My last article was about our collective inability in the community to speak up to a minority of bullies who have taken upon themselves the mantle not only of bossing us around, but also speaking on our behalf to outsiders. No better example of the latter phenomenon can be found than the recent disinvitation of the Chief Rabbi to the Daf Yomi Siyum, a move that has quite understandably disgusted many people who are otherwise relatively sympathetic to our kehilla.

It would be a waste of time trying to come up with a coherent reason why Rabbi Mirvis had his invitation rescinded. He has made controversial decisions, such as choosing to attend Limmud or working with KeshetUK, but these were all a matter of public record long before the invitation was made. Common manners dictate that you cannot take back an invitation purely because you decide that you don’t like the recipient after all.

The embarrassing truth, however, is that the disinvitation was not a matter of any principle, even a stupid one. What happened is that the usual suspects launched a campaign threatening to stage a public walkout when the Chief Rabbi made his appearance. The organisers of the siyum were terrified at the prospect of a public spectacle and thought the lesser of two evils was to publicly snub one of the most influential and widely respected Jews in the country. Once again, the bullies won and they did so with no more effort than furiously typing a few semi-literate text messages during their 17th coffee break at kollel.

I’ve surveyed a range of opinion in Stamford Hill, and have yet to find anyone who thinks that rescinding the Chief Rabbi’s invitation was reasonable or justified. Many, especially those who for professional reasons are in regular contact with Jews from other communities, are mortified. There’s an all-too-familiar feeling of powerlessness while a motley crew of fanatics and cowards speak in our name.

A common sentiment, however, which I feel is misplaced, has been that it would have been best to avoid trouble of this sort by simply not inviting the Chief Rabbi at all, since, at the end of the day, he has no connection to the Charedi community, culturally or institutionally. It is true, of course, that Rabbi Mirvis has no automatic right to be invited to any of our kehilla’s events, but this misses the point. Always looking to do the bare minimum when it comes to contact with the wider Jewish community puts us on the back foot when dealing with the rabble who make offending everyone else as much as possible a positive goal. More than that, though, it means forfeiting the benefits that come from constructive friendships and alliances with other communities.

The default, inward-facing attitude in the Charedi community is a legacy of an earlier era when we were a tiny minority that everyone else thought would quickly fade into obsolescence. Shunning contact with the outside world was both a feasible and a logical response to the likelihood of being swallowed up by bigger fish. The reality today, however, is that we are the fastest growing section of the Jewish people both in the UK and around the world. Everyone in the Jewish community knows we exist and an increasing number view us with great interest. Hunkering down and hoping no-one pays any attention is simply not an option when, at the same time, you’re hosting a packed out siyum at Wembley Arena. We should be proud that we have reached this point as a community, but we should also recognise that it comes with a new set of opportunities and responsibilities.

This is about more than simply being rodfei shalom, though that’s surely an important value in and of itself. Organisations like the Board of Deputies and the United Synagogue have an ability to participate in and shape the wider British conversation that we currently lack. This is crucially important in the light of social and cultural changes that threaten our religion and way of life. Some of these, such as sex education only threaten our community, others, such as Shechitah are equally threatening to all orthodox groups, and some, such as bris milah, are of concern to the entire Jewish community. In all these cases, however, it’s in our interest to try and rally as much support as we can. As far as I know, the Chief Rabbi hasn’t made any particular effort to reach out to us, but, frankly, we need him more than he needs us. Far from burning our bridges, we should be looking for ways to reach out.

Acting in a way befitting our current demographic status, of course, comes with many challenges. How to engage with Reform, Progressive or secular Jewish organizations, in particular, is a complicated issue beyond the scope of this article. Having cordial relations with different Orthodox denominations, though, should really be a no brainer. Some members of our community are currently scrambling to undo the damage caused last fortnight and will, no doubt, be smoothing out the fallout for months, or even years, to come. What they really need to do, however, is to make a fundamental change in the way they do business with the wider Jewish world. Not causing pointless offence is a sorry goal for a community of our stature to have and, what’s more, if we raised our sights a little we wouldn’t so consistently fail to meet it.

Over the course of my lifetime, we have grown enormously as a community; now it’s time to grow up.

10 thoughts on “Time to grow up

  1. I don’t really agree that we need him, although I do agree we need more cohesion with other bodies like the US.

    But aren’t you jumping the gun a bit when even charedi organisations like kedassia and federation can’t get along!

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  2. Eli,

    A few points where I think you have gone wrong in your analysis.

