Several months ago, I joined an online discussion group for Rabbis. It’s a wonderful forum that brings together rabbis from all streams and different parts of the world. It’s for this reason that I enjoy the group so much. We treat each other with courtesy and respect, as equals. I believe we truly delight in the exchange of ideas, the social and Talmudic give and take. There are no ad hominem attacks, and nobody is checking anybody else’s tzitzis.
For the last few weeks we were involved in an intense discussion about Jewish identity and inclusion. The discussion was sparked by a video which one of the members shared depicting a Messianic preacher who styles himself “rabbi” performing a bizarre ceremony which he presented as a Jewish ritual. I don’t want to discuss the details, but I was amazed by the outrage we all felt at this travesty. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Post- and Trans-denominational alike condemned this man’s behavior and began to question not only his actions but also the whole issue of Jewish identity.
It made me realize that while we may all come from different places, there is one place where we truly stand together.
I am reminded of a short vignette that I saw in a wonderful video called “The Talmud and the Scholar.” In addition to a wonderful explanation of how Talmud works, the video features interviews with Rav Steinsaltz and others who have learned with him (this, too, is Talmud). One interview (and I hope I got this right) is with a participant in Rav Steinsaltz’s lunchtime Talmud class. The man, a busy artist, says that when Rav Steinsaltz first invited him to join, he begged off saying he is so secular he even eats ham on Shabbat. Rav Steinsaltz, in apparent disbelief, asks “Ham? On Shabbat?” The man replies “Yes, on Shabbat.” “Only on Shabbat?” asks Rav Steinsaltz. The man goes onto explain that he is too busy too busy during the week to sit down and eat. The only time he can sit down and have a proper meal is on Shabbat. Rav Steinsaltz responds “Well, that’s not the way I observe Shabbat but it’s a derekh – an approach.”
We all have different ideas about what we believe and how we practice. We attend different synagogues, practice different customs and maintain traditions on which we were raised. It gives me hope to know that despite our different voices, we all speak in harmony.
It’s a derekh.