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"One People, Two Worlds provokes, stimulates, angers, delights, and ultimately makes you think hard about what you believe and value. I found myself joining the discussion, sometimes agreeing with Hirsch, sometimes with Reinman, often arguing with both. This is Judaism at its best, a deeply felt dialogue about the things that matter most in life. It should be required reading for every Jew!"
—Francine Klagsbrun, author of The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day
"In an age where conversations among Jewish leaders of diverse denominations are increasingly strident, Rabbis Hirsch and Reinman provide a model of interaction and discussion that is exemplary for all who are concerned with the vitality and future of Jewish life. Each displays passion and considerable knowledge, and the reader will learn a great deal about the commitments and convictions that mark diverse precincts in the contemporary Jewish religious community. Most important, the reader will see that discourse among Jews can be civil even when disagreements exist. I recommend One People, Two Worlds enthusiastically!"
—Rabbi David Ellenson, President, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
"A genuine contribution, One People, Two Worlds, is blunt but civilized, and covers all the major issues in depth, with equal measures of reason and passion. An important work for this year, and for many years to come."
—Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of The Book of Jewish Values and Jewish Literacy
"I have read One People, Two Worlds with interest. I was impressed by the sincerity of the discussions and by the respect shown by each disputant to his fellow. This lucid and brilliant exposition of Judaism should be utilized as a basic text. I pray that the collision of the two worlds leave intact the oneness of our people."
—Rabbi David Cohen, Congregation Gvul Yaavetz
January 21, 2000
Dear Ammi (if I may take the liberty),
Since this is my first communication directly to you, I suppose it should begin with something clever and profound, but nothing comes to mind.
I understand that our shadchan (a seasoned matchmaker named Richard Curtis) has arranged a dinner meeting as an icebreaker. As far as I'm concerned, there is no ice to be broken, just a little unfamiliarity.
I look forward to meeting you for a number of reasons--the book, the project, the contact with a Jewish world that is quite alien to me at this point, as is mine to you, no doubt. But there is also a personal reason. Over the last month, Ammi Hirsch, of whom I had never heard, has materialized for me as an individual, a fellow Jew with a past and a future, someone who is a little apprehensive about meeting me (which is endearing but unnecessary)--just as I have materialized for you as a real person. Doesn't it therefore behoove us, two Jews passing in the night, to stop and say hello to each other? So, no matter what comes of this, I wish you shalom aleichem, and I am happy to make your acquaintance. Perhaps some day it will develop into a friendship. I hope so.
January 26, 2000
I just returned from Israel and was delighted to receive your note. February 2 at 6 p.m. is perfect.
See you then.
February 9, 2000
It was a pleasure meeting you in person last week. The setting was good, and the two and a half hours flew by quickly. I'm sure we could have continued talking for several hours more had the maître d' not pointed to the longline of people waiting for tables.
I wonder what the staff and the other patrons thought about the two of us sitting there, me with my beard, peyot, and long caftan and you beardless and bareheaded. What could two people like us have in common? Perhaps they thought we were discussing a real estate venture. I'm sure it never occurred to them that we were discussing some of the fundamental issues that divide the Jewish people and how those chasms can be bridged.
But the truth is we do have a lot in common. We are bound together by blood, history, and some shared religious beliefs. We both carry the burdens of the same thousands of years of Jewish experience, although we may choose to shoulder them differently. We share a bond that is sometimes forgotten when we deal with each other in the impersonal abstract, but when we encounter each other in the living, breathing flesh, that bond is instantly manifested. Whatever differences we may have, ideological or political, we are brothers, and we should care about each other. One of the greatest Jewish values is Ahavat Yisrael, instinctive love for another Jew. I believe this is an ideal we both embrace passionately, and it certainly would make a good foundation for what we are about to undertake here.
I am sure that, as we go on, the discussion will reach scorching temperatures, and that is a good thing. If we pull our punches, we will be defeating our purpose. But those punches must never be thrown with anger or malice, only to convince and clarify. After all, we are already brothers, and I am confident that, as we continue along this adventure together, we will also become good friends.
