This morning I sat down with my cup of tea and the last of the Rosh HaShannah honey cake. As the cats raced around the house, I opened The New York Times to find an article about divisive religious hate crimes from the most unlikely of communities. It seems that a leader of an Amish sect, Samuel Mullet Sr., and 15 of his followers were convicted of shearing the beards and hair off of other Amish who did not follow leadership of this “domineering leader of a renegade Amish sect.” This isn’t just a case of someone standing in Times Square pleading for you to follow their god. This is a specific religious leader telling others within their religion how to practice. He decided that he has the true way. And he took it to extreme levels.
My first thought was, thankfully this wasn’t about Jews. But, of course, we are not immune from these sort of hateful attacks. Just this week, a headline in Haaretz, and Israeli newspaper, read “Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi: Conservative, Reform Jews wreak ‘terrible damage’” Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said that Reform and Conservative Jews “uprooted all the foundations of Torah.” OK, so he didn’t call for violence or act violently. But who knows where it will lead? The are routinely harassed and arrested for trying to pray as a minyan at the Kotel. I was once part of an egalitarian group that was physically pushed out of the Kotel area by the police for trying to pray together on Tisha B’Av.
It doesn’t shock me that this rabbinic leader would make such a statement. He too hinks he has the true way. But at this time of year, the week between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, shouldn’t we be making every effort to heal the cracks within our people? Shouldn’t we be trying to welcome everyone and not push people apart? The Rabbis tell us the the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed due to the divisiveness and hatred of one Jew for another. There is no Temple left to destroy. What will be next? Haven’t our religious leaders learned anything from the murder of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin about how hate speech can lead some to go to extremes?
In this week’s Shabbat Shuva haftarah from Hosea and Micah, we hear the words, “Shuvah Yisrael.” All of Israel, meaning all Jewish people, should return or repent. This is the week to “change your evil ways,” as the song goes, and return to the proper way to live. I’m sure that Rabbi Amar would say that this means practicing Judaism the way he thinks it should be practiced. I would like to suggest that he is dead wrong! There are many ways to practice and as someone who seeks to educate Jews, I welcome all Jews where they are and value all practice, even his. The haftarah continues, “Forgive all guilt and accept what is good.” I hope that Rabbi Amar looks at these words and decides that this is an opportunity to accept all Jews, no matter how they practice.
Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, said in his thought for today, “Yom Kippur is one example of the way a religion can shape the emotional character of its adherents.” As we go into this fast of Yom Kippur, let us pray that we will as a people, resolve to be One People. Not a people of better or worse. Not a people of religious and non-religious. But One People who value each and every one of us.
PS: We just receive a email about how the Amish country has many apiaries that create honey, many with OU certification. Maybe we can find some sweetness in this kesher, this connection, after all.