Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 4 May 2008

A Movement of Their Own

It's no secret that the so-called left wing of Modern Orthodoxy has been moving further to the left, supposedly in response to the rightward shift of the right wing of the movement. This has been accompanied by complaints from the left wing groups like Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and places like the Hartman Institute that they feel Modern Orthodoxy is getting more stringent in general and sliding towards Chareidism in particular.
The difference between the two sides, howver, is very important. If a Modern Orthodox rav moves to the right in his thinking, that generally means adopting more stringent positions in terms of thought and practice. On the other hand, a leftward shift means justifying increasing radical positions that are at odds with traditional and authoritative Torah thoughts.
Thus the dilemma of groups like YCT and leaders like Rav Avi Weiss. Despite calling themselves Modern Orthodox, even a cursory examination of their beliefs and practices reveal that the Modern part of the label is their emphasis and driving force, not the Orthodox. Even though he has a claim to fame from being a former student of the Rav J.B. Soloveitchik, Rav Weiss seems to enjoy going too far in his innovations and the application of his "Open Orthodoxy". Certainly his understanding of a famous statement the Rav said to him must be questioned:
“We have created an open space where rabbis don’t have to look over their shoulders and feel intimidated” by rabbinic authorities who would marginalize them, said Rabbi Weiss. “We want to empower them to think for themselves.”
He noted that when as a young rabbi, he would ask a halachic question of his rebbe, the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, the revered dean of Modern Orthodoxy, the response would be: “What do you think, Avraham?”
One must wonder: Was the Rav encouraging complete autonomy to the point that Rav Weiss' radiacal ideas and changes are what he believes the true legacy of this Gadol b'Torah is? Or is it possible that the Rav had a different intent, that of encouraging critical thinking in conjunction with a respect for the authority of our traditional sources?
(To be cynical, might the Rav have seen what Rav Weiss' future ideology would be and just thought: well, he won't listen if I'm stringent so I'll just bounce the ball back to his court?)
This is why I think it's a good thing that this group is forming its own organization to compete with the Rabbinical Council of America. This group, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, should help deal with the dual personality problem that Modern Orthodoxy suffers from by removing those rabbonim on the left and giving them a movement of their own to innovate with. Yes, the labelling will remain an issue. The RCA will certainly continue to insist that it is Modern Orthodox and this new IRF will likely do the same but leaders and scholars within both movements will benefit from the narrower purview the split will afford. No longer does Rav Hershel Schachter, one of the true scholars of Modern Orthodoxy who understand what that term truly means, have to lumped in together with men whose religious principles may be noble but certainly cannot be called Orthodoxy.

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