Over dinner, we touched on numerous thorny issues, and there is nothing that is not open to merciless scrutiny and discussion. It would be premature, however, to address some of these issues, especially the hot political ones, without first exploring who we are, what we believe, and what we stand for. How can we deal with solutions to political differences when we don't even understand each other? Should we try to beat each other into submission regardless of the human cost to the other side?
I admit that we may never find an accommodation that will satisfy both sides. I admit that after all our correspondence we may just agree to disagree. I admit that there may be no choice but to fight it out in the political arena and let the better fighter win. But let us be aware of the fears, hopes, and concerns of the other side. Let us be aware that we may inflict pain on our brothers and do our best to minimize that pain. At the very least, let us be saddened by it.
So let us begin at the beginning. Let us talk about truth. Over dinner, you quoted the philosopher Isaiah Berlin as saying that the greatest danger to the world is when people believe there is only one truth and that they have it, and you applied this concept to Orthodoxy. Berlin made this statement with regard to the proponents of communism and fascism who believed they had discovered a single, overarching truth that justified the sacrifice of individual humans to grand abstractions. He was speaking about the outlook that "you are either with us or against us." Do you believe that applies to the Orthodox view?
Orthodox Judaism is without question about the search for absolute truth. We believe without question that there is an absolute truth, and that it is contained in our holy Torah. Does that make us dangerous? I don't think so. We have never sought to impose our beliefs on other people. We actually discourage conversion. We believe in the election of the Jewish people to live by a higher standard, to be a "light unto the nations," to teach by example. Our daughter religions, Christianity and Islam, are a different story, of course. But that is an entire discussion in itself.
I would, therefore, like to begin our correspondence by discussing the concept of truth. Do you really believe that there is no absolute truth? That there are many truths? In one of the articles you sent me, you wrote that you accept "the authenticity and validity of Orthodoxy." At the same time, you obviously accept the authenticity and validity of Reform. How do you reconcile these views when Orthodoxy by its very nature rejects the authenticity and validity of Reform? You also told me over dinner that "Reform needs the continued existence of Orthodoxy." I find this intriguing, but I don't really know what you mean by it. Let us use these questions as a springboard to our correspondence.
February 16, 2000
Thank you for your initial comments. I entirely agree with you regarding your sentiments on Ahavat Yisrael. At its core, Judaism is about the covenant in action. This covenant binds the Jewish people to God and to each other. Thus, the notion of love for fellow Jews is at the heart of the Jewish experience. "All Jews are responsible one for the other" is no mere slogan for me. It constitutes the very essence of my understanding of Judaism. (Hence my disappointment with the rhetoric and actions of many Orthodox Jews and their spokesmen, who so often convey not unconditional love, but intolerant antagonism.)
You mention the concept of absolute truth. Great evil has been perpetrated by people who were convinced that they possessed absolute truth. The implication of this belief is that all other beliefs are, by definition, not true. Taken seriously, this leads to terrible consequences.
Sooner or later, the belief that you possess absolute truth and others do not leaves you essentially alone at the pinnacle of piety.
You skirted the fundamental issue in your letter to me. You write that [Orthodox Jews] "believe without question that there is an absolute truth and that it is contained in our holy Torah." At the same time, you write: "Orthodox Judaism is without question about the search for truth."
What is it? Are you in possession of truth, or are you searching for truth?
If you are searching for truth, then I am with you. It is not Orthodox Judaism alone that is about the search for truth. Many others are so engaged, including all of the Jewish movements. I too believe that the Torah is the fundamental place where Jews begin the search for truth. It is this search for truth--interpretation and reinterpretation of ancient texts--that constitutes the Jewish way. This effort by successive generations of Jews to ascertain the meaning and consequences of the ancient texts has produced what we call today Jewish thought and tradition. Every important Jewish work--Talmud, responsa, commentary, Midrash, Jewish philosophy, and even liturgy--is essentially an attempt to answer the question "What does the Torah mean?"
However, if you say that you are in possession of absolute truth, I find this most troubling--and yes--it makes those who so believe dangerous. Here is where I raised the thinking of Isaiah Berlin. Berlin writes: "One belief more than any other is responsible for the slaughter of individuals on the altars of the great historical ideals. . . . This is the belief that somewhere in the past or in the future, in divine revelation or in the mind of an individual thinker, in the pronouncements of history or science, or in the single heart of an uncorrupted good man, there is a FINAL SOLUTION."
