During an adult education at my temple to discuss the book Jews and Judaism in the 21st Century: Human Responsibility, the Presence of God, and the Future of the Covenant a congregant and my rabbi got into a discussion about whether one can respect someone else’s beliefs while holding firmly to their own. It hinged on the notion of whether you accept your religion and your faith as truth, with my rabbi holding that if you believe that, for example, Judaism is what accounts for truth, then it is not possible to actually respect someone else’s beliefs. He made it very clear that respecting their right to have those beliefs is different than respecting the beliefs themselves. He used the example of a Roman Catholic who is ardently pro-life cannot truly respect his beliefs as someone who is pro-choice—it is completely against their own belief system. The congregant who was challenging my rabbi on this insisted that she respected other people’s beliefs, but I don’t think she was hearing what my rabbi was saying. As religious people who are committed to our faiths and our ways we need to have the underlying belief that we are right, that our truth is the absolute truth for us.
So, what brings this up? The Mixed Multitudes blog pointed me towards an article on ynetnews.com titled “Why is haredi-mocking an acceptable pastime for liberals?” by Rabbi Levi Brackman. In it he details a performance by an ex-haredi professor who mocked (according the author) Orthodox practices and beliefs; he complains that if a ba’al teshuva had mocked non-observant Jews* in this setting (or a similar setting) there would have been outrage at them being so judgemental. He’s probably right. However, if this had not been “mocking” and had been an open discussion about issues this woman had with Orthodox practice and beliefs, I wonder if he would still have a problem with it. I’m not defending or attacking the performer; I wasn’t there, I don’t really know what happened and I believe the author of the article is not an objective source. That said I believe there is merit in using a forum and a method such as this if it brings up discussion. Perhaps a question and answer period could have followed and someone who had a problem with what she was saying could ask her about it.
And so we come back to truth. For this performer Orthodox Judaism probably didn’t hold the truth for her, which is all well and good. Where do we go to approach our differences without offending everyone who doesn’t agree? My rabbi pointed out that for some people it is best not to even engage them on certain subjects. If you both feel that what you believe is the truth, how are you going to not argue to the point of frustration and possibly hatred of each other over which truth has more merit? And so we step back and realize that while we may not respect our neighbor’s beliefs, and they may not respect ours, in the end we can (hopefully) respect the idea that they are as entitled to their truths as I am mine. However, we all must acknowledge our commitment to our own truths and not sacrifice that integrity. It can be a tight rope walk sometimes, but it is necessary if we want to live as faithfully to who we are as we can.
*I don’t agree with Rabbi Brackman’s premise that it is an acceptable pastime for liberals; I believe that it happens, but to lump all liberals together as thinking this is okay isn’t acceptable either. For some liberals, yes, they feel there is nothing wrong with mocking people they don’t agree with; but, for that matter, so do some conservatives. We can swing this club back and forth a million times and always there will be someone saying “well, if I can’t make fun of them they shouldn’t make fun of me” on BOTH sides. It is inevitable that in both liberal and conservative circles that someone somewhere will do something to offend the other side, which seems to give the other side free reign to label the offenders as hypocrites or whatnot. It’s a lovely cycle.
**On a other note, I’m going to presume that by non-observant the author refers to truly non-observant Jews, and not just liberal or Reform Jews who approach observance in a different way; I’m not a fan of labeling non-Orthodox Jews as non-observant and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt
[I apologize for my radio silence recently; I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and process things I’ve been thinking about; hopefully this weekend will give me some more free time to do so.]