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We Need to Get Our Own House in Order

I appreciate Rabbi Stern’s insightful and eloquent plea for the American Jewish community to make a concerted effort to begin building bridges to the Muslim world and to the American Muslim community in particular. It certainly is one of the gravest areas we need to address as we do a communal cheshbon ha-nefesh (spiritual accounting) ahead of Rosh Hashanah.
Another area that needs urgent attention–equally dire and even more frustrating because it is self-generated–is the tenor of discussion within our own community as different segments act in increasingly polarizing ways and use increasingly provocative language in an attempt to delegitimize others.


Just some of the sordid examples include the demonization of the Conservative movement after its decision earlier this year to ordain openly gay and lesbian rabbis. Another is the refusal of former President of Israel Moshe Katzav to refer to Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism as ‘rabbi’ in June. Meanwhile, Orthodox rabbis in Israel disenfranchised Orthodox rabbis in North America by refusing to accept their conversions in all but a small number of cases. On the other side, rhetoric has heated up in some parts of the Jewish world decrying Israel’s settlement policies, while Noah Feldman bashed Modern Orthodoxy (subscription required) for its supposed hypocrisy in attempting to maintain traditional observances while living fully in the modern world (at the same time, ultraorthodox papers have bashed the movement for being too far to the left!).
This lack of tolerance and frank effort at demonization threatens to undermine one of the core tenets of Jewish identity: that we are one people and, even when we disagree (as Jews have down through the ages) ultimately it’s still a disagreement between family. I believe this sad state of affairs, where leshon ha-ra (wicked speech) and sinat chinam (baseless hatred) are so casually accepted as part of doing business poses an even greater existential threat to the Jewish community than Islam ever could. Because if we can’t get our own house in order then we’re in no shape to take on any of the external challenges confronting us.

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laura t mushkat

posted September 5, 2007 at 3:30 pm

One of the reasons for the problems the article mentions is that with such places as this on the internet we can finally express our feeling for segments of the Jewish population we disagree with or dislike without anyone really knowing who we are. It is just like anything else in this new technological age we live in.
I predict these things will only increase because their were always such feelings. Now even if we never met Jews unlike ourselves we can listen to their words and hear about their beliefs.
What may occur in a new Jewish faith that involves everyone under one umbrella. This will most likely not occur in our time because things will probubly have to get much worse before it gets better.
It is sad, exciting, and interesting all at once.

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posted September 8, 2007 at 6:36 pm

I am alarmed by what I perceive as a chronic judgmental state between one Jewish denomination and another. I can’t see where being judgmental is ever an attractive or useful quality. While some of us may differ to the degree we regard Torah as God-given (vs. divinely inspired), I would hope we can find common cause (and thus mutual respect) in the Jewish system of ethics.

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Paula Nelson

posted September 24, 2007 at 1:33 am

I think you’ll find that the polarizing comments and movements concentrate on the political and not Spirit.
When one focuses on Spirit you find common grounds. When you focus on the political you find reasons to include and exclude in order to build a power base.

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