Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 2 June 2008

Is There a Point to Orthodox Unity

At this time in history, the Orthodox world can be divided into four basic groups:
1) The Chareidim, or Ultra-Orthodox
2) The Dati Leumi or Mizrachi or National Religious
3) The Modern Orthodox
4) Chabad-Lubavitch
In theory, all would agree that unity amongst the various Torah-observant groups is a critical thing. However, as Homer Simpson once poignantly opined: "In theory, communism works."
As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. Unfortunately, when one gets past the wistful "Wouldn't it be nice if we could all get along" stage, there are very few partners at this dance. In fact, I would go so far as to say that while groups 2 and 3 are interested in taking practical steps towards Jewish unity, groups 1 and 4 are not and to think otherwise is sheer naivety. Given all that, I wonder if there's a point to even pretending that it's a possible goal.
How can I be so cynical? It's easy when one looks at the underlying assumptions of each group. It then becomes quickly obvious that dialogue and attempts at rapprochement are a waste of time.
Consider, as a first example, Chabad-Lubavitch. Although many of them will publicly deny it, and certainly others who are afraid of the implications of it, the movement has elevated their departed Rebbe to the level of a demigod, if not higher. This belief permeates everything they do and serves as their basic motivation. It also sets them apart from the rest of Torah Jewry, even other Chasidim, which rejects this philosophy as either tantamount to or an actual form of avodah zarah. Having set themselves apart, Chabad also believes that its belief in a supernatural Rebbe is a core Jewish belief and that not holding this view is like questioning the Jewishness of Shabbos or kashrus. Thus, in terms of groups 1-3, there can be no meaningful dialogue towards Orthodox unity. After all, the only way to get Chabad to cooperate would be to accept their Meshichist beliefs which is not something an observant Jew who is not a Lubavitcher is likely to do.
Then there's the Chareidim. Like Chabad, they have certain core principles that are non-negotiable. Unlike Chabad, they're not potentially heretical. In fact, the core underlying principle of Ultra-orthodoxy today is quite simple: Proper Jewish observance and being Chareidi are synonymous. Any other form of observance falls short of the ideal and the authentic and cannot be portrayed or treated as genuine Orthodoxy. This attitude precludes unity with the other three groups. For Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi, it would mean denying the legitimacy of their entire philosophy and practice. For the Chabad, it would mean having to abandon their Rebbe-worship.
It is also interesting to note that neither the Chareidim or Chabad express any real interest in furthering Orthodox unity. Indeed, the message from each community is: When you're ready for unity, we'll be waiting here for you to join us. This is hardly encouraging.
This leaves the two groups in the middle, Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi. The problem is that both groups are currently struggling with existential defects that betray any efforts they might make to portray themselves as viable Orthodox alternatives for people looking to be Torah observant.
In the case of Mizrachi, the obsession with the plight of our brethren in Yehudah, Shomron and Aza is the major factor. When one sees a black hat, one thinks of Torah observance. When one sees a large knitted kippah one thinks of "settlers". The idea that the latter are just as fervent in their observance and learning as the former does not occur to many, a direct result of the failure of the Mizrachi movement to remain true to its principles in terms of promoting Jewish observance in Israel.
As for the Modern Orthodox, as mentioned on this blog many times before, what exactly do they stand for? Who represents them? Rav Hershel Schechter or Rav Avi Weiss? Is it intellectual orthodoxy that defines the movement or "open orthodoxy"? Without knowing where they stand, how can the movement go forward?
In the end, assuming Chabad continues its slow tailspin into heresy and a schism with the rest of us, it will be the Chareidim who wind up as the dominant, defining force in Torah Judaism and eventually the rest of us will be provided with a choice. Join them or being considered non-observant. Unless a viable alternative can be created. Unless.


SJ said...

rofl penguin suits, not being able to talk to the opposite gender and not being able to wear jeans is the future of orthodox judaism! bail out while you still can! XD

SJ said...

read my blog XD

Garnel Ironheart said...

Why? Will it contain an inspiring piece on the great intellectual heights of secular judaism? Perhaps a paean for the ages extolling life in the cubicle as you have lived it?

Or will it be another insulting rant...

Hang on...

Ah, a rant. How surprising.

SJ said...

rofl namecalling is a great way of avoiding the issue, isn't it? XD

Nishma said...

In the book Jew vs Jew, the author (whose name escapes me at the moment) presents a distinction between the Orhtodox call for unity and the non-Orthodox call for unity. The non-Orthodox use the word "pluralism" with a call to accept differences. The Orthodox use the word "achdus" with an implication that it will not accept diffrences. Now, realistically, Orthodoxy cannot truly accept this call of pluralism and the accepttance of non-Halachic opinions -- so an idea that achdus must not include pluralism is not really surprising from an Orthodox perspective. (Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks deals, a bit, with this issue in his work One Nation? where he basically states the reality that the only allowance for Orthodoxy to work with the non-Orthodox is through first declaring them a tinok she'nishba and therefore not responsible for their heresy. This necessarily indicates a rejection of pluralism in its basic sense.)So bakc to achdus, this definition within Orthodoxy must mean that unity is a good thing -- and we're all for unity -- but there is something more significant than unity and that is Torah observance. This led the author of Jew vs Jew to basically describe the Orthodox as being in favour of unity but on its own tersm I other words we want to be one big happy family but accroding to our standards.

What you have pointed out though is that this also would seem to be the idea behind many people's view of unity even just within Orthodoxy. In other words, we're all for Orthodox unity but on our own terms. The challenge of that, though, is the concept of eilu v'eilu which to apply modern terms really states that there is a certain concept of pluralism that is necessary to foster Jewihs unity but it is halachic pluralism. What is happening is that everyone is entrenching into their own view of Torah and declaring anyone who doesn't follow that view is outside the pale, a heretic. (Shades of how the Ntziv describes sinat chinum as begininning with those who declared other Torah opinions apikorsus). Tjere is a line we cannot cross in accepting all opinions within a call of unity. Torah supersedes that unity. But there is another line that must be followed in identifying certain viewpoints as Torah even as we even violently disagree. It is not that unity supersedes Torah on this level but that this is ultimately the highest manifestation of Torah. Torah supersedes individual opinons. When that occurs, we can speak of Orthodox unity.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Dr Mike said...

What's with this eilu v'eilu obsession?

Years ago Rav Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel at the time (Ashkenaz), in response to a question about Orthodoxy and Jewish pluralism, answered: yes, there is Jewish pluralism. Ashkenaz, Sefardi, Italian, Chasidus, Misnagdus, etc.

The key question is: what is the difference in underlying assumptions between the Chareidi and actual (as opposed to ideal) MO model?

The former demands a complete adherence to traditional Torah texts, at least those they consider authoritative and legitimate.

The latter, on the other hand, gives all knowledge an equal weight.

A Chareidi believes the Torah was given at Mt Sinai by God Himself to Moshe Rabeinu. This is the basis of its authority and the subsequent Sages throughout the ages.

A typical MO, on the other hand (again, as opposed to the ideal) believes there may have been a revelation at Sinai but whether or not there was does not change things for him. He doesn't see a point to making it the dogmatic basis of the faith. However, this lack of firmness is his undoing because it eventually turns all sacred knowledge into just another field of general knowledge.

A Chareidi believes the world is 5768 years old because the Torah says it is and that's good enough for him. Confronted with scientific fact to the contrary, he dismisses it because it goes against the word of God as he understands it.

A MO first believes the world is five billion years old and then agonizes over why the Torah doesn't reflect this.

Is there any wonder the Chareidim don't take the MO's seriously.