Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

During the summer months we tragically have to contend with the period of the Three Weeks and ט באב, the Ninth of Av. Our mourning centers around the physical and spiritual destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we have many customs that mark this throughout the year. It is our custom in the beit midrash to learn about those customs on the afternoon of the Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. An additional important focus of our thoughts at this time is, ‘what is the remedy?’

To consider a cure, we must consider the root cause of a malady. The g’mara (יומא ט) discusses why our holy places were destroyed, comparing Shiloh and the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Our particular concern is the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, since this is the beginning of the exile that we yet struggle with and suffer from today, thousands of years later. Our g’mara tells us, “the second Temple period was a time of occupation with Torah and the commandments, and acts of kindness.

Why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted enmity.” How are we to understand this?

How is it possible that large numbers of people are occupied with Hashem’s holy Torah, and acts of kindness; and are concurrently characterized by שנאת חינם – unexcused enmity?

This should scare us to the core! Isn’t this the very opposite of what we believe and expect of a Torah society? The very idea, the very possibility that Jews could be engaged in Torah study, in careful observance of the commandments, in acts of חסד/kindness to each other – and still hate each other at the same time? Yet this is precisely what our sages tell us characterized that period, and what we must still address and remedy.

It may be that the Netziv answered our perplexity in a famous responsum in Meshiv Davar (משיב דבר א סימן מד). A prominent Torah journal had published an editorial advocating the complete separation of observant Jews from other Jews in Europe. The Netziv wrote a lengthy response decrying this idea; analyzing and rejecting it as “like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” There the Netziv writes that during the second Temple period our nation was exiled and the Temple destroyed and the land cut off due to the ongoing public struggle between the P’rushim and the Tzadukim (Pharisees and Sadducees). This, he wrote, also brought about unjustified bloodshed because of the unwarranted enmity. When a Parush would see someone act leniently in a matter of Torah, he would judge him to be a Tzaduki (and therefore the enemy), even when this was simply an average Jew who happened to do wrong. But unwarranted enmity would make him judge this person to be an enemy in the great religious and social struggle, and violence would ensue.

The Netziv continues and says that such could certainly occur today, that one of the observant Jews would perceive that another Jew doesn’t behave the same as he in serving God and would judge him to therefore be a heretic and separate from him and they would end up persecuting each other.

We could, indeed, be occupied with Torah and acts of kindness; but still look down or askance at those very people we are helping or learning or davening with. The key to the cure is to first realize and deeply appreciate that the Torah does not require uniformity of us.

Yes, we all have to keep Shabbat and kashrut and give tzedakah. Yes, we all have to work to create individual and societal lives expressive of God’s will as revealed in His Torah. Yet time and again the Torah teaches us how that comes about through elements of diversity and individuality. Not free-for-all, make-it-up-as-we-go-along diversity; but a real diversity within Torah and tradition that comes about because of personality, character, style, and unique insights that result from real investment in Torah.

Consider that the holy menorah, the symbol and channel of Divine wisdom, had seven branches. Not one. Even though all the six peripheral lamps turned towards the center, they remained distinct. Each lamp had to burn on its own. Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl points out how this is a model for how each student eventually has to stand on his own, continuing but independent of what his rav has imparted to him.

Consider that even though we received one Torah as one people at Sinai (‘like one person of one heart’, Rashi to Ex. 19:2); the Torah rigorously preserves the identities (and therefore cultures) of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had its own flag and its own camp in the wilderness – though all centered around the mishkan/Tabernacle. In the Land of Israel each tribe retained its own territory, and through that some of its own customs and halachic behaviors. To create the Torah’s vision of a Torah society, we must maintain individual and distinct contributions that then work together synergistically. But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.

Even with all our common obligations within the Torah, we must each find the particular path and style upon which we will make our particular contribution. What’s more, we must support each other and encourage each other to do so; and to rise ever higher in the heights of Torah. Then, Hashem will bless us to finally remedy the שנאת חינם, the unnecessary enmity which brought about our mourning and exile. Then we will be blessed to create a society in Israel that will be a blessing for all the nations.

×›×™ ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים – ‘for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (ישעיה נו:×–/Isaiah 56:7).

It begins with us.

