Machshavot: Parashat Matot-Masei

July 21, 2017 Andrew Shaw
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Today my piece will be a little different. It is not simply a stand-alone article but also an introduction to two powerful statements that have been released this week concerning the ‘Rabbi Dweck affair’ and wider communal issues.

They are written by our Chief Rabbi, the president of Mizrachi UK and Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz, the head of our Vaad HaRabonim of Mizrachi UK. Both statements demonstrate what Mizrachi UK believes, in these crucial areas of Orthodoxy in the 21st century.

My contribution to the issue will come from a different angle but one that demonstrates the vital need for Mizrachi UK and the ideology we are promoting.

I love cricket, I really love cricket. From a young age in the garden, to playing for my school, shul, University and Club. Lords was my second home growing up, following my team Middlesex with a passion whether it was one-day cricket or the county championship.

Therefore, it was obvious that once I had a family I would try to connect them to the game I love.

The first game I took my boys to was a County Championship match at Lords. It was very relaxing and they enjoyed it. I think they mostly enjoyed walking around the ground and going to the Lords shop – but we all went home happy.

Yesterday I took my youngest to his third match – but this one was not the four day game – this was 20/20. For those ignorant of the different forms of the game, let me briefly explain.

The County Championship and Test Cricket are four and five day games. Everyone wears white; innings can take hours and hours and rarely are there multiple fours and sixes in quick succession. It is the traditional form of the game and the one which in many people eyes, is the true test of talent and aptitude.

20/20 cricket is the same – and very very different. Players wear coloured clothing and the ball is white, not red. Music blares from loudspeakers, sixes and fours are commonplace and the whole game is done and dusted in 3 hours. However it is still cricket – the ‘halachot’ of cricket are observed, there may be some ‘chumras’ and ‘kulahs’ (stringencies and leniencies) in how certain rules are applied, but the basics are identical.
Why do I tell you all this and what has this got to do with the statements below?

Simply this – I asked my son last night– ‘which did you enjoy more, the county championship or 20/20?’ he smiled, ‘I enjoyed the county championship but this was miles better’. It wasn’t just him – there were hundreds of kids there last night, thousands of people. 20/20 is bringing in the crowds and bringing the love of cricket to a new generation – and it is cricket. Yes, it is quicker, more colourful, more dynamic version– but it is cricket. We can moan that it has been ‘dumbed down’ but I saw last night that it will engage people who would not have come to classic cricket.

The same challenge exists today in Judaism. How do we deal with change, with engaging the next generation? We cannot and will not alter the halachot, that is what Judaism is. The Orthodox world is united by the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish Law and that will never change but we believe we need to make sure the message of Torah is getting through in 2017, and that may well mean changing our approach, our messaging and our communication of Torah in the 21st century.

These discussions must be had or we risk losing large percentages of our people. Obviously, they must be part of the mesorah and without compromising our Torah values and ideals – but it can be done. I have spent most of my rabbinic career seeing it done.

That type of Orthodoxy; proud, modern, engaging and inclusive is exactly what we need, but without the need to denigrate or dismiss other legitimate expressions of Torah that maybe more ‘traditional’ in their outlook.

The articles below look at the recent controversies and explain the way forward to create an Orthodox Judasim that speaks to all, that loves all and engages all. It is also a Judaism firmly rooted in the Torah and Mesorah.

I am proud this Shabbat of how our Chief Rabbi and the head of our Vaad have reacted. Please read the articles and realise how blessed we are to have Rabbis and leaders who understand the issues of the day and will make sure that at the end of the day we are treating each other with love and respect, being courteous and calm and trying to bring peace to any given situation – outstanding attributes we should all emulate.

So walking home my son turns to me and says ‘Daddy, when are we next going to cricket?’ Note – not when are we next going to 20/20, but when are we next going to cricket. He may love 20/20 the best, but to him, just like his dad and his granddad, any form of cricket is good for him. Let’s hope we can all have the same approach to how we view Orthodox Judaism – we may well prefer one ‘form of the game’ to another – but we must always realise that as long as the ‘rules’ are being observed – all forms of Orthodox Judaism are permitted.

However, anything else just isn’t cricket!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Andrew Shaw

Chief Rabbi Mirvis – President of Mizrachi UK

During the past two or so months I have been appalled by some of the conduct we have witnessed in our community.

