Jewish Journal

Rabbis Duke It Out

by Beit T'shuvah

December 3, 2012 | 1:07 pm

Rabbi Danny Gordis accused his former student and friend, Rabbi Sharon Brous, of abandoning Israelis.

By Yeshaia Blakeney

In this week’s Jewish Journal there is a heated exchange between Rabbi Daniel Gordis and Rabbi Sharon Brous.  If you look closely at their arguments you will see very important principled positions.  Rabbi Gordis speaks about the reality and necessity of loyalty to the Jewish people, and the state of Israel, emphasizing the importance of that loyalty, over empathy for the Palestinians and particularly Hamas.  He then accuses Brous of preaching "universalism", that we should essentially care as much about others as we do our own.  Brous for her part states explicitly, " I did not challenge Israel’s right to respond to Hamas rockets. On the contrary I said, ‘Israel had not only a right but an obligation to defend it's people.’  Nor did I suggest a moral equivalency between Hamas operatives targeting Jewish civilians and Israeli soldiers targeting Hamas operatives but inadvertently hitting Palestinian civilians."  However Rabbi Brous never goes as far as saying that there is a moral in-equivalency and walks a very fine line of supporting Israel without taking a side.  Rabbi Gordis wants Rabbi Brous to take a side, and he puts up a good argument as to why.  Rabbi Gordis' argument has been labeled "particularism."  However if you read his response to Brous carefully, it is more a "universal particularism.” He believes starting with family, and working out towards nations and ethnic groups, that as a universal principle of connection and loyalty to one’s own, in his words "make us who we are and enables us to leave our distinct fingerprints on the world."  I do believe that both Rabbis are making important principled arguments for the sake of Judaism, and for the sake of the world.  One leans toward the former the other the latter.  Why their opinions caught the cover of the Jewish Journal is another matter.  Both Rabbis climbed down from their principles to throw mud at each other.  Gordis accuses Brous of being a sellout, and Brous accuses Gordis of having a history of selling out for publicity.  It is this personal piece that caught the eyes of the Jewish community, not the principled piece (at least it's what caught my attention).  Rabbi Feinstein did an eloquent job of calling each Rabbi back to their higher selves (or their corners as the case may be).  Bringing back a vision of a living, breathing, Judaism with a thriving tension between the poles of particularism and universalism.  He makes the outstanding point that both are true, and invites Rabbi Gordis to Ikar to see the other side.  I would have added that Rabbi Brous should bring an Ikar service to Israel and feel the weight of the conflict beneath her feet in the ground and soil of the holy land. (or both could come to Beit T’Shuvah and dance to the music of redemption and hear the passion of my Rabbi Mark Borovitz!)

I remember being a Jewish kid in the eighties and feeling uncomfortable with the term "chosen people."  Rabbi Brous and I are of the same generation, I wonder if she felt the same.  I remember all the explanations about chosen being obligated, and not special, about each people having a unique function etc., however in my mind I was still always uncomfortable with the term.  Practically speaking, in my heart, I know I consistently care more for those I am closer to than those further out, my kids, my parents, my people; I choose them over the other. However I am inspired by a vision of weeping for my enemies, with the same grief I have for my own.  Judaism offers us glimpses of this ideal, which I try to incorporate into my life, however I am human, and humanity by its very nature has its limits.  It is a deep and difficult issue, in a world where at times you are forced into these moral/spiritual dilemmas, and what's on the table is people's lives.  How do we make peace?  At even the highest levels of man/women there is conflict.  Conflict is a necessary function of growth in any system as Rabbi Feinstein points out, but sustained conflict can also bring out the worst in us, whether that is slinging mud, or worse, slinging bombs.  I do think Judaism offers us a deep insight and that is T’Shuvah. The mystics say G-d created T’Shuvah before he created the world, G-d must have anticipated Adam, Eve, Cain, Able, Jacob, Esau and the ensuing drama that we call human history.  The conflict was built in, in the form of a snake in the beginning and in the form of free will now. Judaism offers us a vision of peace in the reality of one G-d, and the practice of T’Shuvah, to return us to G-d, to ourselves and to each other.  Judaism calls on us to transcend, it tells us we can fight against the strongest pull and choose life, choose peace, choose G-d.  I agree that differences of opinion are what defines Judaism in many ways, but when those differences pull us away from each other, we are simultaneously pulling ourselves away from G-d or G-dliness. Far be it for me (a rabbi in training at a crazy little Shul called Beit T’Shuvah) to tell a rabbi what to do... But at my Shul we have a saying. It goes, "oops I made a mistake, how can I make it right, I'd like to make a T’Shuvah."

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