December 18, 2018

“Words From the Heart”

Garnel Ironheart is an avid – and mostly critical  – reader of Morethodoxy.  But I was very taken with a comment he submitted last week and reproduce it here in full (and I apologize for the negative remarks about Chabad. They do not reflect my views at all.)

Look, I’m not a big fan of Morethodoxy. Frankly I think it’s only about 10 years until you’re the right wing of UTJ, full-on Conservativism with a mechitza (hopefully). But in the interest of achdus let me give you some free advice.
Look at Chabad. If you think you’re having troubles with the Agudah then think about what they’ve gone through. The Agudah’s PR flacks attack you in print. Chabadniks have gone through physical attacks from that part of the Jewish community. You get called “Unorthodox”. They’ve been called heretics, non-Jewish and neo-Christians. Remember all the abuse heaped on the Rebbe, zt”l by Rav Shach, zt”l?
Yet years later, after all the abuse, after all the ongoing sex scandals, after all the messianism, Chabad is incredibly successful and growing stronger. Why? Because they have a message (Believe in the Rebbe and ye shall be saved) and they stay on it. They push the positive, drumming their ideology into anyone who will sit still long enough . They don’t take time to respond to outside attacks. They plow forward with their agenda no matter what. And it has worked for them in spades.
If you want this Morethodoxy thing of yours to amount to something more than a bunch of new-age feel-good rabbis sitting around talking about kindness and love then you have to develop a concrete message and start pushing it. Playing defense all the time will just get you shoved into a corner.

I’ve never met Garnel (unless he also goes by some other name, in which case maybe I have!), and as I said, I don’t agree with all of what he says here. But I do appreciate the humanity and sincerity with which he wrote this. I read it as “words that emanate from the heart” (which, as we know, “enter the heart”) So here a few things that I’d like to share in response:
(1) I have never, and still don’t really think about Morethodoxy as being a “thing” – a movement, a distinct ideological sub-group. Like most of the “founding” Morethodoxy crew, I am a musmach (ordainee) of YU, a member of the RCA , and a full-time rabbi in an OU-affiliated shul. But I understand and appreciate the perspective that Garnel and many others have, namely that Morthodoxy is a forum for the ideas and religious philosophy that have become identified with the students of  Yeshivat Chovevai Torah (YCT) and members of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and that in reality -though not by conscious design – the three, along with Yeshivat Maharat and several other organizations as well, have effectively coalesced into a distinct movement within Orthodoxy. While I – and most of my friends and colleagues – reject this perspective, the perception is both significant and real. (And, in fact, I am the current president of the IRF, and  my co-blogger Rabbi Gelman is a past-president.) 
(2) I’m sure our wives and kids wish that we were just “feel-good rabbis sitting around talking about kindness and love!” Like my Morethodoxy companions, and so many of the rabbis who are members of the IRF, we are out in the trenches, day and night, pastoring, teaching, programming and building, as rabbis of shuls, as teachers and principals in schools and as campus rabbis and chaplains around the country. In fact, this is a large part of why we lack the laser-like focus of an organization like Chabad. We are an integrated part of the Orthodox community’s multifaceted  rabbinic leadership, serving in numerous and various institutions, each with its own complex set of unique challenges.
(3) Having said all of this, I think that Garnel’s challenge needs to be taken seriously. Not to satisfy our critics, and not as a means of carving out a place for ourselves as a distinct wing of Orthodoxy. Rather in order to better serve Klal Yisrael generally, and the Orthodox community especially, through bringing our vision forward in coordinated and concrete ways. We are reaching a critical mass in terms of the numbers of Orthodox rabbis and Jews who are passionate about living and teaching an Orthodoxy that is (choose your adjective) engaged / progressive / inclusive /  connected , and for the sake of God, Torah, and Israel, we need to have greater focus in terms of agenda, message, and action. And – as Garnel implies – we mustn’t get pre-occupied with  playing defense.

Is this easier said than done? Sure. But let’s get to work. I’ll do my share. It’s not upon any one of us to complete the work, but none of us is exempt from participating.