Inside or Outside Orthodoxy: What I Should Have Done

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In basketball, when a whistle blows, one player will often raise his or her hand, acknowledging the foul committed. In golf, a player who breaks a rule is held to a higher standard, expected to call the penalty on him or herself, in the name of fair play. In an essay I published here last week (link), I broke a rule of civil discourse, for which I would like to apologize. Since I violated it in this space, I am imposing on readers to allow me to record my regrets here as well.

I wrote to argue with an opinion piece written by R. Asher Lopatin. Two aspects of his piece bothered me. First, he made factual claims which I thought were incorrect, as I detailed. To point those out effectively and civilly only required that I say, “R. Lopatin says x, but that seems incorrect/overblown/misstated, for reasons y.”

I did that, but I didn’t only do that, and to explain why that disappoints me, let me make clear that I believe in our ability to speak with each other, and would hope to always be a force for more conversation among Jews— even across deep divisions—rather than less.

I always remember the time I said to someone, “Well, if you believe that, we have nothing to talk about.” While I meant something relatively innocuous—that we saw the world so differently, there was little on that particular topic we could say that would be relevant to the other—he took it as me rejecting the possibility of our interacting in general. I apologized, yet things have never been the same.

Here, too, I took issue not only with the content of R. Lopatin’s piece, but the tone I perceived in it (I say it that way because one of my errors was my confidence that I knew the tone R. Lopatin intended). What I wish I had done was close, after listing my issues with his content, with something along the lines of: “R. Lopatin’s piece also reads to me as if he wants readers to believe that all of his ideas are not just correct, but so correct that no one could reasonably disagree. If I have read him right, he is in that way closing channels of communication with those who see the world differently.”

Of course, having violated my own rules, I can’t possibly point a finger at others. I can only register my regret that I jumped to conclusions about R. Lopatin’s beliefs when he wrote his article, and hope that I am more successful in the future at holding myself to standards that will allow all Jews to engage with each other, to disagree passionately but respectfully, and from there to seek and find common ground on which to build. Without making the errors I made in this recent piece.

About Gidon Rothstein

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