Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Sunday, 16 March 2008

What Kind of Modern Orthodoxy?

In the end, the criticisms of Schweitzer's article on Modern Orthodoxy have boiled down to one of two things:

1) No mention of Rav Joseph B Soloveitchik and his important role in the development of Modern Orthodoxy in North America

2) It seems the article is recommending that Modern Orthodoxy become Chareidi.

I'll leave the first point aside for now. The second, however, is important because those who make this criticism seem to have missed the point of the article.

What, exactly is the difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidism? On a fundamental level, it's a difference between autonomy and centralization. The Chareidi world, through its use of a hierarchical power structure and tools of conformity such as uniform clothing and cultural normals, is very centralized. One cannot simply call oneself Chareidi without dressing and acting in a certain way and acknowledging certain concepts as absolute truth.

On the other hand, Modern Orthodoxy has, until now, functioned in a diametically opposite way. Without any central authority, any leader of a congregation or yeshivah has been able to develop his own philosophy vis a vis what Modern Orthodoxy means. As a result, one has a spectrum of practice and philosophy ranging from Rav Avi Weiss and his YCT on the left which is little different than the UTJ, the extreme right end of Conservatism, and Rav Hershel Schachter and his school of thought on the right which is quite close to the left end of the Chareidi world. Interestingly, both sides claim to be following in the spirit and philosophy of the Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik despite the wide variance between them.

What this means is that there is no real Modern Orthodoxy in terms of concrete values and beliefs. The movement is simply one that occupies the position on the spectrum from UTJ on one side to those Chareidim who wear coloured shirts during the week on the the other. This is hardly an inspiring model for its youth which is why the majority, when they hit university age, either drop out or buy a black hat.

If Modern Orthodoxy wishes to become a real movement rather than a space filler, then it must create concrete standards that define what its beliefs and positions are. The problem is that whatever the standards, someone is going to disagree with it. Allow women's prayer groups and the right wing objects. Disallow them and the left wing shouts "foul". Until now this fear has kept any meaningful change from occuring. But the atrophy of the movement is accelerating. The recent capitulation of the RCA to the Chareidi-controlled Rabbanut is a sign of this. Imagine if the RCA had wanted to hold its ground against the Rabbanut. Could Rav Basil Herring have resisted Rav Amar knowing that his membership's support is, at best, lukewarm? One cannot lead when the followers will not follow. One can also not blame the Chareidim for this power play. They realize their opponents, the Modern Orthodox leadership such that it is, is weak and have taken advantage of it. The MO crowd may be smarting from this realization but for the Chareidim, this was a can't-miss opportunity to impose uniform standards, their standards, on anyone claiming to be Torah observant. This won't be the last time the Chareidim invade the Modern Orthodox community and demand it change its standards or be delegitimized. And if the MO response is the same each time - whining about how their weak leadership surrendered and how they shouldn't be fanatics - then the Chareidim will win each confrontation.

It's also not as if the Modern Orthodox community hasn't produced its own outstanding leaders. Men such as Ravs Hershel Schacter, Michael J. Broyde, Benjamin Hecht and Yehudah Herzl Henkin among many others have been hard at work expanding the depth and scope of Modern Orthodox halachic thought. The literature, the responsa and the philosophy are all there but need to become the authoritative guides to the Modern Orthodox community.

The only way to break this is for the Modern Orthodox community to acknowledge that it has a problem of self-definition and loyalty. Faced with a united front to the right, it must form a united front of its own and it can't do that by trying to be all things to all people. Somewhere along the line, Modern Orthodoxy will have to define itself along halachic lines and then say to those beyond those boundaries: You're either in with us or you're out but you can't do whatever you want and use the MO label any longer. I don't not write these words easily. Disenfranchising Jews whose hearts direct them towards God and his Torah in ways I disagree with is not my intent but the alternative will lead to a complete disintegration of the centre ground and no place will remain for those who wish to be observant but do not want to be Chareidi.

