In defense of
Special to The Jewish News
The two cardinal events of this century
vis-a-vis world Jewry have undoubtedly
been the Holocaust and the advent of mod-
em Jewish pluralism.
The former has galvanized Jewish iden-
tity and strengthened Jewish resolve to a
degree surely unparalleled since ancient
times. The latter, I feel, will eventually do
But not in the way most Jews today
Let me introduce myself.
I am a rabbi, what most folk today would
call an "Orthodox" one. I disdain labels
and, as far as I care to be concerned, I am
simply an observant (that's a description,
not a label) Jew, one whose day is spent
teaching Judaism and its history. I have
not chosen to take a pulpit to date, but
instead have gone the route of teaching
varied Jewish subjects on the secondary
and university levels.
Unpressured with pulpit politics and the
diplomatic doubletalk requisite to congre-
gational positions, I am in the fortunate
(though quite arguably so) position of being
able to speak and write straightforwardly
about even touchy issues, which is just'
what I intend to do here.
I humbly ask the reader to not mistake
my honesty for rudeness, for my over-
whelming feelings for my fellow Jews, re-
gardless of where they stand on any issue,
are feelings of love and care. My talmudic
learning has taught me clearly — if nothing
else — to judge facts, not people.
I'm a fellow whom average Jews regard
with some discomfort when we meet. I
wear a full beard, a black yarmulke, and
tzitzis, the fringes of which are clearly visi-
ble at my sides.-I usually wear a smile too,
but somehow few seem to notice. Instead,
my very presence seems to conjure up in
the darkest corners of their minds images
of shtetls and old, musty books, the inside
of a just-slaughtered chicken and the out-
side of a normal society.
Jewish people on the street tend to as-
sume me and my fellow observant Jews to
be ignorant and hateful, with perhaps just
a smidgin of cleverness to our credit — and
likely of the Chelm variety.
It is indeed sad that the mind of the aver-
age Jew in America today is shuttered so
tightly against the brisk winds of fact. And
the atmosphere in that mind has become
unusually stale as of late.
I recently sat in on a Jewish Community
Center meeting in a small but strong Jew-
ish community and was the only visibly ob-
servant Jew present when I took my seat.
I immediately noticed the perhaps sub-
conscious but wholly unmistakable shrink-
ing away of all present, from where I sat.
I felt like Arlo Guthrie in the county j ail,
after telling all the hardened criminals that
his crime was littering. Like Arlo, though,
who redeemed himself in their eyes by
adding, "and disturbing the peace! ", I too
watched the strained bodies relax once
more, in familiar Jewish warmth and to-
getherness, as soon as I had the oppor-
tunity to speak a bit, and was allowed to
(I hope) dispel some gross misconceptions.
That incident and countless others like
it make me think that if only Jews of other
affiliations and beliefs could, for a moment,
set aside their baggage and just listen to
us "right-wing Orthodox" describe our-
selves and our world-view, we might great-
ly accelerate the unification of the Jewish
people and Judaism's growth toward its
The key word is listen. Unfortunately,
the sport of Orthodox-bashing is currently
very, very chic, and there are many profes-
sional anti-Orthodox people out there who
are dedicated to misrepresenting us and
preventing non-observant Jews of good will
from listening to us.
Now, I am not so naive as to think that
most Jews, upon hearing the position of the
Torah-community, will immediately or nec-
essarily agree with it. What is important
though is that they at least understand it.
Only that first stage can conceivably lead
to any type of unity.
I would ask an open-minded, if unobser-
vant, Jew to — without thinking of how it
Art By Michael Marzullo
Friday, July 11, 1986
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS