Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Monday, 19 September 2011

The Right Side of Orthodoxy

As I've noted before, it's relatively easy to identify the left side of Orthodoxy, the line at which one ceases to be considered genuinely Torah-observant and can better be classified as heterodox.  Advocating for mixed seating, insisting women can be rabbis or promoting the idea that homosexual marriage is something that traditional Judaism should accept tend to be pretty big red flags. 
The problem is not with the left flank but rather with the right.  It is very hard to define when a person becomes too religious to be considered properly Torah observant.  Some of this is the fault of the superficiality with which we practice our religion.  Let's face it: a person with a black hat and suit who throws the occasional Yiddish word into his vocabulary pretty much gets a pass as "religious" irregardless of personal practice, especially in the bein adam l'chaveiro realm.  The weirder the hat, the longer the coat, the more ultra-Orthodox the person becomes.  Is there ever a point beyond ultra-Orthodoxy when the person can no longer be considered to be a normative Torah-observant Jew?
In some cases there are calls for certain groups to be classed as "too right" for Torah Judaism.  The Neturei Karta, a group of mentally ill primitives if there ever was one, is the classic example of this.  However, they're also an easy example since part of their philosophy is that they're the only real observant Jews anyway.  They're unlikely to walk into a standard community shul and participate in friendly ways so questions like "Can we count them to a minyan" or "can we give them an aliyah" are pretty much academic.
However, a recent article by Rav Yonasan Rosenblum got me thinking that there is, in fact, a working definition for "too Orthodox to be called Orthodox".  Here's the line:


I don't expect to convince the small group of extremists in Ramat Beit Shemesh that their actions endanger the chareidi community. They don't listen to Rav Elyashiv, why would they listen to me?
Here's what I'm thinking.  If one wants to look at defining differences between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidism one must consider the role of the Rav.  As opposed to MO circles where the Rav is a guide, a teacher or a pesky shul employee good for sermons on Shabbos and Yom Tov, in the Chareidi community the Rav is an authority.  Typical of any authoritarian system there is a pecking order up to the coveted "Godol HaDor" title which, depending on which sect you belong to, is Rav Eliashiv, Rav Sternbuch or Rav {insert name of Chasidic rebbe here}. 
In this system, the word of the Godol HaDor is law.  Similarly the other Gedolim from the various sects also carry a high level of authority.  Ravs Wosner and Shteinman may only be near the top of the heap but if any of them issues a psak it carries tremendous weight for the Yeshivish community.  If they say that doing the hokey-pokey four times before lunch every day is halacha then woe to any Yeshivish kolleleit who doesn't put his right foot in and put his right foot out on schedule. 
Now to the best of my knowledge, no authoritative Godol has authorized or approved the protests that are currently occuring in Beit Shemesh outside a religious girls school.  You know, the one where supposedly pious Jews line up daily to harrass little girls with such educated words as
prutza and shiksa.  In fact, some pretty prominent rabbonim have voiced their opposition to these protests, yet they go on regardless.
Similarly a few years ago there were massive riots in Meah Shearim when children's aid services abducted a child being half-starved to the death by her mentally unstable mother.  At the time there were reports that Rav Sternbuch himself has voiced disapproval of these protests.  Guess what kind of impact those statements didn't have.
Here's a final timely example.  We all recall the story about the Burka Babes of Beit Shemesh (what is it about that town that attracts all these nutbars?) and how their leader was jailed for, amongst other things, beating her children visciously and forcing them to commit incest with each other.  Unfortunately that revelation did not end the existence of this "holier than somebody" group.  No major Rav has spoken approvingly of their Talibanistic customs and several have come out against it.  Again, guess how many women have responded to rabbinic authority and removed their veils.
It's one thing for a MO to ignore a Rav who has told him to do "X".  Heck, they often avoid it because they know how little authority they have.  But here are Chareidi groups, groups defined by obedience to its religious leadership, that is ignoring its that leadership.  Inconceivable.
Unlike the left side where the worst crime is letting a woman lead Kabbalos Shabbos services, the right side seems to delight in violence and public chilul HaShem.  Certainly it is a higher priority to recognize this group's unacceptability
Therefore it seems to me that this is how to define someone who has moved beyond the rightward boundary of Orthodoxy.  If someone takes upon himself a certain practice as a religious duty and is then told by the highest religious authorities that this is wrong but continues the practice then that person has to be seen as having moved outside of Orthodoxy.  He may look ultraOrthodox, he may speak impeccable Yeshivish, he may only buy meat with four different
hechsherim on it but by rejecting rabbinic guidance that his practice is not acceptable he is rejected Orthodoxy.
Naturally I don't expect the ultraOrthodox community to adopt this definition any time soon.  We in the Torah observant world are too ingrained to believe that there is no "too Orthodox for Orthodoxy" position as opposed to "not Orthodox enough to be Orthodox".  However, the Modern Orthodox community may well wish to examine this.  For a long time they have been hammered by the ultraOrthodox over groups like the YCT gang.  It is time to return the favour and point out that on the other side there are those who also masquerade as Orthodox Jews.  