Once this is done, those who remain in the MO fold must become passionate about their beliefs. No long "frum by default", their Orthodoxy must be a positively expressed one, the same way the Charedi community passionately expresses their way of life. In this regard, Schweitzer iws 100% correct. Only by seeing themselves as a cohesive movement, by knowing that others think as they do and are prepared to fight for those same beliefs, can the Modern Orthodox community exert its influence in Jewish affairs.

The Modern Orthodox world has to pull back and develop some insight instead of reflexively rejecting anything that seems Chareidi. In some areas, such as ascribing importance to Torah learning, the Chareidi approach is quite legitimate. In other areas, such as the disdain for productive work and the disregard for kavod habriyos when it comes to non-conformists, the Chareidi model is not workable. But to develop a new MO model requires an open mind and an ability to decide that one's principles might not be the best ones from a Torah point of view. It means accepting that certain stringencies, far from being inventions of fanatic rabbis or not reflective of Jewish trends in that past, are real behaviours that are incumbent on all Jews who wish to show fealty to God and His Torah.

17 comments:

Bet Shemesh Board Gaming Club said...

Is Shweitzer talking about himself in the third person again?

Garnel Ironheart said...

No, Garnel is.

Yehue said...

Again you're having a very simplistic view of "charedism".

In fact, "charedism" -inasmuch as it contains everything from Toldos Aharon to Flatbush To Slobodka to Gur to Yerushalmer Litvaks- is by far less centralised than RZ who have the rabanut and MO who have the RCA, and both have basically one (two max) school chain, and have a fairly clear cut ideology, whereas these "charedim" often consider other groups as complete heretics.

BTW the vast majority of charedim, just like the MO/RZ, do what they do out of habit b/c they were born in such a family. Yes, the ideological indoctrination is stronger, as necessary for any ideology which limits man's natural cravings and human rationale.

TC,
J.I.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I think we're looking at it from different perspectives. I'm absolutely aware that each Chasidic clan has its own minhagim and view all the rest as kofers. Every major yeshivah has its own rosh who leads in a particular style. There's tremendous heterogeneity in the Chareidi world but certain principles, like the uniform, the deference to rabbinic authority (be it the Litvish or a particular Rebbe) is universal. If the Gerer says "jump", 150 000 Chasidim jump.

Ironically, the opposite is very true of MO. The RCA does not lead but merely represents. As for RZ, the Rabbanut no longer represents them since the Chareidim took it over and they have also divided off into groups based on different ideologies, albeit with certain group-spanning commonalities.

Ahavah said...

"It means accepting that certain stringencies, far from being inventions of fanatic rabbis or not reflective of Jewish trends in that past, are real behaviours that are incumbent on all Jews who wish to show fealty to God and His Torah."

No, it doesn't. It means THEY have to accept that their innovations are not historical and that historical Judaism is perfectly valid. They are hardly the supreme apex of Judaism, and pretending they are is what has caused this mess in the first place. They can insist on whatever stupidity they want amoung themselves, but that does NOT give them the right to impose their absurdities on other people.

Dr Mike said...

What's historical Judaism then? Yaakov Avinu and his wifes all lived in separate tents, ever mind the polygamy thing. A quick perusal of the Gemara reveals lots of stringencies we don't use any more. Who defines "the real thing" and "the inventions?"

Ahavah said...

When you're living in a tent, then we'll consider that a problem, Dr. Mike. There's no COMMANDMENT in Torah to live in separate tents, now is there? (But for heaven's sake, don't give the cheredi any ideas.) That was a social custom - which was, by the way, still widely practiced by the upper classes even in houses. It was customary until after the victorian age for a husband and wife to have separate bedrooms entirely. Now we don't practice it - we have separate beds which accomplishes the same purpose during the necessary timeperiod. That's the whole point of this conversation - as long as the commandments are being carried out, it should not matter to anyone how you are doing them in your house, or how I'm doing them in mine. It's nobody else's business.

There were 12 tribes originally. Why is that? If Hashem wanted everyone to be doing everything 100% identically, why isn't the climate of Israel identical in all places? Why isn't the kinds of crops and foods identical in all places?

The Orthodox mistake is presuming that Hashem WANTS everyone everywhere to be 100% identical - and there is no basis for such a presumption. There is no one "right" set of stringencies of halacha that everyone has to follow or else. That whole mythology is based on a lie.