Whilst we have learned that 70 per cent of British Jews who hold Synagogue membership identify, denominationally, as Orthodox, there is, of course, a hugely diverse range of approaches to Judaism within that grouping, from the most conservative parts of the Charedi community to the more progressively minded. Orthodoxy has long known significant differences in outlook, but the recent controversy about Rabbi Joseph Dweck’s teachings has brought the polarisation of Orthodox Jewry into sharpest focus.

“The time has come for modern Orthodox Jews to make their values clear” and to “sever all ties to Chareidim.” So declared one campaigner in the press. “If Joseph Dweck is maintained in office as a Rabbi … even partially, …” I was warned that I would be, “responsible for the splitting of Anglo-Orthodoxy…” by another.

Social media, the press and our communities have been awash with poisonous invective, demonising other Jews in ways which are simply unacceptable. The problem runs so deep that it is now used as a hallmark of particular shades of Jewish identity. People are affirming what they stand for by denigrating and insulting those whom they stand against. We have come to define ourselves by that which divides us, rather than that which unites us.

Is this what we have become?

It is most sobering that I write these words during the three-week period between Shiva Asar B’tammuz and Tisha B’av. In Hebrew, this time is known as bein hametzarim, – within a set of constraints. Throughout Jewish history, it has been a time of immense grief, when the first and second Temples were destroyed. Our Sages teach that the reason the second Temple was destroyed was because of sinat chinam – ‘baseless hatred’. The people of the time were religiously observant and steadfast in their commitment to spiritual pursuits, but they treated each other with contempt – they were consumed ‘within the constraints’ of hatred and division. It was that terrible sin which ultimately destroyed the nucleus of everything they held dear.

Indeed, if Jewish history has taught us anything, it is that we are at our weakest and most vulnerable when we are divided. The Talmud famously tells the story of a wealthy Jew whose servant accidentally invited his master’s enemy Bar Kamtza to a feast instead of his close friend of a similar name – Kamtza. Upon seeing his enemy at the party, the host publicly humiliated Bar Kamtza and ordered him to leave. Furious at his treatment and the fact that no-one bothered to interject on his behalf, Bar Kamtza conceived a plan to make it appear as though the Jews were rebelling against Roman rule. The Talmud states that it was this incident which precipitated the fall of our Temple.
We came close to total annihilation over an argument at a party.

Jewish unity is not a pleasant additional extra – it is fundamental to our survival. There are so many external threats to the Jewish world that if we cannot even treat each other with the most basic common courtesy, our very survival is at stake.

Those who have shamefully sought to focus their attention, to the point of obsession, on attacking the reputation of another human being, have become trapped bein hametzarim. There are times when we have a responsibility to object strongly to what we believe to be wrong, but to do so with this degree of personalised vitriol is not acceptable.

And similarly, others have used this as an opportunity to malign parts of the Orthodox community with whom they disagree. Taking particular aim at Charedim, they have filled social media with a disparaging narrative, depicting them as ‘the enemy’ or some kind of threat which we must face down and they have become a part of the problem, not the solution. Not only is there no virtue in perpetuating this ‘them and us’ dynamic, it is actively damaging our community.

We need to be better able to discuss the things we find challenging. We need to do so in a dignified and responsible manner which is true to our precious mesorah (tradition) and which brings our community closer to Torah. The issues themselves are too important for us to do otherwise.
Our Sages teach that the Almighty has “found no vessel fit to hold blessing for the Children of Israel other than peace”. So, as we seek to move forward, I implore the community to resist the urge to sow further discord and division. Now, more than ever, we must stand together.
In doing so, may we emerge from ‘bein hametzarim’ with an enhanced sense of the good in each other so that we can build a positive future together for all of Klal Yisrael.

Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz – Senior Rabbi Borehamwood United Synagogue – Chair of Vaad Harabanim of Mizrachi UK

Anglo Jewry has been in turmoil following what has become known as the ‘Rabbi Dweck affair’. In its shadow have been responses worldwide to another no-less tremor-causing affair – namely that of the Israeli government’s stance on maintaining the status quo at the Kotel Hamaaravi (The Western Wall).

