Insulting generalizations

Insulting generalizations

In his response to a query concerning the behavior of a specific rabbi in a Midwestern city (“Dear Rabbi, January 3), Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy, whose smicha, like mine, comes from Yeshiva University, makes the following assertions concerning Orthodoxy in general:

“Orthodoxy maintains, first, that it is the only true form of Judaism, that all other varieties are falsifications of the religion. Orthodoxy maintains, secondly, that Jews must shun other forms of Judaism lest they be granted legitimacy. In the system of thought that justifies Orthodoxy, it’s okay to do what needs to be done, and even to disrespect other forms of Judaism, because the very survival and future of Judaism (and the world) hangs in the balance.”

Were such insulting generalizations printed about any of the other denominations of Judaism, a public outcry would ensue. It seems to me, however, that Orthodoxy often is perceived as fair game.

Let’s get something straight. As an Orthodox Jew and rabbi, I do believe that my brand of Judaism is “correct.” If I believed anything less, I would not be true to myself. I would also expect leaders of other denominations to firmly maintain the “correctness” of their approaches. That does not mean, however, that I believe that “Jews must shun other forms of Judaism lest they be granted legitimacy.” It certainly does not mean that I believe that “it’s okay… to disrespect other forms of Judaism.”

I and countless other rabbis and lay leaders within the Orthodox community place a high premium on interdenominational activities, discussions, and programs. We preach and believe in the value of all Jews – in fact, in the value of all human beings. To suggest that we condone the “disrespecting of other forms of Judaism” is downright disrespectful and insulting to us.

Compounding the problem is the fact that these broad allegations were printed, not in a personal opinion column but in a supposedly objective “Dear Rabbi” column. Rabbi Zahavy rightly claims that “Our community benefits greatly from those who reject divisiveness and narrow-mindedness and to instead pursue comity and understanding with vigor and persistence.” I firmly agree. I am hard-pressed, however, to understand how his own column has furthered those lofty goals.

I often have maintained that our relationship with “others” in the Jewish community should be guided by the principle of “valuing each other’s contributions without totally validating each other’s beliefs.” I hope that future columns will continue to reflect this balance. The community expects and deserves no less.

Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy responds:

I am disappointed that Rabbi Goldin twice uses the term “insulting” to characterize my advice in his angry and defensive response to my column. My objective explanations, background, and advice are based on many volumes of learned academic publications and on my extensive and thoughtful experiences as a professor and rabbi over four decades. My words are chosen with great care, and my advice intends to foster understanding and goodwill in our community.

In his response, Rabbi Goldin evades the issue of my column. He does not tell us whether he would attend a bat mitzvah to which he was invited at a Conservative synagogue and pray in the sanctuary with the congregation, or whether he would stand in the hallway, or whether he would make an excuse and not attend the service at all.

My column aims at focusing on issues by answering the questions of individuals who have the right to seek and receive respect and dignity and meaning in their lives through Judaism.