SJ said...

omg ahava kicks ass XD

I would like to add that Garnel seems modern in his view towards academics but not modern in his view of right and wrong. Al Quaida can make the same claim.

Al Quaida certainly is not modern in their views of right and wrong, but they sure love modern technology.

The fact of the matter is, if Garnel ain't modern in his views of how men and women should be able to interact, despite his views towards academics, he ain't modern. period.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> That's the whole point of this conversation - as long as the commandments are being carried out, it should not matter to anyone how you are doing them in your house, or how I'm doing them in mine. It's nobody else's business.

I don't think anyone sane would argue that point. The question is what a person calls themselves while performing those activities.

For example, if you have a big screen TV and hang out at the movies, that's your business. but if you then walk around and call yourself Chareidi, well there's a problem with that.

My point is that being "Modern Orthodox" doesn't really mean anything and if, as a movement, this amorphous group of people wish to resist the Chareidi urge to assimilate them, they have to find something other than "its nobody else's business" to rally around.

As for your point about 12 tribes, in his peirush on Chumash, Rav S.R. Hirsch specifically writes exactly tht - a nation needs variety, various classes and groups of people, and that's why God stayed away from the homogenous model. One of the things I love about modern Israel is meeting Jews from all over the world and appreciating all the differences that make them special yet Jewish.

>not modern in his view of right and wrong. Al Quaida can make the same claim.

The modern view of right and wrong is that there is no right and wrong. Everything is subjective. Even Saddam Hussein had a point. I can't subscribe to that kind of amorality, sorry.

>omg ahava kicks ass XD

But I'm betting she won't let you touch her. (I wouldn't)

SJ said...

>> The modern view of right and wrong is that there is no right and wrong. Everything is subjective. Even Saddam Hussein had a point. I can't subscribe to that kind of amorality, sorry.

naa thats just the left.

>> But I'm betting she won't let you touch her. (I wouldn't)

Pathetic propaganda that someone who is anti shomer negiah is automatically a scoundrel. Similar to other othodox propaganda that someone who is anti Shomer Shabbat is automatically antisocial and anti family values.

Garnel, base your arguments on facts and reason, not propaganda.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I don't think her unwillingness to touch you has anything to do with shomer negiah. Maybe it's all that time you spend alone in your cubicle...

SJ said...

Let me ammend my previous post ...

Garnel, base your arguments on facts and reason, not propaganda, not stupid jokes, and not on incorrect and biased assuptions on my personal life.

Garnel Ironheart said...

There's an old rule: If you can't take it, don't dish it out.

SJ, your posts seem to be based entirely on biased assumptions on other people's personal lives, despite any protestations you make make to the contrary. You develop your conclusions, ignore the facts that contradict them, and then condemn anyone who disagrees with your personal values while all the time shouting that others are imposing on you. Your facts are facts, anyone else's are propaganda.

I've said it before, other than the lifestyle, you're as Chareidi as those you criticize.

SJ said...

let's bring in the evidence:

my post on March 19, 2008 7:16 PM in this thread:
no assumptions on someone's personal life.

my post on March 19, 2008 4:31 PM in this thread: no assumptions on someone's personal life, but a certain assumption that everyone in the nonorthodox world agrees with leftist relativism.

my post on March 19, 2008 2:10 PM in this thread: assumptions based on what you, Garnel, already wrote and a statement that basically says to cut the crap about you calling yourself modern.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Ah, so here's my reply:

While you insist I make no assumptions on your personal life, a reasonable request by the way, I don't think you return the courtesy. That was my point.

Plus, when have I ever called myself modern, hmmmm?

SJ said...

I see Garnel. So, you expect practicioners of Modern Orthodoxy to follow you, and you aren't modern yourself. What a joke.

Garnel Ironheart said...

You're running out of excuses, SJ. Do you see a box asking for donations on this blog? I'm not part of any organization and I don't have any grand plans for anyone. I don't lead and others don't follow. I just make suggestions and ask for feedback.

Listen, it's getting late. Go to shul, hear the megillah and have a safe, happy Purim.