On various social media platforms, as well as newspapers and publications online and offline, calls have been heard accusing the Rabbinic leadership of modern Orthodoxy of shying away or failing to respond appropriately.

The appropriate response is in their view a separation, a cutting off or even a divorce of modern Orthodoxy from Chareidi Judaism.
Without criticising, authors of such responses vary from non-learned laymen and woman without a comprehension of what modern Orthodoxy really is, to fellow Rabbis who mean well. As well as keeping in mind the time of the year approaching Tisha B’Av – the day of our national mourning and the implication of this sad day – I feel I ought to respond.

Firstly, and most importantly there is no us and them! The Torah, written and Oral, is one and the same – the corpus of Halachah by which we live and conduct our lives. The difference is in Hashkafa outlook, and there we do differ in some areas. None of these however, affects the underlying tenets and foundations of our faith.

Dissent and machloket is the most evil and sordid force in the world. In its wake, it brings misery and destruction, as the Netziv points out in his introduction to the book of Bereishit. It was the cause of the Destruction of the Temple and can never be justified. The Netziv says that although the Jews of the second Temple Era were learned and immersed in Torah, and were even Tzadikim (righteous), they were not ‘Yashar’ – honest and straight – before G-d. “Hakadosh Baruch Huh Yashar Hu VeEino Sovel Tzadikim Kaelu” – G-d can’t stand Tzadikim (so called righteous people) like that! They were observant, yet accused anyone who dared to be, look or sound different of being deviants and being opposed to the Torah.
Are we claiming that we know better…that somehow, G-d forbid, there are two Torot, two sets of laws from Hashem?

The Chief Rabbi and some of the most eminent Dayanim in the land have set out the way forward with Rabbi Dweck. For some it will not be enough; for others a step too far. In my view, this is a wise way forward. Recognising some real issues and dealing with them, whilst supporting the continued career of one of the more charismatic and influential Rabbis in the country.

In the case of the Kotel, the status quo has been upheld and all Jews Orthodox and otherwise must be welcome to the Kotel for it is theirs, yours and mine. However, it is a holy site and should be treated as such in accordance with Halacha. Imagine a group of Muslims demanding a change in ritual in Mecca or a group of Christians behaving in what is deemed an offensive way to other Christians at the Church of the Sepulchre? The State of Israel is a country where state and religion are bound together. Judaism is defined in Israel by the Orthodox Chief rabbinate and has been for nearly 100 years since the days of Rav Kook. To demand a separation or a break off is both wrong and damaging, not to mention unsettling. This is so to the extent that one needs to ask the motives of support of Israel and loyalty to our State by those who now question their future commitment to Israel on the basis of this episode.

Back to the demand of separation:

Using an educational context as an example: Would we teach a child not to hit by hitting them? Do we heal a rift by creating a bigger one? What are we saying? That the value of unity is important but not really that important? That when someone thinks differently from us we walk away? If it was not based on Torah or rooted in secular thought, there may be some argument for censure, but here it is all for the sake of Torah and the future of the Jewish people, whether one agrees with them or not.

It was Winston Churchill who said: “Some people think that freedom of speech means they can say what they want, but when they are responded to, they are outraged.”

The word Chareidi means ‘one who fears the word of Hashem’. I too would like to fit into this category. Yet I differ in approach to other Orthodox Rabbis, as do all other modern Orthodox Rabbis, in three main areas – women, Israel and our attitude to secular studies.

Instead of walking away, we must mend. Instead of breaking, we must fix. Where some are calling for separation, we need to engage. My late Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein of blessed memory, would always reiterate the commonality that we share with the Chareidi community. We study the same words, we believe in the same principles and we adhere to the same rulings. We have more that unites us than pulls us apart. Focus on the common denominators rather than the differences.

Does one walk away from one’s brother? From one’s Father and Mother? We are family and when we say the Talmudic dictum Kol Yisrael Areivim zeh bezeh, “Every Jew is a guarantor for one another”, do we mean only the ones that think and look like us?

As we approach Tisha B’Av, I pray the rift mends, the wounds heal, and the Jewish people rebuild that which we seek to rebuild every day.

Sheyibane Bet Hamikdash Bimhera Biyameinu – May the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days.

Through brotherhood, love and good deeds. Amen.


Mizrachi UK