Eventually, everything you say or write will come back to bite you. In the, well, you know.
For me, it’s the statement that I, as a person totally committed to Jewish (and human) pluralism have uttered: If you want to be part of the Jewish conversation, you’re in. No questions asked. No limits. And I do remain committed to that idea. After all that the Jewish people have been through, and given the vision of the Jewish people to be tools through which the world will become a better place, anyone who wants to be play should be able to.
So, why do I say that it’s coming back to bite me? Because recently and again and in a few days, my acceptance of diversity will be challenged. It’s very easy for me to accept diversity from those who are fiercely liberal Jews. I don’t agree with everything JStreet stands for, but will stand up for their right to say it, and to be in the Jewish conversation. Same with the Occupy folks who speak from a Jewish perspective. I will do the same for those who are a bit off to the right – my neighbors and relatives who are supporters of West Bank settlements in Israel, and even those who come down on the opposite side of where I do on issues like same sex marriage. Where it gets tougher for me is when the view comes from the fiercely right wing. I readily admit that I have to work a little harder when, as recently happened, significant numbers of Jews gathered at Citifield to vilify the internet and social media. And I do find it troubling when a group of Jews stands on the sidelines at the Celebrate Israel parade in New York City (as they will do soon), denouncing the idea of a state of Israel that doesn’t carry the hechsher of a messiah.
So while I am more than a little troubled by these exercises of (Jewish) free speech, I can’t delegitimize them, if I am to remain true to my values. Yet, at the same time, where do you draw the line about who is legitimately in and who is out of the 3000 year old Jewish conversation? Are Jews for Jesus out? What about the rabbis who met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad in the past? And what do we do about an element of the community that want to keep women from jobs that bring them into public spheres? [For that matter, what would I have done with Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, one of my thought heroes who, I just learned, opposed women being allowed to vote or run for public office in Israel’s formative years?].
I once met with a highly respected Orthodox rabbi, known for his love of all Jews and for his willingness to embrace those with different viewpoints. He had already taken heat from his colleagues for sitting at the table with Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis; then for sitting at the table with gay and lesbian rabbis; then for sitting with rabbis who perform interfaith marriages; then for sitting with rabbis who, themselves, he wouldn’t have defined as Jews from a halachic point of view. It may not seem brave to us liberal types, but for the world in which this rabbi lives, his openness was strikingly courageous.
Yet, as we sat, years ago, behind closed doors, he asked me: At what point will I have to draw the line?
I am not suggesting that I have an answer to this question. But I do worry, as my colleague did, that one day, I may need to figure out who gets to be in the conversation and who has placed themselves too far afield. And when and if that day comes, I will be incredibly sad. And the Jewish people will not be the better for it.
What do you think? Where would you draw the line? And, more importantly, what can we do now, today, to avoid the rift that keeping people from the table would cause?