I wasn’t really following the scandal over the “Dignity of Difference” that landed Rabbi Sacks in hot water with the more charedi elements of the Jewish community. By the time I started reading his books and listening to him it had blown over and he spent the rest of his career becoming a leading ambassador for the Jewish people, not only of United Hebrew Congregations but of Jews worldwide. He recently spoke at the TED conference and I was proud to see a Jew standing there teaching on such a stage.
Towards the end of his tenure as Chief Rabbi I recall reading a rumour that he had a closet full of manuscripts that he was waiting to release, things that were probably a bit too spicy considering his post and his past. (Edit: i have been told there is no closet, rather a list of ideas, some controversial) We are yet to see any of these. Perhaps they don’t exist, perhaps he has moved on. However I always wonder, what if? What if his wings weren’t clipped. In truth I have no problem with the statement “No one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth”. But this is not the time to discuss religious pluralism. However it must have chastened the Chief Rabbi. He is said to have never issued any halachic teachings in his time at the top and who know if his hashkafic and philosophic views were restrained. If they were, it was to our detriment.
I am paying a fair bit of attention to the situation surrounding Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Senior Rabbi of the S&P. It seems to still be continuing, Rabbis are still talking about it at the pulpit and writing page after page of accusations. My main fear is that they want him removed from the post, but there is a secondary fear that they will clip his wings. Which once again would be to our detriment.
Hundreds of people listen to his shiurim in person, who knows how many more online. People are flocking to hear him teach Torah. No tricks. No fancy buffets are put on, or catchy titles. Just Torah. I have spoken to people who attest to the fact he has brought people back to Judaism and others who after growing disillusioned with “mainstream” Jewish education are finding renewed interest in this new approach.
A new approach, a different, daring and innovative approach. Not a wrong approach. Just different.
But for some reason, people can’t let it go. Maybe some are acting “l’shem shamayim”, I don’t think all are though. Don’t think Rabbi’s are freed of jealousy and ego once they receive their certificate of semicha.
I have spoken to many people who are wondering what this could mean for Modern Orthodoxy. For an Orthodoxy that engages and grapples with the world and it’s challenges, for an Orthodoxy that isn’t scared to ask why, and is brave enough to suggest answers.
The Charedi world is the fastest growing sector of the Jewish community. On Rabbi Sacks’ Wikipedia page there is the argument that Rabbi “Sacks’s top priority has been staying in the good graces of the Haredi, or strictly Orthodox, faction, whose high birthrate has made it the fastest-growing component of British Jewry.” It makes sense. We have already seen the Federation community of synagogues take strides to the right. They see where the future is heading. Seeing the furore surrounding “The Dignity of Difference” I’m sure many Rabbi’s look to the Charedi community to ensure they don’t stray too far from “Torah True Judaism”.
But where does that leave us? People who are loyal to Judaism, to those that love the Torah but see themselves as very much part of the modern world and society. For those that struggle with were Judaism and the world intersects.
We should all become Charedi?
Do the Rabbi’s who are truly at the vanguard of such thought have to always watch what they say for fear of offending those with black hats?
How can we move forward, how can we progress?
Or are we just meant to go around in circles and ignore things. Pretend they aren’t really questions.
Rabbi Sacks tried, he said something I’m sure many people don’t disagree with.
Rabbi Dweck is trying to ask big questions, to try and answer them. He is trying to teach alternative views and approaches. He has his reasons behind his decisions, but they don’t like it. They see him as a threat so they try to clip his wings.
Thankfully the S&P have been supportive of Rabbi Dweck. It is a historic community with a wealth of tradition. I hope they and Rabbi Dweck stand firm in the face of this and continue to provide and teach their Judaism as they have for centuries.