Vayigash – Jewish Unity

Jewish Unity 2

So much has been said about the frothing hatred many Jewish people have towards each other! Half as much has been stated about Jewish Unity. I too have added my little opinions to this discussion. This can be found at I discussed the importance of giving the other group a chance and to question the masses of misinformation which surround us. This is true. However, most froth people can not be found at meetings designed to bridge the gap between the given groups whose aim is to listen and to dispel this misinformation. The attendees at such gatherings are not usually the same people proclaiming civil war on other groups.

Such meetings and advertisements have been found to be so useless as to cause one to laugh. It has been stated that it might be better for the citizenry to just get together for some beer and get a little intoxicated over some good Blues. As you might realize this solution is untenable. This is because some of the groups involved follow the halacha which states that it is forbidden to attend such concerts.

I have therefore come to the conclusion that only through an incredible miracle can the words of the Prophet Yechezkel come true as it is stated in the Haftara for Perashat Vayigash:

Yechezkel 37-19
Tell them: This is what G-d the Lord says ‘Behold, I am taking the stick of Joseph which is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel their peers, and I will put on them the stick of Yehuda and I will make them one stick and they will be one in my hands.

Just because a miracle seems to be involved we can not simply sit and wait. We must try our best to get together.

It is impossible for us to ignore halacha. Simply because of this unity seems impossible.

Rabbi Uziel of Blessed memory discussed unifying different kinds of people in their observance of halacha. (Piskey Uziel Siman 2) The Pasuk in Devarim 4,1 states, “Lo Titgodedu – Do not mutilate yourselves.” Our Rabbis have taught us that this pasuk refers not only to mutilating one’s body in mourning but also forbids mutilating the nation into different, small groups.

This is like the opinion expressed by Abaye (Yevamot 14) that it is forbidden for 2 Bet Dins to function in one city one that follows Bet Shamai and the other follows Bet Hilel.

Rabbi Uziel states that Rashi and Rambam differ on the reasoning behind this halacha. Rashi says that different customs make the Torah seem like two Torahs. Rambam says  a city can not have two Bet Dins with differing approaches because this encourages a lot of arguments.

What is supposed to be done when one population of Jews move to another area? What is supposed to be done when two Jewish populations live side by side with different customs? Rabbi Uziel cites several sources. He quotes the Rosh who himself had escaped from Eastern Europe to Toledo Spain around the 14th Century. The two places had very different customs. He had been appointed to head the Jewish community in Toledo and himself combined the methods popular among Ashkenazim and among Sepharadim. He said that if a differing custom does not apply to an actual Halacha each community can do as they please.

However, Rambam (Peer Hador 151) says that such a  situation causes strife. This is clearly true because two Torah true Jewish communities living side by side always have such differences. One claims that the other community eats non-kosher food while these counter that the first community’s Mikveh is no more than a public bath.

Magen Avraham who lived in the 17th century gives an example of the Jews of  Poland who might fast on the 20th of Sivan when they move to a new place they can continue to fast on that day. However, if two groups differ whether a particular kind of fat is kosher both groups are considered to be transgressing the negative Mitzvah of Lo Titgodedu. It is also a positive Mitzvah for the two groups to come to a consensus whether the community can eat such foods.

It seems that according to Rashi different communities residing in different places can follow different customs even with such differences about said fats. However, according to Rambam even this is forbidden. This is because Rambam believes that the communities will still argue. He says that there should never be any arguments about any subject ever. Rambam would disagree with Magen Avraham about the Polish Jews who were accustomed to fast on the 20th of Sivan even while residing in different places. One of the main guiding principles of the Rambam in his writing the Mishneh Torah was to give the Jewish people a single source for any Halachic information that they may ever need!

Rabbi Uziel continues to discuss that even when a Jew or a group of Jews move to another place they can not remain subdivided into little groups. Even if a vast number of Jews move to a place with few Jews the majority can not continue to follows its customs but must either accept the local customs or discuss the differences and conclude what custom will be followed and which will be left aside.

Rabbi Shmuel ben Moshe di Medina – Maharashdam lived during the 16th cent.  in  Salonika. He  others like thought believe that communities in the same city can have differing customs. However, even according to Maharashdam it is preferable for all to agree. He said that the Ashkenazi communities in Italy could not force the smaller Sephardic community to accept their customs.

Rabbi Uziel who follows Rambam says that this discussion also applies to liturgical questions and pronunciation issues. (also see Piskey Uziel 1) The Rabbinic leaders must get together and conclude which customs are to be followed and how Kriyat Shma should be pronounced.

If  two Bet Dins of equal intellectual stature are functioning with differing customs they should discuss all of their differences. If they continue to disagree and rule differently they are transgressing Lo Titgodedu. In the absence of an agreement the Bet Din with a larger audience should be followed by all of the Jews. On the subject of Lo Titgodedu the Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim ch. 4 Hal. 1) concludes that if  two Bet Dins differ on a fine point of  a halacha whereby one quotes a rabbi one way while the other believes that he stated differently that Bet Din is transgressing Lo Titgodedu and encouraging more disagreement among Jews.

Regarding differing customs of prayer  Rabbi Uziel  cites the well known Midrash that when all the Jews are together G-d answers their prayers  (Menachot 27)

When an Ashkenazi visits a Sephardic Synagogue (which should not have different customs anyway) or the opposite they must follow the exact custom of the community. Rabbi Uziel believes that this even  applies to the silent Amidah Prayers. It certainly applies to the Kedusha and any prayers said out loud. If the Synagogue says Nekadesh for Musaf while the Sephardic individual says Keter he must follow them. This applies even if the Sephardic custom has many Kabbalistic reasons behind it.

This lesson which Rabbi Uziel states was taught during the thirties and forties. It seems to have mostly fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, Piskey Uziel is hard to find in book stores. Thanks to Project Hashut of Bar Ilan University  for their making this book available on CD-ROM.

The above does not even discuss the lack of harmony between Jews who have chosen not to follow the holy Torah and those who choose to follow. That situation will be left for the miracle prophesied by Yechezkel cited above. Indeed if people followed the teachings of Rabbi Uziel it would be no less a miraculous.

I do, However, believe that there is one way to move towards Jewish Unity. Intermarriage!  Sephardim should marry Ashkenazim, Yemenites should marry Moroccans, American Jewish Olim  should marry Ethiopians Jewish Olim. For two generations I have followed this. I do not believe that I could have even discussed the above if not for my mixed background. Both my mother and my wife of Ashkenazi background. My wife is from another end of the world from my Brooklyn upbringing. I have always considered myself Sephardic. However, I am encouraging my kids to be Jewish.

Perhaps someone should run a Shadchan Service which will only set Jews up from different backgrounds. You could make some money and Mitzvah points for it.