Two Sides to a Story

userpic=tallitAs I wrote earlier, I typically blog about our rabbi’s sermon on the High Holydays. This morning was Rosh Hashanah, and Rabbi Lutz was up at bat, so… I’m not going to talk in depth about Rabbi Lutz’s sermon, but use it as a jumping off point for something else.

Rabbi Lutz’s sermon (which I’ll link in once it is posted) was, alas, both predictable and necessary. He spoke about Israel and his love for her; in particular, he talked about his reaction about the fighting this summer. He emphasized the importance of learning the truth about the situation: that Hamas, as an organization, states in its charter that “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors. ” and that, according to Hamas, ” the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement”.  He related facts which many of us that support Israel know: that Hamas provoked this summer, that they were launching attacks from civilian areas, and they were using civilians as ammunition in the propaganda war. But I think the most important line the Rabbi said was this: “Remember, all Hamas are Palestinians, but not all Palestinians are Hamas”. He emphasized the importance of seeing Palestinians as people, and working with the moderate Palestinians to bring peace over the fundamentalist side.

Moderates and fundamentalists. Keep that in mind, folks.

When I got home, I was reading my daughter’s tumblr. She posted an interesting link to Jewish Women Watching, a group aimed at “rous[ing] the public to challenge and change sexist and oppressive practices in the Jewish community.” It included the following:

In these days of repentance, ask yourself:

Is the leader of my organization a man?
Is the board of my organization more than 50% men?
Is my rabbi a man?

This bothered me quite a bit. As President of the Men of TAS, I’ve been reading a lot of literature from the Men of Reform Judaism. A key question on the lips of MRJ leaders is: Where have all the men gone? If you go out to progressive congregations these days, increasingly, the Rabbis are female, the congregation Presidents are female, and much of the board is female. At our congregation, we have a woman rabbi (one of two), a woman cantor, our current and past presidents are women, and much of the board are women. The problem is encouraging men to be leaders. The issue is not that men are better leaders — they aren’t necessarily. However, both viewpoints are important in congregational life.

So I went out to Jewish Women Watching site, and read through their material. Their focus is not the progressive congregation. Their focus is Orthodoxy, and pushing to get women to a more prominent role. This is difficult to do in Orthodoxy with their different view of distinct woman’s roles, but some Orthodox groups (such as Aish and other modern Orthodox organizations) strive to come as close as they can within their constraints. Others are still very sexist; witness the problem of the agunah if you want an easy example.

As I ate my lunch, I was thinking about this and about Rabbi Lutz’s sermon. Both were connected because of the importance of seeing both sides of the story, and realizing that the fundamentalist view does not represent the complete view. The ultra-Orthodox and similar fundamentalist movements within Orthodoxy are all Orthodoxy, but not all Orthodoxy has fundamentalist views. Just as we need to see moderate Palestinians as people, we need to see moderate Orthodoxy as people, and work to encourage the moderate point of view.

In both cases — Israel and Women in Orthodoxy — the problem is unchecked fundamentalism. This is the same problem we have with Islam in general — the actions of groups such as ISIL/ISIS are not representative of all Islam.

Let us strive to learn — and stay informed — on the differences between moderates and fundamentalists, and work to encourage the moderates (both in the Middle East and at home).