For The RCA

May 09, 2006
A Post For The RCA

The RCA convention is this week. One of the topics yesterday was blogs and how to deal with them. I do not know whether this blog was discussed. But, in the off chance that it was, I have decided to write this post.

“What,” the average RCA member may ask, “would cause anyone to write a blog like this?” The answer, in brief, is you. Yes that’s right, you.


Let me first start by explaining my history. I grew up in a nominally Conservative household in the midwest. Unlike most of my friends and much of my family, I developed at a young age a very strong interest in Jewish history and culture. I purchased Jewish books, read dozens more and, after my Bar Mitzva began laying tefillin. (The thanks for this goes to a Modern Orthodox / Conservadox ba’al teshuva who taught at my afternoon Hebrew school and was the rabbi of a congregation that would soon go conservative. The rabbi would leave and return to the east coast not long after this happened.)

I did not keep up with my morning davening or with Jewish studies, largely because no one else I then knew did those things – at least no one else within 20 years of my age.

Chabad had a major center in the small Jewish community I lived in. But, despite copious amounts of PR claiming the contrary, it had virtually no impact on our lives. I knew no one affiliated with Chabad, this despite the fact that one of their buildings was one block from my house and another, their main center, was a five minute walk away. And my experience was not atypical, by any means.

While attending university, I met up with another like-minded student. He had been helped by Chabad, but only through a strange and sad set of circumstances that left him an orphan. And, like most people I knew with a Chabad connection, the kid was dropped like a hot potato after he was enrolled in Hebrew Theological College in Skokie. (Chabad had no yeshiva for him in those days, and the kid had no money.) But he was eventually thrown out of HTC because he asked too many difficult questions and would not accept pat answers. He finished high school in a public school, and then enrolled in university. He wore a kippa and kept kosher and Shabbat. He did this, he later told me, as a trial, for another year, just to see if somehow he could believe after his horrible experience in HTC. His one year trial failed. I saw him last year for the first time in more than 20 years. He’s involved in his Conservative shul, as are his wife and children. He has no connection to Orthodoxy or Chabad.

But, back then he was my lifeline and, with two other close friends who, while not Orthodox were concerned and involved Conservative Jews, I became frum. A Hillel rabbi (left wing MO) also helped, as did a fellow student who had become frum (largely on his own) a few years before.

Anyway, I became an active student leader on my campus and later nationally.

I met Chabad because I sought them out, largely for help with various Jewish student educational programs I was involved in. Almost without fail, Chabad failed to come through, even when help was promised. There were exceptions to this rule, but they were few and far between. I later met students who had been active 10 years before and 10 years after me. Their stories with regard to Chabad were identical to mine.

Perhaps a brighter person would have learned his lesson and ignored Chabad. But I did not. Chabad’s PR painted it as the only Jewish outreach happening. Of course this was not true, but it did not seem like a very big exaggeration to me, largely because YU’s efforts were not well-publicized.

I wanted desperately to learn. So, when a friend invited me to join him in visiting the local Chabad community for Shabbat, I agreed. I had reservations, to be sure, but my curiosity won out. Anyway, I was blown away. Not by the shul experience or by the rabbis, but by the family life, the kids and the Shabbat table.

And so, I repeated my visit many times, most often to the homes of fellow ba’alei teshuva. Eventually, I became Chabad. And here is where you come in.

I was told by Chabad rabbis – shluchim – that YU was a problem. It’s derech was bad. While the Rav could dabble in all that stuff and stay frum, the line went, his students (that’s you) could not. The Rav was walking along the edge of a cliff. He did just fine. Most of his students fell off. I bought this line hook and sinker, in part because they illustrated it with stories, often about MO rabbis I knew.

I would later briefly go to a Chabad yeshiva, which I hated, and then to Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, which I liked better. Of course, no one at either institution
did anything other than reinforce the idea that YU was not really frum.

I would return to Israel six years later and work, all at the same time, for Chabad, Heritage House and for Jeff Sidel (freelance). And, as you surely know, Heritage House actively attempts to “get” MO students and place them in Ohr Somayach in order to make them “frum.”

“So,” you ask, “what does all this have to do with me and the RCA?” The answer is: your silence.

Haredim regularly spit on all you stand for. But you do not respond, probably in the mistaken notion that this is a virtue. Let me disabuse you of this notion. Your silence allows others like me to get sucked into a version of Judaism that, I believe, is dangerous both for the individuals sucked in, and for the Jewish community as a whole.

In the face of repeated haredi attacks – the Rabbi Slifkin and Kamentzsky bans, the metzitza b’peh controversy, etc. – Modern Orthodoxy has responded with only the weakest of protests. Worse yet, your rabbinic leaders, your gedolim, are largely absent without leave. For every effort by Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, there are dozens of non-efforts by Rabbis Hershal Schachter and Mordechai Willig. And, even worse than that, both of these “leaders” frequently and publicly defer to haredi poskim – the same poskim who regularly attack MO.

You do not set YU’s agenda or control who leads it, but you do have mouths to speak and eyes that see this wrong. But you are silent – and, last time I checked, silence equals agreement.

This blog started as a protest (and, in those days, a mild one) to a great evil done by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It has expanded to be a scream, a protest against the destruction of Judaism and the strange silence from the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy that accompanies it.

Realize this: Every time a haredi “godol” condemns science or “defends bris mila” at the expense of dead and maimed babies, more of us walk away. This happens because YU and MO are not a viable alternative. And you’re not a viable alternative because of the silence, especially the silence of your gedolim.

Several years ago, you “spoke out” against Chabad messianism. But, in practice, you eat Chabad food, daven in Chabad minyanim, hire Chabad rabbis to teach in your day schools, and socialize with Chabad rabbis. The message this sends is clear, even if you miss it. If you can eat Chabad food, daven in Chabad minyanim and have Chabadniks in your organization, and you do so without any type of litmus test at all, what does your “protest” mean? It means nothing, my friends.

Within 50 years, Chabad’s Judaism – including its messianism – will be normative. It is you who will be in the minority. Is that the Judaism you want your great-grandchildren to practice? Because, in all probability they will practice it. Those who do not, and who remain frum, will in all probability follow the theology and practice of haredism. The Rav and his legacy will be a distant memory, if even that.

Your silence makes this happen.

And that, my friends, is why there are so many blogs like this one. Be it GodolHador or others, in more or less the same way, we’ve all had it. Some of us want out, some have already left, a few still hope for change. But your silence speaks far louder than our protest.

Please remember that.


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