From the Desk of Rabbi Moshe Hauer

An Inflection Point in Jewish Life—Mi va’Mi Haholchim

On January 25, 2024, I [Rebecca Alpert], along with 9 other rabbis, representing another 265 rabbis from around the globe and every imaginable denomination, met with Secretary General António Guterres at the United Nations headquarters. You might think that we went to tell him what most Jews are presumed to believe, namely that the UN has it out for Israel and always treats the Jewish state unfairly. Nothing could have been farther from our minds. Rather, we went to thank him and the UN’s agencies for courageously calling out Israel for the humanitarian crimes they are committing in Gaza and to promote our cause: Ceasefire Now!1 

While the actions of this group are on the fringe, groups like T’ruah2 and the affiliated organizations of the Union for Reform Judaism3 regularly make statements that call out the Israeli government, army and large sectors of its citizenry for their alleged extremism and thirst for never-ending war. These statements present their genuine sympathies for those killed and taken hostage on October 7 along with the demand for Israel to provide a fast track to Palestinian statehood without serious expectations for change in Palestinian behaviors and values. Rebuke of Israel is plentiful, while consideration of their security needs is scarce. The morality of Tzahal is frequently attacked and rarely, if ever, held up and recognized. 

Many of us in the American Jewish community are pained by our apparent alienation from the students, faculty and administration of the universities in which we have long studied and invested. We are disoriented by the silence of our religious and civil rights colleagues beyond the Jewish community with whom we had consistently stood as allies but who apparently lost their voices on October 7. But what we are most distraught over are the growing differences among Jews. We appear to be at an inflection point in Jewish life, one in which the internal divisions within Klal Yisrael have grown beyond fundamental religious differences to contrasting conceptions of “peoplehood” and its implications. While this change will not at all impact our firm commitment to support and protect all Jews, it will profoundly limit whom among them we see as our partners.

The Orthodox perspective on Jewish unity hinges on two core beliefs—which are in tension. Our firm belief in the Divinity and immutability of the Torah is a fundamental religious assumption that is not shared by those beyond Orthodoxy, preventing our collaboration on internal religious issues.4 At the same time, Orthodoxy believes as well in the immutability of Jewish identity, such that all Jews are responsible for one another, areivim zeh bazeh,5 whatever their affiliation or level of observance; Yisrael af al pi shechata, Yisrael hu.6 This latter belief has driven meaningful Orthodox partnership with a wide variety of Jewish groups on matters that impact the safety and material well-being of our people. And while there have been two centuries of intense debate within Orthodoxy over the appropriateness of partnership with the non-observant on material matters, the Orthodox Union follows the guidance of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik7 and continues on the path charted by Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin of Volozhin (the Netziv). In a classic responsum penned in 1879,8 the Netziv objected to the utter separation promoted by the school of the Chatam Sofer9 and advocated instead for all Jews to stick together as we face growing antisemitism. The Netziv noted wryly that the Torah compares the Jews in exile to the dust of the earth,10 while the prophet compares the nations of the world to the raging sea.11 Those raging waters would completely wash away the dust unless the dust clumps together into a hardened and indivisible rocky mass, in which case the worst that could happen would be for the rock to be carried by the waves to a different location; it would never be destroyed. Thus, wrote the Netziv, “how can we suggest separation from our fellow Jews when that will leave all of us vulnerable to being washed away, bit by bit, by the wave tides of antisemitism?!” 

In my role representing the OU around a variety of communal tables, I have been blessed to build many meaningful relationships across the Jewish community and have found both friendship and outstanding partnership with many Jewish leaders from beyond the Orthodox community. That remains the case today, and it is a precious experience of achdut. Yet with some of those leaders, it appears that we are approaching or may have reached a point where the assumption of ongoing partnership is unfeasible, not because of religious differences but because our dissimilar approaches to defending the Jewish people are on a collision course. We remain brothers, but not assumed partners. To use a Biblical illustration invoked by the Netziv: Avraham demonstrated unconditional loyalty and commitment to Lot, risking everything to go to war to gain Lot’s freedom despite his clear rejection of much of Avraham’s value system. Unlike our current situation, Lot’s move away from Avraham’s belief system posed no danger to Avraham. He did not speak in Avraham’s name and advocate for positions that would endanger him. Lot was a harmless disappointment. Even so, that same Avraham who would do everything for Lot, felt that he could not continue to do things with him, electing instead to dissolve their partnership. Kal vachomer . . .

When any Jew anywhere is threatened, it should feel like someone has poked us in the eye.

This is neither a new nor purely Orthodox issue; it has been grappled with for years by the broader Jewish community in determining who gets a seat at the Jewish communal table. Is the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) welcome? What about J Street? Today, however, the cadre of Jewish officials and organizations that are embracing troubling positions and concerning approaches to “standing up for Israel” has grown beyond those organizations mission-driven to redirect the Israel narrative. This growth is not primarily driven by the establishment non-denominational Jewish organizations as their approach to these issues is practical and they clearly see the looming threats to the Jewish future. The trouble seems to consistently emanate from those who have elevated their universalism into a religious or pseudo-religious value that seems to overshadow the critical moral imperative to be our own brother’s keeper. These organizations are anything but antisemitic, but their approaches frequently appear to undermine rather than strengthen the security of the Jewish people. While we will often be pushing in the same direction, their mingling of values makes ongoing assumed partnership a mixed bag and unreliable.

