Monday, July 6, 2015

Open the Book- Do we know as much as we think we do?

I really appreciate the thought of Rav Kook and study his sefarim as often as I can. It’s hard to imagine that I went more than 15 years without doing so. All because I thought I knew what he believed without having read a word of what he wrote.

19 years ago, I spent the year in a right-wing- Zionist Kollel in Israel. At the beginning, I did what I could to fit in. I started going by my Hebrew name, wore the right kind of kippah, and shared many of the religious and political views of my peers. Over time, for reasons that I will not discuss here, I stopped seeing eye to eye with many in the kollel. I wasn’t exactly sure what I believed, but I knew this was not my world. Along with that realization, I knew that Rav Kook was not for me. After all, if his writings had produced the philosophy of many of those in the kollel, it had nothing to teach me. I remember the moment when I made the decision to give up on Rav Kook. One of my friends, who was particularly strident in his views, called Rav Kook’s collective writings the “Shas HaLavan”, literally the white shas. In a somewhat joking manner, he was suggesting that in addition to the regular “Shas”, as the talmud is often called, there was the white Shas, the writings of Rav Kook, which have been published in Israel with a white cover with green print. If Rav Kook was for them, I knew it was not for me. It did not concern me that I had never read a single word of Rav Kook.

Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to meet all sorts of Jews from outside of my little world. I have spoken with Toledos Aharon Chassidim, and with Reform Jews. I have attended the chag hasemicha at Yehivat Chovevei HaTorah, a secular kabbalat Shabbat in Jerusalem, and davened with Breslov in Tzefat. I have met people who love learning Torah, who have blue hair and multiple piercings, conversions that are not halachic, or are members of the LGBT community. I have met all sorts of people who are different from me. At times I have felt more comfortable and at times less, but always I have come away with a sense that I  better understood someone who is different from me. I have frequently left certain assumptions behind.

One of the best things about these meetings and interactions is that they forced me to leave my little world, where everyone thinks the same, and is sure who is in God’s good graces, and thinks they know who is sincere in their beliefs and actions. While it can be flattering to meet someone new and have them recognize my name from my blog, I have gained much more from the recognition that the vast majority have no clue who I am when we meet. While in my corner of the shul, or on my Facebook wall my opinion might matter, for most people out there, my thoughts are irrelevant.

Why do I write about this now? There seems to be a lot of opining, posturing, and arguing going on in the Jewish world right now. Many people and groups seem certain that they know who is on the right side, who should be teaching Torah, and what the world needs. Me? I’m confused. I have my opinions, but the more I meet people, and listen to them, the less I think I know. A lot of opinions I had in the past have fallen away as I’ve discovered the complexities of people and their situation.

There is one things that unites almost everyone with whom I’ve spoken. They are sick of the fighting. They don’t want leaders who posture and play politics. They are sick of the unnecessary divisions. I am not suggesting some mystical Shangri La where we all pretend that there are no issues to discuss, debate, and disagree. I am suggesting that we need to think really carefully before we introduce a new machlokes, something else to divide an all too divided people. While our comments and posts might score “likes” on Facebook amongst our friends, there are thousands of people who are looking for something else. Are we willing to listen to them?

[While I don't get into specifics, I hope that what follows encourages some thoughtful discussion and reflection on some...

Posted by Pesach Sommer on Monday, July 6, 2015

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