The Mishnah in N’darim (9:10) records Rabbi Yishmael as declaring, “All daughters of Israel are beautiful. Unfortunately, however, sometimes poverty robs them of their beauty.” That mishnah ends by noting that when Rabbi Yishmael died, the daughters of Israel held a special eulogy for him.
I believe that we can apply the same to the Jewish people. Despite the unprecedented division of our people along religious/political lines, at the core, we are truly one people.
We have all seen the major rallies taking place in Israel in either direction with no red lines (from the left, at least), including personal attacks, anti-religious bigotry emanating from the vaunted IDF, the IAF, and even El Al. We seem to be a nation torn in half right down the line. On occasion, we see a glimmer of leftists being nostalgic about their religious days, and the religious reaching out to the secular (for lack of better word) brethren.
I have just returned from a two-day conference of the Kashrus Division of the Orthodox Union held in the Meadowlands Hilton. The breadth and depth of the growing OU and its services throughout the globe is breathtaking. The professionalism and the dedication of the entire staff, men and women alike, are something to behold. My purpose here is not to report on the program, but to describe the nature of the participants.
The Kashrus office staff and its field representatives, as seen at the conference, consisted of musmachim (ordained rabbis) from the yeshivos of Ner Israel in Baltimore, Lakewood, Yeshiva University, Chofetz Chaim, Chaim Berlin, Emek Halacha, Lubavitch, and Torah Vodaath – plus a whole host of other yeshivos. Chasidim, misnagdim (or not chasidish), black hats, kippot serugot (knitted yarmulkas), brim-up hats, Sefardim, light-skinned, dark-skinned, gartels, non-gartels, Lubavitchers, and Satmar all mixed comfortably with each other throughout the conference.
Beside the panelists discussing the latest developments in kashrus and technology, there were several noted speakers in addition to Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbi Moshe Elefant, and Rav Hershel Schachter shlita. I should mention that a special tribute was held for my friend Rabbi Yaakov Luban, who announced his retirement.
Rav Shapira, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem, and Rav Elya Brudny, member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel, delivered shiurim in halachah and hashkafah.
Rabbi Brudny made an extremely important observation. He said, in the name of the Satmar Rav zt”l, that following World War II, he sensed that the reason for the mass assimilation in America in those days was due to Jews not observing kashrus, which eroded the very character of being Jewish. Rav Brudny stated that there is no doubt that the trailblazer in making kosher available to Jews throughout the country was the OU, and that every stripe of Jew relies on the OU, if not for finished product, then certainly for ingredients used in all products.
The rav of the shul where I daven in Baltimore is Rav Pinchas Gross, an outstanding young talmid chacham. Every morning following Shacharis, Rabbi Gross offers a three-minute thought in musar or hashkafah. This morning, he quoted from the collection of baraisos known as Tana D’Vei Rabbi Yishmael (collection of teachings from the yeshivah of Rabbi Yishmael). The baraisa stated that the final Redemption will not take place until ten students are found studying Torah with each other. Rav Gross quoted Rav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l, mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, who asked the obvious: We find many students studying Torah with each other, so why hasn’t the Redemption arrived?
Rabbi Wachtfogel explained that it is easy to find ten students studying Torah. The question is: Are they learning with each other? That is, are they respectful of each other’s approach to Yiddishkeit? Do they respect the learning of each other no matter what background they represent? The mutual respect in our approaches to Torah study will be the harbinger of the Redemption we long for.
It occurs to me that the teachings of Rabbi Yishmael in the baraisa may be consistent with his teaching in the mishnah of N’darim. All Jews are beautiful. However, sometimes we need to remove the dust from upon our eyes to see each other’s beauty.
I can say that I’ve seen this almost Messianic display of unity and respect for each other in the arena of the OU, which otherwise may not so easily be witnessed.
That arena represents the true nature of our people. If we remove the blinders, we will have the privilege of seeing that beauty in every place we gather.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.