Originally posted August, 2011

27 comments on “Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

  1. Steve, could there be a point at which a group’s beliefs or actions would trigger a sinah that is not chinam?

  2. Bob Miller wrote:

    “Do you know of current situations where a group is able to objectively discuss valid halachic challenges to its own set ways and then make changes as the emes dictates?”

    I think that historically and sociologically dictated changes such as women’s education, TIDE, etc. What one does not see is appreciation of the “other” -whether in the Charedi or MO world. IMO, that failure is Sinas Chinam writ large.

  3. Steve,

    Do you know of current situations where a group is able to objectively discuss valid halachic challenges to its own set ways and then make changes as the emes dictates?

  4. In simple English “unity and diversity” are often used to deny the legitimacy of Halachic authority and hashkafic legitimacy other than the Charedi or MO worlds. IOW, unity and diversity are wonderful as long as you are part of the Charedi or MO worlds and subscribe to its Hashkafic catechisms. However, once legitimate alternatives are raised, and you identify yourself with the same or question the Charedi or MO, you are considered as if you are a propagating a Trojan horse or worse.

  5. As long as “unity and diversity” are used IMO as codes for agreeing with only one POV within the Mesorah on matters of Hashkafa and/or Halacha, we have not WADR come to grips with the real definition of the issue, and as Rambam states in Shemoneh Prakim still applying palliative measures to a disease that requires a far stronger means of medication.

  6. Mordechai,

    I agree. Even within a given subgroup, individuals need enough latitude. There often seems to be a palpable fear of the smallest lack of uniformity. HaShem purposely gave us each different capabilities and a special mission.

  7. I think Bob has a point in comment 18; but I think moreso that the need is to recognize that actual individuals may and even must differ. I think of Rav Kook’s comment that national teshuvah will not be achieved until all the manners of expression (arts and media) are developed and turned to a healthy expression. Not only novellae in Torah. And all of that requires a distinct individual style and expression, even while being an integral part of the greater community of Israel. And for us, the people Israel, it means developing and maintaining our unique national culture and identity even while being an integral, contributing part of mankind.

  8. Ron, I said “some of” for a reason. I think our various factions often know of each other through hearsay or news media or polemics. Direct contact of some sort is not a cure but a possible help.

    Furthermore, I was mainly talking about the isolation of the various groups of FFB’s from each other.

    It’s also not unheard of for BT’s to be conditioned by Group A to think poorly of Group B.

  9. Bob, I’m afraid that’s a little-starry eyed, as the “we just need understanding” sentiment usually is.

    Most BT’s have “passed through” more than one type of orthodox community on the way to where they are now, and know very well why they kept moving.

  10. Some of the heat against other Orthodox groups comes from unfamiliarity. To overcome that, a degree of fraternization has to be allowed or even encouraged.

  11. Bob Miller –not sure whether your question (#14) was related to my earlier comment, but I’ll take a stab at a short answer from my point of view.

    1. When one is thinking about “who am I” sometimes the answer is –I am a parent and I must give my child(ren) guidance. Part of my point above is that many (not all) people are be called upon to speak up because they have obligations as a parent. A far smaller percentage of the population is called upon to comment on individuals or segments of Jewish society just because they think what they are saying is right. There is a concept in the US today of a ‘pundit’ who comments on everything going on, but why does any of us have to be one with regard to the Jewish world?

    2. Even when saying something is justified, I believe one needs to be sensitive to the collateral damage (in the sense of the disunity referred to by Rabbi Scher in the original post) that will be caused by what he says and try to minimize it.

  12. How exactly do sensitive but aware parents keep children away from negative role models if we can’t even admit that these exist?

  13. I’ve heard it said in the name of Rav Yisroel Salanter that our obligation is to focus on our fellow’s physical needs and our OWN spiritual needs. (I don’t think I’ve done a great paraphrase, so anyone reading who might be able to put it better please do so.) Following this dictum would go a long way toward stifling intra-Jewish religious divisiveness.

    A partial start might be to focus on what one’s role in the world is and what it is not. Is one truly intended to be passing judgment on other individuals, lifestyles or specific practices? Does one feel so confident in his own actions when standing before God that he thinks he can criticize others? When asked explicitly this way, I think few people have the chutzpa to say that they are really qualified to do so.

