Note: This is a corrected version of the post. In the original, Rav Gelman was referred to as a Conservative. This was an error and has been changed.
In the post at this site on Modern Orthodoxy, various solutions are suggested for the crisis facing the movement today. What they all have in common is a demand that first Modern Orthodoxy define itself in Torah terms, not merely as a negative "We're not Chareidi" but as a positive fulfillment of Torah and halachah. Unfortunately, many within and just to the left of the Modern Orthodox movement still don't understand that a genuine Torah-based movement must base its philosophy and goals on, well, Torah.
I thought of this as I was looking through Rav Gil Student's famous Hirhurim blog. He brings a link to The Jewish Week and an article by Barry Gelman. A very left-oriented member of the Rabbinical Council of America, he repeats much of the same stuff that the YCT crowd and those near it in the philosophical spectrum love to say when they explain how Modern Orthodoxy can be improved. For example, his salient points are:
In many ways the envy of other denominations, the Orthodox community could reshape the way it is perceived if it becomes more engaged and relevant by broadening its conversation.
Okay, first of all, if we're the envy of others, why is the solution to become more like those others? Should those others become more like us? Secondly, the difficulty with the way Orthodoxy is perceived is based on the fact that we hold to a system of ethics and laws that are not up for debate or influence from the secular world around us. The "heterodox" movements on the other hand are guided by the secular world in setting their priorities, no matter how many Hebrew words they attach to them.
Related to this is the need for Modern Orthodoxy to become a movement that speaks to all Jews by relating to the full gamut of human conditions. This includes Jews whose lifestyle deviates from halachic norms. Modern Orthodox communities have managed to integrate those who do not observe Shabbat and Kashrut in the traditional sense without creating the perception of condoning that behavior; it can and must do the same for all Jews.
This is also something that differentiates true Torah observance from the pretenders. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, in his commentary on the building of the Mishkan, notes that when the Torah talks about where things are placed in it, it always says that these items are "in front of the Testimony" (the Aron Kodesh). For him, the meaning is that while people can approach Torah, learn from it and practice its laws, Torah remains outside of us. It is not something internal, personal and individual that we can alter at will to suit ourselves but remains an external, objective truth. Torah can indeed related to "the full gamut of human conditions" but with one important caveat - a person who wishes to sincerely approach Torah must put God's wishes first, not his own. Again, this is the downfall of the philosophy of Reformism and Conservatism. Only those sections of Torah which fit with a person's secular liberal values are relevant. The rest are ignored as archaic, sexist or obsolete.
Second, Modern Orthodoxy needs to speak out on the major cultural and ethical issues of the day. Darfur, materialism, poverty, global warming and immigration are just some of the issues facing the American and world public. The imperative to imitate God establishes a moral responsibility to speak out and to act on issues facing humanity.
I always wonder: Where did the idea that speaking out "on the issues of the day" is a positive expression of Torah behaviour? It is one thing to be appaled by the evil that permeates so many parts of our globe. If one has an ability to help alleviate some of that evil, one certainly must make an attempt to do so. However, even if Modern Orthodoxy were to speak out, what would it say? Killing and enslaving the black tribes of Darfur is wrong? Well, duh. Of course it is. But what is the Torah approach to the problem? That would be a question for leading halachic authorities, not an opportunity for feel-good demonstrations or dynamic speakers at shul.
The point of embracing leniency is to bring more people to observance of halacha as the more people recognize that they can live according to halacha in specific areas, the more they will be willing to try it in other areas.
Uh huh. So why do over 90% of Conservativists not keep even the most basic mitzvos that the JTS purports to encourage? Why is that number closer to 100% in Reform? If making things easier increased observance, Conservativists and Reformers would be the frummest Jews out there. That they're not speaks to the reality of human nature. People respond to demands, they slack off when they're given leniencies. What Modern Orthodoxy needs to do is "tighten things up" and introduce certain standards so that people will have something to rally around other than the kugel at kiddush.
Finally, Modern Orthodoxy must begin to tackle issues of the spirit, meaning and relevance of Judaism, and answer questions like: What do the myriad of steps that need to be taken before meat is rendered kosher teach us about the Jewish view of eating meat? What do the laws of the Sabbatical year teach us about labor relations and property ownership? How can a full understanding of the laws of Shabbat impact social and family life? Should the Biblical laws prohibiting waste and destruction impact on our choice of the cars that we drive, as well as the food we waste at our lavish weddings and bar mitzvahs?
This paragraph finally reveals Gelman's vision for Modern Orthodoxy. Clearly he's been spending too much time with Rav Avi Weiss. All the above questions are the standard feel-good bafflegab that has made concrete Jewish practice so irrelevant for its members. Given the choice between standard kosher chicken and free-range organic chicken, a non-observant Jew interested in kindness to animals will choose the latter. Using the Sabbatical year laws to learn about labour relations (I'm not entirely sure what we means but hey, he probably does) leads people to think about unions, not Shemittah.
All in all, this article summarizes what's wrong with many of the visionary ideas for improving Modern Orthodoxy. One of the criticism of Schweitzer's article is that his suggestions basically amount to "let's become Chareidi too". I can see that but I think that from a different perspective it's exactly the right idea.
Being Chareidi is not about practice but rather attitude. A person can be meticulous in their level of observance, learn at a high level and still not be Chareidi. What distinguishes the Chareidim is their passion, their enthusiasm for what they are and do. What Modern Orthodoxy needs to do is decide what it is that makes them a Torah movement and then generate the same enthusiasm and passion for those standards. They need to become Chareidi in how they feel about their practices and beliefs and be as passionate and meticulous about observing them as the Agudah crowd.
If one looks at the few Torah giants associated with Modern Orthodoxy, one can see that they were able to do this. Both Rav Y.Y. Weinberg (the Seridei Eish) and the Rav took a back seat to no one in their observance and commitment to Torah learning. What made them Modern Orthodox was their willingness to seeing the rest of the world as being part of God's creation and therefore knowledge of it was a worthy adjunct to Torah. We should all look to their example to see how to create real Modern Orthodoxy