Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rav Gedalia Shwartz On Different Movements In Judaism

The Rabbi of my parents shul in Skokie, Rabbi Zvi Engel, sent out a great e-mail to the entire congregation consisting of parts of a speech made by Rav Gedalia Shwartz:

23 Shevat 5771

January 28, 2011

Dear Congregants,

Greetings from Yerushalayim! As I wrote to you last week, I am presently participating in the annual Jewish United Fund Rabbinic Mission. Spending this week among the rabbis and Jewish leaders on this community-wide mission reminds me of how privileged we are as a community to have Harav Gedalia Dov Schwartz and his wife on the trip.

As the Av Beit Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, Rav Schwartz continues to guide our community, not only in his formal role adjudicating matters of halakha—whether in the realm of choshen mishpat specifically, or in other areas of Jewish life generally—but also by his living example as a gadol ba-Torah who makes a powerful statement by participating annually in the broader Jewish community mission.

This morning, the group heard from Israeli representatives of the various movements who addressed our group to discuss problems facing their respective communities here. The Orthodox representative, Rav Yosef Carmel, the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Eretz Hemdah which trains dayanim in Israel, was delayed by the snow in New York. (Please recall that we welcomed Rav Carmel at Or Torah as a guest speaker for Shabbat a few weeks ago.) As part of the session, Rav Schwartz spoke from the audience about his thoughts on issues concerning the various movements in Judaism today:

…Baruch hashem, I have semikha from Yeshiva University. My klaf [rabbinic ordination degree] is signed by the Lomzer Rav (Rav Shatzkes), Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, and the late Rav Dr. Belkin, rabbinic masters who gave authority to decide matters of Jewish Law…Growing up there was no such thing as Haredi or Modern. It was just Orthodox.

…This is not a question of hatred or non-hatred. It was never a matter of identifying an enemy. The Marine commander in World War Two tells his soldiers before they go off to Japan: “they are good, but we need to be better.” It is all about less mitzvos more mitzvos, that’s how you have to see other Jews… Personally, I try to keep a balance.

In the Telzer Yeshiva in Europe, one of its thinkers, the Maharyi”l Bloch, in his work called the Shiurei Da’as, used interesting terminology. He used the term for greater or lesser degrees of observance as ma'aglei tzedek—circles of righteousness—because we are all going around in circles of observance with tzedek in the middle, meaning that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is in the center and we are all looking in the same direction, toward that center.

…Rav Kook, in his Igros Re’eeyah, made a powerful statement: we cannot allow Tzionut to be without Yahadut…

One of the panelists, after expressing how impressed he was with Rav Schwartz's eloquence, then said to him, “Why don’t you make aliya?” Rav Schwartz replied with a smile: “Well, I am still working that out…I don’t know if I could get a job here!” The audience laughed.

May Hashem grant him and his wife long life and continued strength, and may we continue to benefit from his sage teaching for many years to come as part of our community. Looking forward to sharing my reflections on this trip upon my return,

Bvirkat Erev Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zvi Engel

(Rav Schwartz did not review the partial transcription of his cited words above; any errors or inaccuracies are mine.)


Recreational Musings said...

Interesting...I haven't heard of the Jewish United Fund Rabbinic Mission. Is it solely an Orthodox thing? When he writes that they heard from "representatives of the various movements" does that cover Masorti and Reform?

In any case, I like the point Rav Schwartz is making with his analogies, but am not sure that "it is all about less mitzvos more mitzvos." This sets up the different movements in competition with each other, unless I am misunderstanding -- does he want a friendly competition to do the most mitzvos? Perhaps I am missing the point...

E-Man said...

I believe non-orthodox movements are involved.

Also, the idea about more mizvos and less mitzvos, I believe, is that everyone is Jewish. However, some people are more observant and others are less. Still, we must strive to perform as many mitzvos as possible.

I am unsure why encouraging all the movements to perform mitzvos, even if there was a competition, would be a bad thing. But, his main point is that everyone is Jewish and we are all brethren.

Recreational Musings said...

Perhaps the idea of competition is not what he was intending. But I think it would be a bad thing if he is, because it creates an environment where everyone is constantly judging others and placing themselves relative to others, despite completely different life circumstances. It is hard to only focus on yourself relative to others without judging them in addition to yourself.

Also - and I think this is a point I have been understanding more recently: some (although certainly not most lay people) people of non-Orthodox movements do believe that they are the correct way -- Mitzvot should be performed in the liberal way they interpret them, or certain types of conduct is what God wants from them, etc. From that standpoint, it is hard to judge them as wrong.

E-Man said...

"Also - and I think this is a point I have been understanding more recently: some (although certainly not most lay people) people of non-Orthodox movements do believe that they are the correct way -- Mitzvot should be performed in the liberal way they interpret them, or certain types of conduct is what God wants from them, etc. From that standpoint, it is hard to judge them as wrong."

I agree, the religious ones do think they are doing the right thing. However, whenever I question them on homosexuality or keeping kosher, they always shrug me off.

I recently had a discussion with my brother, who claims to be an atheist and married a non-Jew, "why do you call yourself Jewish?" He responded that Judaism is whatever you want it to be, no one has a claim to the title. So, yeah, anyone can claim they are following Judaism, but if Judaism is supposed to be following the Oral and Written Torah then I don't see how you justify yourself when you change outright statements in the Torah.

I think Rav Shwartz's point was mainly, like I said before, that we have to realize that everyone is Jewish. Some might be more observant than others, but we are all part of klal Yisroel.

Personally, I understand what you are saying about competition creating judgement. What I think you mean is that if it was viewed as those who perform mitzvos are better than those who perform less, that would be a problem. He clearly doesn't mean it in that sense. He means that we are all striving for the same goal, to serve Hashem.

Recreational Musings said...

In one of my classes this semester, I have made friends with a very religious Christian -- I think he is the first one who honestly doesn't want to convert me (Campus Crusade has a HUGE presence on my campus...) and he told me yesterday I was the first "real" Jew he'd ever met. He didn't understand what made the "other" Jews he knew "Jewish" since they didn't really do anything Jewish in their actions.

When you bring up Homosexuality or Kashrut to, for example, a Reform Jew (I was raised as one), they will tell you that the Torah is moral guidelines for us to use today but the code of law is outdated. That sounds eerily like Christianity (although Christians believe being gay is a moral issue). So what did I tell my friend made these Jews Jewish? I think it is either an affinity for Jewish culture or a belief in God, but not Jesus. And both of those things are actually very important to Judaism.

I don't agree with those Jews that Judaism is "what you want it to be" which is how many of them treat it, but I am glad that they still feel the connection to Judaism in some way -- perhaps it will lead to something in the future. Also, I am good friends with a die-hard atheist on campus who has an obsession with Orthodox Judaism. For two years she couldn't get an adequate explanation about why to keep Kosher, Shabbat, etc...now she has an emotional connection to them despite still not believing in God because of her exposure to religious Jews and attempts to keep both of those mitzvot in some way. So "feeling Jewish" can ultimately lead to something more.