  14. To Chaya Rivka #11: Maybe you can get the great mitzvah of turning this group’s bad speech into good speech. Whip out a bunch of Sifrei Tehillim, and announce that you’re dividing up all of Sefer Tehillim so that Plonis bas Plony can get a shidduch…or a refuah…or parnasah,,,or have a baby…whatever Plonis bas Plony so desperately needs. All of a sudden your little group is doing something profoundly holy instead of insidiously unpleasant. And all the credit for this wonderful turnaround goes to you!

  15. Thanks for this post. You write: But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.”
    I’ve been doing some serious reflection on this issue for many years. Recently, once again, I found myself in a cozy little conversation in which the members of this particular group were subtly knocking the systems and outlooks of others “outside” this particular group–and yes, children were in the room. This is something that has been bothering me for years.

  16. The original point of this post was how there exists disunity because some look down on others who don’t fit into their way of doing things. I was just pointing out that this begins in school, that if we teach kids to be themselves and that they don’t need to fit into such a tight mold, they wouldn’t learn to look down on others. In certain ways, homeschooling would promote this more than the regular system.
    But this is what we have, so we need to make the best, or think outside the box, too.

  17. ross – “deprive” then? What would you call it when basic needs are not met 8 hours a day?

    Bob – homeschooling and public school are the alternatives.

    There are other parents with this view, but no, we are not going to start a school. has been tried in the community before – local power structure had it shut down by exerting financial pressure on community institutions, threatening parents, and speaking motzie shem ra about the school and its educators.

    Ron, do you understand now, how this is a “unity vs. diversity” issue? This is happening under your very nose: I know that you actually support your local yeshiva, so why don’t you ask why basic needs aren’t part of the typical “yeshivish” orthodox school experience? They will either lie and tell you that they have it covered – or they will tell you, as they told me, to shut up and send in your check: they are the chinuch experts, not you.

  18. Destroy is a rather harsh word. It’s just not an ideal situation in bringing out individuality in a child. The only thing you can do is to encourage him at home…not extracurricular activities, but just in noticing what gets him excited…drawing, music, planning and organizing things, specific types of chesed, even cooking or taking things apart. Appreciate and find projects and ways to expand these things…and if it could be applied to the school setting, either in assigned reports or projects, all the better.

    Even though the schools may not be the ideal setting to bring out the best in a child, the home has the potential to do this.

  19. Jay, “physical exercise, imaginative play, interesting lesson planning” seems to be the building blocks of a good BBT post topic –why aren’t these part of the typical “yeshivish” orthodox school experience?

    But I don’t really understand how they are “unity vs. diversity” issues.

  20. Jay:

    1. Do you have a local alternative?

    2. Do you know any other local parents with a similar view, to network with and potentially organize?

  21. so as a parent of a normal child who is not getting what he needs in the uniform classroom, what do you suggest? allow the system to destroy him? i am not speaking as a BT who wants to give my kids yoga and ballet. i am talking the basics here – physical exercise, imaginative play, interesting lesson planning.

  22. I’m in the special ed dept, so one of the things I need to do is help each student think “outside of the box”, as they say, to learn and master material which he may not be otherwise able. So this taps into the students individual styles…some are more visual (drawing pictures freely, running movies in the head), some do better by listening (putting chumash or mishnah to tunes, for example), and some have such incredible creativity which needs more of a chance to be tapped. It’s this creativity which almost defines them…where their strenghts (and hearts) lie, and brings out who they are.

    This should be done with every child, not just those who are falling behind. Still, in a uniform classroom, getting the rebbe or teacher to buy into learning (and teaching!)in different ways is at times quite difficult.

    Even so, it’s a message which we constantly encourage–find yourself and be successful!

  23. ross, since you’re in chinuch, perhaps you can enlighten us as to what you are personally doing about the problem and some of the challenges/victories/defeats along the way?

  24. In addition to the regrettable cases of mistaken identity, there indeed were some genuine Tzadukim (Sadducees) worth shunning. The problem is that when we get into rejection mode we can go overboard.

  25. In yeshivas it’s also a problem. Every kid must fit into a narrowly defined mold. He feels stifled, since he’s justifiably afraid of what others will think of him if he acts even one iota differently. Then he learns to look down on others, too.

Comments are closed.