Forgive the Rabbis. They Know Not What They Sell.
Rabbi Hayim Herring suggests that regardless of denomination, too many U.S. Jewish congregations think that they are in the business of selling “memberships,” or, worse, seats at the High Holy Days. Herring, who in fairness is talking his book, says that what they should be selling is a complete Jewish ecosystem.
Having spent the past decade loosely affiliated with Chabad of Beijing, I can tell you that this is precisely what Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Mendy, Rabbi Nosson, and their families have done. Even better, they have done so in cooperation with (rather than in opposition to) the reformed/conservative community of Kehillat Beijing.
I once likened Chabad’s role as being similar to an artificial reef on a sandy sea bottom. Their job is to create just enough to incite the development of a Jewish ecosystem where before there had been little, or in some cases, none. I’ve seen this approach work brilliantly on the far frontiers of the diaspora, but R. Herring reminds us that the same lessons apply even in the heartland of international Judaism.
The Hegelian Dialectic might apply to philosophy, but it makes a poor fit when it comes to morality. A moral code may evolve – indeed, an argument can be made that moral codes must either be fungible enough to deal with changing circumstances and evolving rival codes. It may be scored, altered or tempered in its clash with other codes. The alternative is irrelevance or implosion. Any moral code worth the title has at its core a steely mass of non-negotiable values or ideals that are simply not open to compromise.
For thousands of years, the enemies of Torah have tried to alter it, cut it down, add to it, or destroy it. The clash has not resulted in a “changed” Torah, or, to take an example, a bastard child of Torah and Greek philosophy. What has resulted is that Torah has become tempered, hardened by the fire and hammer with the help of great scholars and ordinary Jews who continue to polish the flood of gems that come from study, discussion, and exegesis. Torah is alive, electric, a tree planted by Hashem that is refreshed constantly by those who trim its branches and shoots. But it will not be changed at either its trunk or roots.