21 comments:

Adam Zur said...

i don't like charismatic leadership and your idea of this being the answer to the problems in the ultra lunatic orthodox world is not correct.Do you honestly believe that if the rebbi of toldot aaron(the large one near bati ungarrin (Hungarian)) would say one word of disapproval that the sikrikin would continue? come on and what about that store that sold regular Cds a fews years back that the whole community rioted against? (The owner of the store is now in jail) Believe me when I tell you this all comes from the Top of the leadership. You just live in a different world so you have an idealistic picture of what you would like Torah leadership to look like. But it is not what you think.

Anonymous said...

Meir says
I dont think you know the ultra orthodox very well.
Rav Shternbuch carries no weight at all no one listens to whatever he will say. That goes for the present Brisker as well.
R Shteinman may have his followers but his no R Shach, again not much weight. He is not a posek.
R Wosner does carry a lot of weight being a posek who 'writes'. Whatever he says goes, he is allied to satmar but even so his word is law.
R Elyashiv's word is law only by the litvaks and not by the NK.
The rebbes like the shomer emunim ones, there are three of them, all arguing over the estate, are not known to be great talmidai chachomim. Non have written or will ever write anything. They have to make up for it with 'action'. There way of 'naase v'nishma'. Their chasidim mostly dont work or learn either. If they do work they are mashgichim or in the sofrim or battim trade and go round the world collecting.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Adam, I disagree. I think if the Toldos Aharon Rebbe spoke out against the Sikrikin not only would they continue their campaign of terror, they would also declare him a heretic and target him!
The leadership has lost control of its followers. I and several others have written about how we are in the era of the Askanim where zealots control the leaders and make them act in the way they think they should. But real leaders stand up against manipulators and real followers don't demand their leaders conform to their ideal vision of them.

JRKmommy said...

Garnel writes "IF the Toldos Aharon Rebbe spoke out..."

I guess that's the crux of the matter.

To what extent is the leadership actually speaking out? How clearly are they doing so? Are they issuing calls to action to back up their words, such as asking the Haredim in Beit Shemesh to not only allow the DL girls' school to function but also to show up and protect the girls against fanatics?

Shades of Grey said...

Very spot on. It's quite amusing, and alarming if self-proclaimed Charedi people don't abide by their own philosophy of da'as torah above all else. It is also especially alarming when the powers that be, who represent the supposedly all-knowing da'as torah can't say or act in any fashion that would curb extremist and harmful ideologies and groups.

You're absolutely correct that these ruffians have taken Judaism entirely into their own hands. They are in fact no better than the far left who alter halacha, picking and choosing based on personal sentiments - both are doing the same thing.

Incidentally, Rav Shachter (of YU) once told us that those who are yeshivish/charedi and learn in kollel all day should be the ones who are most maykil - because what have they to fear from their daily lives? It's the people out in the secular world who need to be machmir on their business dealings, etc. So they've totally flip-flopped.

The concept of shvil zahav is totally lost on so many people these days...

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

SoG, I would go further: they are far worse than those on the far left. When was the last time anyone feared being violently attacked by someone from the far left? When was the last time the far left took it upon themselves to noisily disrupt people's public lives?

