Collaboration? We do it already
Orthodox Jews have no problem with the call for unity by the non-Orthodox movements
Last week's Statement of Collaboration by the non-Orthodox movements to work together is good news for the community. It is a commitment by these movements to rise above their differences and to collaborate with each other.
They are committing themselves to do what the United Synagogue already does: work together for the sake of the Jewish community as a whole. The Orthodox world is internally diverse; it spans differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Chasidim and Mitnagdim [opponents of Chasidism], modern and non-modern. The United Synagogue itself is host to this exciting diversity and it is this diversity that has made Orthodoxy so vital and creative in recent years.
The United Synagogue family has, over recent years, been enriched by a plethora of outreach groups. Our Rabbinate has become increasingly varied with many differing viewpoints and backgrounds. Our shuls offer alternative styles of services and our schools have their own distinct ethos. The old "one size fits all"' United Synagogue is gone. This is the modern challenge for our community.
Yet, the United Synagogue celebrates this diversity by working harmoniously whilst learning from and respecting those with different views.
What unites the United Synagogue and indeed the Orthodox world is our beliefs: that we have a responsibility to the Jewish past, the Jewish future, and to God, to honour the faith of our ancestors, revering the Torah as God's word and halachah as God's will. These beliefs are sacred and non-negotiable.
The authors of the Statement of Collaboration define pluralism as: "living creatively with diversity. It is based on treating other groups and their philosophies with respect, while maintaining the right to uphold the value of one's own position."
Orthodox Jews should have no problem with this definition of pluralism, as it does not require any denomination within Judaism to compromise its religious principles or to recognise the validity of those of the other.
How do we, within the US family, respond to the Progressive communities' recent call for more communal collaboration?
In the words of our Chief Rabbi, who is as clear on the matter as his predecessors: "Two principles should guide us. On all matters that affect us as Jews - regardless of our religious differences - we will work together despite our religious differences. On matters that touch on our religious differences, we will agree to differ, but with respect."
So we continue to build on decades of working together on Israel advocacy, security, welfare, Holocaust remembrance, the fight against antisemitism and relationships with other faiths.
United Synagogue rabbis work together with non-Orthodox rabbis on the Council of Christians and Jews. They stand together at the Ajex parade, participate together in the Board of Deputies' Yom Hashoah commemoration, and speak together at celebrations for Yom Haatzmaut.
But, on Jewish education and halachah, we agree to differ with respect and dignity.
The United Synagogue was a proud signatory of the Stanmore Accords and we are very keen to see the process created by the Accords continue and flourish.
The Cross-Community Committee meets regularly to discuss matters of communal policy and concern. This committee includes representatives of major synagogue bodies, Orthodox and Progressive, together with the president and chief executive of the Board of Deputies.
As envisaged by the accords, I gave our commitment earlier this year to our colleagues on the committee that the United Synagogue will include a senior rabbi at all meetings. I would love to see the work of this committee enhanced and expanded.
I am sure that there is more that we can explore together, both at the institutional as well as the individual community level. Some of us - rabbis, lay leaders and members - will wish to do more than others, but that again is a reflection of the diversity of our United Synagogue family of communities. The exciting, resurgent leadership of the United Synagogue rabbinate will, I know, help and advise us in this important work.
I am far more interested in what unites us as Jews. So let us not waste time on dwelling on the obsession that some have on what divides us. For the sake of the wider community, we must - whilst mutually recognising and respecting our boundaries - concentrate on going forward together.
That is our important, gratifying and encouraging resolve as we enter the New Year.
Simon Hochhauser is president of the United Synagogue and chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Trust