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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Serving Hashem, Mitzvot and Repentance

Policy, Tactics And Strategy

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Any successful enterprise, spiritual or mundane, requires a sense of clarity. What is the eventual goal that this organization or person wishes to achieve? So to speak, what is our ultimate purpose, individually and organizationally? Is self-perpetuation the real goal of many Jewish organizations? Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto begins his immortal work, Mesilat Yesharim, by asking these very questions. What is the purpose of our lives? What are we supposed to accomplish in our life span? Once we know what our goal is then we can proceed to discuss how to get there. That brings us to the area of strategy - how to get from here to there. Once general strategy is in place then we can proceed to adopt the tactics that will implement our strategy. And in order to adjust to our strategy and tactics to Torah and moral norms a proper policy of behavior and action is necessary. These three components of achieving one’s goals are three different areas of thought and behavior and should not be mixed or confused one for the other. Nor need they each have equal weight and authority. Tactics are a test of practicality - what works and what does not. Strategy is really a matter of intellect mixed with intuition. And policy should be limited by rigid and unbending rules of Torah values and tradition. Elevating tactics to the inflexible standard of policy will doom any chance of success, for all elements of practicality are cast aside in favor of some unspoken and unproven higher authority. It then creates ideologues and eventually fanatics whose slogan is "Don’t confuse me with the facts - my mind is already made up."

Both the Jewish secular and religious worlds continue to fight their intellectual and substantive battles with the same tactics that were employed - unsuccessfully and divisively - in the nineteenth century. Somehow these tactics - mutual demonization, bans, separation, extreme methods and ideas, willful ignorance of the person and position of the "other" - all have proven to be fruitless in the long run. Reform and secularism has not disappeared from the Jewish scene in spite of the confident predictions of its opponents that it would soon pass from the scene. The religious section of the Jewish people has if anything strengthened itself in the past decades in spite of all of the efforts, governmental, media wise, budgetary and societal pressures, to snuff out the "old Jew." Ben Gurion in the 1940’s stated that there was no reason anymore to openly battle the religious in the nascent state because "just wait one generation and they will all die out by themselves." That observation and prediction has also proven itself to be woefully inaccurate. Yet tactics apparently never change in these cultural struggles. What didn’t work for Orthodoxy in the 1800’s is nevertheless slavishly imitated in 2011. The religious world correctly sanctified goals and perhaps even strategy. Its error lies in sanctifying tactics in the face of the empiric evidence that those tactics do not achieve success. I am told but that a certain great sage and rabbi employed those tactics in 1850, so how can we now deviate from his way? My retort is that I do not know what that sage would say and do if he were alive today in 2011 and knew what the story of the Jewish people over the past 160 years actually was. The Torah is eternal. Tactics once employed in its defense and promulgation is not.

Which brings me to the question of policy. In many areas of Jewish life policy issues have somehow been elevated to the status of being halacha and even basic principles of Jewish faith. Viewpoints on certain issues have become hardened into accusations of heresy and theological error simply because there are those who disagree, and perhaps justifiably so, with those viewpoints. The winning policy in my opinion is to fight less, ignore more and have patience, fortitude and tolerance in dealing with others and with the problems in the Jewish world. Not every issue needs a vitriolic broadsheet to be posted against the wrongdoers. Many times just ignoring the provocation is the best and holiest policy. And I believe that it would also be the wisest and most successful policy. Publicity seeking, media bashing, issuing scattershot statements rarely amounts to healthy policy and certainly is not in keeping with Torah values - "its ways are ways of pleasantness and all of its paths lead to peace." Experience has shown that honey captures more flies than does vinegar. A policy of public restraint would help place Torah and its value system in a more proper light for all Jewry.
Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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