Over time, the articles that I’ve written for this paper have interested some, inspired others, and upset a few.
During the summer, I wrote an article titled “Cancel Culture Comes to Orthodoxy.” In that article, I contend that in the Modern Orthodox world of chinuch, the emotional attachment to Yiddishkeit is missing. The joy of learning Torah, the teachings of Religious Zionism, and the need to attend minyan are being forsaken as the generations move on.
I was surprised at the broad level of support that I received from a wide range of circles, especially from many in the Modern Orthodox world. Yet there was some serious criticism, as well, as might be expected. Now is not the time to rehash the topic.
Surprisingly, the article had its impact. One rabbi is working with a major rabbinic organization to address the issue in an organized fashion. Very surprisingly, a major Orthodox high school in the city is now working on a separate track in its school to offer students interested in a more “yeshivish” type of approach to their studies. In other words, the teaching of Torah will be less academic and more “heimish,” or emotion-driven. When asked by someone I know, the yeshivah claimed their new approach had nothing to do with my article. Perhaps. I’ll believe them right now, and I certainly wish them every success in their undertaking. I am just glad that some of the schools are thinking in that direction.
I also wrote separately “An Open Letter to Agudath Israel of America,” as well as “An Open Letter to the Orthodox Union.” In the letter to the Agudah, I plead with them to consider appointing rabbanim (pulpit rabbis) to their rabbinic leadership, and not just roshei yeshivah. I know that some of the Agudah loyalists were upset with me for going public with my plea. But guess what? Over the summer, the Agudah appointed at least two rabbanim to their Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Can I be so presumptive as to take credit for that? As much as I would love to, I’m not that arrogant. However, it does go to show that my proposal was not so outlandish.
My letter to the Orthodox Union asked of that organization to get out of the Presidents Conference (the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations), as the Orthodox organizations have no measurable impact on the increasingly left-leaning secular representatives. I know I ruffled some feathers with that letter, as well. I do remain more convinced than ever that I am right.
In a recent edition of the Jewish Action, its president, Moishe Bane (formerly of Kew Gardens Hills), wrote an article in which he outlined the dilemma that Orthodox organizations face as they weigh the advantages and disadvantages of partnering with secular Jewish organizations.
Below you will find my letter to the editor in reaction to his article. The JA declined to publish the letter with the flimsiest of excuses. When I persisted in asking for an explanation for their decision, I was told that although they “appreciate my suggestions as always,” I should let them know when the Agudah will be willing to join forces with them.
So here’s my challenge: Please Unite! As Rav Zelig Epstein zt”l once exclaimed, “Klal Yisrael’s pants are on fire and you are worried about their tie?!” It is unthinkable that with all of the onslaught against Torah values, and the attacks on Israel coming from within our own Jewish community, that we who share traditional values must bicker amongst ourselves.
Perhaps I’m a nuisance – but I was proven correct before.
Moishe Bane, in his article “The Anatomy of Holy Alliances,” presents a very cogent portrayal of the sometimes-excruciating dilemma faced by Orthodox organizations as they struggle with the question of maintaining alliances with the non-Orthodox to accomplish common goals versus the appearances of sanctioning the ideals and values of the non-Torah community.
Mr. Bane outlines historical realities that at times necessitated such alliances. One example cited was the willingness of the anti-Zionist Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, in the early part of the last century, to engage with the unsavory Jacob Israël de Haan for the purpose of representing the chareidim and Agudath Israel in the political arena.
Conspicuously absent in Mr. Bane’s article is reference to Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. Rav Hirsch, in the latter part of the 19th century, led his k’hilah to the Austritt secessionist movement against organized mainstream Jewry to successfully combat the rages of Reform and non-Orthodoxy. That move at the time was highly controversial, with criticism coming from both the left and the right. But Hirsch persevered and is credited with saving a major portion of Jewry from spiritual extinction.
I think it is fair to assume that Mr. Bane and the Orthodox Union face the same dilemma with their current membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (the Presidents Conference).
Years ago, the major differences between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox were the level of keeping mitzvos and theological debates in our approach to our faith. Today, however, there is virtually no common ground. On religious, social, and political matters, we are poles apart. Even when it comes to support for Israel, we have just about nothing in common, as the non-Orthodox shift radically to the left.
This means that the coalition with the non-Orthodox serves no real purpose. We haven’t seen any appreciable influence that the Orthodox organizations can display for their membership. The advantage of remaining in the Presidents Conference wanes as compared to the great disadvantage of appearing to sanction their antithetical ways.
It would be much more meaningful for a coalition to be formed of Jewish organizations that can find a common purpose on all of the above-mentioned agenda items. I suggest that the Orthodox Union, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America, Agudath Israel, the Zionist Organization of America, and the Coalition for Jewish Values form such an alliance. It would be much more impactful with none of the drawbacks. Yes, I know the Agudah would be resistant, but it is safe to say that even Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld would consider such a proposal nowadays.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld
Kew Gardens Hills, New York
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.