)

    “And nobody is complaining” — comeon now. This is not so simple. I’m in Israel, in the Mea Shearim district. I’ve taken a number of mehadrin busses to Bet Shemesh and elsewhere. Also pay attn to the “normal” busses. In all too many cases the forced-frum scene is far from serenely koidesh. NOT that forced-mixed seating is necessarily better! But please don’t pretend that myopic frumkeit is utopia.

    I don’t want to start detailing, for as one who’s transisted into the “ultra” world I’m very conscious of its benefits. On the other hand I’m all too aware of the ultbashing that is done to it by insecure onlookers.

    Still, the narrowmindedness that frumkeit too often engenders is far from rosy. Chaval to taint your cogent arguments in defense of mesora by such remarks.

  29. Thanks a lot for your concern, Pesach, but we don’t need a society that takes for granted men flirting with strange women and cheating on their wives to save our damsels in distress.

    FYI there are “Rosa Parks” buses traveling all over Jewish NY, with frum ladies and girls proudly sitting apart from the men with a mechitza running down the aisle, feeling protected and cared for by our husbands, rabbis, and even bus drivers.

    And nobody is complaining. Only in Israel and in some other places I know where frum-bashing is a favorite pastime is there a balagan. It’s not about Rosa Parks. It’s about $$$.

  30. “The more single-minded a group becomes in its opinions, the more calcified its thinking becomes in its evaluation of unfamiliar ideas, and the more quickly it rejects and condemns opposing viewpoints.” … this would explain the tremendous success of Hungarian Orthodoxy led by the Chasam Sofer’s slogan חדש אסור מן התורה.

  31. R’ Yonosan — thanx for the link. His thesis, like yours, about the importance of transcending our particualarist devotionalism is compelling. However I don’t think either of you have offered a viable aternative to the power of belonging that such devotional communities offer.

    When, btw, was that article published?

  32. “The more single-minded a group becomes in its opinions, the more calcified its thinking becomes in its evaluation of unfamiliar ideas, and the more quickly it rejects and condemns opposing viewpoints.” … this would explain the ballagan with the Chareidim and Egged bus lines … the mere idea of having women be treat like the Rosa Parks of the Middle East, what bloody shame!!

  33. There has to be some balance of togetherness and distinctiveness. The balance for a given person/family or community can be different than for another. I’m wary of global, general statements that don’t take the complexity of real life situations into account. NYC and some other big metropolitan areas have specific dynamics that others do not.

    Even when Orthodox groups differ in approach, there’s no reason not to cooperate in areas where working together can produce a positive result—but defining those areas is not always so simple.

  34. There are certainly advantages to associating mainly with people “like us”. Ron and Bob have listed some of them. But any choice also has its disadvantages. Rabbi Goldson was pointing out some disadvantages of the choice. We may still decide to stay mainly in homogeneous groups, with its package of pros and cons. But we should do it with knowledge of the disadvantages. And we would do well to try to overcome those disadvantages if we do make that choice.

  35. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Emor,
    end of chapter 17:

    When is G_d exalted?
    When the Jewish People are united.

  36. “…and to not be afraid that the slightest exposure to alternative outlooks within the mainstream of Torah thought will somehow lead to a swift descent down the slippery slope of apostasy.”

    Oh yeah? And how did Haskala begin?

  37. It’s entirely possible by the way that Rabbi Goldson is talking about how people with knit and suede yarmulkes don’t come to shuls like mine (they don’t). In that case, their frustrations — and choices — are mirror images of those I expressed and are every bit as valid as a basis for choosing a shul that is simpatico to their preferences.

    Thanks Ilana Yehudis.

  38. Ron notwithstanding, we of course need someone to dictate the terms of our involvement with people who follow other Orthodox paths. Who knows what havoc could be wreaked by allowing us voluntary freedom of association?

    (back to reality) From what I have seen, the shuls most beset with differences over Jewish issues, minhagim, and policies have functioned the worst in practice. However much we may disparage “breakaways”, some breaking away can be necessary for everyone’s sanity.

  39. I think Mr. Coleman’s post is excellent, regardless of who has who in mind. It expresses the many variables and considerations which are truly meaningful in deciding where to daven. I am impressed with the sincerity with which Mr. Coleman writes and I find that his post gives me chizuk to follow my heart and personal preferences when choosing the place most comfortable for my own davening.

    Thank you Mr. Coleman.

  40. Ron, calm down. As you noted, Rabbi Goldson wasn’t talking about you personally. He wasn’t even talking about anyone personally. He was pointing out that self-dividing ourselves into homogeneous groups has a significant price. We should take that price into account when doing cost-benefit analysis of this self-dividing. And if we do decide to increasingly stick with our own group, we can try to overcome some of the disadvantages associated with making the choice to associate mainly with like-minded people.

