By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
The Hartman report is primarily a defensive strategy for leaders. Indeed, a noble effort, the White Paper is designed to provide our rabbis and communal professionals with the resources and supports essential for “leadering.” The authors are seeking to empower Jewish leaders in ways that can enhance their leadership performance, while seeking to defuse the tenor and intensity of the personal and institutional attacks that today mark the landscape of our community. Each of the scenarios introduced in the appendix sections of this report deal with one of the various intractable arenas that today defines the state of Jewish discourse.
Isn’t the essence of leadership all about taking the high ground, being confrontational and challenging, while also being inspirational and directive? On the one hand we bemoan the “absence” of leadership, yet on the other we are seeking here to shelter and protect our rabbis, educators and Jewish professionals.
The White Paper is seeking to offer new ground with its proposed interventions. Yet, for decades, the Jewish community relations field has addressed some of these same operational and institutional challenges when dealing with public policy matters and framing communal priorities. Among the conclusions offered by Hartman, the introduction of dissenting views along with posting the majority position, crisis management training, town halls, and the framing of civility codes of conduct represent tools adopted by the JCRC community, years earlier, as essential features associated with this discipline.
Similar to what I did in my most recent posting on these pages concerning the role of our rabbis in managing controversial sermon topics, the White Paper authors are seeking to “manage” the negative and disruptive behaviors one finds in campus and community practice.
But are these behaviors the real problem? In fact, aren’t these the symptoms to a larger question? Isn’t the state of our community fundamentally changing? One must ask: are we still a Jewish community? Ought we to think about the proposition that we are no longer a people who share common cause with one another? We are becoming multiple “Judaisms.” A new order of competing Jewish identities, ideas and interests is replacing our traditional notions of community, continuity and consensus.
It is important to note that the two comments posted on the eJewishPhilanthropy site in response to the Hartman proposals question what the writers refer to as “Tikkun Olam” Judaism, asserting that the messages being offered by some rabbis and Jewish leaders is neither authentic or adequate. For these critics the problem is “who is a rabbi?” and “what brand of Judaism ought to be sanctioned?”
Beyond the religious turf, our political divisions reflect a second dimension to these wars. How we understand and define our Jewish interests represents the political battleground that deeply divides Jews from one another.
How we understand and interpret Jewish law and tradition, define and relate to Israel, and connect with American society represent specific areas of our distinctive differences and separate opinions. These represent fundamentally different Jewish worldviews. I worry that merely managing the discourse will not lessen the divisions. Hartman is seeking to preserve, even resurrect the tent of Jacob. From my vantage point, we are seeing multiple tents of Jewish expression emerge before us. Isn’t that our new reality?
Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR, Loss Angeles. His writings can be found on his website, www.thewindreport.com.