1. No. I don't think that the "divide" is "too great to promotea better understanding and respect". Admittedly, like any functioning (or dysfunctional) family, there is no shortage of disagreements within a Jewish community of approximately 13.3 million worldwide. However, all too often the "divides"become exaggerated when the media highlights the extraordinary, dramatizes the fringes and portrays vitriolic disputes.An example is the book Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, New York, 2000. The author, Samuel Freedman, a former New York Times reporter who teaches at Columbia's School of Journalism, presents six case studies to show that America's 6 million Jews have splintered into factions at war: "I have witnessed the struggle for the soul of American Jewry. It is a struggle that pits secularist against believer, liberal against conservative, traditionalist against modernist even within each branch [of Judaism]. It is a struggle that has torn asunder families, communities, and congregations." Freedman suggests that the hostility has reached crisis proportions, even calling it a "civil war". However, it would appear that Freedman, ever the enthusiastic journalist, highlights the headline-making conflicts and downplays the quiet attempts at promoting understanding within Jewish society.
2. To rectify the "divide" I suggest beginning with a semantic correction. Instead of the term "ultra-Orthodox" it is preferable to use "Haredi" and thus avoid unnecessary negativity, prejudice and demonization. Haredim do not refer to themselves as "ultra-Orthodox", but use terms such as "religious" (dati), "Torah observant" and the like. Interestingly, Canada's Centre for Faith and Media advises journalists to avoid the term ultra-Orthodox not only because of the pejorative connotations of extremism but also because there is no parallel analogue of "ultra-Reform".
3. There are many different types of haredim ranging from a multiplicity of Hasidic groups to Lithuanian-Yeshivish streams and Sephardi Haredim. True, some groups such as Satmar insulate themselves from secular society, but others are actively involved. For example, Habad emissaries the world over are active in seeking ways of communication and togetherness, albeit within a tightly set frame of reference. So I would suggest that your question be refined to ask how dialogue can be fostered and with which groups of haredim.
4. Although the "divide" is often reinforced because the haredi communities have their own neighborhoods, schools and synagogues, nonetheless, most haredi communities are not so insulated as to be immune to Western culture, and in actuality, there is significant acculturation into the secular world. This multiplies the opportunities for improving dialogue.
5. The specific "divide" you mention begins because the Haredi belief system does not allow recognition of non-Orthodox institutions and Rabbis. Here in Israel this is a major issue that plays out as a power struggle fueled not only by sensationalist media expressions but also by political forces that may benefit from publicizing stereotyped judgments. However, there are people in the haredi world involved in building bridges. True, these efforts are often "outreach" missions to bring Torah observance to the assimilated Jew, but they also serve an important role in encouraging direct contact and increasing mutual understanding. For example, Project Seed, funded by Torah Umesorah, a haredi organization based in New York, sends volunteer Yeshiva students to far-flung small Jewish communities where they teach classes or supervise children in summer day-camps. They help create mini Yeshivas, foster learning, create a Shabbat atmosphere, and assist in social programming. You might argue that such goals are "missionary", but most often the end result is a heightened understanding and appreciation.
6. An illustration of how stereotypes can be dispelled through dialogue is evidenced in the book, One People, Two Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the Issues That Divide Them, 2003. This is a collection of 39 email exchanges between Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Reinman who was ordained in the Haredi Yeshiva of Lakewood and Reform Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, currently senior rabbi of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. The conclusion of Rabbi Reinman: "On most things we agreed to disagree". “I disagree with that,” Rabbi Hirsch interjects. “I hope the reader will be attuned to significant areas of commonality. We are all born out of the same tradition, with the same historical experiences, the same ethical traditions, common Jewish destiny. We speak the same language, study the same texts, observe the same festivals. This disagreement that we have is within these parameters. These are disagreements that all people of good faith have if they take the subject matter seriously.” “I’ll agree,” Rabbi Reinman replies. “Except for that we come from the same tradition. We do share history and common destiny. I hope that we do share a love for each others as brothers, even though we totally disagree and there’s no way of reconciling ideologies ... Every Jews is precious, has a Jewish soul.”
