The “Monsey Summit” – Round Two

After some initial hesitation, I am ready to declare the much-lamented “Monsey Summit” a complete success. Definitely much-lamented. Some lament the bombastic name; others lament the fact that it took place altogether. But much lament and hand-wringing.

For me, it was a bee trap. Ever hang one of those low-tech bee traps outside the sukkah? I have nothing against bees. I respect their industry and utility. I just don’t like them flying kamikaze runs against my guests. So occasionally I hang one of those traps, put in the bait, and wait with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’d rather that all the neighborhood bees flew south for the winter. On the other, I feel pretty useless until one or more takes a wrong turn and flies into the trap, its last stop on the way to Bee Heaven. A trapped bee is evidence of a successful campaign to upgrade the comfort level of the sukkah.

Monsey Summits work the same way. As I wrote previously in what has become a topic of controversy, I walked into the meeting with minimum expectations and two intentions. I believed that people who claim that they are in pain and want a platform to talk about it should be accepted at their word, and given the chance to be heard. I believed that listening carefully to what some of the more voluble people who had left Torah practice had to say could jump-start our making whatever changes, if any, are appropriate.

I have no regrets or disappointments regarding either of these goals. Some people disagree; you can see some of their arguments in the comments to the aforementioned essay. Those arguments pale in comparison to some of the stuff that could not be published. All told, however, they amount to bees in the trap. They made the enterprise worthwhile, because they demonstrated that there are some issues that could use some discussion. If any readers accept half of what I will now say, the journey will have been worth the investment of time.

Three primary objections emerged. 1) Meeting with the no-longer-observant conferred respectability to their ideology. 2) People who were once practicing frum Jews and then choose to reject Torah are entitled to no sympathy. They are different from the majority of non-observant people, who have no real responsibility for their ignorance. 3) Because we believe in freedom of will, there is nothing to be gained in listening to people’s complaints about mistreatment that led them away from observance. They made their choices, and they are responsible according to Torah thought, regardless of what pitfalls others placed in front of them.

The first of these can be dealt with quickly, so we might just as well move it off the playing field. No one in the traditional group that I am aware of budged an inch from our position of the non-negotiable truth of Torah. Some in the other group would have loved some sort of concession that what is right for us, is not necessarily right for them. None of us gave that assurance. None of us should be held responsible for the subsequent articulation by any individual writer of how people in attendance felt, or any claim that we gave too much ground.

Too many people accepted the second point above. I do not understand why. Do we respect others, or recognize the humanity only of those with whom we agree? What about tzelem Elokim – even when possessed by people whose values and/or behavior run antipodally different from the ones by which we swear? Can’t I react with sympathy to the cry of any human being – even those whose beliefs I utterly reject? Is empathy conditional?

It is likely that many people foundered on this point because they think that the Torah wishes us to distance ourselves from those whose actions and beliefs – for whatever the reason – run counter to Hashem’s Will, as expressed by the Torah. Furthermore, they think that we fulfill this obligation to emotionally reject som people by pushing them out of our circle of caring.

They are correct about the first assumption, and mistaken about the second. A reread of the Netziv’s introduction to Bereishis is in order.

This was praiseworthy about the Avos: Besides being tzadikim and chasidim and lovers of Hashem to the maximum extent possible, they were also yesharim. This means that they conducted themselves with the nations of the world – even with despicable idolaters – with love, and sought their good, because such is contributory to the sustaining of Creation. We see this in Avrohom prostrating himself in prayer on behalf of Sodom, even though he greatly hated them and their king for their evil. Nonetheless, he desired their continued existence. Chazal explain Tehilim (45:8) אהבת לצדק ותשנא רשע to mean, “You loved to vindicate my creatures, and refrained from finding them liable. This is precisely consistent with his role as the “father of many nations.” Despite a son’s not taking an appropriate path, a father still seeks the peace and well-being of his son. Similarly, we see how easily Yitzchok was appeased from the actions of his enemies…and Yaakov, after initially being angered when he learned that Lavan was prepared to destroy him were it not for Hashem’s intervention, nonetheless speaks gently with him…

Avrohom hated – and loved! How can imperatives towards opposing emotions coexist? The simple answer is that the Torah can be pretty demanding in trying to make good human beings out of us. No one ever said it was supposed to be easy. Life is nuanced; Torah life is even more nuanced. The folks who have it down to a simple formula usually have it wrong. The Torah can ask us to hate the person for his/her evil – but to love the person.

Should you think that only someone like Avrohom could figure this out, think again. Look at Tosafos Pesachim 113B, speaking to us, not to Avrohom. A person who must decide between unloading the suffering animal of his friend, or reloading the animal of his inconvenienced enemy should chose the latter, according to the gemara. Forcing himself to resist the inner nature that spurns his enemy is more important, says the gemara, than addressing the pain of an animal. He should choose to help his enemy load, in order to whip his inner self into shape. But wait, say Tosafos. The enemy of the pasuk isn’t your ex-spouse, whom you are really not supposed to hate. The Torah doesn’t address such petty behavior. The enemy is someone who violates the law, is warned, and continues to violate Torah law. You are allowed/supposed to hate such a person. This is puzzling, say Tosafos. What room is left to force a person to bend his nature to hate? He is supposed to hate this evildoer!

