A group of Orthodox rabbis recently made a statement supposedly on behalf of the Orthodox community. We would like to make it clear that despite their pronouncements, they do not speak for us. In fact, we find their letter to be an embarrassment to the religion that they claim to represent.
We are referring to the letter that was written about Rabbi Asher Lopatin, head of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, declaring that he is on the “wrong” side of the border between Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism. In a sad irony, we would say the very publication of this letter makes these rabbis much further from the Torah spirit than anyone they wish to condemn.
There are several deeply objectionable aspects to this letter. One upsetting aspect of this is in the act of ostracizing itself, an ancient act of public bullying that we had hoped would be gone from our post-Holocaust Jewish world. Moreover, the obsession over who is “in” Orthodoxy and who is “out” is a complete distortion of Torah values. When a group of Orthodox rabbis writes a letter condemning one of their peers, assigning themselves the self-proclaimed moniker of “representing” the entire Orthodox community while stamping the victim’s forehead with the shaming title of “not-Orthodox” – the ultimate scarlet letter – they destroy the very essence of religiousness. With acts like this, Orthodoxy is no longer about living spiritually uplifted lives connected to God’s spirit and building a holy nation. It no longer becomes a movement of belief and growth. Rather, Orthodoxy becomes nothing more than an exclusive club run by men who see their purpose as holding the keys to the gates of power rather than building relationships with God, fellow Jews and humanity. We believe that Orthodoxy can and must be something else, something more divinely inspired and good.
Finally, the language of this letter models abusive relationships and verbal violence. Not only do the rabbis publicly shame and oust Rabbi Lopatin, but then they go and blame him for making them do it. It is their victim of this public bullying, they outrageously claim, who is causing discord in the community. With this tactic of blaming the victim for “forcing” his attackers to do what they do, the writers not only offer vindication for an attempt to remove their victim from the community, but they also demonstrate the lengths to which they will go to avoid responsibility for their own actions, deflecting from their actions which are creating an unnecessary rift in Orthodoxy.
We, the Orthodox women and men of JOFA, would like to make clear that these rabbis do not represent us. In fact, we do not think that they represent Torah at all. We are deeply ashamed of all the rabbis who signed the letter. Deeply, deeply ashamed.
We are the spiritual followers of Hillel, who believed that the core of Torah was “What is hated to you, do not do unto others; all else is interpretation.” We believe in a Torah of kindness and compassion first and foremost. The rabbis who signed on to this letter do not represent us and therefore do not represent “Orthodoxy”, for we are all part of the community that they try to lay claim to.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin is the model of what an Orthodox rabbi can be. He understands that Torah is first and foremost a guidebook for building a compassionate community, for thoughtfulness and care, in which the commandments between people (bein adam l’chavero) precede all else. We deeply respect and admire Rabbi Lopatin’s devotion to Torah, and his courage in helping form a community that is loyal to the most vital aspects of Judaism.
We are proud and hopeful that Rabbi Lopatin is training Orthodox rabbis for the next generation. We are excited that he will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming JOFA conference, where an expected 1,000 Orthodox participants will applaud him for his courageous and Torah-inspired vision.
For comment please contact JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman firstname.lastname@example.org