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Sunday, March 1, 2015

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What happened to the love?

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Rabbi Philip Scheim

In an early episode of the classic television sitcom All in the Family, Archie Bunker confronts his wife Edith’s mood-swings, a result of her entering her “change of life” phase.

Out of character, Archie must respond to her volatility with kindness and restrain his frustration. He manages to control his temper for a while, but finally, unable to contain himself, he shouts: “If you’re gonna have the change of life, you gotta do it right now. I’m gonna give you just 30 seconds. Now c’mon and change.”

Edith responds to Archie’s outburst with a smile, and says: “He loves me!”

I thought of this episode, which aired more than 40 years ago, when I received a phone call from a prominent rabbi in the haredi community, with whom, over the years, I have had pleasant encounters and whom I respect enormously. In his customary respectful tone, he proceeded to criticize me for a program in which I was involved, because of its problematic theological implications.

The more I reflect on the phone conversation, the more I have come to appreciate the rabbi for having called. Caring enough to criticize reflects a meaningful relationship. It would be easy for someone in the haredi world to ignore happenings in more liberal quarters of the Jewish community. The expression of concern, even criticism, reflects a love of amchah, of the wider Jewish world, a love that has the potential to break down walls of separation that too often prevent interaction.

One of my regrets is that there is so little connection between rabbis of different affiliations in our community. I fondly remember meetings of Toronto’s rabbinic cabinet of State of Israel Bonds a decade or more ago, when Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis would gather around the same table, share ideas regarding the High Holiday Bonds appeal and engage in discussion. Those meetings, in my case, led to long-lasting and meaningful relationships with prominent Orthodox rabbis, whose wisdom and friendship I value to this day.

Sadly, in the last several years, the annual gathering of the Bonds rabbinic cabinet has consisted only of Conservative rabbis. The precious interchange between right, left and centre in our rabbinic world that meant so much to me and many others has been relegated to history.

I fondly remember a heated exchange at one Bonds meeting between Reform’s Rabbi Dow Marmur and the late Rabbi Moshe Burak, who was Orthodox. True, they were unlikely to agree on very much, given their positions so far apart on the Jewish spectrum. But that they would sit at the same table, even once a year, was good for the Jewish People.

We can argue, we can disagree, but as long as we’re willing to talk to one another, we remain bound by the love that one Jew ought hold for the other, no matter where, how or when he or she prays.

I hope the day will again come when we rabbis can build relationships not only with those whose patterns of practice and ideology mirror our own, but even with those with whom we differ on significant aspects of Yiddishkeit.

Sometimes disagreement, argument and even anger can be an expression of love.

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