To thine own self be true

To thine own self be true

“Over the years, in this space, I have angered people, I have hurt them, perhaps inadvertently I even maligned some of them. I chose to close my eyes to their truths, to their certainties. I chose only to see the ‘right way,’ which meant my way….

“Not everything I ever wrote was wrong, not every opinion I ever held was incorrect….If I can learn to write without the columnist’s conceit, and if people still believe there is some value in what I have to say, perhaps I will return to this space some day.”

I was wrong when I wrote those words.

Not the sentiment; that was on the mark. I meant those words when I wrote them in late January and I still do, but I was wrong nonetheless. This is an opinion column. Its goal never was to win over readers to my way of thinking. It was to get them thinking about the issues, and to give them – give you – a reasoned argument supported by my understanding of Jewish law, because the way in which Jewish law relates to modern issues, at least as I see it, is what this column is about.

My error was in believing that I could express my views in a way that would not anger, not hurt, not malign.

Yet it is impossible, for example, to write about the perceived protection given to wrongdoers without being perceived as maligning those who may be providing such protection, however they justify doing so.

To neither anger nor hurt are worthy goals, but it is not possible to attain them. I have deeply held opinions that are just as deeply felt. If I am to be true to myself, I cannot compromise on what I believe to be true. Yes, I must acknowledge and respect that others have a different truth, but I cannot water down my beliefs to such a degree that people with strong opinions opposite my own will be neither angry nor hurt.

Of course, I would hope that my words will be received by all with the benefit of the doubt as to my intentions, but I must accept that this is not always possible.

I withdrew because I felt that I was becoming divisive, rather than helping us as a community to find common ground. What I should have done, however, was stand my own ground. I do not mean insisting that I am correct and everyone else is wrong. By backing away from my column, however, I was in essence acknowledging an untruth: that I agreed with my critics that I was wrong. While true in a few cases, that is not true in the majority of them. Others may have their truths, but my truths are no less valid from my perspective.

There is a Yiddish expression, “A rabbi whose community doesn’t want to throw him out is no rabbi; a rabbi who lets his community throw him out is no man.” That may be a bit extreme, but it does characterize what I allowed to happen in the last few months: I ceased being true to myself. In so doing, I made a mockery of what I believe and what I strived for in these many years since taking pen in hand.

I also allowed the opinions of others to influence me even when, deep down, I disagreed with those opinions. For example, it was said – it probably still is being said – that I am anti-Orthodox and that I routinely malign Orthodox belief and practices. It may be true that I hold the myriad iterations of Orthodoxy to a higher standard, but that does not make me anti-Orthodox. There is validity in all of Judaism’s streams, Orthodoxy (which bred me and educated me) included. We all have much to learn from one another. Only together can we truly create a lasting and vibrant Jewish life in the United States. Yet we shut ourselves off from the Other especially because the Other is another side of ourselves.

Over the past nearly three months, among the most heartwarming expressions of support have come from Orthodox readers – including a local Chabad rabbi, and of course Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. These readers did not always agree with what I wrote, they said, but I made them think, and they missed that.

There are those in the Orthodox communities who would prefer I remain silent, but theirs are not the only voices. There are people on the political right who have the same preference.

It is time to take up the pen again (well, hit the keys again). Why now and not a month from now or six months from now? Timing – but not of my own devising.

What moved me to return to the column was the advent of Shavuot, the festival devoted to the study of Torah, on the one hand, and an act of Congress on the other.

Each day’s session of Congress opens with the chaplains of the two respective houses, or some visiting members of the clergy, offering prayers to God. Countless words are expended from the floors of both chambers about what God wants. Yet most of the “Bible thumpers” in the House and Senate have no idea what God wants, or even care. They wear God on their lapel pins, invoke Him on their lips, but do not carry Him in their hearts. How Congress handled the sequester fiasco is proof. God, or so the Torah tells us, wants us to care for the needs of the poor, but Congress repeatedly chooses to ignore those needs – and did in its recent “sequestration solution.”

Congress made its choice and now I must make mine. I choose to be true to myself – and to you – by ending my silence.