We return to the question: What actions or beliefs make a Jewish group an unreliable partner in the enterprise of preserving the Jewish future? This is not a search for a national loyalty test, and there is no McCarthyistic plan to redefine the lines of Jewish community. Nor is there any interest in stifling debate or legitimate criticism of Israel. Rather than a philosophical exercise of defining the range of legitimate opinions, we must seek to clarify the practical consideration of identifying who is a reliable partner in our efforts to enhance the security and material well-being of Jews and of the State of Israel. 

Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of the prophet Zecharyah (2:12), describing G-d’s instinctive protectiveness of the Jewish people: “Ki hanogei’a bachem, nogei’a b’vavat eyno— Whoever touches you, touches the pupil of His eye.” That is the perfect illustration of what true caring looks like. Rather than calculated, visionary and objective, it is reflexive, visceral and personal, exactly as we are with our immediate family. Between themselves, family members are often insensitive and critical of each other, but should someone from outside the family attack or insult those dear to us, we respond reflexively, viscerally and personally, as if someone had poked us in the eye. It should be no different when Jews anywhere are threatened: when any Jew anywhere is threatened, it should feel like someone has poked us in the eye.  

Building on this framework, we can suggest four positions and values that fail this test and would preclude ongoing assumed partnership on defending Jews and supporting Israel. Disagreeing with any of these is not illegitimate, but as we assemble the forces of uncompromised loyalty to Jewish survival, our partnership with those who fail on any of these counts would force us to dilute and curtail rather than enhance and strengthen our support for Israel.  

1. We cannot assume partnership with anyone who aligns with those who seek to harm Jews. Whatever opinion we may have of the current government, of its policies in Gaza or of the entire Zionist enterprise, there is no room for Jews to align themselves with those who seek to harm the Jewish people. This includes the Neturei Karta’s alliance with the Iranians, JVP’s alliance with SJP, the “Rabbis for Ceasefire” who congratulate the UN for their obsession with Israel, and those who make common cause with the groups creating a hostile environment for Jews on campus. 

2. We cannot assume partnership with those who do not prioritize Jewish self-defense and do not recognize Israel’s right to have the last word on its own security. We must all be concerned about harm to innocent civilians in Gaza, but we cannot partner with those who approach the threats to Israel “objectively” and advocate for the aspirations of Palestinians at the expense of securing Jews.

3. We cannot assume partnership with those who do not see and champion the goodness that permeates Israel, who seem more ashamed than proud of Israel, and who constantly question the justice of its cause, its culture and its morality. Israel is not perfect and we must be honest about its failings, but it is built on strong values, is the land to which the Jewish people are integrally and historically connected, and has an army dedicated in principle to decency and kindness that is setting an unprecedented high standard in its wartime efforts to reduce civilian casualties and provide humanitarian aid to the enemy’s general population.

4. We cannot assume partnership with those who fail to unconditionally support the existence and defense of Israel even when critiquing it. Israel must be and indeed is a place where everything is argued and debated, but those loyal to Israel will stand by it unconditionally, regardless of its specific legislative stances. For example, during the judicial reform controversy, Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the United Nations to address the malign and existential threat posed by Iran. That was not the time for Jews to assemble outside the UN and declare the Prime Minister and the state undemocratic. 

An astute colleague noted that much has been learned since October 7, both in Israel and in America. In Israel we have learned how connected we are even to those with whom we have significant differences, and in America we have learned how alienated we are from some of those with whom we had previously felt connected. That alienation is something we must sadly accept relative to our erstwhile external allies, but how can we allow it to impact the Jewish community internally?! This is a time when all of us must realize how much we need each other and must stand up for each other, when we are protective rather than objective, feeling viscerally and instinctively that hanogei’a bachem, nogei’a b’vavat eyno, whoever threatens Jews anywhere is poking me in the eye. 

That is what peoplehood requires. That is what makes for reliable partnership.  


1. Rebecca Alpert, “Rabbis for Ceasefire at the United Nations,” Contending Modernities blog, University of Notre Dame,

2. american-rabbis-and-cantors-call-on- president-biden-to-push-for-end-of-war-in-gaza/.


4. In the words of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik: “When unity must be manifested in a spiritual-ideological meaning as a Torah community, it seems to me that the Orthodox cannot and should not join with other such groups that deny the foundations of our weltanschauung.” Cited by Rabbi Bernard Rosensweig, “The Rav as Communal Leader,” Tradition vol. 30, no. 4 (summer 1996),

5. Sanhedrin 27b.

6. Sanhedrin 44a.

7. In the same essay, the author cites Rav Soloveitchik advancing an argument in 1954 that continues to be repeated byhosts of others: “In the crematoria, the ashes of Hasidim and anshei ma’ase (pious Jews) were mixed with the ashes of radicals and freethinkers. We must fight (together) against an enemy who does not recognize the difference between one who worships and onewho does not.”

8. Meishiv Davar I:44. The Netziv wrote in response to an editorial in Machzikei Hadas, a journal produced by Rabbi Shimon Sofer of Krakow, son of the Chatam Sofer, whose author advocated for complete separation from the non-observant.

9. See, for example, the conclusion of Responsa Chatam Sofer 6:89.

10. Bereishit 28:14.

11. Yeshayahu 17:12.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. 

This article was featured in the Summer 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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