A very interesting thing happened to me recently which caused quite a storm. A dear friend of mine, from my community in Israel, was celebrating the Bat-Mitzvah of his granddaughter. The young girl lives in New York and she and her parents were flying in for the special occasion. Although they consider themselves Orthodox, they follow a very lenient approach in many areas. Included in this approach is the fact that the Bat Mitzvah girl “layns” the parsha in shul – from the women’s side of the mechitza. To avoid any debate, my friend rented a hall in a local hotel and held a special, private Shabbat minyan for his invited guests. About 2 weeks before the event, he came to me almost in tears that very few people had agreed to attend the minyan. “They are all coming for the big free lunch (after Mussaf)” he said, “but almost nobody is coming to hear my granddaughter.” I must state that this man is a gigantic baal Tzedakah who supports Yeshivas, Kollels and soup kitchens and who has built several Shuls all across Israel including in Eilat! This man’s “ahavat Yisrael” is second to none and his pain bothered me greatly. I decided that I would do my best to be at that minyan. While researching the topic it became very clear that the overwhelming majority of Poskim were against such a minyan but there were some – albeit a handful – of Orthodox Rabbonim who permitted it. Based on that, I made a decision that I would be “machmir”… I would be very strict in my Torah observance and would attend that minyan! After all, the weekly Torah portion is a Rabbinic commandment (excluding the reading of “Amalek”), while the mitzvah of “Love Thy Neighbor” is a Torah commandment! So yes, I attended that minyan and listened to a 12 year old girl “layn” an entire parsha perfectly with no mistakes. She made her family quite proud.
I must admit that I was not prepared for what happened afterwards. People heard that I attended that minyan and were in shock. Even though I acted alone (well, together with my wife) and not as a representative of any synagogue or organization, I was blasted as having done a “chilul Hashem” and “acting as a reform Jew” (actual quotes from people I thought were my friends)! People couldn’t believe that I actually went to this minyan and they were “disappointed”, “disturbed” and “down right upset” (more quotes…). I tried reasoning with them but most didn’t want to listen, they simply wanted to yell and insult. Having been a Jewish activist for over 40 years – with Jewish organizations that fought the Establishment – I am used to verbal abuse and it rolls right off my back. My position has always been that I need to do what is right – not what is popular. My actions also need to have a basis in Torah – even if it’s a minority opinion. Jewish history is replete with people who stood up against the masses and held firm in their beliefs. That is how I live my life.
There is, however, one argument that several people hurled at me that I want to explain because it is a classic example of how misunderstood people are about key issues in the Jewish world. People told me how shocked they were that I attended the minyan because I am known to be an “extremist” in my views and one who doesn’t compromise beliefs and values. While I take that as a compliment, I need to explain.
There are times that all of us need to be extremists. We need to be extremists in our loyalty to our spouse and in our love for our children. We need to be extremists in our passion for Torah, in our honesty and in our service of Hashem. In all those examples – and there are many more – we do not do things “half-way”; sometimes yes and sometimes no. Can you imagine a husband who is “moderately” faithful to his wife? Or a Jew who “compromises” on his honesty in business deals? I wouldn’t want anything to do with those people…
So yes, I admit it! Guilty as charged! I am an extremist when it comes to love of a fellow Jew yet also an extremist when it comes to dealing with the Jewish enemy. To a fellow Yid, I will give the shirt off my back and any other help I can – while to a Jewish enemy I will not give a grain of sand nor even a smile. Does that make me nuts? I don’t think so… it makes me one who knows the difference between a concept that has become so muddy and unclear that most people couldn’t explain it if they had to. It’s called “Good” and “Evil”.
Jews are good. We are all sons and daughters of the King and therefore we truly are all brothers and sisters with one another. The Israeli guy with the tattoos? Yes, he’s my brother. The Jewish girl in Beverly Hills with the pants and Gucci bag? Yup, she’s my kid sister. The Hassidic guy from Brooklyn with the streimel? That’s right, he’s my brother too. The lady from Afula with the sheitel? I realize we don’t look alike but she’s my sister as well. For those people, I am willing to compromise, bend and do whatever I can to help them 24/7 and if Rabbi Avi Weiss, an Orthodox Rabbi from Riverdale (who fought for Soviet Jewry night and day) says that a Bat Mitzvah girl can “layn” and backs it up with solid proof, then even though he is a minority opinion, it is good enough for me! I highly doubt that I would daven in a shul like that on a regular basis (because it’s not my style) but for a “one-shot-deal”, to bring joy and happiness to a wonderful family, then – YES! – I did it because I am a Jewish extremist when it comes to helping Jews.
The flip side of that equation is that the Jewish enemy is evil. One does not talk to an enemy nor negotiate with him… or her. We wipe them out. Three times a day we are instructed to recite the “Ashrei” prayer which clearly says, “Hashem protects all who love Him; but all the wicked He will destroy.” Yes, Hashem destroys evil and instructs us to do the same; “You shall burn out the evil from thy midst” (Devarim 17:7).
Therefore, the concept here is not whether or not we are firm in our views or willing to bend, it’s about good and evil. For “good” – we do whatever we can to embrace it and hold it tight while for “evil” – we stand strong and eradicate it at all costs. This simple concept is totally misunderstood today. Unfortunately, many Jews have a serious problem acknowledging the difference between good and evil and they lump it all in one big box. They are nice to Jews, but also to radical, Jew haters. They feel that to make “shalom bayis” in the Jewish world, people have to compromise and then take that same approach to making compromises when dealing with Arabs who occupy Jewish land. I totally agree with the first part; that yes, we must make compromises within our home – but with the same fervor and passion, I totally disagree with the second part. Am I confused? No, I am very clear in my thinking and the reason why I say so is because I understand the difference between good and evil and have no problem dealing with “good” in one way and with “evil” in another. Anyone that thinks they can act the same with both those concepts needs to take a psychological shower to cleanse themselves from many things that are clouding their mind.
In the same chapter of Tehillim (97) King David writes two different things; “O lovers of Hashem, despise evil!” (97:10) and then just two verses later he writes; “Be glad, O righteous in Hashem, and give grateful praise at the mention of His Holy Name” (97:12). Remember these concepts; when to despise evil and when to praise good and never get them confused. You will be a better Jew because of it!