Years ago, my father told me a story from the Satmar Rav, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l . There were once two brothers who lived near each other but could rarely dine with each other. They were both very wealthy and could afford the finest food. The problem was that one brother loved dairy food while the other enjoyed meat – the milchiger brother and the fleishiger brother.
The milchiger brother served the finest cheeses, most delicious pastries, blintzes with cream and potatoes. The fleishiger brother, on the other hand, dined on the most exclusive cuts of meat, poultry, pheasant, and potatoes.
As time went on, and the economy worsened, they both became financially strapped. The milchiger brother was forced to do without the cheeses, and the fleishiger brother had to cut out some of the meat. Times got yet worse and the milchiger brother had to do without the pastries and blintzes, while the fleishiger brother had to discard the poultry.
Eventually, it reached the point where both brothers were eating only potatoes. They looked at each other and said, “Since we are both just eating potatoes, we might as well eat together.”
The Satmar Rav explained that originally there were pitched battles between chasidim, led by the Baal HaTanya, vs. the misnagdim (opponents of chasidim) led by the Vilna Gaon. Later it became the Noda BiYehudah vs. the talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov. Then it became little squabbles by much lesser giants. Today, said the Satmar, chasidim and misnagdim are like those two brothers. We might as well eat our potatoes together.
Decades ago, there were serious issues that separated the Agudah and the Modern Orthodox world. Membership in the Synagogue Council of America (SCA) was one issue. The g’dolim of the Agudah world were dead set against any membership in any organization that included non-Orthodox. The Modern Orthodox community’s leadership espoused just the opposite. Through membership in an eclectic organization, they maintained, the Orthodox can have influence and a decisive vote.
Approaches to Zionism, secular education, and integrating with society were all dividing lines between the two worlds. There were real turf wars taking place between the Orthodox camps.
All that has changed in recent times. The SCA imploded on its own. The lines between the pro-Zionist and the non-Zionist world have become blurred. In fact, in many cases, the Agudah has been more outspoken as an advocate for Israel than have the others. Chareidi people tend to vote based on a candidate’s position on Israel at greater numbers than do the more modern.
Secular education has become a moot issue. Certainly, in America, there are chareidi-leaning institutions that have or advocate college such as Touro and Ner Yisroel. On the other hand, Yeshiva University has a serious kollel. Many in the chareidi world have been able to study for a secular degree to enter the professions and business. Both the chareidi community and the modern community have integrated with society and the world about us, as they have paradoxically separated, as well.
What has become very clear is that the dividing lines between the Orthodox and the secular communities have become insurmountable. While the Orthodox look to embrace and work with all our Jewish brethren, there is very little that we have in common. Our voting patterns, our family values, our outlook towards Israel, and, of course, our level of halachic observance are radically different – sometimes beyond recognition.
What do the Orthodox gain by being off on their own? There is so much more that unites the Orthodox camps than divides us. What does the OU and NCYI gain by being part of larger secular organizations? Not power and not even influence. What does the Agudah gain by not working jointly with the OU and NCYI? Don’t worry, you will not lose your identity just because you join hands and organize a rally for a Jewish or Israeli cause. Or even formulate a Torah study program together.
I wrote a letter to the OU’s Jewish Action a few months back, asking why they do not consider Rav Hirsch’s Austritt plan of secession from the non-Orthodox community. What have they gained by remaining in these organizations? The letter was rejected for publication, sadly.
Think about it. Arizona, despite only a handful of Jews living there, managed to deny any contractual relationship with Ben & Jerry’s for its anti-Semitic BDS participation. Yet in New York and New Jersey...gornisht! All our mighty organizations said nary a word. What does that say about our organizations’ advocacy? (The Agudah, to its credit, did make some noise.)
Don’t you think these three organizations could have orchestrated significant public reaction if they were united? How about a rally in Vermont in front of Ben & Jerry’s headquarters? How about a rally in support of our brothers and sisters here and in Israel during the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel? How about a yarchei kallah featuring talmidei chachamim from all the camps? Get on the phone. Call yeshivos and synagogues. Take out joint ads. Get the people! Ironically, Rav Hirsch created his own united front of Orthodoxy, and it was known as the Orthodox Union!
Let’s face it: We no longer have fleishig-only feasters and none of us are exclusively milchig consumers. The least we can do is eat our small potatoes together.
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.