Eric Herschthal’s “Well-Versed” blog post in The Jewish Week, “Humanism: Or, What’s Missing From Orthodox Judaism,” echoes a more subtle and eloquent article by Rabbi Shai Held in Haaretz (“Religion’s most urgent problem”).
Both challenge religion in general and Orthodox Judaism in particular to embrace a more humanistic and broad-minded view towards “the other.”
While this suggestion deserves serious reflection, one familiar with Jewish literature from the Early Prophets through more contemporary chasidic writings may find Herschthal’s claim that “the universalist code … lies at Judaism’s foundation” less than certain.
I think that Rabbi Held is correct in his claim that “All religious traditions contain the raw material to generate and cultivate lives of enormous beauty and moral sensitivity, and the raw material to generate and cultivate unspeakable ugliness and moral obtuseness.”
Choosing which aspects of Judaism and Torah texts to emphasize and which to be challenged by is really the question.
But perhaps herein lies the rub. How can traditionally minded Jews build a universalistic approach while at the same time maintaining fidelity to Jewish tradition? Unlike Rabbi Held and our other counterparts from the liberal movements, traditionally oriented thinkers cannot simply ignore critical Jewish texts and ideas. Furthermore, it often seems that ethnocentric concepts motivate religious engagement more than universalistic messages do.
It is hard to be passionate about being moderate. Nonetheless, I think change is in the air.
Herschthal exasperatedly demands: “Where are the Jews speaking out against our extremists … from the Jewish tradition?” What he needs to realize is that great Orthodox thinkers are protesting. Well-known rabbis such as Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Yuval Sherlo and many others have taken public stances against the racist views Herschthal and Held condemn. On a personal level, in Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi, we confront these issues head on in courses, special lectures and the general educational atmosphere. I don’t think we are unique in this.
Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi Jerusalem