By Rabbi Brad Hirschfield
British Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, will address a global audience this Sunday. The questions raised by the format of the address, its sponsorship and who is giving it however, raise important questions about its stated goal of building Jewish unity.
Given Rabbi Sack’s work in books such as Dignity of Difference, To Heal a Fractured World, and The Home We Build Together, and his engaging speaking style, this public address in advance of Passover, should be quite interesting. For those interested in hearing the talk, more information about how to do so can be found at www.unitylecture.com, but that is beside the point.
The real issue is what is meant by “Jewish unity” and whether the initiative which brings us this talk is actually building it or undermining it. My guess is that it is doing some of both.
Jewish unity is invoked by virtually every Jewish cause, but too often it means nothing more than effectively gathering people under a specific set of beliefs or practices already held by one group. That’s not unity, its uniformity. And it’s more of a marketing ploy that plays on our need to feel whole or unified in our often fractured lives and world. My concern is that this talk is an example of just that use of Jewish unity.
The talk itself is being delivered globally, only in the sense that there will be places around the world where it will be screened. But the screenings are almost always in Chabad centers. In New York State they are only in Chabad centers, with one possible exception. New York is not without a large number of Jewish institutions, and yet there is no way to access this “global address” without entering the world of Chabad. Not that there is anything wrong with that, or with Chabad. But if the purpose of the talk is to build Jewish unity, would it not be appropriate to make this as available as possible to as many Jews as possible in as many places as possible?
The same critique can be made of the presenters who are part of this series, which was kicked off by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who is followed by Rabbi Sacks, who is followed by Former Israeli Chief Rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great men, from all of whom it has been my privilege to learn, and from whom we can all learn more. But an all Orthodox, all male, group is hardly reflective of anyone’s desire unify the Jewish people on the Jewish people’s own terms.
In fact, the very notion of Chief Rabbis is pretty weird for most Jews, even those in England and Israel where the two chief rabbis come from. In England, the United Synagogue is anything but. Despite the enlightened and sophisticated leadership which Rabbi Sacks provides, the official Jewish religion of the UK is a quickly shrinking thing.
And in Israel, one can easily argue that no group has done more to damage the good name of Torah and Judaism than the state sponsored chief rabbinate. Offering Jews a “my way or the highway” approach to Judaism in Israel, it has created generations of Jews who feel forced to choose between their Jewishness and their personal integrity. And given that choice, we know how most people choose.
Chabad is a truly amazing organization. They are among the most/only groups that are truly fearless about the future and about the ability of Judaism and its teaching to contribute to making that future better. Of course, I would be lying if I failed to tell you that CLAL is also high on that short list.
But representatives of Chabad, like the Starship Enterprise, have often gone where no man has gone before, in order to celebrate their brand of Judaism with all who are interested. That demonstrates a love of what they live and a confidence about its value from which all believers in any cause, can learn.
In the end however, that alone does not build the kind of unity for which most of us yearn. To achieve real unity, we must learn to celebrate diversity, be grateful for the unique gifts and insights that come from those who do not look like us, think like us, or practice like us. We must come to fully embrace what Rabbi Sacks calls the dignity of difference, about which I hope he speaks on Sunday. When we do that, the “unity thing” will take care of itself.
– Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He is listed as one of the nation’s 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek. This article appeared as a blog on beliefnet.com
Thank You for the exposure. The biggest marketing campaign won’t come close to producing results like this article will. Certainly many more yidden will take part part because of you.Share
lets be honest. the guy is right. Merkos will not include in its “Unity” lecture even those shluchim Merkos started up with.
There is no unity it’s all a ployShare
I get your point.
However, it does not justify this ‘rabbi’s hate. Note how he tries to pull down in his article Chabad, Orthodoxy, Chief Rabbis, etc.
The man’s a bum. Case closed.
Even though the tone of the article is quite condecending to chabad, he does have some valid points.
A. why is the event being hosted only in chabad houses and not in more central locations (the issue is not the unity of it rather the opportunity to reach more jews)
B. the chief rabbinate really does smell bad, but thats just a issue of selcting the wrong people to speak, not the actual event.
However from the general jist of the article it seems that hirschfeild who is the head of a orgnization called CLAL which pruposes to promote jewsih unity, it would seem that he is just trying to promote his own agenda.
as well i agree with above poster that this will help publisize this event more than anything elseShare
Hey, the man makes a few good points, and we should there are a few ways in which chabad “corporate can improve itself,Share
this “unity” lecture is as much about Unity like Chabad.org that needs money or like finally the hecher fensters made peace – give me a break who are they fooling??? themselvs. is it any kuntz to fool a foolShare
Maybe these lectures are screened only in Chabad Houses because only Chabad truly believes in & seeks peace & harmony.
Perhaps other places aren’t interested. Case closed [again :))) ]Share
Hes right. Unity Means real diverse unity. However, Try to introduce this Chabad production into other non Chabad communities especially Frum ones, and see the response. It will speak for itself.Share
even in chabad houses its not allowed.. it depends if you are the right Chabad house onlythen it is unity… yeneh jokeShare
Hirschfield is an anti chabad anti Jewish org, they believe that yiddishkeis will be gone in 20 yrs and that we should bring in non jews to keep it going, he is a creep and has no respect in the Jewish world.Share
why does collive give this ‘rabbi’ and his organization any airtime? this is not a frum organization – aderabbeh, it is an association devoted to destroying yiddishkeit as we know it! see for yourself – link to this organization’s website to get a listing of its associates: http://www.clal.org/ac_index.html. their staff include r’l 5 woman ‘rabbis’, among other ‘clergy’ who are not considered orthodox.Share
of course these types will complain and accuse us that we don’t include them in our ‘pluralism’. Boruch Hahsem!
please collive and readers, we must be more vigilant and responsible in whom we should provide precious web space to and to whom we need bother responding to. to accept even one iota of what this ‘rabbi’ says, true or not, starts a very slippery slide down a dangerous slope. it is incumbent upon us not to accept anything that an apikoyress has to offer.