By Eugene “Jesse” Nash IV
Rabbi Ethan Tucker, president and rosh yeshiva of Hadar, came to this university on Monday to discuss his philosophy regarding religious practice in Judaism and in the American culture at large. Throughout the night, students had the chance to hear about his research and perspectives on contemporary issues of conversion and intermarriage.
Tucker gave no conclusive answers, but he did develop a heavily researched framework for analyzing the debates in a logical way.
Breaking down the complexity that goes into these debates, Tucker based his lecture on the idea that every synagogue, every rabbi and every person in Judaism values three things above anything else: pluralism, integrity and community.
Going one step further, Tucker described pluralism as the value of different outlooks on life, from tolerating to praising the existence of the other opinion on topics like conversion. Integrity is the commitment one makes to living life guided by Torah. Community is connecting with others in meaningful ways where one person is dependent on another like a child to a mother, he said.
To understand how people value those things, the rabbi put each idea on its own polar end of a triangle.
At times, a society will value two of the three ideas in full, so one side of the triangle, without the third point. At other times a society will exist valuing all three, but only to a degree. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, different opinions vanished, according to the law, so integrity and community existed without pluralism, Tucker said.
However, that is not necessarily a bad thing because different opinions are not always good ones, he said. Sometimes it’s necessary to get rid of pluralism, and other times one should lose another value. Regardless, one can never value all three points of the triangle simultaneously.
“He’s cracked [that] you can’t have it all,” said graduate mathematics student Jesse Milzman, who enjoyed the lecture. Milzman found revelation in Tucker’s speech, concluding that clearly a thriving Jewish community needs a variety of people who tend to be more pluralistic, community-oriented or integrity-focused to be diverse and complete.
“It’s cell biology; [it’s like] different cells making up the same tissue,” Milzman said.
Tucker didn’t stand behind a podium the entire night. He lectured for an hour of the three he stuck around. Before and after, the rabbi invited others to share their opinions over dinner and in a discussion circle afterwards.
Tucker said his lesson is important because he believes many Jewish leaders often cling to one side of the triangle or the other without recognizing that there is always a third side. With the Supreme Court, he believes a one-sided conclusion may have been best, but in discussions on intermarriage, clinging to one side produces “non-reciprocal” conflict, he said.