Much of Judaism was more modest than the way contemporary Orthodox spokesmen present it. If talmudic rabbis, for example, were primarily interested in presenting one, absolute truth, they would not have argued and debated every jot and tittle of Torah verses and subsequent commentaries. And they would certainly not have left these arguments on every page of Talmud--usually unresolved--for all future generations to see!
If Judaism was interested in presenting absolute truth, the Talmud itself would not have cited passages which are entirely inconsistent with this notion. For example, the famous passage in the Talmud describing the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and the sages over the purity of an oven. (Baba Metzia 59b) Eliezer defended his ruling by turning to the heavens. "If the law accords with me, let this carob tree prove it," he said. Whereupon the tree was uprooted from its place. The sages remained unconvinced. "If the law accords with me, let the water canal prove it," Eliezer insisted. Whereupon the water in the canal flowed backward. "You cannot bring proof from a water canal," the sages insisted. "If the law accords with me," said Eliezer, "let the study hall prove it." Whereupon the walls of the study hall leaned and were about to fall. The sages remained unconvinced. Finally, Eliezer said, "If the law accords with me, let the heavens themselves prove it." Whereupon a heavenly voice went forth and proclaimed, "The law accords with Eliezer!" Upon hearing this Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and declared: "The Torah is not in the heavens!"
The passage concludes by citing Yehoshua's response to the heavenly voice: "According to the majority shall matters be decided." Upon hearing this God is described as having burst out in laughter: "My children have prevailed over Me, my children have prevailed over Me."
The basic point of this passage is that people must make decisions based upon the circumstances of the day. Even the heavenly voice itself proclaiming God's original intention could not alter the earthly practice. What is the truth? God's original intention, as confirmed by the heavenly voice, or the practice that was followed thousands of years later?
We read elsewhere in the Talmud that Moses--he whom tradition regards as having heard the word of God directly--was transported many centuries ahead into the academy of the venerated sage Akiva. During the lesson, one of the students asked Akiva how he knew that his interpretation of a law was the proper one. Akiva answered that it was given to Moses at Sinai. Moses, however, could not understand the reasoning and could not remember ever having received this law from God. Nonetheless, it is regarded as having been given to Moses. (Menachot 29b)
These passages practically plead for theological modesty. We are human beings, created in the image of God and yet fallible. How audacious is the notion that I alone possess divine truth!
It is not the search for truth that worries me. All people who strive to understand things larger than themselves search for truth--whether secular or religious. This is how we develop and progress. But to actually discover religious truth, well, that is a whole other matter.
I think that Jewish tradition was always quite skeptical of those who claimed to possess and pronounced divine truth. There is a traditional passage that asks what should a person do if a messenger runs into a village and announces that the Messiah has come--and you are in the middle of planting your vineyard. "First finish planting," is the advice, "and then go and check out the news of the Messiah."
I mentioned to you that I accept Orthodoxy, even fundamentalist Orthodoxy, as a legitimate endeavor. After all, it is possible--and looking around the world, obviously popular--to conclude that the original texts should be interpreted in a fundamental way. If there are many pathways to truth--as tradition states, seventy faces to the Torah--then it is conceivable that one such pathway is fundamentalism. I know full well that such a fundamentalist worldview--Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or other--has no room for nonfundamentalist interpretations.
There are still things that we in other camps can learn. I am most impressed with the seriousness of Orthodox Jews in seeking to discover the will of God. Their passion for study is admirable. Many treatises have been produced by Orthodox thinkers that contain relevant and important wisdom. It is good for the wider Jewish community that part of us solves moral and other daily dilemmas through engagement with Halakhah--Jewish law. It keeps that important part of Jewish tradition current and vibrant.
That a part of the Jewish community is fundamentalist is neither surprising nor particularly worrisome. It becomes a problem when such forces acquire political power and seek to use it to impose their fundamentalist worldview on others. And since fundamentalists have a tendency to "rectify" the "sinful" behavior of the "sinners," nonfundamentalists must always be vigilant.
