There's an old Jewish expression: "Six Jews, Seven Synagogues." This is a pretty telling assessment of the disagreement and in-fighting among headstrong Jews and the on-going debates over the interpretations of Jewish law (Halacha). Considering they are all following the same basic teachings, customs and rituals, one would expect everyone to be getting along swimmingly, right? Wrong!
The Rabbi Emeritus at my family's synagogue passed away this week. He officiated at the suburban Philadelphia congregation for 36 years until his retirement in 2000. He was truly a beloved figure in every sense of the word, not only as a spiritual leader, but as a board member of several religious organizations, founder of a Jewish day school, as well as a friend, husband, father and grandfather. In addition, he was the longtime director of U.S. Naval Reserve chaplains. He served his country for 34 years, achieving the prestigious rank of Rear Admiral.
His funeral, held at the synagogue, was attended by well over 1500 mourners. Long lines of congregants, colleagues, friends and relatives waited patiently (for hours) for a chance to pay their respects and offer condolences to the rabbi's family. Solemn words and anecdotes highlighting the rabbi's illustrious career were delivered by family members spanning several generations. Rabbis from other Conservative and Reform synagogues in the surrounding area came to show their respect for a man who was one of the last of his kind — a rabbi who was fully, unequivocally and passionately devoted to his religion and his chosen profession.
Almost all of the rabbis, that is. Conspicuously absent was the rabbi representing the small Orthodox shul just a few blocks from the glitzy, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed synagogue over which the deceased rabbi presided.
My opinion of organized (or unorganized) religion has degraded considerably over the years. I was never what one might call "religious" or "spiritual." I was, however, observant for many years. My son attended Jewish day school (the one the rabbi founded, as a matter of fact). My family welcomed the Sabbath traditionally, with challah and candle-lighting. We fasted on Yom Kippur and smiled at the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana. Although my beliefs have deteriorated, I still maintain that the essential message of all religions is love, tolerance and compassion. Even if you don't agree with the specifics of the particular dogma, you gotta be a real douchebag if you knock love, tolerance and compassion.
It is my understanding that the reason for his absence is the Orthodox rabbi wouldn't be caught dead in a Conservative synagogue. The Orthodox, for the most part, believe that if you are Jewish and you are not Orthodox, you might as well be Christian. They are a very close-knit, closed-minded, non-progressive ... oops! I mean traditional
clique faction. For the spiritual leader of such a group to be unable and unwilling to put aside his antiquated and elitist beliefs in order to exhibit a tiny bit of kindness and compassion for another human being who devoted his life to spreading the same fundamental principles is disgraceful! Damn disgraceful!
There is a concept in Jewish law that is known as marit ayin. It literally means "appearance to the eye." It is defined as "Avoiding doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated Jewish law, or that someone's misinterpretation of actions may give the appearance that Jewish law has been violated." Perhaps the dissing of a respected colleague and community member is something that should be discussed at the next Talmudic learning session at the Orthodox congregation.