Replying to comments

24 Heshvan 5774/October 27, 2013

Received 2 very nice e-mails on my last piece. They raise serious issues that I wanted to address on the blog to further the discussion of this topic.

1. Developments in the Orthodox world, including the charedi world, are complicated and cut in more than one direction.    Observant Jews, including charedim, are becoming more confident in taking part in the larger world and trying to influence it.  Rabbi Sacks, whom I admire, has written and spoken about this and exemplifies this.  I would only add that I’d love to see more progressive observant Jews trying to influence the progressive movement.

But on the other hand, there are beliefs within Orthodoxy, strongest among the charedim, that hinder this and also aggravate some of the other problems we’ve seen.  These include: the belief that if any idea is stated by a text or (Orthodox) rabbi, you can cite another text or rabbi to the contrary, but you can’t say the first idea is wrong.  Also, the belief that Jewish morality is self-contained and has nothing to learn from other sources.

Nevertheless, as I began, I do see developments within the community that demonstrate a great deal of potential.

2. How to address concepts like “am segulah”, “am kadosh”, etc?  Those of us who believe in human equality shouldn’t help promote anyone who does use these sources to promote chauvinistic agendas.  I have seen other very serious and respectful explanations of these kinds of terms.  To cite a few:

Mamlekhet kohanim: As mentioned on that discussion on Oct. 5, it can very logically mean a nation that relates to the other nations in the same way as Kohanim relate to other Jews: required to stay separate in some ways, but for the purpose of serving the larger community, not just themselves.

Kadosh: As explained by Yeshyahu Leibowitz, specially dedicated to the service of God, but not on a superior level and not with the inherent spiritual power that is God’s alone.

Segulah: I’ve seen the explanation comparing this to an artisan’s love for a special tool: it has a special status, but because of its usefulness to the artisan’s underlying purpose.

All of these do, of course, retain a belief in a special role for the Jewish people, though not a special nature.  I could respect a religion that recognized no special role for any human group, but it wouldn’t be the one I was born into and am proud to continue.

To conclude, those of us who believe that human beings are fundamentally equal, and that what unites us is greater than our differences, must be willing to oppose those who disagree.



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