Yosef, you are deluding yourself when you write, "We have never sought to impose our beliefs on other people." I spend a considerable part of my professional life struggling against the ultra-Orthodox attempt to impose their beliefs on other people. In Israel, ultra-Orthodox parties use the force of law to impose their beliefs. The primary reason that they do not behave similarly in the United States is their inaccessibility to the legislative process.
After all, if you believe you possess truth, why should you not feel compelled to impose it on others? Why not bring other people the good news? The American Southern Baptists have used this argument recently to justify their efforts to convert Jews.
How do you know that the Torah is the literal word of God? Do you not have any shred of doubt? Moreover, do you really believe that the thousands of pages in the Talmud were literally transcribed by Moses on Sinai? Do you ever harbor any doubts? Is everything always clear to you?
Posted November 21, 2002
This was a great read!! I recomended it to my friends Don Pedro an Z. Mazlataslavski and they loved it too. Kudos to Rabbi Reinman for having the courage (even though he had the backing of several prominent orthodox rabbis) to go foward with this fantastic dialogue that will shed light to many non-believers.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 26, 2002
I am your typical Jewish guy from New Jersey with the typical Sunday school education. I Moved out to Memphis with my girlfriend to get away from the inner city traffic. I always considered myself Reform since it is the least radical form of Judaism. So, my girlfriend's mother sends us this book that seemingly has everyone including countless newspapers debating titled, "One People Two Worlds". For no reason other then boredom, I became deeply engaged. At first, I found myself consistently agreeing with Rabbi Hirsh. I thought the other Rabbi [Reinman] was just a right wing fundamentalist with outdated logic and beliefs. At some point while I was reading the book and yelling obscenities directed towards Rabbi Reinman as to why he thinks he knows it all, my girlfriend challenged me saying, that I was being intellectually dishonest by always agreeing with the side that was more inline with my beliefs. She suggested that I play devils advocate and should try to establish a case for the Orthodox point of view. To my amazement, not only did my arguments sound reasonable, I started questioning Rabbi Hirsh's points. To make a long story short, after reading the majority of this book at least six times, we both agreed that we would like to learn more about orthodox Judaism. So, after researching this endeavor, we decided to go study at Aish Hatorah in Israel and discover the real meaning of Judaism. The one thing that really irked me is how Rabbi Hirsh can use one or two examples of the Talmud to strengthen his argument for the Reform point of view while at the same time rejecting the rest of the Talmud. I found this book intellectually challenging and if read with an open mind, It can really take you places (I can save you a spot next to me at Aish). Thank You Rabbi Reinman for the gift of life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 29, 2002
It is my sincere hope that Jews across the world, who have never been exposed to the beauty of traditional Orthodox Judaism, read this book, and are inspired to come back home.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 12, 2002
My first language is Hebrew, so I am appologize for my poor English. I learned a lot from this book, first I learned how two poeple can communicate with each other with great respect, with much patience. I know this is not the purpose of the book, it may be the "byproduct" to some, for me, at was the main lesson. Of course I learned alot about the Torah, Talmud, and more. I must find books now of same topic, from the same author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 16, 2002
Way back in Aug or Sept 02 near the High Holy days I came accross this book One People, Two Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the issues That Divide Them. Normally I would have no interest in such a topic, but maybe because it was close to Rosh Hashanah I felt a little more Jewish than usual so I bought this book after reading the first few pages. In recent years I have wanted to get a little closer to my Jewish roots even though I have never been into the religion in general and have even questioned my belief that there is a Higher Power, plus I think the bible conflicts with what we know from science. Anyway, I decided to attend High Holy day services for the first time in years . I purchased tickets at a Reform temple but only attended some of the services. I did, however, Fast, for Yom Kippur. A few years ago I visted an Orthodox Shul with a friend who is trying to stay kosher and it is quite interesting how different the lifestyles are, part of which includes the seperation of men and women even to the extent of forbidding holding hands. Now, having said all that, I like reading newpaper editorials, letters to the editor, especially in Time Magazine, and