SJ said...

Garnel, I read Shmarya's exchange with you on the thing about the age of the universe.


Beware when debating with him, Shmarya is a big giant sore loser in debates and he'll lash out at you.

Adam Zur said...

Garnel. I admit seeing Jewish leadership in action is an area I have limited experience with. But from what I have seen it is an area that is ambiguous. Sometimes it seems that the particular rabbi is being lead on and sometimes it seems he is making up his own mind. But my basic reason for criticizing the chareidi charismatic leadership is simply because I disagree with charismatic leadership in general even with my pro Rebbi Nachman approach.
I think that Torah leadership should not be based on charisma at all but on knowledge and expertise in Gemara, Rashi, and Tosphot. The only places I have ever seen decent leadership in the chareidi world comes from people that have this expertise.
Yet this kind of leadership is rare. Most orthodox rabbis are guilty of a kind of fraud in which they are claiming this type of knowledge and yet on closer inspection it turns out that they lack it and often have no idea of what is going on in side on any given page of gemara at all--even the one they are supposedly learning. The sad truth is this generation has been the victim of massive fraud of rabbis teaching and telling us things in the name of Torah when they are actually teaching personal prejudices and in view of their own interests. There is nothing in the world so irrelevant to them as what it actually says in the Gemara. They simply don't care as long as they keep getting their paychecks.

Anonymous said...

Meir says
My post earler says much the same.

Adam Zur said...

I agree that your note was much more detailed than my first note and I agree you added more information. But some of the points I made in my second note were new. I say this for a reason. It is because I think that some of the Litvak scholars you mentioned are areas you said light weights but I think in the Litvak world there are heavy weights that are simply not known--like Rav Nelkenbaum at the Mir in New York and Napftali Yeger in Far Rockaway. These people have no name in the yeshiva world but from what I can tell they are both in the stratosphere of Talmudic scholarship and could put any of the so called gedolim in their back pockets.

Anonymous said...

Meir says
I would answer on your blog if you would accept anonymous replies and perhaps i wouldnt be the only one.
Have these two you mention ever written anything, if not how can you tell how 'great' they are and no wonder no one has heard of them. I dont like saying it, but to be a godol one must also act like one. Its not enough just to be able to learn. People look at their actions more than at their learning. If a NK raavad continuously writes in an Aguda paper what does it show. It shows he is not serious at all but just looking for kovod. The NK cant give him enough so he goes elsewhere. Amongst the chasidim I dont think there are any proper rebbes left. I mean those who can learn as well. With all these people in kollel nothing is really coming out at all.

Adam Zur said...

you are asking for evidence. My evidence is this: My chavruta and I were learning mesechet shabat. (There was a small group of people at the Mir who were doing this.) We came up against a very difficult Rosh. Now I can honestly say my learning partner was no dummy. He went on to become a Rosh Yeshiva himself.
We went to all the so called "geniuses" in the yeshiva to see if anyone could answer the question. Now in those days reb nelkbenaum was just a regular learner that had no reputation and just learned the regular yeshiva seder (not shabat). Because there was no one left to ask, we had no choice but to go to someone who almost surely could not have known the answer. to even understand the question you had to have known a a whole array of separate areas. We showed him the question. and he was silent for about a minute. Then when he opened his mouth he revealed an incredible detailed knowledge of all the areas involved and he answered the question perfectly. When we got back to our seat my learning partner (Chagai Preshel) repeated a verse "with the modest is wisdom."
The story about Reb Naphtali Yeger is different. It involved me going over to him many times and discussing Tosphot. He would refuse to even discuss a tosphot unless I could say over the section of the Gemara and entire Tosphot orally from memory. Only then I could say over my question. When I did he would answer it. But in the way he did it revealed a whole new level in Tosphot itself. This process would continue for about ten steps with each level getting deeper (with no chikrot and so called yesodot. Sticking in outside foundations (yesodot) was considered completely not kosher.) If I had ever met anyone in Israel who could have matched these two in sheer depth and brilliance believe me I would be happy to tell you so. But in Israel people depend on their zip code to make them into scholars.
I must have spoken with roshei yeshivot from the tip top north to the wee south and all over Yerushalaim these same types of questions. Most roshei yeshivot simply had no idea of the relevant gemaras at all. It almost seemed they had never heard of them.
And when they had heard of them they did not know what the Gemara actually said. It was as if I had entered into some twilight zone of Talmudic scholars that had never heard of the Talmud. The honest scholars were fewa and far between. For this reason I say the name of Reb Zilverman with respect because he would admit when he did not know a subject and from what I could tell could in fact learn well.

