Why is it that some people who seem to be very frum (Jewishly observant), who no doubt take the mitzvot very seriously, ignore the commandment “v’ahavta l’ra’acha k’mocha,” love your neighbor as yourself? Why do some people take very seriously the rabbinic fences around separation of meat and dairy, yet they ignore the rabbinic dictate to “dan l’chaf zchut,” to give people the benefit of the doubt?
Back in March I was in the center of a controversy the Conservative movement is engaged in relating to the ordination of gays and lesbians. I put forward a motion relating to the procedures the Conservative movement uses in making such decisions. This was reported widely (click here to read the article in the Forward) and the Jewish Press picked up on it in an article they called “Warm and Fuzzy Halacha” (click to read it). I responded with some clarifications to what they wrote, in the hope of fostering better understanding between the Orthodox and Conservative communities (which can be read by clicking here). My effort at trying to further understanding resulted in me being excoriated…a few excerpts are included below, (click to read the full letters).
“Rabbi Barry Leff’s description of a committee that votes on which Torah laws to overturn is a sad commentary on Conservative Judaism (Letters, April 21). How do they interpret the Torah’s declaration that anyone who claims that even one law of the Torah has been abrogated or a new one added is a false prophet – a declaration that makes it very clear that every law in the Torah is timeless and immutable? Or have they already overturned this one?”
And this one…”Here, Rabbi Leff has a committee to try to do what some of our worst enemies could not – relieve us of the yoke of Hashem’s commandments. And he writes with such smugness.
If he wants to compare his committee with prominent historical personalities, I suggest that instead of Hillel and Shammai he try Korach.”
Why is it that these people can’t disagree in a respectful tone? They demonstrate their ignorance of the development of halacha and the dedication of Conservative Jews to Torah and mitzvot. They have no clue what they are talking about. I quit a high paying job in Silicon Valley to go back to school and become a rabbi, where I spend much of my time and energy on trying to figure out ways to get people to follow the commandments. I even talked about the significance of observing the laws of shaatnez (forbidden mixtures of wool and linen) in a sermon on Shavuot.
The Law Committee does not exist for the purpose of overturning the Torah. It exists for the purpose of clarifying God’s will. The takanah, rabbinic legislation, is a historically accepted part of the halachic process–it’s not something the Conservative movement invented. The Chief Rabbinate in Israel has used the takanah to change the laws of inheritance, to make them egalitarian, contrary to what it explicitly says in the Torah. Yesterday (the second day of Shavuot) we read in the Torah how loans are to be forgiven every seven years. Despite that explicit commandment in the Torah, Hillel instituted the prozbul, a way around what it says in the Torah, because the values of the Torah — help poor people — were not being served by an explicit rule of the Torah. The Law Committee of the Conservative Movement works the same way. I have no problem if someone from an Orthodox background wants to say we are applying the concept of takanah inappropriately, or they think we are wrong in our understanding of Revelation. But do they have to couch their disagreement in terms that smack of sinat chinam (gratuitous hatred)?
I suppose I can forgive these frum critics for their bombastic attacks–after all, they sadly learn this technique from their rabbis, who really should know better. As pointed out on a blog called “There are no feminists on a sinking ship” two leading Orthodox rabbis of not so long ago resorted to calling each other names: “In a move not seen since the early days of the Hasidic movement, the leader of the Yeshivah Orthodox, Rabbi Shach, made negative assertions about the Hasidic Rabbi. He claimed that not only is Rabbi Schneerson not the “Gadol Hador”, he is in fact an “Apikoras” or heretic. Rabbi Shach said that the Lubabitcher Rebbe should not be followed under any circumstances.”
I wish these people would ask themselves: “What does the Holy One, Blessed be He, really want us to be more makpid (particular) about–ta’arovet (laws of mixtures of meat and dairy) or v’ahavta l’ra’acha k’mocha (love your neighbor as yourself)?”
What ever happened to “eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chayim,” these and those are the words of the living God?
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