The Challenge of Being One


090613_Rabbi_Mitchell_WohlbergThere are approximately 14 million Jews in this world, among whom about one million consider themselves Chasidic. The Chasidim are separated into 30 different sects, or dynasties. Three of the most significant
dynasties — Satmer, Bobov and Vizhnitz — are split in half. Each one is divided within a family, whose leaders are either brothers or close relatives who often don’t even speak to each other. So, if that is what it’s like in just one narrow corner of the Jewish world, what is one to say of the broader Jewish world? The fact of the matter is, within most every Jewish community there are strong divisions and conflicts.

We are one? No. Not at all. All we can really say about the Jews is: We are one of a kind.

The truth is, there have always been divisions among our people. What makes today’s divisions more dangerous is that frequently they have come about because extremes within Judaism operate on the assumption that those with whom they disagree will disappear. In the early 1980s, when the Reform Movement voted to accept patrilineal descent to identify a Jew, this caused an irreparable division among our people. It was thought by many Reform leaders that ultimately their decision, due to pressure, would be accepted by Conservative Judaism and that those “old-fashioned black-hat Jews” would eventually be swallowed up and disappear in modern America. That has not happened. Similarly, there are elements within the Orthodox community who attempt to deny the existence of Reform and Conservative Judaism, operating on the basis that given the rate of
intermarriage and assimilation, those Jews will eventually disappear. That is not going to happen.

We may as well get used to the fact that come what may, we’re all going to stick around. That’s what history teaches us … that’s one of the things that make the Jews one of a kind.

As long as we’re going to have to learn to live with each other, we might as well accept the reality of the words of the famed Maharal: “If the thing is impure it is impossible that it will not have some purity within it. Likewise, if the thing is pure it is impossible that it will not have within it some impurity. And man, too, is variform in thought … it is impossible that all human thought will follow one path.”

With this in mind, I have always been guided by the principles that: Judaism may not be pluralistic, but Jews are.

We can disagree without being disagreeable.

Every Jew has the right to be wrong.

Let God judge, we are not His policemen.

Like it or not, we need each other.

All of the historic accomplishments of our generation — the re-establishment of the State of Israel, freedom for Soviet Jewry, the establishment of day schools throughout America — came about because Jews of all backgrounds stood united.

While there does seem to be a major divide separating the Jews from Park Heights Avenue from the Jews from Owings Mills, on Mount Royal Avenue — at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore — we all come together as one. There, we are one.

If we can do it there, why not everywhere?

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg is spiritual leader of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, a Modern Orthodox synagogue.

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