Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Putting the Modern into Modern Orthodoxy

Whenever someone suggests that Modern Orthodoxy needs to do a better job defining itself and setting standards for what is considers acceptable what it does not, there's always a chorus in the background of MO's who sit on the movement's left wing somewhere just to the right of Conservatism. The line is always the same: You want to move Modern Orthodoxy to the right and make them just like the Chareidim.
However, as I've written before, remaining in the middle of the religious spectrum between the Chareidim on the religious right and the Reform/Conservatives on the secular left is a very trick job that Modern Orthodoxy hasn't done well at all. In any religious movement, the only way to maintain moderation is to prevent growth and development of that movement's philosophy. Modern Orthodoxy has indeed chosen this path over the last few decades, which explains why it is atrophying and hemorrhaging members both to the right and left.
Until now, Yeshiva University has represented the best and brightest of the Modern Orthodox community. Certainly it has had much scorn heaped upon it by the Chareidim but one would like to think that this is because it is able to produce competent, learned Jewish scholar who live the Torah u'Madda lifestyle without compromising their Jewish souls, something which Chareidi philosophy denies is possible. Yes, there are other institutions such as Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and Shira Chadasha in Israel which push the Modern at the expense of Orthodox in their philosophies but they have generally been seen as on the fringe of Modern Orthodoxy, not representative of its mainstream.
But on the other hand, I've always been troubled by that mainstream. One of the greatest scholars at YU is Rav Normann Lamm. His book, Torah Umadda is one of the definitive books on the subject. However, I always had one problem with it. Nowhere on the title page of the book will one find Lamm's most significant title: Rav, or Rabbi. Dr? Yes, it's there. But for some reason, "Rav" didn't get onto the cover. Now I may be quibbling with a small detail, but if a person is trying to define a philsophy for the Jewish people, and he's doing it from a religious perspective and as a religious authority, shouldn't that title be displayed prominently? Or is there a subliminal suggestion in play here: You should read this book because it's good. The fact that a rabbi wrote it is irrelevant. A layperson could just as easily have done this.
Now, however, YU has taken a definitive step towards the YCT end of the spectrum. As detailed in The Jerusalem Post, as well as countless other media sources and blogs, YU employs a "transgendered" professor, one Jay/Joy Ladin.
The liberal response to this is "so what?" After all, Ladin isn't teaching Torah subject but rather English poetry (no snickering please). Certainly anyone who has gone to a yeshiva high school with a secular curriculum has been taught by non-Jewish teachers or even Jewish teachers who are non-0bservant. As long as Ladin is teaching on the secular side of YU, what's the big deal?
Perhaps it's Ladin's complete lack of comprehension of basic Jewish values, as detailed in the article:
In a blog posting last year on the Web site of Jewish Mosaic, a center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews, Ladin responded to a rabbi's essay about the theme of liberation in the Pessah Haggada, "As a currently transitioning practicing Jew who has inwardly ached each Pessah knowing that I am celebrating freedom while embracing the slavery of my skin, I am so grateful for this dvar Torah."
This is, for lack of a better word, abominable. Pesach is about the liberation of Jews from an immoral culture so they could become a Godly one. God then gave us, as a direct continuation of that Pesach experience, His Holy and perfect Torah which details, amongst other things, laws against what Ladin does on a daily basis. For example, cross-dressing:
The New York Post reported that Ladin wrote in the prologue of her unfinished memoir, Inside Out: Confessions of a Woman Caught in the Act of Becoming, that she had taken hormones to develop breasts and feminize her appearance but had not undergone surgical sex-reassignment procedures
In other words, under that dress is a male organ. In a way, this is no different than if Ladin were to walk into the YU cafeteria every day messily eating a bacon double cheese burger. It shows complete contempt for the Jewish values that YU is supposed to be inculcating its students with.
And in a way, it's even worse because sexual morality is one of the underpinnings of our faith. For a professor in a religious Jewish institution to openly and proudly embrace homosexuality and cross-dressing makes a mockery of that institution's values.
As Rav Moshe Tendler mentions in the article:
Rabbi Moshe Tendler, an Orthodox rabbi who is a senior dean at Yeshiva's rabbinical school, said Jewish law does not tolerate an individual's physical alteration for any reason.
"This individual wants the rest of the world to accept his decision that he is now her and should be recognized as female, and I think that is a relatively unfair request," Tendler said.
"I think a teacher that behaves in so aberrant a way must also impinge on the moral conscience of the student body," said Tendler, who is also a professor of biology and medical ethics at the
university. "They become less judgmental in judging him, but I believe we should reserve that right to be judgmental when someone violates the basic tenets of society."
Jay Ladin has a right to live his life however he wants. But common decency would suggest that he find a different place of employment instead of insisting that the Modern in Modern Orthodoxy at YU must accomodate him and his desires. If not, those supporters of YU who pu the Orthodox before the Modern in their indentities should make their views known to the university's administration the next time calls for donations are made.
As for YU, the institution has to make a choice - is it Modern with a small helping of Orthodoxy or is it Orthodox with some input from Modernity? And the wrong choice might wind up retroactively justifying all the scorn the Chareidi community has had for the school from the beginning.


Baruch said...

At this point, YU doesn't have a choice but to keep Ladin. He's tenured.

How should s/he be treated? I generally don't like saying those types of things without knowing the person personally.

Garnel Ironheart said...

All people should be treated with respect. That's not my issue. My issue is that a person who, through his lifestyle, exemplifies the antithesis of certain Torah values should not be employed by a Torah institution.
I would wonder why Prof. Ladin's sensitivites haven't led him to that same conclusion.