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 During my recent trip to the United States I had the honor of addressing the student bodies of different Orthodox educational institutions. These institutions were of diverse streams of Orthodoxy. Some refer to themselves as modern Orthodox, while others claim to be more authentic, so to speak, and less open to the culture and ideals of the modern world.


At the various venues, some of the students dressed slightly different, one from the other, and I emphasize the word slightly. Nevertheless, I found that if I closed my eyes and did not see who was wearing colored shirts or white shirts, or what type of covering adorned their heads, I really could not tell much of a difference, and in fact I gave pretty much the same speech to all these different institutions. In all due modesty, I think that the words that I said had an impact and were well accepted and mirrored the true goals of these institutions and of their students. The goal in all these institutions was and is Torah knowledge, maintenance of tradition, and the understanding of the unique role that the Jewish people and the land of Israel play in the scheme of world events…..especially of our time. Because of this I felt very heartened because I saw that the differences amongst these institutions and groupings were not only superficial but exaggerated. Rather, on the basic core issues of Torah study, observance of Jewish tradition, the building of family and community, and the understanding of the special time that this generation lives in were really the unifying factors that ran across all the groups.
I know that we love to emphasize our differences because somehow that allows us to justify our mode of behavior or our politics. I am always reminded, though, that the Jewish people began as twelve tribes, each one different from the other, but that these tribes, when combined, are what created and established the Jewish people and the first Jewish state in the land of Israel.
The ideas reflected in the Talmud regarding the Jewish people, both individually and as a nation, are universal to all Jews. Even, if I dare say, as they apply also to Jews who are not that observant or to those who call themselves secular. Nevertheless, there are basic values that somehow lie deep within the soul of the Jewish people and it is these basic values that unite us and give us a vision for the future. Even though there are many basic disputes within the Jewish world - many of them carry-overs from the 19th and 20th century, these disputes do not stand the test of time. Circumstances and events will always govern what the reaction of people will be. It is the events of history and of our current generation that are of greater consequence as to what our education should be and what goals we should set for our children and grandchildren.
There is no doubt that the emphasis on differences - a phenomenon which Orthodoxy unfortunately thrives on - is divisive, harmful and eventually counterproductive. Such is the nature of human beings and I do not feel that anyone can change the that fact substantially. Our leaders and educators should look more deeply at the underlying foundations of society and of the Jewish world and not always be caught up in the external differences and political divisions which exist, and have always existed, and probably will always exist.
I find that delivering the same message to Jews of all kinds is most satisfying. I am not a member of any specific group, but I am a member of the Jewish people and for what they have stood for over the centuries. When I was a student in the Yeshiva, differences were minimized simply because Orthodoxy was small in numbers, weak in power and influence, and lacked a great deal of self-confidence. We could not afford the luxury of arguing amongst ourselves. In old Chicago where I grew up, anyone who was a Sabbath observer was a member of our immediate society no matter their political affiliation - Zionist, non-Zionist, learned or not so learned - it all made very little difference. We did not have the ability to cut and dissect ourselves into different groupings and divisions to be able to exclude others from our vision. Because of the unbelievable growth of Orthodoxy over the past decades and because of the position of strength that it occupies both in American and in Israeli society, we now emphasize differences instead of searching for similarities and common ground. This is the blessing of riches, which could turn out to be a curse as well as a blessing.
I was again heartened by the fact that somehow these differences are not as material as one would have thought and that there really is hope for a stronger and a more unified Orthodoxy in the future. The Jewish people need such a strong Orthodoxy, a strong unified group that has a moral compass and a grand vision for our future. I hope that this dream of mine will be realized and come into actuality in the very near future.
Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Berel Wein

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