watching the cable news channel programs that match two different views and they debate the issues. Well, this book is like that. These two rabbis go head to head in the form of letters to each other defending their point of view and giving reasons why the other side is either out of date or has gone too far from the orriginal intent of what the religion is supposed to be all about. As I continued reading it I was very turned on by the very intelligent ideas and logic both rabbis used. It didn't make me switch sides but I have a better perspective on the differences between the Reform and Orthodox lifestyles. It really got me to think more about Jewish values and how they relate to living in a modern society. If you liked the fictional book and movie The Chosen you will love this interesting book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 9, 2002
I found this book a mixed bag. As a Talmudic scholar and a historian I am familiar with just about all of the arguments, scholarly citations and points of divergence between Orthodox and Reform Judaism found in One People, Two Worlds. It is quite obvious that Rabbi Reinman prevailed from a scholarly perspective. His understanding of Jewish textual resources and his demonstration of Hirsh¿s misrepresentations and misinterpretations were cogent and convincing. However, where the challenge seemed more evenly matched was on the emotional level. Indeed, as self-proclaimed, Hirsh¿s Judaism rests more on emotional foundations than on belief in the authenticity of the Original Source of the Torah¿s divinity. Hirsh pronounced that he is drawn to Judaism ¿intuitively,¿ which I assume means some inexplicable feeling from the inner recesses of his soul. Reinman produces rich evidence to the Orthodox viewpoint based upon rigorous documentation, rational thought and the historical transmission of Jewish Tradition. He successfully points out the weaknesses and contradictions in Hirsh¿s attempt to rationally justify his position of Reform Judaism. But as I mentioned, the entire strength of Hirsh¿s position is not rooted in strict scholarship. Thus, in reality the debate is not balanced in its premise, it is apples arguing with oranges. As the author of Every man a Slave (ISBN 096770443X) that in three instances portrays debates between Reform rabbis and Orthodox Jews, I have written, albeit in a fictional scenario, the exact same arguments from the perspective of both antagonist and protagonist. But unlike One People, Two Worlds, I had the literary license to incorporate the intellectual discussions into episodes that followed with representative deeds. Those deeds exposed the guile, insincerity and the rebellious defection from traditional Judaism that were the hallmarks of the early Reform rabbinate. After 175 years, it is apparent from Amiel Hirsh¿s positing that the same resentment toward Orthodox Judaism persists (nowadays, not so much for the ideological clash as for the failure of the Reform to garner Orthodox recognition). I am still not quite sure of the objective of One People Two Worlds. If it was meant to be a debate or discussion to convince readers of one position or the other, it probably won¿t be overly successful. If it was written to demonstrate that there could be civil discourse between warring parties, I feel it was a weak attempt. For although Reinman¿s overtures of fraternity toward his rival are bountiful, Hirsh does not respond in kind. Surely, a tacit rejection. Furthermore, in the epilog Hirsh¿s continued resentment is manifest as he struggles to construe the book as nascent Orthodox recognition. I would add that despite the deferential appellations with which the protagonists refer to each other, the rancorous disparity of ideas seems too mordant to conclude other than ¿ the effusion of mutual respect is more or less disingenuous. In terms of content, it is difficult to rate a book that combines two divergent treatises from two authors. I would have given Reinman four and a half stars and Hirsh, perhaps three (only on his ability to speak in flowery terms and obfuscate). However, in terms of the format of the book, I must reduce my overall recommendation to three stars. As a debate or a dialog, the respective postings were too long, covered too many subjects at once and presented no logical order. In addition, the responses often didn¿t follow the questions and, on occasion, posted questions were not responded to in sequence or at all. I would imagine that even for an intelligent reader thirsting for knowledge this book would be extremely difficult to follow. Nonetheless, over the years I have read several books written by Rabbi Reinman and have even spoken to him on one occasion. He is indeed one of the premier scholars of our times and despite my rating of three stars on the book as a whole, I highly recoWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 7, 2002
I have read the excerpt from Randomhouse.com this is fascinating. Its going to be a NY Times best seller. This is for anyone that wants to really understand the issues. I can¿t wait ¿for the rest of the story¿.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.