7. I will end on a personal note. My son Yaakov, who is currently studying a doctoral student in psychology here at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is one of the founders of an organization called FRSU – the Forum for Rapprochement between Secular and Ultra-Orthodox. The Forum's goal is to further communal projects of reconciliation and rapprochement between the haredi sector and the general population. FRSU is attempting to create settings where secular Jews and haredim can learn about each other in a congenial environment. The vision is to reduce the distrust and dispel stereotyped portrayals thus facilitating a more harmonious Israeli society.
 See Ami Ayalon, "Language as a barrier to political reform in the Middle East", International Journal of the Sociology of Language, vol. 37, 1999, pp. 67–80: 'Haredi' is preferable, being a term commonly used by such Jews themselves... Moreover, it carries none of the venom often injected into the term 'ultra-Orthodox' by other Jews and, sadly, by the Western media.". Similarly, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Seventy Faces: Articles of Faith, 2001, pg. 1: I prefer the Hebrew term Haredi because it is not pejorative and is the one used by the Haredim to identify themselves."
 See for example Yoel Finkelman, Strictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Contemporary Orthodoxy, Boston Academic Studies Press, 2011. http://www.strictlykosherreading.blogspot.com/
In the 19th century, when Samson Raphael Hirsch laid out his vision of Modern Orthodoxy, he believed in a philosophy based upon Rabban Gamaliel’s aphorism, “Torah is good together with a worldly occupation” (Avoth 2:2). For Hirsch, this meant that the modern Jew needed to extract the finest aspects of Western culture and still remain committed as a traditional Jew. Hirsch rejected the attitude that is so common today among the Haredim, who categorically condemn the literature of Shakespeare, or the poetry of Virgil, or the philosophical deliberations of Kant and Leibnitz as “bittul Torah,” a waste of time that ought to be reserved solely for Torah study.
Within a century and a half, it is amazing to see how Orthodoxy has changed. On the one hand, there is Yeshiva University, which was conceptually based upon the Hirschian paradigm. However, today’s Haredi and Hassidic communities reject the Hirschian model. They loathe any kind of values that are not explicitly grounded in the Torah. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, regarded by the Lithuanians as the greatest Torah scholar of our generation, rejects the pursuit of a secular education—despite the fact that the Haredi families cannot afford to support their households. His approach to Torah is antithetical in nearly every respect to the view that Hirsch articulated in the 19th century. Rabbi Elyashiv is quoted as saying:
We must exclude all paths that lead to national service, secular studies, or the army, even if they assure a special framework for Hareidi Jews. Such a framework will subject Hareidi Jews to the control and culture of secular Jews who have thrown off the yoke of Torah. Thus they encourage all sorts of programs, academies, colleges, and the like which promise degrees, licenses, academic credentials, etc., intended to introduce goals and aspirations foreign to our way of life.“The secret and foundation to the survival of Torah and of those who fear G-d and live a life of Torah is absolute separation from the world of the secular, who have thrown off the yoke of Torah.
As such we must protest and warn against all sorts of trends from the outside that seek to harm the pure oil of the Hareidi institutions. These institutions must be under the control of the rabbis and must be guided by them, and must exclude all paths that lead to national service, secular studies, or the army, even if they assure a special framework for Hareidi Jews. Such a framework will subject Hareidi Jews to the control and culture of secular Jews who have thrown off the yoke of Torah. Thus they encourage all sorts of programs, academies, colleges, and the like which promise degrees, licenses, academic credentials, etc., intended to introduce goals and aspirations foreign to our way of life. This is in direct contradiction to the instructions of the great rabbis of previous generations, who battled against all institutions that had these purposes, and removed them from the ‘camp of Torah.’ This is especially the case now, where the institutions make clear that their purpose is to change our ways of life, and to instill foreign aspirations – nationalistic and academic – that our forefathers never accepted, bringing us to make inappropriate connections with secular people, those of the ‘culture of sinners.’”
