Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Kinder, Gentler, Stupider

(Hat tip to Nishma, the Jewish organization for really smart people and those with odd haircuts)

In the article on Modern Orthodoxy featured on this blog, numerous problems with the movement are identified. One of them is the constant influence the prevailing secular culture has on members of the Modern Orthodox community. Much of this is made clear by the priorities many of the Modern Orthodox leaders set, such as introducing limited egalitarianism, pushing the halachic boundaries when they conflict with secular mores, and trying to minimize the difference between Modern Orthodoxy and secular Judaism in an effort not to stick out.
This article seems to exemplify this problem and the entire model of thinking that is causing so much of the Modern Orthodox community its problems.
To start with, the title: "Toward a Kinder, Gentler, More Tolerant and Flexible Orthodoxy" is itself a warning of where the article is heading. The author's own personal description as a "post-denominational" Jew is also a big hint as to what he thinks Modern Orthodoxy should evolve into.
Let us be clear off the top. Being a committed Jew is not about being kinder, gentler, more tolerant or flexible. It is about belief in God, the truth of His Torah and the desire to fulfill His Will through the observance of halachah. The same God who demands that we clothe the naked and support widows and orphans also commanded us to wipe out Amalek and idolatry without showing mercy. What we call tolerance is a subjective value that we, as limited humans make. Only God can give us the objective standard of right and wrong. When this conflicts with what secular society would tell us is virtuous or not, it is secular society that must conform to the Torah, not the other way around. It is this error that creeps into the thinking of much of the Modern Orthodox world. It certainly crept into this article.
However, I believe that in order for this essential healing and unity to occur, the modern Orthodox may need to distance themselves from the ultra-Orthodox. Orthodoxy must shift back to the center, a center that addresses the pluralistic needs of, and provides the leadership for, all of Jewry. To accomplish this, we have to reconsider our historic allegiances to the halakhic hegemony of the Lithuanian roshei yeshiva, (revered terms for heads of yeshivot) and the Hassidic leaders. In most instances, they view the modern Orthodox as Hellenizers. We are really not part of their world, yet they seek to dictate our philosophy and political thought. Hence there is a need to create a distance between us, to enable us to act independently of their authority, yet be able to work together when called for.
The next thing to understand is that Orthodoxy in general, and Modern Orthodoxy in particular, are not "denominations" of Judaism. Judaism is a nationality with a set of laws that covers behaviour in civil, criminal and personal spheres of life. These laws, as codified by our Sages through the ages, are binding on Jews just as Canadian law is binding on those who wish to live in Canada. As God lacks a visible police force, observance of Jewish law is, to a large part, voluntary but the underlying fact that it is the law does not change. A "denomination" that bases itself on the aborgation of any part of halachah is not a Jewish denomination. It is a group of Jews who wish to live the way they want and call that Jewish observance. In a free country they have that right but it is also false advertising. In his position as a non-denominational Jew, Aryeh Rubin sees all groups as having equal merit and legitimacy. If Modern Orthodoxy accepts this position, then it becomes Conservatism with a partition in the middle of shul and legitimizes all the Chareidi criticisms it has encountered.
As for reconsidering historical allegiances to authorities Rubin would like to dismiss as parochially Chareidi and therefore irrelevant to Modern Orthodoxy, it goes without saying that this comment betrays a complete lack of understanding of what Torah observance is.
The influence of the haredi world has penetrated and continues to affect an ever larger swath of traditional Jewry, primarily through teaching in modern Jewish day schools.
As identified in Schweitzer's article, that's because Modern Orthodoxy does not produce teachers for its own school system. If it were to start putting the same emphasis on becoming teachers, sofrim and shochets as it does on law, medicine and accounting, much of the community's reliance on the Chareidi world would be lessened.
I suggest that a new leadership of enlightened rabbinical and lay leaders be formed and assert their leadership. If the modern Orthodox are to provide guidance and direction to the entire House of Israel, we must find common ground and work with the Conservative, Reform, and the unaffiliated. While Orthodoxy has veered to the right over the last half century under the spell of the haredim, the Conservative shifted even further on the scale to the left (widening a gap that was extremely narrow from the 1930s to the early 1960s) and the Reform movement has dropped off the halakhic charts. We need to formulate a weltanschauung to Jewry that acknowledges that the majority of the Jews in the United States, or the world for that matter, are not, and for the foreseeable future, will not be traditionally observant. Once that fact is accepted by the Orthodox, policies can be implemented that will allow the modern Orthodox to influence, provide leadership for, and participate in the governing of all of Jewry.
This statement once again shows how far from proper Jewish thinking the author is. Imagine his principle statement rephrased: "We need to forumlate a weltanschauung to Canadians that acknowledges that the majority of Canadians are not, or for the forseeable future, be faithful to their spouses." While admitting that spousal infidelity is a rampant problem in Western society, one's sense of moral right and wrong is already pretty far gone if one does not see a problem with that, or considers such infidelity to be ethically acceptable!
Judaism is not about catering to the lowest common denominator. If the Reformers are uninterested in accepting the authority of God and halachah into their lives, how will a kindler, gentler Modern Orthodoxy change this?
His suggested solutions take him further down the wrong road:
A possible strategy, in part, is to follow the example of Habad. Some of their emissaries sit on councils, Federation Continuity Commissions, and the like under the guise of recognizing non-Orthodox clergy not as clergy, but as leaders of the Jewish Community -- a thin veil, that gives them some sort of halakhic cover.
Chabad is possibly the worst example to use. Lubavitchers are completely uninterested in cooperating in any venture that they do not control. They may sit on community boards but will not participate in any activities that they have not organized. They might support the local butcher but only if he has Chabad shechitah meat. Even Chareidim are considered outside their pale. Not an inspiring choice.
the Ibn Ezra admired a commentator on the Humash (Pentateuch), R. Jeshua b. Judah – a prolific 11th century writer, religious teacher and philosopher who also happened to be a Karaite – a sect that recognized only the Scriptures as the sole and direct source of the law, and that excluded the Oral tradition of the Rabbis. Despite the fundamental theological differences, Maimonides was of the “belief that the Karaites should be treated with respect, honor and kindness… as long as they do not slander the Talmud (that they did not believe in). They may be associated with and one may enter their homes, teach their children, bury their dead and comfort their mourners.”
But one cannot marry them, nor eat in their homes, nor participate in their religious festivals. In many ways, this is the ideal relationship between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox today so how does this change anything?
A more recent example is Marc Shapiro’s book “Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox”. He cites numerous examples of prominent halakhic authorities quoting, corresponding and socializing with Rabbis Saul Lieberman and Louis Ginsburg, the stalwarts of the Conservative movement and exalted professors and directors at the Jewish Theological Seminary. It is of interest to note that in instances where the scholarship of Lieberman and Ginsburg was indispensable, some haredi authorities quoted only their initials, others cited their work anonymously, or plagiarized it in their own name.
One should recall that Lieberman was a valid Rav. In addition, one should recall that it is only over the last two generations that the Jewish Theological Seminary's brain trust has become an intellectual joke and a shadow of what it once was. Once upon a time their scholars had learned and respected the authentic legal codes which is what allowed them to interact with the Orthodox world. This certainly no longer applies today.
In the end, Rubin recommends what everyone else who is not so much interested in Jewish observance but only in some form of nebulous "unity" does: drop the insistence that you're right and join the pack. If Modern Orthodoxy puts more focus on the first part of the term, this will be considered. If the second part of name matters, this article should be ignored.

No comments: