Humility in Criticizing, Rabbi Asher Lopatin

July 28, 2009

Dear Friends,

On this week of Tish’a B’av, I want to write in a different tone. Yes, I do believe firmly in working on Kiddush Hashem, and avoiding Chilul Hashem. I said my piece last week. This time I want to apologize to anyone I might have hurt by the tone of my message. In writing this blog, sometimes I fall into the trap of being sensational and YELLING my point. But I understand, that especially when being critical of my brothers and sisters, I need to be humble and modest , avoiding any sarcasm and certainly not relishing in critique. The truth is that if the message is right and true, it will get heard without being “in your face” and sensational. I was happy that my ideas were picked up by many different outlets, but I feel that since it was a message of rebuke, tocheicha, I need to work harder to make sure not to feel even one shemetz – one iota – of satisfaction of taking on a community and its leadership. I just hope that despite just being a small pulpit rabbi in Chicago, people are listening. And I thank the Los Angeles Jewish Journal for hosting our blog, as well as Vos Iz Neis for picking up these blogs over the past week.
At the same time, I am gratified that beyond the issues of Hilul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem, the invitation to Me’ah She’arim from USA Yated Neeman editor Rabbi Pinchas Lipschutz was sincere, and we have been in touch, and I look forward to meeting with him, and eventually being in Me’ah She’arim together. This is a new relationship with a leader in the Yeshivishe world that I hope to foster, and I am grateful for it.
Moreover, from the idea of the invitation to Me’ah She’arim, I am working on an Achdus Mission to Israel. The mission should include rabbis from the spectrum of Orthodoxy, and should visit institutions and communities in Israel from the spectrum of Orthodoxy: from those in Me’ah She’arim to those in the Old City to those outside and part of Modern Orthodoxy in Israel. There have been a lot of emails of people excited about joining such a mission, and while it seems like it will be a challenge, I believe it is doable.
On the background of all the apparent Hillul Hashem of the past weeks and months – of course we don’t know who is guilty of what and to what extent and the circumstances that led to their alleged actions – I call for all of us to come together. I know Rav Yosef called for unity of all Jews committed to Judaism, and I agree with that as well, maybe we at Morethodoxy can be a catalyst to bring Orthodoxy together and to show that world that as much as we disagree vehemently, we can come together in mutual respect, and work toward the mutual good of Torah, Shem Hashem and Am Yisrael.
Perhaps, with God’s help, we are moving in the right direction as we head for the sad time when we Jews all over the world will sit together on the floor and try to find a way of “renewing our days as of old”.
May this Tish’a B’av move us to a time where there won’t be any more mourning for our People, a time of appreciating for each other which we all deserve.
Asher Lopatin


An Open Letter to My Chareidi Brothers and Sisters in Israel

July 22, 2009

Rabosai,
First I want to congratulate you for your fervor and unity in responding to those who are violating Shabbat by driving to Jerusalem on Shabbat and those who are intervening in family life in the Toldos Ahron community by treating children in the hospital when they are emaciated and weighing 7 kg at two years old.
But, secondly, I want to tell you that from a Torah True perspective your reactions are the very opposite of what you should be doing. Your commitment to Torah and current events gave you an opportunity for a great Kiddush Hashem, and instead you have distanced thousands – if not millions – from Torah. Didn’t you consider that Chilul Hashem B’farhesia, publicly profaning God’s name, is such a great sin that it outweighed going out on a limb to protect parking lots from cars on Shabbat, or to protect a family that really seems like it was abusing its children? Do you think that there could never be child abuse in your community? And was it not worth bringing an emaciated child – even you agree that he was dangerously emaciated – to one of the world’s leading hospitals for a check-up? Do you agree that doctors’ have a role in our lives in making some physical and psychological determinations?

Rather than resorting to violent riots that have turned off even people sympathetic to your love for Shabbat and the integrity of the family, you should have copied God the way we are supposed to: with love and kindness – midot hachesed – the loving traits of God. Wouldn’t it have been far more effective to have shown up at the parking lot on Shabbat with grape juice and challah rolls and offered people driving into Yerushalayim the ability to celebrate Shabbat just a little? Had you offered them cholent and kugal, don’t you think word would have gotten out that Shabbat is a beautiful thing? After all, these people driving into Jerusalem are choosing to spend Shabbat in the Holy City, not at the beach in Tel Aviv or Ashkelon! We all need to think of how we can reach out to our brothers and sisters even when they are sinning in our eyes, and rather than making them park dangerously all around Jerusalem, endangering pedestrians who are not violating Shabbat, make them realize that you are willing to interrupt your Shabbat to spend some time with them! Maybe the next time some of them would be willing to drive into Jerusalem on Friday night, spend the night in a hotel – even an Arab hotel in the Old City! – and experience a full Shabbat in Jerusalem. Why didn’t you suggest to the city that parking overnight in Jerusalem – from Friday night till Shabbat is over – should be made free, to encourage people to drive in before Shabbat? All these moves would have made Jerusalem, Shabbat and the religious way of life something beautiful, not ugly – God’s name would be glorified, not sullied by the dirty rubbish that you have been throwing at city workers.

Rather than rioting against what seems to be saving of a child’s life – piku’ach nefesh – didn’t you question for a moment what is going on? What are the names of Chareidi organizations that protect children – and spouses – from abuse? The Chareidi community in America has such organizations which serve the entire Jewish community – have you set up yours? I haven’t seen them involved or consulted. No, instead of blaming Hadassah hospital, the doctors and the media of a conspiracy, maybe you should begin a process of coming clean and accepting that domestic abuse occurs in all types of communities – from the most religious to the most secular, Jewish and non-Jewish. And that sometimes the police and the authorities have to be brought in to protect children and spouses. That would be the appropriate response, one that would be a Kiddush Hashem, which would win the respect of Jews and non-Jews for Torah and for Judaism.
My brothers and sisters in the Chareidi community: God’s name is not sanctified by you showing how much political muscle you have to close parking lots, to maintain the ‘status quo’, or to show that you can do whatever you like to your kids without the authorities intervening: that’s not the way to sanctify God’s name, or even your name. The way to Kiddush Hashem is for all of us to place God and God’s kindness above our own agendas, and to show that we are willing to sacrifice even your own serenity on Shabbat, our own control over our families, in order to protect the weak and make God’s name something beautiful and desirable, not something which people cannot run away from fast enough.

Asher Lopatin