David Landau observes in his book, “Piety and Power: The World of Jewish Fundamentalism,” the current Haredi leadership is doing a grave service to its young people, condemning them and their children to generations of cyclical poverty, fostering reliance upon community assistance warned against by, among others, the great sage Maimonides.
In contrast to Haredi Judaism, Yeshiva University continues to promote Hirsch’s vision to the 21st century. One could be a pious Jew, and yet belong to the modern world. One of the most important leaders of the Modern Orthodox world in the 20th century was Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchick (1903-1993). Like Hirsch before him, Soloveitchick felt that a synthesis of Torah scholarship and modern philosophical thought offers a panoramic view of Judaism that is consistent with the models set forth in the medieval theological expositions of Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, Crescas and other Judaic thinkers. When Soloveitchick gave a class on a Talmudic passage, he often drew didactic comparisons to the thought of Kierkegaard, Hegel, Kant, and other great Western philosophers.
Today’s leading advocates of Hirschian idealism include Rabbi Norman Lamm, Irving Greenberg, David Hartman and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, all of whom follow along the footsteps of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchick. Like Hirsch, each of these scholars stressed that Torah scholarship is capable of producing a creative synthesis with the best aspects of Western civilization. Rabbi Lamm believes that the knowledge of secular culture can only lead to a greater appreciation of Judaic values.
Torah, faith, religious learning on one side and Madda, science, worldly knowledge on the other, together offer us a more over-arching and truer vision than either one set alone. Each set gives one view of the Creator as well as of His creation, and the other a different perspective that may not agree at all with the first … Each alone is true, but only partially true; both together present the possibility of a larger truth.
The Orthodox magazine, Mishpacha Magazine (Israel), has been banned by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who wrote in a response, “The opinion of the [upstart] weekly Mishpacha Magazine has given legitimacy to change, to going out into the workplace and earning a living for example, without embarrassment. Now, [this upstart] is challenging the holiest of the holies, [by making it seem as if] the word of the gadol is not final and unquestionable…” As you can see, even Lithuanian rabbis can write with the absolute authority of a Hassidic Rebbe.
Modern Orthodoxy is feeling the assault on its worldview. Many of its rabbis are experiencing the same kind of litmus test for ideological purity that the Conservative and Reform movements have known for several decades. Converts from the Modern Orthodox world are discovering that the Haredi rabbis will not recognize their conversions, and will often nullify their conversions—especially if there is the slightest indication of a halachic—as defined by the Haredi rabbi—violation. Even within the ranks of Haredi Judaism, there has been considerable friction between the Eda Haredit, Chabad, and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv versus Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Chief Sephardic Rabbi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, over the issue of IDF military conversions.
The article continues, “Rabbi Seth Farber, the head of ITIM: The Jewish-Life Information Center, however, who set the military conversion dispute into motion when he filed a High Court of Justice petition against marriage registrars who do not recognize military conversions, called the understandings “a cynical use of people’s lives to make political deals, immoral and against the explicit Halacha to not deceive converts.”
In another ruling, there is the story about a Ba’al Teshuvah who did not wish to eat chulent on Shabbat, nor did he shuckle (swaying) when he prayed. When this matter was brought to Rabbi Elyashiv, he rendered the following ruling: Since the Baal Teshuvah behaved properly for the past two years, there is no fear that he worships idols; therefore the wine is not considered yayin nesach. However, for the sake of stringency, he needs to undergo geiur l’humra – a conversion for the sake of stringency, just to remove doubt, based on his refusal to eat cholent and his non-swaying during prayer.
Haredi sexism and gender discrimination are not coming only from the Sikrikim, as one Orthodox rabbi at this website has alluded to in one of my earlier postings; numerous harsh rulings derive from the highest echelons of Haredi power. Here are several other Haredi edicts that pose some of the greatest existential threats to the future of Israel, as a State. In the interest of time, I will cite one more example, although there are literally hundreds of other examples one could use to illustrate the insanity that has gripped the Haredi world.
