Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 5 November 2007

Sounds Modern Orthodox, but is it Jewish?

From JTA, a report on some new girls' schools they've opened in Yerushalayim.

For me, this symbolizes the problem Modern Orthodoxy has with its left wing. Now don't get me wrong. I have no trouble with innovation within halachah, with learning the rules and actually living by them instead of stringencies that grew around them over the last few centuries. If something is forbidden, then it is forbidden. If something is permitted, then generally it is allowed.

The problem I have with innovation is its motivation. It's one thing to say that a particular halachah or practice should be adjusted because the change would lead to greater observance of our Torah. Indeed, that's how one can justify the use of the Internet, or other forms of modern media by Jews today. The educational and information opportunities available are invaluable, save that one must use these media responsibly.

Innovation for its own sake, or to assauge the feelings of those who suffer an emotional or psychological tension because of the difference in values between the secular society around us and the Torah world is NOT a reason to change our practice or "push the envelope" of daily activity because its underlying mission is not to enhance Torah practice.

Consider some of the quotes from the article:

“(The) Hartman (Institute) is very clearly flying the feminist flag,” Hartman parent Lori Glashofer said.

It sounds very nice and progressive. However, as Matt Nevisky wrote in the Jerusalem Post over twenty years ago, that is not compatible with a Judaism where you get "one God, one Torah, your choice from column 'A' and that's it." The only flag a Torah-observant insitution should fly is one of Torah itself. Putting another flag up means that the Torah learned in that school will come secondary to the values and ideology of something else, in this case, feminism. Putting Torah second does not enhance its progress. This misconception is further emphasized here:

“The educational authorities recognized us as a serious voice in the religious community,” Donniel Hartman said. “Here was a group of liberal Orthodox Jews that takes feminism and modern Judaism seriously. Their biggest concern was that the opening of our school wouldn’t come at the expense of other schools.”

Perhaps I'm reading too much into the statement, or perhaps Hartman wasn't being specific with his words, but feminism precedes Judaism in his description of his consitutency and even the Judaism is limited by the adjective "modern". What is being implied about the relative value of the two in the eyes of the school population?

Finally, this little tidbit at the end of the article:

Asked if Hartman would accept a girl laying tefillin for services, Donniel Hartman said, “Absolutely.”

Tefillin is one of those trickier areas in halachah, a full treatment of which is not the purpose of this post. The question to be asked is: when women starting putting on tefillin, why are they doing it? Because it enhances their service of God, or because the boys do it to enhance their service of God and thus they seek to imitate them?

This is not an idle question. one of the ramifications of God creating two separate genders and making them so different is that each approaches life ina unique way different from the other. This does not imply inequality or the superiority of one over another. To use a secular example, a nurse and a doctor will both approach a patient differently with a different set of priorities and assumptions. Both are necessary for the patient's care. Is one superior to the other? Certainly not. So it is within Judaism. Over the millenia, men have used the wearing of tefillin in theirAvodas Hashem, women have not. If women start putting on tefillin, it implies that they either cannot or do not wish to engage in Avodas Hashem from the special spiritual position that God has given them. What is that saying about their thoughts on worshipping God? That they value only certain things which, coincidentally, are the certain things that are applicable to others.

Modern Orthodoxy's special problem is the constant tension its adherents find themselves under in balancing the Torah and secular components of their life. If Modern Orthodoxy wishes to survive, then innovating, pushing the envelope, and all the other things that groups like this do must be avoided. True Torah Judaism eliminates the tension by seeing everything, including secular concerns, through the prism of Torah. The true challenge of Modern Orthodoxy is to taken on the values of the secular world and subordinate them to Torah values.


SJ said...

Beit Shemesh can use alittle femenism.

The thing is, I don't see how you can expect roughly half the human population to follow halachot that they had no representation in developing.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Weak argument. I'll use Canada as an example. Here we have a parliamentary system with ridings determining the members who get seats. The one who wins the riding is the candidate who gets the most votes so even if he gets 32% of the vote, if none of his opponents got more, he represents them all.
This results in situations where a party can win a majority with something like 38-40% of the vote. Yet the 60% of people who did not vote for the government, the majority in other words, are stuck.
In Judaism, the underlying assumption is the acceptance by men AND women at Har Sinai of the halachic system, warts and all. The bottom line is that 99% of men also have no hand in developing the rules we follow. Only certain people over the ages have had that privilged position. Yet to make sure society works, we follow it.