- Question: [Monday, 26th Nissan 5783]
I was on a trip with my family by a well-known park and wanted to share with you something very disturbing that I witnessed. Being Bein hazmanim, many busloads of yeshiva students with staff stop by to visit this park. In this particular case a group of about 100 yeshiva boys from a particular sect sat around in groups on picnic benches next to ours, and one of their rabbis got up to make a comedy skit. He basically picked many known personalities from the Jewish world and made believe he was interviewing them asking them questions and answering for them. Those people and Gedolei Yisrael which are affiliated with their sect he gave a most positive interview, while those people affiliated with other sects were scorned and made fun of in the mock interview, with all the students bursting out in laughter. I am not naïve and I know what goes on in many places that people tend to scorn and poke fun at other groups. My question is regarding is there anything that can be done to fix this situation. This took place during Sefira, which is a time that we are meant to fix the disrespect we have for others.
Indeed, you unfortunately witnessed a known phenomena within the human psyche, which is to embrace tribalism and take political sides, to beat an opposing camp. Without this natural human behavior, the entire field of sports would not exist. This is also the entire idea of color war that is practiced in camps. The attribute of winning, known as Midas Hanetzach, is a natural human passion and desire to beat someone else in a contest, even if the results of the contest is not consequential to humanity, such as by sports, and even more so when it is, such as by the politics of a government. Jews, including religious Jews, are not free of this human nature and tendency, and hence naturally are likewise often drawn towards tribalism and the taking of political sides. This expresses itself not just in Jews following sports teams and political parties with a passion, but also within the Jewish community, in which there exists a tendency to raise one’s own sectoral affiliation of Judaism to the highest degree, and specifically negate and disparage others. This often leads to an improper and disparaging view towards the individuals affiliated with those other sects, which may come out in the open in a private audience, or standup comedy skit. This also often leads to politics and tribalism being created within the sect itself, with people taking sides against each other, creating factions within the same group. Without going into too much explicit detail, one who discerns understands exactly what I’m talking about, as we are currently experiencing this in a number of different groups of Orthodox Judaism.
With that said, the question is, what is the solution? Is there any way to stop tribalism from taking hold in the Orthodox community, and prevent the disrespect people may have for those affiliated with other groups of Judaism? Simply learning that it is wrong and studying the importance of Ahavas Yisrael has not seemed to solve the problem.
So, this is an idea that I have had for over a decade, which while I do not have the power to enact, I do have the power to suggest to whoever cares about tackling this issue. While I do not believe that this will solve the entire problem, I certainly believe that it will help mitigate it.
One of the contributing factors which leads to disparaging and disrespecting other groups and their members is one’s lack of familiarity with the individuals of that group. The animal soul is much more willing to engage in collective negation of other groups when no human connection or friendship has been made with them. However, when a human connection and friendship exist with members of other groups, we begin seeing that our generalizations of that group are inaccurate, and begin feeling a level of guilt in disparaging them, as one would not want to hurt a friend.
Accordingly, my suggestion is as follows: It would be a most blessed idea if once a week or even once a month, yeshivas affiliated with different sects would get together for a Chavrusa learning Seder in which they would learn together a mutually accepted subject which is not under controversy between the groups, such as a page of Talmud. This will help create a bridge of human connection and friendship between the members of the groups, and help them see each other not as part of two opposing camps, but as friends who have a lot in common despite their differences. This idea can be started within a sect’s own opposing camps, that if a certain sect has become politicized with different groups, they can start tackling the issue of discord and disrespect by setting up a Chavrusa learning Seder between the members of the two groups in which a mutually accepted subject which is not under controversy will be studied. This suggestion of course is mainly to the Rosheiy Hayeshiva’s who have the power and authority to make these changes and it is in their hands to stop the divide and bring the general Orthodox population to have a greater and everlasting respect for each other. It however can also be followed on an individual basis by each person, by him choosing to befriend people affiliated with other groups, in order to defrost the false generalizations that one may have ingrained within him throughout his upbringing.
To note, however, that it is of utmost importance not to study together subjects that are under controversy which can lead to the exact opposite of friendship. This is an explicit directive of the Alter Rebbe in a Chassidic discourse, in which he states that one should avoid by all means bringing up subjects of controversy with a friend, and certainly with someone whom he is trying to befriend.
This is important especially during the time of Sefira, in which we mourn the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva who died specifically because they did not properly respect each other due to their differences of opinions and different religious perspectives. The Poskim in fact state that the purpose of the mourning period is in order so we learn to distance ourselves from hatred, haughtiness, and fame, and rather acquire in our soul’s attributes of love, humility and peace. For this reason, the Arizal profusely warned that during this time one is to be careful in love of one’s fellow Jew who one is involved in Torah learning with. Hence, one must especially be careful in the honor of other Orthodox Jews who are involved in the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvah’s despite the differences that there may be.
The Rebbe spoke about this exact issue on numerous occasions, explaining that one of the main lessons the time of Sefira is that we must learn to have mutual respect for other Torah learners. In my opinion, humanizing the other individuals by learning with them and befriending them will diminish the tribalism which the human psyche is naturally attracted to.
Sources: See regarding the attribute of Netzach: Likkutei Torah Parshas Tazria “Al Hasheminis”; Mamarei Basi Legani See regarding the students of Rabbi Akiva: Admur 493:1; Michaber 493:1; Yevamos 62b see regarding the purpose of Sefira to work on matters of Bein Adam Lechaveiro: Kaf Hachaim 493:5 See regarding learning to respect and love other Torah learners: Shaar Hakavanos 1:3; Likkutei Sichos 32:149; Toras Menachem Vol. 72 p. 176