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We should pull together, not apart

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We are a small, tight-knit community with many diverse interests, talents, and strong views. It is this that makes us interesting and helps us to punch well above our weight.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Jun 20, 2019

Put two Jewish people in a room, and you are likely to have two strong and often opposing opinions. Put 10 in a room, and you will have 10 different views. That’s the way we are. We are always right … even when we aren’t.

It’s always tough to step down and apologise when it becomes obvious that we are wrong. But it has to be that we are proved wrong, otherwise we aren’t wrong. Am I right?

I know this to be true because I, too, find it difficult to admit that I’m wrong about anything, but it happens. I do my best to do it humbly and with respect, but it’s never easy.

What am I going on about?

Last week, we got wind of the Beth Din being asked to create a psak (halachic ruling) about Limmud, and its attendance by orthodox rabbis. The idea was to ensure that rabbis were clear about the fact that they were prohibited from participating – in any way – in Limmud. (See page 1.)

An old fire from almost a decade ago has now been reignited. I have no idea why the rabbis would rehash a policy from back then that stood, but had long become an unspoken rule. Now, the issue has been brought back to rub salt into the wound.

What’s baffling is that this is playing out in South Africa, while orthodox rabbis around the world not only participate in Limmud, but speak at Limmud in their own and other countries. It’s only here that there seems to be a problem.

Having been to Limmud a few times since taking up editorship of this newspaper, I was pleasantly surprised. First, I got the sense of being at mini machaneh for families. And I used to love going to machaneh.

I also enjoyed the diversity of the people who attended, from the very religious to totally secular, from ultra-orthodox to progressive, from left-wing to far right in terms of both Israeli and South African politics.

There were very old participants, some even with walkers, and opinionated young adults giving their vital views. In amongst all these adults were children of all shapes and sizes running around having fun in total safety.

Shabbos was sacrosanct, and while people gave talks throughout Shabbos, religion was upheld. The food was 100% kosher. We brought in Shabbos, and there were shul services to suit personal beliefs.

I also learnt a whole lot while there. I absorbed information on many varied topics that I would never have had access to, especially over one weekend. One exception would be Sinai Indaba, which is quite different.

The point is, everything about Limmud was 100% Jewish, about being Jewish, and for Jews.

It’s possible that orthodox rabbis don’t want to be there, in which case, it’s their personal choice. However, I can’t say that to be a fact, otherwise why would this issue have been brought to the Beth Din?

Could it be that there are a number of rabbis who want to go, so it was taken to the Beth Din to make a ruling one way or another?

If that’s the case, these are adult men who are respected and learned, and should be able to make such decisions for themselves. They are all aware that whatever they do, they do as orthodox rabbis and they cannot – nor would they want to – escape that.

They shouldn’t be prohibited from going. In the same way that a rabbi may want to do a course of some sort, he goes to that course wearing his rabbinical mantle. However, he has free choice in making the decision to go.

Surely, it boils down to rabbis having free choice about what is right for them.

I appreciate that the prohibition is not one that encompasses congregations, and I would hate to hear that rabbis are dissuading their congregants from going to Limmud. Again, as it is a Jewish event, we all have the right to decide whether we want to be there or not.

Now, I understand that many orthodox rabbis believe that the combination of different religious practices in the Jewish community is watering down the religion, which is unacceptable to them. And this is taken in an extremely serious light.

However, we are such a small community and apparently getting smaller. Should we be creating divisions and barriers within our community? Or should we find ways to understand each other, and accept our differences?

I know that I believe in the latter.

I want to find a way to meet people halfway. You won’t always agree with me, and I’m going to find something to disagree with you about – no matter what – if I try.

So, how about accepting that, and finding the things we have in common? How about agreeing to differ about what we know we will never agree on?

I believe that the rabbis behind this situation did not intend to cause dissent or division. They did this because they believe it to be the right thing to do for the community. I appreciate that, and recognise that they are learned and wise men.

However, I can’t help but believe that this is divisive, and we need to pull together not apart right now.

Shabbat Shalom!

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