Forget about blotting out the pictures of women that appear throughout the streets of Jerusalem, Bnai Brak or other cities. A question came up: What should a girl do if she wishes to dress modestly but her parents won’t let her? According to ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein, a son-in-law of the 101 year old Haredi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, she can injure herself in order to use it as an excuse for dressing modestly. “The blood from the self-inflicted wound will atone for the people of Israel.”
Can there be reconciliation between the Ultra-Orthodox and the other branches of Judaism? If the former Chief Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook and Ben Tsion Uziel were alive today, I would feel more optimistic about such a possibility. However, given the religious fanaticism we have witnessed from the Haredi leadership in Israel and in the United States today, I seriously doubt it.
At times it seems as though a schism is inevitable.
Will Israel, as a modern state, survive? Or will it succumb to the same type of factionalism that led to the loss of our homeland and Temple nearly 2000 years ago?
There is an old story attributed to Maimonides that I would like to mention. Maimonides had more than his fair share of critics. His fame as a physician had reached Sultan Saladin himself, and he served the Sultan throughout his life and afterward his death, Maimonides provided care to his royal family. One of the Muslim physicians wanted to demonstrate how foolish Maimonides actually was before the Sultan and the royal court. He said, “I have the question you can’t answer. In my hand, I have a bird. Tell me. Is this bird alive or dead?” Maimonides knew that any answer he would give, the physician would do the opposite of whatever he said. "If I say it’s alive, he will close his hand and smother the bird. If he says it’s dead, he will open his hand and let the bird live.” After a moment, he answered, “You hold in your hand a bird. You ask whether it is alive or dead. I can only tell you one thing. The question of life and death lies in your hands.” Once again, Maimonides demonstrated why he was the Sultan’s favorite physician.
And what was true with Maimonides, is no less true with the choices we must make in the future. Can a schism be avoided? Only if we learn to compromise and listen respectfully to one another. I pray that all sides choose wisely.
 David Lev, “Rabbi Elyashiv Tells Hareidim: No to College, Army Programs” Israel National News, 12/27/2011.
 Norman Lamm, Torah Umadda: The Encounter of Religious Learning and Worldly Knowledge in the Jewish Tradition (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1990), 236.
 “Secular Media Interviews Confidant of Maran Rav Elyashiv Regarding Ban on Mishpacha Magazine in Israel” Yeshiva World, 1/12/2012.
 Jonah Mandel, “Eda Haredit calls off IDF conversions approval protest” Jerusalem Post, 2/21/2011.
 Natan Weise, “If you don’t like Chulent you may not be Jewish” Mispacha Magazine, 07/02/2007. http://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2007/07/if-you-dont-like-chulent-you-may-not-be.html.
 Ari Galahar, “Rabbi promotes ‘modesty wounds’ Girls should hurt their legs if parents won’t let them wear long skirts, rabbi says YNET News, 07/04/2011. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4083216,00.html.
The divide between the ultra-Orthodox and other Jewish denominations is indeed great, one that sometimes strains my innately optimistic and perhaps naïve nature. I do not, however, believe that it must prohibit understanding and respect.
As a Reform rabbi with a great respect for Jewish observance and traditions (even those that I choose not to personally follow), I often feel compelled to explain the Orthodox life style to my friends and congregants. I have found the following parable to be helpful.
A man was walking by a house and saw to his alarm that the people in the home were gyrating and moving in a bizarre and alarming way – thrashing to and fro. About to reach for his cell phone to call the authorities, he saw and heard the front door opening and realized to his amazement and relief that the people were actually dancing to some lively music. Once he could hear the music, the movements didn’t seem bizarre at all. So it may be with our observance of the Orthodox. What seems bizarre to us may seem so only because we don’t hear the music.
As a Reform Jew, I can study the traditions of my more Orthodox family and learn to appreciate them. I would hope they would approach the practices of liberal Judaism in the same spirit. Most importantly, I would hope that we would all keep firmly in mind the many teachings that forbid us to hurt or humiliate anyone and that such an action is especially offensive when done in G-d’s name.
If there is a desire for understanding and respect it can be achieved. Without such desire, nothing can be achieved.
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