A Vacation From Ideology – Rabbi Barry Gelman

I am on vacation in New York and whenever I visit New York I try to make time to visit my favorite Jewish book store, Biegeleisen. You see, I am a seforim junkie and I must get my fix every year. To my mind there is no better dealer that the good people of Biegeleisen. 


WARNING: Do not confuse Biegeleisen with a Judaica store for there are no fancy havdallah sets, no cookbooks and no jewish music for sale there. Beigeleisen is seforim only (almost all hebrew with a few englsih books floating around).


The store is located in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a well known chareidi community. The streets are lined with kosher food stores, clothing stores for women with clothes that meet the modesty standards of that community and many yeshivot and shteibels (small one room synagogues).


Sometime visiting communities like Borough Park makes me feel like I am on a different planet. The ways and customs of that place are so different in so many fundamentally important ways from those that I and my community practice. I have often felt bad about this reality and naively hoped that it could be different. Sort of my own little, “can’t we all just get along” dream. 


For some reason this year’s pilgrimage to my seforim mecca left me feeling differently. This year I had the luxury of visiting the store on may own. Translated, this means that I could spend as much time there as I wanted. My unrestricted time also allowed me to talk to the store keeper about what was new in the Jewish book world. I also spent time “talking seforim” with some of the other shoppers.


No doubt I was the only one there wearing crocks, the only only there without a beard and the only one not in “yeshivish” uniform (dark pants, white shirt). These distinctions were obvious; what was also obvious was our shared love of Torah and interest in the latest and greatest in seforim publishing.


We also spoke about our various communities and I tutored them on the nuances and unique aspects of living in an Orthodox community outside of the main Jewish centers of population


To be sure, these conversations did not breach some of the key issues that separate Modern Orthodoxy from Chareidi Orthodoxy, and I am sure that there is much that we would have disagreed about. However,  I did leave feeling that the others in that store were my brothers (and sisters..yes, there were even some women in the store, a rare occurrence there) and that there are issues that we can connect and agree on.


This encounter reminded me of something very important for us Modern Orthodox jews to remember. We are quick to try and find common ground with those to our left as we try to build cross denominational relationships. We sit on boards of rabbis, join in panel discussions and often go out of our way to show how respectful we are to reform and conservative Judaism and Jews. We should be expending the same efforts and energy toward creating bonds of kinship with those on our right.


Good stuff to think about during the three weeks….

6 Responses to A Vacation From Ideology – Rabbi Barry Gelman

  1. pierre says:

    I applaud your experiences there, but I think I am not alone in noting that a vast number of laypeople on the Right are openly and proudly dismissive of Modern Orthodoxy’s credentials – not the case with non-MO identifying committed Jews. And I think meeting one sterling, MO Jew who learns and loves Torah and visits a charedi seforim store doesn’t change this view for them. The Gedolim on the Right are open in their general disdain for Modern Orthodoxy (published examples in Mishpacha, 4/30/08) – again, not case with the great number of leadership among non-MO identifying committed Jews…and the great number of publications, blogs and news outlets on the Right are open in their support of the views of the RW laity and Gedolim – otherwise they wouldn’t represent “the Right” – and their office might risk getting burned down or their website hacked by askanim)! One could respond that, specifically for these reasons, MO jews should go out of their way to try to be buddy buddy with Charedim. But I think – BY NOW – it should be clear that by smiles and shared “Good Shabbos” greetings on the street and occasional ‘encounters’ and “discourse” around a relatives Shabbat table, are NO indicator as to whether Charedim consider MO to be a valid Torah derech. I think it’s fair to say that what MO Jews see as a “learning experience/shared encounter” – they see as a chance to represent “true Torah” to a tinok shenishba and indoctrinate your children.

  2. Rabbi Aaron Frank says:

    I applaud Rabbi Gelman’s piece. As a High School Principal, I work closely every day with people from the Haredi community. While there are certainly issues with which we disagree, for the most part, our commitment and mission overlap tremendously. Their commitment and focus is one from which we could all learn. Just yesterday, we worked together on an alternative tefila curriculum for students in our school. Our collaboration is true in that we learn from one another. Many are more open than we give them credit for.
    Our faculty group, for the most part, is one that works together and, more importantly, lives our lives together. We share a common experience and deep personal commitment to our school community, to its mission, and to the individuals in it whether they be Jews to the left or to the right.
    The issues that divide us are real, but, in the end, our lives and our missions overlap tremendously.
    Todah rabbah, Rav Barry.

  3. Moshe says:

    Yasher Koach on an excellent article. Pierre, we should strive to find common ground with the Charedi world REGARDLESS OF the extent to which they consider Modern Orthodoxy a valid Torah derech. Call it Ahavat Chinam.

  4. pierre says:

    Moshe; I’m away of Achavat Chinam, as offered by Rav Kook. More recently, I also think Leon Weiselthier said something tremendous in his discussion of ‘unconditional love’;


    Also Dennis Prager (#3);

    Halacha is the measure we both claim to share. To them, they see the great number of *non-Halacha-observant*, MO-affiliating Jews and innovations as violations of halacha – our ‘striving’ is chinam, without condition, without basis, without foundation.
    (Charedi kiruv centers abound with non-observant jews – but what is a mark of teumah against the MO is an indication of sainthood when seen among the charedi kiruv efforts…)

    However much regard for them, there is very little reciprocity in consideration of our ‘kashrut’ – regardless of how much may be claimed to be “common” between us – and I agree that there IS in reality common between us – but as i’ve posted here before, leaders revered among them are frequently clear and unambiguous regarding ‘our’ status. And charedim do not openly act without the haskama of their leadership, w/o risk of losing their own haskamot. We see a Rambam ‘we’ claim to hold regarding the values of reason and science or whathaveyou (we all share Rambam, right?..) – they see a clear misunderstanding of the Rambam – or more likely misrepresentation, on our part – violating the CLEAR declarations of
    the[ir] Gedolim of today, who speak to and for ALL Israel…against that very understanding. There is no common ground with error and apikorsut – and to the great many of them the former is what we do and who we are at best – the latter at worst – deliberate dissenters from the dictates of the Gedolim – who dictate what ‘ground’ is, let alone whether it can be ‘common’ – let alone the rules of the games played there.

  5. pierre says:

    sorry, that was “aware of”, not “away of”..

  6. Braveheart says:

    I applaud R’ Gelman here. It is important to note that the level of learning within Modern Orthodoxy lacks in many areas. The vast majority of the great marbitzei torah nowadays are Chassidishe or Litvishe. There is really no MO equivalent of a great institution such as Torah Tapes Libraries or Kol Ha Loshon, although I am a great fan of YU Torah.

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