Rabbis Weinreb and Goldin Call for Harmony on Asara b’Tevet Webcast

06 Jan 2012


From left: Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, President of the Rabbinical Council of America, and Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union

A ringing call for harmony among the many distinct segments of the Jewish community – in particular the Orthodox community – was sounded at Orthodox Union headquarters in New York Thursday, the fast of Asara b’Tevet, the tenth day of the month of Tevet, as two of the leading organizational rabbis of American Orthodoxy denounced the violence, baseless hatred (sinat chinam) and intolerance that have increasingly besmirched Israeli society.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union, and Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, NJ, President of the Rabbinical Council of America, appeared together in a webcast seen around the world and archived at www.ou.org/harmony.

Asara b’Tevet marks the day in 586 BCE that Babylonians, under King Nebuchadnezzar, first encamped around Jerusalem starting the siege that culminated on Tisha b’Av. According to the OU website, the tenth of Tevet “was the beginning of the whole chain of calamities which finally ended with the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.”

The fast also commemorates the sale of Joseph which took place that day – the first recorded sin of sinat chinam to affect the Jewish people. Sinat chinam was also responsible for the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash.

With these historical facts in mind, Rabbis Weinreb and Goldin eloquently and emotionally spoke about the situation in Israel today and looked for the causes of the hatred and for ways to put a stop to it.

“We need to look at ourselves and our behavior and to confess that we ourselves are partially responsible,” Rabbi Weinreb said. “We have to look inward to see what we could do better.” He noted that “we are all guilty of using labels to describe our fellow Jews,” giving examples such as hareidi, secular, and fanatic. By using those labels, the distinguished clinical psychologist and rabbi said, “We set in motion a psychological slippery slope in which we begin to objectify the other person. We don’t see him or her as a fellow Jew, a brother or a sister, but as the ‘other.’ This begins to dehumanize, even to demonize him.”

Rabbi Weinreb continued, “Once you call a little girl a shiksa, it’s a slippery slope until you spit in her face.” After giving a long list of the derogatory terms used to describe other Jews he said, “We have to expunge these labels from our vocabulary and speak of these people as Jews.”

Calling for “ahavat chinam” – baseless love – rather than sinat chinam, Rabbi Weinreb said,“We are religious because we are seeking certainty – the truth.” But he warned that those who believe that only their particular group has the truth can commit grave sins. “You can destroy the world when running to do a mitzvah,” he said, quoting Rabbi Israel Salanter, late 19th century founder of the Mussar Movement.

Civility is the solution and will hasten the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people, Rabbi Weinreb said. He gave as an excellent example of civility – of ahavat Yisrael, the love of Israel — the actions on Asara b’Tevet of the Orthodox rabbis of Atlanta – from all spectrums of Orthodoxy – to visit each other’s shuls, thereby fostering closer relationships between various communities of Jews.

Rabbi Goldin referred at length to the Torah portion of Vayechi, which will be read this Shabbat, in which the dying patriarch Jacob blesses all his sons, with a unique blessing for each depending on their characteristics and behavior. Rabbi Goldin said that among the sons, there were three who could possibly be the leader of the Jewish people and the ancestor of Mashiach – the Messiah: Reuven, the first born; Joseph and Judah.

Reuven was too impetuous; Joseph was separated from the larger group, his brothers; but Judah, who strayed in the episode with Tamar, admitted he was wrong. “He is part of the klal and leads by example,” Rabbi Goldin said.

“Fundamentalism of any type leads us astray,” warned Rabbi Goldin. “Standing outside the circle and demonizing does not bring Mashiach. The challenge each of us faces this Asara b‘Tevet is to see people as people to whom we can connect. There is so much richness within our people. There is so much we have to learn from each other. HaKadosh Baruch Hu should bless us with wisdom.”

This wisdom, and the harmony that results from it, will lead ultimately to the perfect redemption, Rabbi Goldin said.

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