Post- and Anti-Pluralism
While this is most certainly not news, it is an issue I have yet to see brought up here at Jewschool, and I notice a dearth of speech about this topic within Jewish circles.
Long ago in 1998, when the worst news from the White House involved adultery, British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks came out with a call against Jewish pluralism. Pluralism, he said was the problem, not a solution. He instead called for a different concept: Jewish inclusivism.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of Great Britain and the United Kingdom, called on Jews to support inclusivism and reject pluralism.
“The solution to the present disunity within the Jewish people is to embrace only one Judaism, but to be tolerant of the way in which other Jews worship.” (…)
While obviously the rabbi was speaking from an Orthodox perspective, could perhaps the rabbi’s words be understood literally? That all Jewish people should “embrace only one Judaism”? “Pick a Judaism and stick with it”?
I was recently engaged in a conversation with a prominent member of the frum Brooklyn community in which I live. He told me that Jewish outreach — kiruv — had been going on in Europe long prior to Chabad-Lubavitch programs for Russian Jews and was still being done by more old-world Chassidic organizations which predated Chabad. I was surprised and asked at their progress, assuming Chabad to be more “effective”, after all, they get a greater number of mitzvos done, no? I was taken a bit aback by his reply:
“Chabad wants to make affiliated Jews, [this other organization] wants to make frum Jews.”
That, if I had to transpose it into the above dichotomy, sounds “exclusivist”, whereas the Chabad approach of “do something for Hashem” to encourage affiliation — granted, often with the Lubavitch movement — sounds to be more “inclusivist.”
A particular Breslov rabbi in Jerusalem, a respected rabbi in a mainstream Orthodox yeshiva, had a student who married a non-Jew. Upon finding out, he called this student. The student, obviously embarrassed and out-of-touch with his former rabbi (and, incidentally Judaism), explained that “he wasn’t keeping Shabbat, he wasn’t keeping kosher, and was living with a non-Jew.” The rabbi replied that one’s status of intermarriage and one’s observance are two unrelated things — that one is still a Jew and this fact remained, and will always remain, constant. He wanted him to stay affiliated if not “observant.”
Is inclusivism a viable option for Jews in America? Should we be encouraging Jews to stick to “a Judaism” instead of the two now-extant approaches: “everything is valid” or “only one is valid”? Like Rabbi Sacks said, even if one will say that “not all Judaisms are Judaism”, one can never deny that all Jews are Jews. Could the way to stop religious differences from effecting disunity between Jewish people be to acknowledge our differences to their fullest extent (yes, the person across the table may consider you to be an apikoros and your most dearly held beliefs to be heretical) without trying, in futility, to force ideological compromise?