Tosafos answer that he still must bend his nature. He must prevail upon himself to keep the hatred within, rather than allow it to become manifest to anyone else, which would lead to “full hatred.” The Be’er Yosef (Parshas Kedoshim) observes that this might technically solve the problem, but it doesn’t make much sense. Bottom line, if the Torah does not wish the hatred of an evildoer to become manifest in overt behavior, why allow a little bit of hate, and then work to keep it in check? Don’t encourage the hatred in the first place!

Be’er Yosef explains that the Torah has to encourage a bit of hatred, in a quantity safely kept to oneself. Its function is to protect the neshamah of the person who has witnessed the evil. What we see, what we encounter, leaves an imprint. It is easy to become inured to evil, just by being touched by, or surrounded by enough of it. The Torah wishes us to emotionally resist evil, and allows a bit of emotional charge in distancing ourselves from it. The clear target is the evil and the stain it leaves within the beholder – not the evildoer.

But surely, some of you are thinking, the group we met with is a special case. They represent a more potent form of evil than most, because by sharing their stories with the world, they are probably leading others astray. Certainly we should teach ourselves to hate them, just as we would the classic meisis u-madiach of the Torah.

Maybe not. Some years ago, I was conflicted about my friendship with a prominent member of another Jewish denomination. Certainly a group that has led people astray in spades. I spoke to Rav Zelik Epstein zt”l, who asked me if this person was a good human being. I assured him that he was. His response was illuminating. “’משאניך ד’ אשנא / Those who hate You, Hashem, I will hate’ doesn’t have to be the first mitzvah you grab hold of.”

Bottom line: the avodah of people in that room was to act as humans, feeling the pain of others, all the while mindful of the tzaara d’Shechinah that their new life styles was causing. I think we handled it acceptably.

This leaves us with the final, major objection voiced by readers. Listening to tales of woe is pointless, they argued. Mitigating factors are simply nisyanos. People are responsible for their conduct, even under trying circumstances. Nothing can excuse turning one’s back fully on his Torah, his G-d, and his people.

This is wrong on multiple levels. There is good reason for Avos to tell us אל תדין את חברך עד שתגיע למקומו/ Don’t judge your friend till you get to his place – which effectively means never. It is true that a court must look at the crime alone, and judge a person to be guilty of its commission as long as the perpetrator was sane. But Hashem’s judgment is not cut of the same cloth. He does take all those predisposing factors and mitigating circumstances into account. And we are bidden to do the same – when we are not in court, or rendering halachic judgment about a person’s status. Those factors and circumstances do count. If so, we can learn from them.

Not worth our while, you say. Those factors are not our business. It is sad that some behaviors of some people in our community are not what they should be, and that people who walk out of halachic Judaism point to those behaviors as having impacted them. Still, that is between Hashem, the people who wronged them, and them. What concern is that of ours?

Conceivably, in some cases, we are ones who wronged them and continue to do so. Even putting those cases aside, the thinking is still flawed. Remember the gemara’s question (Sotah 45B) about the declaration of the elders of the city close to where a murder victim is found? Why should they have to declare that they did not shed his blood? Do we really believe that the murderer is to be found among them? Rather, they must declare that they did not allow a visitor to the city to leave without food and accompaniment. We understand that to mean that if the victim was not provided with these amenities, he was an easier target for the highwaymen who murdered him.

Maybe. But that is not what Rashi says. Rashi says that by not providing the visitor with his needs, he became desperate and turned to crime to provide for himself. He was killed in a botched robberyt attempt. According to Rashi the corpse belongs to an attempted felon, not to his target.

Oh, my! Sounds like something that “liberals” believe! Society bears some responsibility for creating the conditions that lead people to crime!

Perhaps someone will work diligently to assure us that we don’t “pasken” like this Rashi. Until then, it does appear that it is worthwhile examining the factors that made Jewish brothers and sisters make the worst decisions of their lives. We, too, will have to declare one day that our hands did not shed their blood.

I stand by the decision to attend, and would encourage others to do the same. If we are going about some things the wrong way and nudging people in the wrong direction, we need to think about it. Hearing the stories of those who have been there – as much as we must disagree with their present positions, and resist any of their attempts to export their decisions to the rest of the community – will be more powerful than listening to a rov speak about the same issues. Drama works.

And to those who cannot muster empathy for the pain of another human, I suspect that we are not members of the same faith-group.

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61 comments to The “Monsey Summit” – Round Two

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    Y. Ben David

    A Jew is one who believes in the 13 Ikkrrim. Being a Zionist is not one of the ikkirim. You are correct there is no comparision. The NK are sinners but are still counted for a minyan, their wine is not yayin nesach and they are religiously Jewish. Those that deny the exsistance of Hashem and Torah Misnai are not counted for a minyan, their wine is yayin nesach and they are beyond the pale of being religiously Jewish.

