Here is a memory from my days in elementary school in the mid-eighties.

Rabbi Avi Weiss had just returned from Poland, where he bravely protested the opening of a monastery on the grounds of Auschwitz, which is essentially the largest Jewish graveyard in the entire world.

The school called an assembly and Rabbi Weiss was to explain the situation and his advocacy to the boys. Rabbi Weiss’ son was in our seventh grade class.

The seventh-grade Rebbe was Rabbi Yehoshua Kaganoff. He was a dedicated and principled rebbe with the hashkafos of Rav Schwab and the Kehilla running deep in his veins. He is also a Kohein.

At the close of the presentation Rabbi Kaganoff asked Rabbi Weiss how he could have walked through Auschwitz as a Kohen who is barred from entry to a cemetery.

Rabbi  Weiss retorted with something halachic and something meta-halachic about the importance of his mission.

The answer was rejected by Rabbi Kaganoff and the tenor of the two Kohanim rose until they both stormed out and Mr. Breuer z’L was left standing alone before his pupils. He then addressed us with something like,” You know boys, sometimes people disagree and this is how it plays out…”

Rabbi Kaganoff was not intimidated by the fact that this was a parent of a student in his class. Perhaps he thought this could be a teaching moment (it was!) or perhaps he assumed there was a palatable response (such as, “We were careful not to approach the crematoriums.”) and not one that he would need to challenge.

Here is my point in relating this story. We had great rebbeim with strong principles, and they felt empowered by having Rav Schwab at the helm.

Another point: Breuers should hold a special place in the world of competing hashkafos and the impingement of the culture-wars into the realm of religious thought. We NEED to be the voice of modernity with the unabashed commitment to halacha and the indifference to the whims of the outside- whether it be a call to halachic leniency, stringencies where we have an accepted precedent, or calls to bend the sterling mesorah of daas Torah to the whims of catchphrases of social justice warriors and their smug movements that self-proclaim their virtues.

One final point. The frum community should never have launched a smear campaign on the aforementioned Rabbi from Riverdale. Firstly, such campaigns (they existed mostly in newspapers and not in rabbinic literature) would only cause the members of the movement to dig their heels deeper in the ground. Secondly, it smacked of sensationalism, “Look what they’re doing now!” Moreover, it never concerned the readers of those columns. The way it should have been brought to light should have been in the style of polemical literature that was once a popular medium among intelectuals on all ends of the spectrum. A book or pamphlet should have been written with the direct quotes and positions of the faculty and alumni of his organization. The authors could have reached out to each of them for clarification. Finally, the book would be sold in stores but would be picked up solely by those who are in public administration or are otherwise inclined to ideas of hashkafa and the preservation of the Mesorah.

Additionally, the campaign lacked context. The general population of the Torah-world (charedim, popularly) are – in my opinion- unaware of what Modern Orthodoxy is, in its original 1960s to 1980s form. We have begun to recognize, accept and admire the proponents of the “machmir” movement within MO and its, of late, revered leaders such as Rabbis Schachter and Willig. Frum social media as well as the circuit of inspirational kiruv speakers has given a voice to thinkers who “ride-the-line” between the camps- meaning that they can both tow-the-line o the olam haTorah and participate in MO ritual such as Zionism, and a comfortable association with popular culture, its stars and its social mediums.

This is further driven by Jewish music stars that freely ride the lines of charedi and MO communities with songs and videos honoring both hasmada in Torah and tzahal soldiers.

With the portrait of one big happy family spread innocently before their eyes, the community is appalled by a rabbi ordaining a woman, or his students questioning basics of Rambam’s 13 principles.

But a better understanding of the non-machmir community would give the naïve charedi social meida surfer  greater pause than the idea of a yoetzet or a rabba .

A non-machmir member of the MO community does not measure skirt lenghts, but is wholly comfortable with women in pants. A rabbi’s wife might not cover her hair. A couple that is dating might travel abroad together (in separate hotel rooms).  Intimate touching between singles etc. etc. The weddings might have fully mixed dancing and the rabbi might join the circle. Some of these things have been addressed in literature some of it is a matter of “minhag avoseihem beyadeihem”. (I have a video on YouTube of Rabbi Weiss dancing in 1984 with his congregants.)

Why is this important to know? Because when you understand your “opponent”, you understand his positions. Perhaps the Charedi tent has gotten bigger, but not everyone is in it yet. When talking to, or about, those outside of the tent there needs to be a full understanding of their approach to halacha before understanding their approach to hashkafa. We have to appreciate that while our opinions with regard to activism, Zionism, and modern trends can be seen as reactionary- we have never strayed from halacha, and are still considered a beacon of approaching modernity with the strength of the Torah.

Understanding Your “Opponent”

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