You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right by Brad Hirschfield, Harmony Books.
This is a book by an Orthodox rabbi with many unorthodox opinions. He was reared in a Chicago secular family, but decided at the age of 12 to become observant.
“When I told my mother that I wanted to keep kosher, she looked at me long and hard. “I will not buy separate pots and pans and silverware for you,” she finally said. “What I will do is this – if you will wait until summer when I have more time, I will make the entire house kosher. You don’t eat off separate dishes from the rest of us in your own home.”
“But,” she continued, “I hope that keeping kosher will not keep you from going out to dinner with us, because that’s also part of what it means to be a family.” He confides that after that fateful conversation he dined at some of the world’s finest restaurants and ate only salad while his family feasted.
Later on, young Brad began to wear a kippah. His outraged grandmother grabbed him by the hair, tore the kippah from his head and threw it on the floor. “I did not come to America for this foolishness,” she thundered.
The whole family witnessed the scene. “I’ll never forget my mother who stood up straight and said with a clear sense of the truth and rightness of her words, ‘No Bubbie, you are wrong. You came to America so that he could wear the kippah if that is what he wants to do.’”
Rabbi Hirschfield shares these emotional moments to emphasize that abiding trust and faith can be established when a wise parent respects the choice of her children, even if she doesn’t agree with them.
In the early 1980s, he joined an extremist group of settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron. He served as a guide for tourists with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. Then something happened that shook him to the core. A group of settlers responding to an Arab attack fired wildly into a school and killed two Palestinian children. Suddenly he realized that the beliefs that had been driving his life were deeply flawed. He left the settlers movement. “The lesson I learned in Hebron,” he writes, “was that the best things can become the most seductive – and deadly.”
After participating in a forum on the subject of Jewish identity, he confesses, “That night was the first time I said out loud to a Jewish audience what I had felt for some time. If some genie offered me a contract that guaranteed that each of my three daughters would find the love of their lives and create loving, supportive, successful lifelong relationships with wonderful, intelligent, caring gentile partners, I would sign in a heartbeat.
“I want my girls to marry Jews, and I have created a life that makes it entirely more likely that they will, but I realize that when I say I want them to marry Jews it may not be the most evolved part of myself talking. My deepest desire is to guarantee my children’s happiness, not the Jewishness of the person with whom the find it.”
I suppose the operative word in this surprising declaration is “guarantee” – something no one can ever give him.
Rabbi Hirschfield declares that his work has been the effort to build bridges between peoples of different faiths, including no faith at all, and to help people discover that no one is ever 100 per cent right or 100 per cent wrong.
The rabbi is president of the National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership and is a popular radio and television commentator. Newsweek magazine named him one of the top 50 rabbis in America. I don’t know the criteria, but I didn’t even come close.