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    Y. Ben David

    According to your logic actively undermining the State of Israel places one “outside the framework of Jewish discussion”, but actively undermining belief in G-d and his Torah do not. This is incompatible with the most basic tenets of Judaism.

  • Y. Ben-David

    Crazy K-
    Where did you get your definition of what a Jew is? I was always told it is someone who is born to a Jewish mother or converts according to Halacha. Please show me the source for your definition which bases it purely on ideological correctness.

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    Y Ben David –
    “Please show me the source for your definition”

    Rambam Hilchos Mamrim:
    המינים והאפיקורוסין והאומרין אין תורה מן השמיים והמוסרים והמשומדים: כל אלו אינן בכלל ישראל

    Rambam Pirush Hamishna:
    וכאשר יאמין האדם אלה היסודות כולם, ונתברר בה אמונתו בה’, הוא נכנס בכלל ישראל

  • Y. Ben-David

    Crazy K-
    I always find it fascinating when someone throws a single quote from the RAMBAM out to prove some massive ideological point. If I were to do that, I am sure you would say “you know very well that we don’t pasken based on a single quote from the RAMBAM or anyone else”. After all, the RAMBAM himself held that Karaites are Jews, 100 Percent, and they completely reject the Torah sh’b’al peh. I’ll bet in the community you live in, non-religous Jews are invited for Shabbat and are given hesed. Do they do the same for non-Jews? Do they invited non-Jews for Shabbat meals? Do they? No one defines a Jew halachically based on those two quotes, whose practical meaning can be argued as well, and you know that very well.

  • crazy kanoiy

    Y Ben David

    “No one defines a Jew halachicaly based on those two quotes”

    Really? In your community do they count Jewish atheists for a minyan? Do they drink the non mevushal wine of those that deny the existance of G-d?

  • crazy kanoiy

    Y. Ben David,

    It has already bedn pointed out thar the Rambam is refering to Karaites that were brought up as Karaites not those that were brought up believing in Torah Shel Baal Peh and chose to become Karaites or non believers as is the case with some of the participants in the Monsey summit.

  • Y. Ben-David

    Crazy K-
    Although most minyanim that most people participate in have more than 10 men in them, I have never seen a minyan where they conduct an ideological inquiry about whether to count a particular person in the minyan. Here in Israel they call in passersby from the street if they are short of 10 and if the person is not wearing a kippah, they put one on him and that is the end of it.

    The Karaites that you referred to were all born from people in the past who at one time or another conciously rejected the Torah sh’b’al peh, yet the RAMBAM considered them all Jews.
    You have completely failed to prove to me that someone who doesn’t think like you do is not a Jew. What about my question about inviting non-religious Jews for Shabbat. Are they goyim or not in your eyes? The question regarding the wine is not relevant because that is a halachic question involving someone who is not Shabbat observant or not, it is NOT a question whether he is a Jew or not.

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    Y. Ben David

    “You have completely failed to prove to me that someone who doesn’t think like you do is not a Jew.”

    I never claimed that one who does not think like me is not a Jew. I claimed that one is an apikorus and does not believe in the 13 Ikkrim is not considered religiously Jewish. (As opposed to one who undermines the State of Israel who retains his religious status in Halacha)

    I have provided you with many sources. A Rambam and Halachos brought in Shulchan Aruch. There are many more such sources. You have not brought a source that disagrees with the sources I have listed above.

    Here is another: If one intentionally denies even one Mitzvah in the Torah and does so with rebellious intentions (known in Halachic terms as Mumar L’Hachis), he is not considered a Jew and it is prohibited to visit him when he is sick or otherwise save his life. (Shulchan Aruch 251: 2; See Shach there Os 3 who rules that it is also prohibited to feed and financially support such a person)

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 251

    מי שהוא עבריין במזד על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה ולא עשה תשובה אינו חייב להחיותו ולא להלוותו

    מי שהוא מומר להכעיס אפילו למצוה אחת כגון שאוכל נבילה היכא דשכיח בשר כשרה אסור לפדותו אם נשבה

    ומפרנס עניי עובדי עם עניי ישראל מפני דרכי שלום

    See Shach, Taz, and Biur Hagra there. כיון שהוא עבריין אינו אחיך
    ואינו מצוה על מאחד אחיך ועל וחי אחיך עמך

  • Y. Ben-David

    Crazy K-
    I am glad you came around to my point that a non-observant Jew is still a Jew and that the Jews are a nation and the Torah is our Constitution.

    You also are no doubt aware that the halachot in Shulchan Aruch 251 are not operative today regarding non-religious Jews. You certainly are aware that
    Haredi doctors routinely save the lives of non-observant Jews because today’s non-observant Jews are not the “apikorsim” mentioned in the halacha since an
    “apikorus” as you know is someone who is highly educated in Torah and knowingly rebels against it whereas the vast majority of non-observant today are
    completely uneducated in Torah and don’t know what it is they don’t observe and don’t do what they do “l’hachis”.