    1. A couple of controversial decisions is not how you can describe aligning with KeshetUK an organisation which openly calls for normalization of LGBT lifestyles. How can you call yourself ‘frum’ if these are your alliances. Publishing guidelines for Orthodox Jewish schools how to deal with LGBT pupils and omitting anywhere the requirement to teach these pupils what the Torah requires of them, however politically incorrect this may be, is tacit approval of the current liberal leftist cult in which we live. He should have not published if he felt it was impossible to give true Orthodox guidance on this matter. To add insult to injury he published in conjunction with Keshet UK.

    The same applies to his alignment with Limmud which promotes speakers whose views and lifestyles a diametrically opposed to Charedi life. This is not controversy – it is a Rabbi who can not and should not represent ‘our’ community as such. Inviting members of the Board of Deputies is way less controversial that inviting the CR – They would come as laymen – we do not need to accept their Hashkofa or outlook to accept them as participants. However, the CR would come as ‘daas torah’ which should not be acceptable to us – we cannot provide him with honor and/or legitimacy at a celebration of Torah.

    2. The common sentiment is correct that the biggest mistake was to invite him in the first place. However, the entire premise of your post is incorrect. He was never dis-invited – he was told he wont have a place ‘oibernuun’ sitting with Rabbonim who do not liaise with Keshet and Limmud. The fuss was made by one ‘baal habos’ who saw fit to bandy threats around if the CR was not given due kovod that he felt was due to him. Sorry, but he did not deserve Kovod in this setting and they were correct to hold their ground on this basis. The CR cancelled because he was not going to be given enough Kovod – he was not dis-invited.

    The threats of a public walkout were made after it was confirmed that he wont be coming. They were completely irrelevant with regards to the final decision of how to deal with the mistake of inviting him.

    3. How to engage with Reform and Progressive should be the point of this article – as the CR views are exactly the same as the Reform with regards to one Mitzva. Anyone who wants to change the Torah in any way – be it the CR with LGBT lifestyles or #ifyoutickleus with Loshon Hora – are equivalent of Reform albeit only for one mitzva. How to deal with them has been paskened by Rabonim 100s of years ago. We don’t share any platform with them. They should live their lives and we will live ours – but there is no mitzva of Oihev Sholom vRoidfei Sholom.

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      1. I think it would be better if you quoted the complete sentence -“We are, of course, aware of the Torah’s issurim (prohibitions) here, including Vayikra/Leviticus 18:22, but when homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is carried out with ‘justifications’ from Jewish texts, a major chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) is caused.”

        ie. All he is saying here is don’t use the Torah to “bully” LGBT students. There is no clear mention anywhere in the entire document how schools should explain to pupils what the Torah says about the lifestyle they may have chosen or are considering choosing. If the CR would be producing this documents with an eye to further Judaism (I would assume this is his remit)- this is the most important piece of information that schools require.

        The tone of the entire document was written to legitimize LGBT lifestyles – I don’t see how anyone can read it otherwise. This is besides for the proposal that gender and sex are separate – a view which is carries a clear directive otherwise from the Torah. Unfortunately, this was a cynically political move by Keshet UK to hijack the office of the CR – but he should not have fallen for it. That he put his name to it de-legitimizes his position as a Rabbi – never mind Chief Rabbi of Orthodox Jews.

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      2. The essence of your point was that the CR had zero regard for halacha and was indistinguisable therefore “exactly the same as the Reform with regards to one Mitzva.”” You have now learned (I assume you weren’t deliberately lying) that this accusation is not founded in reality. It’s not actually true.

        Now you say you don’t like his tone. I wasn’t aware of any hilchos tone, but I also wasn’t aware of any hetter for covering up for a child rapist; and tolerating an abuser who was being me’aneh eishes ish – both without any intervention from the senior Rabbinate of the Adas Merei’im for more than 10 years. And now you put *him* on the dais, but not someone whose tone you don’t approve of? The time for the UOHC to have grown up was thirty years ago.

        Seriously: where in the Torah does it say you have to bully people sexually attracted to people of their own sex? It does say lots about malbim p’nei chavero etc. I’m not terribly bothered about the Chief Rabbi’s feelings – he’s a distinguished Rav in his prime, with a fine family, and with nothing to prove to the Adas Merei’im and its groupies.

        I’m bothered about the feelings of the 0.5 – 2% of chassidisher childen who are irreversibly attracted to people of their own sex. What good does bullying them achieve? Speak to anyone who knows about these things professionally – you can’t bully, beat or pray away the gay. They are what they are.

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  3. I didn’t think that this would get into a debate to dissect the LGBT guidance to schools when I commented in a spurt of indignation at the misrepresentation of what the guidance actually says – however, it is what it is.