Anonymous said...

Meir says
You should read my posts on emmes
http://haemtza.blogspot.com/ under afff(o).
I have often written there about this and the correct method of learning with many examples.
I am not surprised at all you could find (almost) no one who could learn. The reason is they have no idea how to. I dont know your level but you should use artscroll mesivta and chavrusa. That would help you with the tosfos. I am learning now MB shabbos page 273.
I make a chart of all the possibilities BEFORE I start. I reckon sixteen altogether. I number them and then write in the MB at each line what NUMBER he is referring to and in the BHL.
This is the opposite to how everyone else learns. No wonder no one gets anywhere. I have been to university and maybe thats the reason. Its about time yeshivot were run like universities with lectures, tests and degrees etc. One has to be able to make a summary like an artscroll one, in a chart. Todays talmidim cant do this.
About a rosh you mention. It is unlikely that you should be the first to find it difficult. There is no mesifta yet on shabbos. But on other mesechtos you would find it there.

Adam Zur said...

Myself I am very happy with the page of the Gemara just like it is and the Maharsha too. Almost all later books I find to be experts at making complicated what is simple. The only books of achronim I enjoy are books written before World War II. I have always had a tremendous amount of joy from the Pnei Yeshoshua and R. Akiva Aiger. Rebbi Chayim from Brisk seems to be very good but I have never made an in depth study of him.
I don't find any books written in the Charaedi world to be deep or intellectually honest. I simple refuse to waste time on them any more.

Anonymous said...

I am very sorry you feel like that. If everyone did they wouldnt be able to sell them. As I say I dont know your standard and you dont give me an example of a book of what you call making complicated what is simple. If you did and I possess I could give an opinion.

Adam Zur said...

The last books of quality to come out in the frum world was the Kehilat Yaakov by (the Stipler Rav).
Also the book by rav shach looked pretty good by I did not have time to examine it.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know what you dont consider quality.

Adam Zur said...

an example without naming names is when a book says that in the gemara there is only one opinion when there are in fact four opinions. and this is not a small thing because it is used to prove a major these which later on went to be used extensively by the mishna brura. I don't know what to call this. Intellectual dishonesty? But what ever the name it is no considered quality by me. I don't care if the author has a great name. this is enough to turn me off to anything else he writes.
There are plenty more examples which don't even get to the level of shoddy reasoning but more like deliberate deception from almost all modern books coming out in the frum world.

Anonymous said...

If you are not prepared to name names (why ever not) this discussion is futile. For some reason all these 'examples' seemed to have escaped me. Do you think its loshon hora to give an opinion on a sefer. I suppose it is if its not true. All I can say I must be leading a very sheltered life since I dont come across them. I would much prefer to discuss this on your own blog.

Adam Zur said...

OK I am referring to where the Shach proves that majority opinion is deuraita.
But in general what are called achronim are full of shoddy logic--especially so called halacha books.

Adam Zur said...

Another example is the Mishna Brura (besides depending on the previous Shach for using rov rishonim) he has a peice on the opinion of Rabbainu Tam which depends on the Maharam Alsheker from Mitzraim. That Alsheker claims that most rishonim go like the opinion of the Gra. But when you look at those rishonim all you see is that they said the sun goes around the earth at night--not over the sky. The fact is this is not a proof that those rishonim did not hold by Rabinu Tam. (As we see by Rabbainu Chananel that held the sun goes under the earth at night and still holds by Rabbu Tam.). Also this is an arugument among the geonim. The opinion of the Gra is not "Shitat Hageonim".