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Before I pursue peace between other people, I must make peace in my own life

By Daniel J. Solomon

In an earlier op-ed, I wrote that peace is about overcoming history. And that is true. But overcoming history does not mean forgetting or ignoring it. Truth must precede reconciliation.  This is a column dedicated to finding creative solutions to the conflict in the Middle East, exploring a variety of narratives. The Midrash says that one can pursue peace between others after he practices peace in his own life. So before I preach to Israelis and Palestinians, I must make my own peace.

At the beginning of last year, I penned an op-ed called “The Hillel Problem.” The piece lambasted Orthodox Jews and their religious practices. Additionally, it derided the Reform movement for its nascent embrace of tradition. For days on end, it was the most read article on The Crimson’s website, the object of pillory and plaudits.

A few months later, I regret ever having published it. Looking back, I made facile assumptions about different streams of Judaism, conflating Reform with Conservative and Modern Orthodox with ultra-Orthodox. Depicting the Orthodox as a monolithic group, I proceeded to make grave charges against them, both explicit and implicit. I caricatured them as undemocratic, insular, medieval, threatening, and disloyal. When it comes to some ultra-Orthodox factions, these criticisms clearly hold. However, the application of these descriptions to the whole Orthodox community was fatuous, journalistically shoddy, and intellectually lazy. It also bore the mark of bigotry. It was wrong. I apologize.

As I spent time at Hillel last semester, I realized that I had grossly mischaracterized the place. Hillel is not Borough Park on Mount Auburn Street. The only three-piece suits there are ones spun from whole cloth. Sideburns there are the product of an outmoded fashion sense, not a fanatic religious devotion. The members of Hillel’s Modern Orthodox minyan do not want to oppress women or impose their beliefs upon a civil state. Just like me, they seek to steer the ship of faith safely through today’s dangerous waters. Fixated on the shoals of modernity, they advocate a more careful, more conservative course.

I question that approach, and I still find certain aspects of Modern Orthodoxy to be objectionable. Men and women are separated at synagogue. Female rabbis are not allowed. Perhaps too much Hebrew is incorporated into the prayer service. Negative attitudes about same-sex relations prevail among religious authorities. These are fundamental disagreements. Since “The Hillel Problem” was published, I have had conversations about these issues with members of the Modern Orthodox community at Harvard. The people to whom I have spoken think deeply about these matters. They are by no means hardened zealots; their love of debate is as legion as any Jew’s.  I am not sure whether our differences can be resolved, or whether they should be. But I do know this: Dialogue is more constructive than diatribe.

I think more critically about what I write and examine closely the language in which I couch my arguments. I am weary of snap judgments. Sometimes, I even pull columns back for further editing and research, as I did this week with an article about the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s Open Hillel campaign. When it comes to Israel vs. Palestine, I know where I stand: I am a liberal Zionist. But “The Rainbow Sign” will not be “The Hillel Problem.” It will engage with opposing points of view instead of straw men. I will talk to everyone, not just those with whom I agree. That’s the sort of journalism that Crimson readers deserve, the sort this subject demands. I expect to bring you nothing less.


Daniel J. Solomon ’16 is a Crimson editorial writer in Matthews Hall. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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