Not the Enemy

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In addition to the insightful, entertaining and, quite frankly, brilliant articles that I contribute to OU Life, I am also a regular contributor to the web site Jew in the City. Generally speaking, my offerings there consist of questions that have been submitted by readers and my responses, fleshed out to longer-than-average length. (I answer a lot of questions both here and at Jew in the City. I can answer most questions in under 100 words. If it takes me 1,500 words, it’s because that’s an article.)

Recently, Allison Josephs, the titular Jew in the City, forwarded me a question about cleaning guru Marie Kondo, whose philosophy includes animism, which is part of her Shinto religion. I told Allison that I couldn’t poskin for this person as to the propriety of using a cleaning methodology grounded in such a philosophy and Allison replied that that was okay – I should just address what the underlying issues might be. This I did, using a number of other areas that might be more familiar as examples.

Throughout this article, I stressed that I was not ruling; I wasn’t even revealing my own opinions! I was merely sharing some probably-not-universal Jewish thoughts on animism, yoga, the law of attraction, and other popular phenomena regarding which some people might have objections and others might not. I express twice – once at the beginning and again at the end – that readers should consult with their own rabbis for guidance. I thought this would be an interesting overview and nothing more but a surprising number of readers on social media took it really close to heart.

There were certainly those who applauded the positions they perceived me to be taking, namely calling out practices that are presumably grounded in avodah zarah (idolatry). I can’t take too much credit for calling anything out because I didn’t say whether or not I agreed with those positions; I merely stated that they exist.

Similarly, there were those who took things really personally. A number of people argued strenuously against various positions that I cited. In the words of the Talmud, lama li kulei hai? (“Why is all this necessary?” – Brachos 33b, for those who care to know such things.)

I would understand it if I said something like, “Marie Kondo’s cleaning method is clearly prohibited.” That’s an objective statement that is either factually correct or incorrect. You can argue with that statement.

I could also understand it if I said something like, “I think that yoga is based on idolatry.” You could argue with me in an effort to change my mind. (For the record, I didn’t say that. I cited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who said it.)

But when I say, “Some people have a problem with such-and-such philosophy for the following reasons; ask your own rabbi for guidance,” why do so many people feel the need to argue? What will that accomplish? The reality will remain that some will believe X and others will believe Y. Why is it so troubling just acknowledging that other positions exist?

It’s okay to have divergent opinions. It may even be desirable. I have encountered this phenomenon in a number of ways over the years and found it to be beneficial. When I was writing The Tzniyus Book, I showed my manuscript to five rabbis and women educators. They all approved of the content, though two of the five opined that it was perhaps a little too right-leaning, while another two of the five opined that it was perhaps a little too left-leaning. The fifth – Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb – thought it was spot on. When I told Rabbi Weinreb that the others I had shown it to disagreed as to whether it was too far left or too far right, he said that’s how I know I’m where I want to be.

Similarly, when I wrote a pamphlet about talking in shul (as described elsewhere), I encountered the following feedback:

RABBI A: It’s too strong.
RABBI B: It’s not strong enough.
RABBI C: I defer to Rabbi D.
RABBI D: I don’t believe in pamphlets.

None of these people, however, said “my way or the highway.” None of them objected to the mere existence of other approaches than their own.

A number of people disagreed with my article on animism based on various Midrashim that seem to personify inanimate objects. I recognize their right to take such things literally; why don’t they recognize the right of others to take such things allegorically?

Similarly, some people argued “why can’t we learn lesson X from animism?” and “why can’t we learn lesson Y from yoga?” Leaving aside the fact that therein lies the entire crux of the difference of opinion, why are people so quick to reconcile Judaism with Shinto or Hinduism at the expense of what Judaism may actually say about doing so?

I imagine the real reason that some people objected so vigorously is because they like Marie Kondo’s approach, or yoga, or The Secret, and they don’t like the implication that they may be doing something wrong. But it’s okay if we differ. My Sefardi friends eat rice on Pesach; I don’t. I’ll put lox and cream cheese on the same bagel; they won’t. In such cases, I’m following the opinions of my rabbis and they’re following the opinions of theirs. Someone having a different position is not an indictment of your actions. Begrudging others the right to have a divergent opinion might be.

Ronald Reagan said, “The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20% traitor.” It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We should all be on the same side even if we differ in some of the details. Agreeing to respectfully disagree will enable us all to participate in a true machlokes l’sheim Shamayim (debate for the sake of Heaven – Avos 5:17).

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz is Torah Content Editor at the Orthodox Union. He is the author of six books, including The Tzniyus Book and The Taryag Companion. His latest work, The God Book, is available from OU Press as well as on Amazon.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.