A Closing Response to Jonathan Schorsch

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I sent the letter below to the Jerusalem Post last week. I don’t know if it was published or not, but thought I would share it with Cross-Currents’ readers.

Editor:

It was surprising – and saddening – to read Dr. Jonathan Schorsch interpret the fact that many haredi children’s media extol ahavat Yisrael as evidence that there must then be a dearth of such love in the Orthodox community. He seems inexplicably bent on seeing the negative.

And it was disappointing to read that he still insists that rejection of Reform or Conservative theologies implies rejection of Jews who affiliate with those movements. I have no doubt that Dr. Schorsch considers some belief-systems to be clearly beyond the Jewish pale – and no doubt, either, that he does not reject Jews who claim to have embraced them.

That said, I thank Dr. Schorsch for accepting my Shabbat invitation. The Shafrans truly look forward to meeting the Schorsches. He can reach me at Agudath Israel – 212 797-9000.

As to the “real question” he poses – whether I would be willing to visit with a non-Orthodox Jew and have what food my kashrut level permits me – the answer is “of course!” I have done that many times, and hope to in the future as well.

Rabbi Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America

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11 Responses

  1. Rabbi Avi Shafran says:

    Dear Irving,

    You cannot (and do not) know my or anyone’s motivations for choosing their level of observance. And thus assuming that it is to “feel special” is not what I would consider consonant with ahavat Yisrael. Might a choice to, say, eat only glatt kosher or chalav Yisrael be motivated by a decision to please G-d — or to have a home in which others feel comfortable eating?

    I don’t think I will convince you that my choice not to eat anything anywhere I’m invited doesn’t bespeak condescension toward other Jews. But let me assure you that, somehow, I am not insulted when someone cannot eat in my house because they have chosen standards more strict than mine. To take umbrage doesn’t cross my mind or hurt my feelings in any way.

    I would like to hope that all Jews will come to a similar acceptance of the choices — and honest ahavat Yisrael all the same — of other Jews.

    Chag same’ach,

    AS

  2. irving says:

    You nailed the point Yaakov.

    R. Avi has “as a personal choice” decided to eat some foods and not others. It’s not clear whether this is because he is “stringent” or because he lacks trust in certain rabbis and prefers to trust others or because he just likes to feel special.

    Since he excludes himself from a set group, it seems like he does to some degree want to feel special, act as if he is adhering to a “higher standard.”

    Actually the notion that one standard is stricter is not the issue. Orthodox practitioners like R. Avi adhere to a narrower standard – a narrower number of Jews accept that standard — but that does not make the standard higher or more sacred.

    So by making himself part of a smaller elite, R. Avi underscores that he feels more holy than others.

    When R. Avi won’t eat in their houses, that is offensive to some Jews who also believe that they adhere to high standards – but choose to accept standards that are accessible to a greater number of Jews.

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    Clearly the Orthodox world is not the monolith that Beryl and others have been led to imagine. I am certain that if the Cross-Currents writers were to exhaustively document the Kashrus standards employed in their homes, no two would be completely in accordance.

    Nor would I be in any way offended if, as a result, Rabbi Shafran were to decline an offer of food because I am not stringent in an area where he is. With all due respect, I think Rabbi Shafran’s medical example is less than ideal, because a diabetic cannot consume sugar. Most vegetarians, on the other hand, do so as a personal choice, and many find meat consumption troubling or even immoral. I think they’re mistaken, but see no reason to press the matter with a deli sandwich. Does Irving?

  4. beryl says:

    “Obviously I would not compromise my standards,…”

    I am confused. Do you have personal kashrut standards? I thought you were a member of a group.

  5. bag says:

    “rabbi could you give the name of one non-orthodox jew whose hospitality you accepted and a description of the foods that your kashruth level allowed you to eat there? if you drank water and ate an apple then that is not much to brag about. in fact if the party entertaining you considered their home kosher and you refused to eat on their plates or any food that was cooked, then again that is not much to brag about.”

    In the original article Dr Shorsch said that OJews would not accept an apple or glass of tea (I think) in a nonOrthodox home. He then skipped to the claim that great Orthodox rabbis used to eat hot food at nonOrthodox houses.

    You’re being clear that you object to any refusal to eat the food the host serves even if there is no attempt to accomodate kashrut. I don’t agree with you that it’s insulting or inappropriate to refuse hot food from someone who doesn’t eat kosher, or doesn’t keep kashrut stringencies you might keep, but that’s a difference of opinion. Dr Shorsch, however, made an inaccurate claim about what most OJews do, and he also obscured what he would or wouldn’t consider acceptable by jumping from this alleged refusal to eat anything whatsoever in a nonOrthodox home to eating hot food.