  41. Rabbi Goldson, for all the pixels you invested here, with all due respect you did not develop the thesis that “we have become united against one another.” The closest you came to doing so was was in your last paragraph, in which you simply assert your preference for people to make different choices about how they go about developing themselves and their families as Jews than you would have them make.

    This is a little ironic, don’t you think? Instead of judging this behavior favorably, you condemn it as divisive — in the process, dividing the “uniters” (such as yourself, the accepting idealist) from the so-called “dividers.” This is not the first time we have seen this in these pages, and if you were not known to us as a real idealist it would look very much like a cynical way to disguise mere criticism of other Jews as its exact opposite.

    And what do you condemn, after all?

    When two or three schools in one neighborhood, only marginally different in Torah philosophy and united by their inability to make payroll, are each graduating classes of only five or ten students

    I am sure there are some suboptimal outcomes that look like this in some towns, but of course the specifics of the situation you have in mind are unknown to us and the people who made the decisions that led to this state of affairs are not here to give their side of the story. Could it be there is more to it than your characterization would imply? Could it be that truly earnest people are making the best of what could be a difficult situation or one whose true parameters are, for some intimate reason, not amenable to disclosure? Because we judge our fellow Jew favorably and we seek unity, it must be that this is, in fact, the case, and to characterize what could be a painful situation in a mocking fashion could be exactly what we don’t need to reach the goals you enunciate here.

    What else?

    when men choose to walk into one shul half-an-hour late on Shabbos morning rather than walking into a shul across the street on time because its parishioners wear a different style of kippot

    Wow, what a searing condemnation! I hope you don’t have me in mind, because in fact you may very well have seen me do something that looks a lot like this not only all too often — i.e., I am late all too often — but even this very morning! What a “divisive” fellow I would be if you were describing me accurately!

    Of course you didn’t have me in mind, because if you had observed this you would have spoken to me first and learned that, in fact, the reason I do — today, or another day, or from time to time on Shabbos — what seems to be precisely what you’ve described is because:

    – there isn’t enough parking at the other shul (on a weekday)

    – I have a bar mitzvah to attend at this shul

    – I’m not a member of the other shul and I am not interested in getting an envelope in the mail the next Monday after I’m spotted there on Shabbos

    – I invested $10,000 of hard-earned money helping to build “my shul” from zero along with my friends and I enjoy every minute that I spend there because of what I put into it

    – In partial compensation for that investment, I was granted a makom kavuah in “my shul” and I have davened at that exact spot for years, in accordance with the halacha that places davening in makom kavuah on a par with davening with a minyan

    – I learn with a chavrusa after davening in “my shul” and I am going to have to go there anyway, so considering the parking, the looking for a seat, and everything else it doesn’t pay for me to have to make two trips

    – I can get to “my shul” half an hour late and still have more time to catch up with the congregation and daven shemona esrei with them than at the shul where they just happen to wear a different kind of kipa

    – I unabashedly like the daveninging better at my shul, or

    – Yes, yes, in fact, I would rather judge “the other shul” favorably from the outside than go in and get frustrated, angry and judgmental about how fast they daven, how much talking there is, what modern-day “mishebeirachs” they do or don’t say at kerias hatorah, the rabbi’s hashkofa which contrasts so profoundly to mine as expressed during his drosha, the pain to me of an endless “anim zemiros,” the gross imbibing of expensive scotch and promotion of teenage alcoholism at the mandatory after-shul kiddush, the … the…. the… the many good reasons that I am better off, happier, more loving and accepting and non-judgmental about my fellow Jew — and avoid antagonizing others due to my own inability to disguise my disapproval about another congregation’s approach to choices and issues that are important to me — by davening a half hour late at my shul, where I’ve raised my kids for 15 years, made my investment, and decided it’s where I will have the most meaningful Shabbos or weekday davening without stepping on the toes of anyone else or anyone else cramping my style…

    And I don’t expect to have to apologize for that.

    So I know you didn’t mean me.

    But when you meet that guy who chooses his shul based solely on the style of kipa, let’s do sit down and find out if there could possibly, maybe, be anything else to the choice he’s making also.

    Until then, let’s judge him favorably, and assume he’s going through the entrance of the Bais Hamikdash that corresponds to his “tribe,” his spiritual frequency. Let’s assume he’s grateful for living in our time and place allow him to do all this in his own place and to avoid bad feelings and strife where compatibility might otherwise be a challenge … and for the sake of unity, if we have reason to doubt his sincerity, let’s do keep it to ourselves.

  42. Such was the nature of Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai, who fought fiercely in the study halls but retained love and respect for one another.

    Like with the 18 gazeras.

Comments are closed.