“Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me— A man of conflict and strife with all the land!” – Yirmiyahu (15:10)
“If I am forced to be a man of conflict with the whole world because of the leaning towards truth that is deep in my soul – which [which causes me to be] unable to cope with any leanings towards falsehood – then I do not have the choice to be any other man. And I must transform all the main principles of truth which are hidden in my spirit from potential to action, without any consideration as to what the world will think of me, with all of its standards. This is the valiance of he who seeks truth. This is the valiance of a world tied to the eternal destiny of Am Yisrael which is girded with valiance.” – HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt”l (Kvatzim)
But why? Why get involved in these matters?
That is the question of questions, and that is where all the speculation has taken place.
I do not hate any group of Jews, nor any specific flavors of Judaism. If I wished to hate, I could do so in my heart without going through the hell I have for speaking my truths.
If I wished to be controversial and create fame for myself, as some have claimed – I could be controversial in ways which would make me much more popular.
Rather, it is my genuine love for Am Yisrael and its unity that I do what I do.
That is a strange way to show love, is it not?
Absolutely not. Open your hearts, and listen to this parable:
Two siblings had a third brother who was a drug addict, dangerously addicted and constantly at the risk of losing his life. One sibling loved his brother so much, that he gave him compliments and money to purchase more narcotics. The second brother constantly tried to get his brother to break his habit, offering to pay for his rehabilitation, but telling him that he would not see another penny from him until he admitted himself into a proper institution.
Which sibling truly loved his brother? The one who helped him or the one that criticized him?
It was the one who was willing to risk his relationship with his brother at the hope of seeing him alive and at the family table for many years to come. That is the power of “Machloket L’Shem Shamayim” – that classical Judaism believes in, even if it does not sit well with the adherents of the newly fabricated Judaism!
I have two sons, Baruch Hashem. When the time comes, I hope to see them come home with wonderful Jewish girls. They can be Ashkenazi or Sepharadic, Yemenite or Chassidic – my wife and I couldn’t care less, because we are all one people with the same Creator and the same Torah!
But the moment a group of Jews will get up from the discussion table of Judaism, will leave the living conversation that is Torah, will create its own beliefs and religious norms to the point that none of us who are still at the table will be able to identify them as a normative segment of our people – then my children and their children will lose out on the opportunity to fuse their souls into one and create a faithful home in the Jewish People – for they are no longer speaking within the same frame of reference that we do, and they will have left the boundaries of our majestic faith.
So I scream. And yell. And shout. And with tears in my eyes, I beg: Do not stray from the path of light created by the Chachamim throughout the ages! Do not be the one to destroy the unity we so cherish!
And if that is offensive? I will never apologize for my love, no matter how much it makes them upset. If that hurts them and makes them angry, then I would much rather be the brother who cared than the brother who stood idly by.
During the reign of Hadrian when the uprising led by Bar Kochba proved a disastrous error, it became essential that the Jewish people be reminded for all times of an important, essential fact, namely that (the people of) Israel must never again attempt to restore its national independence by its own power; it was to entrust its future as a nation solely to Divine Providence. (Commentary on the Prayerbook, p. 703)
We mourn over that which brought about that destruction (of the Temple), we take to heart the harshness we have encountered in our years of wandering as the chastisement of a father, imposed on us for our improvement, and we mourn the lack of observance of Torah which that ruin has brought about. . . This destruction obliges us to allow our longing for the far away land to express itself only in mourning, in wishing and hoping; and only through the honest fulfillment of all Jewish duties to await the realization of this hope. But it forbids us to strive for the reunion or possession of the land by any but spiritual means. (Horeb, p. 461)
Even HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt”l – who we have tremendous respect for and who HaRav Yaakov Peretz calls “the most underappreciated Tzadik of his generation – wrote (Jerusalem, September 1919):
Regarding the law, I have nothing to add to the words of the rabbis who came before me. In the Torah, in the Prophets, and in the Writings, in the halakhah and in the aggadah, we hear a single voice: that the duty of fixed public service falls upon men, for “It is a man’s manner to dominate and not a woman’s manner to dominate” (Yevamot 65b), and that roles of office, of judgment, and of testimony are not for her, for “all her honor is within” (Ps. 45:14)…
…our holy duty is to see to it that the inception of our movement towards a measure of [autonomy based
on] our own political-social character be properly marked by the sign of biblical integrity and purity with which our life has been imbued from time immemorial. This will be so only if we avoid the European novelty—alien to the biblical spirit and to the national tradition deriving from it—of women’s involvement in elections and public life, which is tumultuous and noisy and involves multitudes.
Though we see that HaRav Kook led the battle to bring Zionism to the heart of Ashkenazi Jewry, we see from the novelty of his approach as well as the wars waged against him – that his view was not the accepted view among those in his community, and he – in a positive way – deviated from their path.
American Judaism, especially under the leadership of minds like HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l, also brough about tremendous innovation in secular education and involvement with the world. Again though, these were innovative trends that were foreign to the spirit of the vast majority of Chachme Ashkenaz before them.
The ultimate point is: our Chachamim did not need any help or convincing to be Zionists and support the State of Israel, nor did they need any urging to interact naturally and organically with the world around them. From the arts to the sciences, the philosophy and the culture, they seamlessly walked the line of being dedicated to Torah, without compromising on the ability of the nations around them to say (Devarim 4:6):
“Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people. “
I share your sentiments that the ‘Sefardi Way’ can be a blessing for all of Jewry, I am just concerned that with such a oversimplified approach it would actually turn others away.
My dear friend, you have touched a raw nerve with these words. This is my only source of anguish. That some may be so distracted by the way and style in which I share these ideas, that they may run away before they have a chance to truly understand what it is that I wish to share. I will not hide that which is in my heart, and I will let you know that this is a work in progress for me. All I can pray is that: “Adonai, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.”
What am I truly asking for? I am asking to find that sane, balanced, and firmly grounded Judaism that I know has room in it for all of Klal Yisrael. This is not just the Sepharadi way, for there are Chachamim of Ashkenaz that are our greatest voices for this cause, and there are Chachamim of Sepharad which shared views that were far from the spirit of the rest of our Chachamim. I genuinely wish for a Judaism that is truly united – not forced to conform to, as you mentioned, “the prevailing Eastern European Haredi ideology that has influenced so much of the Torah world”.
Why should only that way prevail? We allow them to thrive and wish them no harm, Chalila! All we ask in return is for the approach of our Chachamim – and those from every walk of Judaism who share their approach – not be trampled on, and given the freedom to lift their banner proudly so that all of our brothers and sisters can come home! Brothers and sisters who love Hashem, love His Torah, and have only stayed away from the religious community because they too sense the foreign winds which have led our ships far from safe shores of the Torah of our Chachamim.
When the Jewish world will discover the way to embrace unity without conformity, I can assure you that my beloved students – and I beside them – will be the first there to welcome everyone to the glorious world of an inclusive Judaism.
Until then – I remain sincerely yours,
Yonatan Y. Halevy
Rabbi and Spiritual Leader, Kehillat Shaar HaShamayim