    I said the CR had no regard for Halocha with regard to one Halocha. I stand by it and you have not shown me it is untrue – you just posted half a sentence which mentions Leviticus – which you tried to suggest that proves he is taking regard for Halocha. I pointed out to you that you need to finish the sentence to see that what he says – It is not guidance to schools to teach pupils about the sin of acting on a homosexual lust – instead he is just saying that no “justification” should be taken from the Torah to bully LGBT students. Although, noone is debating that bullying is non negotiable – my point is that such a guidance which only talks about the bullying aspect and makes no mention of the responsibilities of those that have a lust for people of the same sex as a Torah law abiding Jew leaves one seeing – that he either does not see the problem or he has been bullied into doing it by Keshet. If the second option is true that means that he lacks any leadership as an Orthodox Rabbi and cannot be called a Rabbi by Orthodox Jews.

    I only added that the tone is there for anyone to see – I did not retract my original point at all – neither did you show anything at all to prove otherwise.

    On your second point regarding other Rabbonim – I was not commenting on whether other Rabonim should have been invited or not due to their personal failings nor am I aware of any child rapists that were invited, however, here we are talking about a Rabbi that says a part of the Torah is incorrect – Even Rabbonim have Yetzer Horahs and as Orthodox Jews we know they can do Teshuva (a concept not accepted in today’s liberal society, surprisingly) I will not judge any Rabbi for his personal failings. My complaint here is a matter of Hashkofa and whether someone can be upheld as a Rabbi if his public promotion of views which are antithetical Torah by Orthodox Jewish people. I think not.

    With regards the bigger picture of what to do with people who are attracted to others of the same sex. I can only tell you that personally I feel terrible for someone who has these urges to the extent that they cannot marry and enjoy their married lives the way others can. But the Torah cannot be changed whatever you are lead to believe by mainstream liberal British Society.

    Who is talking about bullying? Orthodox Jews should not be bullying anyone – even if they have done something which is not correct but they still need to know that what they have done is incorrect.

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    1. I have shown you exactly where the Chief Rabbi mentions “the responsibilities of those that have a lust for people of the same sex as a Torah law abiding Jew”. He says that “we, of course, aware of the Torah issurim here”.

      Do you think he should berate people who won’t listen to him about what they may or may not do in private? Because in that case you seem to be the one who cut off the quote “v’lo sissa alav chet.”

      Or that he mentions that (as you seem to agree) that these prohibitions do not justify bullying children? What exactly do you need to tell teenage children who aren’t sexually active that they have done wrong? No chassidish child has done anything incorrect for being born the way they are. They are at increased risk of suicide. The best thing you could do is to love and accept them.

      What, exactly, is the disregard for Halacha that you disagree with? What bit of Torah is Rabbi Mirvis asking you to change to be “maintstream liberal British Society”.

      None. Absolutely nothing. Rabbi Mirvis, contrary to the liberal norms of society, expects gay men and women to respect halacha and live celibate. There is no other explanation for his statement “we, of course, aware of the Torah issurim here”. That’s why US Rabbinic policy is not to attend or give brochos at same sex weddings.

      The real problem you have with Rabbi Mirvis is a narrow sectarian one. One rule for unzerer mit a bard and peyos and a hefty yichus, and another rule – the rule of dan lekaf chova, of sinas chinnom – for your fellow Orthodox Jew.

      I’s that sectarianism which explains why you “will not judge any Rabbi for his personal failings”. But these weren’t personal failings – many, many families were traumatised and harmed. And of course, you did judge a Rabbis who happened not to be on your team for his “tone”. But it’s true that I am being too harsh – the incarcerated child rapist didn’t attend the siyum. I think someone had better fake a letter from HM Prison Service congratulating the unprecedented probity of the siyum committee for not applying for his day release.

      As a parent, don’t you feel an achrayus to your children – both for their actual safety, and for their spiritual development, when you present them with role models who did make it onto the dais and into the brochure? For raising them in such an atmosphere of glorification of pritzus and sheker?

      Whether you like it or not, whether the Rabbi is unzerer or not, the Halacha is b’mokom chillul hashem ein cholkim kavod lerav. We know that when US daynaim fall short in a far less publicly damaging way, they get and expect no favour. The pain every single Jew should feel at this flagrant chillul hashem, this outrage, is immense.

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  4. The problem is, not if the CR is wrong or right, but since if he came many would walk out, you can say they are wrong, but they would still do it, led by rabbonim. Isnt it better to disinvite him rather that he should be shamed by many walking out.

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