  6. Rabbi Avi Shafran says:

    Dear Irving,

    I hope you’ll understand that I don’t feel comfortable publicly posting the names of families whose kashrut standards are not as stringent as mine. If you don’t trust me, please feel free to call my wife (and if you consider her suspect too, well then, step outside).

    My recollection was not intended as “bragging” but simply as a straightforward response to the question Dr. Schorsch posed as the “real” one – implying that I would refuse to be hosted by a less observant Jew simply because he was less observant. What I ate at any of those occasions is of no pertinence at all. Obviously I would not compromise my standards, any more than I would my medical dietary restrictions were I diabetic or hypoglycemic. What Dr. Schorsch, I believe, was asking was whether traditional Orthodox Jews want no connection to less observant ones, and therefore would dismiss any invitations out of hand.

    I simply responded that I would not and never have. I cherish every Jew and every Jew’s offer of friendship.

    AS

  7. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Dr. Schorsch lacks first-hand knowledge of the frum community children’s media( “I am unaware of the many articles in the Orthodox press and the many children’s CDs”). It is obvious that recordings like Uncle Moishy or the Marvelous Middos Machine for children, or the Chafetz Chaim Heritage Foundation’s activities for all ages, are dealing with character issues that have been around since time-immemorial, and are a strength of the frum community, rather than a weakness.

    Dr. Schorsch’s point, that ideas can have an effect of building walls, would seem more applicable to intra-Orthodox relations, rather than to relations with the non-observant because ironically, in the latter case, the fact that there is already a distance on the level of the movements and organizations, precludes the need to build walls on the individual level. The fragmentation of the Torah community is something which needs to be dealt with, and there have been articles by Rabbi Yehuda(Leo) Levi, Rabbi Yissacher Frand, and others. For example, Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman has written(June, 2006 JO):”it is an undeniable fact that at no time since the churban in Europe has the Torah world suffered such fragmentation”.

    Yet, the same groups support organizations which engage in kindness to the entire community. Rather than saying that there is a dearth of ahvas Yisreal, I would say that a growth in population in any group with strong principles will create challenges for unity. In a similar way, the fact that people in large cities have received a reputation for not greeting each other properly on Shabbos does not point to a lack of ahavas Yisrael, but rather to the fact that living in a large city, or in a splintered Jewish community can create artificial barriers of awkwardness that require emotional energy on the part of some when attempting to extend the concept of community to strangers.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Irving, (May 16, 2007 @ 10:44 am)

    It’s praiseworthy to obey HaShem even at the risk of incurring your ridicule, and blameworthy to “make nice” in a way that disobeys Him.

  9. irving says:

    rabbi could you give the name of one non-orthodox jew whose hospitality you accepted and a description of the foods that your kashruth level allowed you to eat there? if you drank water and ate an apple then that is not much to brag about. in fact if the party entertaining you considered their home kosher and you refused to eat on their plates or any food that was cooked, then again that is not much to brag about.

  10. Sarah Shapiro says:

    As far as I know, this gracious response did not appear yet in the Post, but let’s hope they intend to use it.

  11. S. says:

    It was surprising – and saddening – to read Dr. Jonathan Schorsch interpret the fact that many haredi children’s media extol ahavat Yisrael as evidence that there must then be a dearth of such love in the Orthodox community. He seems inexplicably bent on seeing the negative.

    I agree. Although this principle is used in historical reconstructions, it is faulty and basically an ‘en brerah,’ for lack of better material. The idea is that laws are designed to address contemporary issues. Thus, laws against drunk driving inform us that drunk driving exists; its absence would tend to demonstrate that it doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t a big issue. Jewish sumptuary laws of hundreds of years ago inform us something about what kind of jewelry Jews wore. The kinds of questions addressed in she’elot u-teshuvot impart similar information. Similarly, Schorsch argues that the presence of shmiras ha-lashon campaigns, shiurim about chesed, etc indicates that there is a lack of these things, else why are these issues being addressed? Well, that’s somewhat true. It’s also true that the Chafets Chaim perceived a basic disregard for the inyan of shmiras ha-lashon and so literally wrote the book(s) on it. But by the same time we can’t over interpret data. The fact that no work existed on shmiras ha-lashon before the 1870s doesn’t properly tell us that until 1870 Jews didn’t gossip. Conversely, it doesn’t tell us that since 1870 Jews have gossipped like never before. It does tell us that the problem existed and that people wish to do something about it.

    Same thing with all the shiurim, workshops and the like. Yes, they do tell us something about the problems and concerns in the Orthodox community today. I wonder, would Schorsch agree that the lack of workshops and forums about sexual abuse in contemporary Orthodoxy–or at least the lack of such twenty years ago–indicates its absence? Of course not. Conversely, were there many such forums would that be proof only of the problem and not of the concerns and solutions of contemporaries?

    Don’t over interpret–not only is it unsound methodology, it can happen in both directions.