Monday, Apr 15, 2024

In Search of Ahavat Chinam

A most depressing exercise has been following the Israeli political scene over the past months. For years, I had been aware of a sense of resentment that many Mizrachi/Religious Zionist/Dati Leumi /Modern/Centrist Orthodox Jews had towards chareidim. This resentment was noticeable both in their writings and in their personal conduct. However, in my wildest dreams, I did not realize how deep and almost pathological that resentment and distaste - I am refraining from using the word hatred - for chareidim are until the events of the last few months.

I wish it were all a bad dream, but unfortunately and tragically it is not.


“Mutav Lehikashel B’ahavat Chinam Mibesinat Chinam”


I remember once visiting a relative in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Yerushalayim, where the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva is located. As I was walking up the stairs to my relative’s apartment, I noticed a large, cheery sign on one of the apartment doors: “Mutav lehikashel b’ahavat chinam mibesinat chinam – It is better to be guilty of baseless love than baseless hatred.”


Lately, I have been thinking of this slogan a lot, and although it greatly pains me, I would love to ask my Modern Orthodox brothers: Does being “guilty of baseless love” only apply to those to the left of you?


Is baseless love reserved for Conservative rabbis who Naftali Bennett recognized as equals in the Knesset?


Is baseless love limited to those engaged in “alternative” lifestyles, for whom we must bend ourselves in knots to understand and to empathize with?


Is baseless love reserved for “Orthodox” rabbis who don’t believe the Torah was given by Hashem?


Is there no baseless love left for Torah observant Jews who have a different view than you?


Are chareidim not worthy of a bit of “ahavat chinam,” even at the expense of loving a bit more than you think they deserve? Are they really that much worse than Conservative rabbis and rabbiettes?


Perhaps in Israel, we can, at least to some extent, judge Mizrachi-affiliated Jews favorably due to the army issue. For a person not raised with the chareidi hashkofoh, we can certainly understand that the very fact that their sons serve in the army while chareidim don’t engenders resentment. They do not have the same hashkofoh regarding the paramount importance of Torah learning during the formative years, nor do they have an appreciation for the efforts we invest in maintaining the purity of our yeshiva bochurim.


Why the Resentment?


What has been difficult to understand and even painful to recognize, however, is the visceral reaction from so many American Modern Orthodox Jews, and even rabbis, to the chareidi community both in America and in Israel in recent months.


Essays in newspapers and online sites that primarily serve the Modern Orthodox community have expressed unprecedented enmity toward chareidim and their way of life. What have chareidim done to these people to bring upon themselves truckloads of hostility and antagonism? Okay, you have a different worldview. You believe in Torah Umada and perhaps they don’t. You believe in what you think is “Hirschian philosophy,” and you think that chareidim don’t. But why the resentment? Why the aggressive hostility?


In Israel, at least they can say that the army is an issue. They can also resent that public funds go to chareidi mosdos when everyone is fighting over the same limited monies. But in America, are chareidim robbing their Modern Orthodox counterparts of anything?


The unfortunate conclusion that I have been forced to reach is that they resent chareidim because chareidim think differently, observe Judaism differently, and in many ways have been more successful in transmitting their values to the next generation.


When I read about Torah Umada and embracing the world as a more complete way of serving Hashem, and when I read platitudes about tikkun olam, I scratch my head and wonder how the platitudes match up with reality.


At the Forefront of Chessed and Torah


When one looks around at the chessed organizations – many of which indiscriminately serve all Jews, chareidi, Modern Orthodox and non-observant – one wonders who started and runs these groups.


Who started Hatzolah?


Who started Tomchei Shabbos?


Who started Chai Lifeline?


Who started RCCS?


Who took Bikur Cholim to a totally unprecedented level?


Who started Bonei Olam?


Who started Misaskim?


Who started the medical referral organizations that help patients and their families navigate the labyrinth of medical issues when a loved one is ill?


These and so many other amazing organizations were all started and are primarily run by chareidim. All of these organizations help all Jews, chareidi and otherwise, and have brought chessed to remarkable levels.


To take one example, open up a local Lakewood, NJ, telephone directory that serves the frum community and start counting the number of gemachs listed there. There are some 300 (!) gemachs of all types, and there are certainly tens, if not hundreds, more that are not listed.


What about Torah study? Who is publishing most of the seforim released today? Who has published most of the seforim in English that serve the public well beyond the chareidi community? Of course, the answer is ArtScroll, founded and run by chareidim. The enhanced Torah study that has enriched the Modern Orthodox community over the past few decades has certainly been in significant part due to ArtScroll, but instead of being thanked, ArtScroll is often tarred by them as hagiographic and biased.


Certainly, those who don’t agree with the approaches of ArtScroll and other chareidi publishing houses or publications are welcome to write and publish their own works, but has anyone even come close to matching the volume, range, quality and scope of the titles being released by chareidi publishers?


Whereas ArtScroll publishes numerous new titles per week, what have they published? There was great hoopla in that community when Rabbi Jonathan Sacks published an English translation of the siddur. I wonder why no one celebrates or at least acknowledges the publication of the hundreds and perhaps thousands of seforim that ArtScroll publishes or that the numerous other publishers both here and in Eretz Yisroel are releasing on a weekly basis.


So I ask: Who is engaging in tikkun olam?


Let’s be clear. Chareidim, like all Orthodox communities, have plenty of problems. Chareidim have much that needs improvement, and many of those issues have been tackled in these pages and in the pages of other chareidi publications. Those who read this newspaper and this column regularly, without preconceived biases, are well aware of that. Perhaps we have to be better at tackling the difficulties and problems in our own community. Still, the degree of enmity and the lopsided focus points to something more troubling.


Is the resentment because, despite the chareidim’s many shortcomings, the brand of chareidi observance is working better and produces results not only on the religious plane but on the chessed plane and “ahavas chinom” plane? Is perhaps the resentment a result of the fact that despite the platitudes of our brothers in the Modern Orthodox community, they can only dream of the scope of both chessed and scholarship and the spreading of Torah to all segments of Orthodox that the chareidim are actually accomplishing?


I beg my Modern Orthodox brothers: Don’t take this as an attack. It isn’t. This is not meant to be an abrasive polemic, but rather a call for a bit of soul-searching with regard to the source of the enmity for chareidim. Again, there are certainly a hundred and one different reasons that we can all come up with to explain what irks us about one community or another, but a bit of brutally honest soul-searching is in order. And if, indeed, all of the enmity is in order, still, please remember: “Mutav lehikashel b’ahavat chinam mibesinat chinam – It is better to be guilty of baseless love than baseless hatred.”





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