Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Between the Dati Leumi World and Modern Orthodoxy

Yes, I know it's similar to Marc Shapiro's book title but I couldn't resist using it as the title of this post.

Back in the But Will It Accomplish Anything post, Ben-Yehudah made the following comment:

On a deeper topic, you mentioned the datti leumi community. Well, I hate to break this to you, but there are at least two "national camps" as it were:

1) Toranim: those who do their to follow the Torah, even when there is a conflict between Torah and Israeli law, and...(Let us set which rabbis to follow or not to follow aside for now)

2) Mamlakhtim: those who also do their best to follow the Torah, yet sometimes confuse Torah with Israeli law, often showing a bizarre, undying loyalty to the State (not Land, but State).

3) Perhaps there's a third category, call them what you will, who think that western/modern sensibilities cancel out "ancient" and "outdated" customs like men and women not touching, or women covering their hair, etc. Even though these are more than just customs which we "grow out of." I call them either "closeted, orthoprax reconstructionists" or "am ha'artzim."

I was aware of the first two groups and the tension between them. The third group is what I would call the Modern Orthodox living in Israel.

Many people believe that Modern Orthodoxy and Dati Leumi are the same thing, save that the Dati Leumi live in Israel and the Modern Orthodox in the Diaspora. From my studies on the subject, however, I've found some significant differences.

The first is the concept of an underlying vision for the movement. As Michael Schweitzer noted in his article, Modern Orthodoxy currently lacks one and creating such a concept would go a great way towards rejuvenating the movement. On the other hand, the Dati Leumi, with their belief in the role of the State of Israel in our imminent redemption do have common philosophical grounds within their ranks.

Another is that self-same approach to Israel. For Modern Orthodoxy, Israel is a great idea and a nice place to visit but the vast majority would not want to live there. Sorry to be blunt but look at the demographics. Where are the biggest Chareidi communities in the world? In Israel. Where are the biggest Modern Orthodox communities? In New York and elsewhere throughout North America. Why? Once again, Israel is a nice place to visit but there's more political and economic stability, better quality homes for less money and tastier ketchup in North America. Much of Modern Orthodoxy believes in being frum but with limited sacrifice.

On the other hand, the Dati Leumi (both groups mentioned above) are in Israel because despite the hardships of living there, they feel that they are fulfilling their duties as Jews every moment they are breathing in the air of the Land. For them, waking up in the morning and taking the bus to work is a mitzvah in and of itself. That is an idealism that cannot be matched on this side of the Atlantic.

That's not to say that the movement doesn't have problems. I would say that Ben-Yehudah's two groups are a major issue in the Dati Leumi world and its future directions. Historically, Mizrachi/Dati Leumi evolved to bring a religious element to Zionism. Whereas secular Zionists were interested in building a country for Jews to live secular lives in, the Dati Leumi ethos was the building of a state in which Jews could live modern, yet halachic lives to show the world that the law of God is not an archaic piece of literature but something with application in every day and age.

Unfortunately, the rallying cry for the State, "the first flowering of our Redemption" has lost its meaning over time. Instead of being an important part of the process towards returning God's glory to Israel and ending our long exile, many in the Dati Leumi community have come to believe in the State as the end-process, the final flowering of our Redemption, as it were. This is a tremenous error on their parts. Our people did not pray, cry and hope fervently for 1900 years for a State in which non-Jewish values would be flouted on every street corner and non-Jewish enemies would serve as legislators in its government. There is much about the State of Israel that is Jewishly imperfect but the point is that the State is the starting point. It is up to us to improve it through effort and influence so that it slowly evolves into a truly Jewish country.

In this regard, I would have much sympathy for the first group Ben-Yehudah mentioned. Yes, some might see the taint of fanaticism in the idea of rabbonim telling their students to follow Torah law when it conflicts with the law of the State but consider what happens when other groups do the same thing. Were Peres and Beilin ever charged criminally for meeting with Arafat, y"sh and his thugs to negotiate the Oslo Accords at a time when it was against the law to meet with PLO representative? How many building are there in Arab areas throughout Israel that are put up illegally and then ignored by the Israeli government for fear of causing riots through proper enforcement of the law? Even Peace Now isn't against bending the law or ignoring parts of it when its suits their purpose, such as giving aid and succor to our enemies. In that light, what is wrong with the Dati Leumi also looking out for their own interests? It is hypocrisy to criticize them for it.

In the end, the first priority of any Jew should be to ask: What does the halachah expect of me? And an honest answer to that question is what should guide our thoughts.


SJ said...

>> Much of Modern Orthodoxy believes in being frum but with limited sacrifice.

The idea that being religious requires sacrifice is questionable unto itself. Is Judaism meant to make our lives better or worse?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually, it seems pretty self-evident. Any religion that doesn't ask for some kind of commitment, some change in behaviour isn't much of a faith.

Judaism is meant to make our lives better through our actions and leaerning. One can look at increasing responsibilities in two ways. Either your life is worse because of the increased expectations or your life is better because by filling these expectations you become a more complete person.

Nishma said...

"...There is much about the State of Israel that is Jewishly imperfect but the point is that the State is the starting point..."

Garnel, what a most interesting statement! Is the state the starting point? Perhaps that is the way the Rav Kuk perceived the reality of the movement, that chilonim will begin the process of return through nationalism and the there will a return to Torah -- but is that the way it should be or, more importantly, is?

Sometimes, I think that there is too much emphasis on the State and even the Eretz. The way of most nations is to follow the land, i.e. nationalism follows the inhabiting of the land, the nation's basic parameters are the lans. The Jewish people, though, found their basic identity outside the land, at Sinai, and then, effectively, imposed a nationalism upon the land. Perhaps it is time to also think within these dimensions today. I am not for giving away any of the land, especially under these circumstances, but the prime issue for me is not the land of Israel but the spirit of Israel. Perhaps we should also be concentrating on the spirit of the land regardless of what its physical size is. Perhaps it is time to impose on the land an external national spirit?

Rabbi Ben Hecht