Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

YCT Is The Agudah's Fault

The Agudah has long been trying to trademark Orthodox Judaism and make its definition "He who is Orthodox like us".  Through its PR efforts, publications and kiruv work the folks at the Agudah have been trying hard to convince the rest of the world that they are the genuine form of Orthodoxy and anything else that claims to be a Torah-observant is either a deviation or step down from the real thing.
It therefore seems to be infuriating to them to have the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah crowd come along with their "Open Orthodoxy" and "Morethodoxy" initiatives and announce to the world "Hey!  We're Orthodox and we're cool!"  It flies in the face of everything the Agudah has been trying to achieve and only leads to confusing questions like "If they're Orthodox why don't they wear black hats?"  It leads to repeated attacks by the Agudah's PR folks repeatedly pointing out the obviously flaws in Morethodoxy's ideology.  And, of course it has lead to rejoinders from the YCT crowd and ongoing attempts to justify their new form of Orthodoxy.
The problem with all this back and forth is that it misses the real point which is a tremendous flaw in Torah Judaism today.  In fact I would suggest this flaw has become de facto Torah Judaism today even though it's destructive to real Torah observance but it is so entrenched that no one even sees it.
In short, ritual has replaced reason.
Those who denigrate the Reformatives for their ongoing egalitarian watering down of Judaism sometimes fail to remember that for the non-Orthodox Judaism is a lot like Chrisianity.  Saturday morning services and the occasional holiday party are pretty much the extent of their Judaism just like for Chrisians Sunday morning services are about the only religious behaviours they indulge in.  And as been noted exhaustively before, if all your religion has is a service of public rituals and this service excludes women then the religion itself comes to be seen as patently unfair.
Let's extend this to Orthodoxy.  Yes, I know that for the Torah-observant Judaism doesn't begin or end in shul and its already well-established that the three cardinal behavioural mitzvos, kashrus, Shabbos and taharas mishpacha are women-dominated but Orthodox doesn't seem to revolve around that anymore.
Look at the right side of Orthodoxy.  Far from dominating it, women are increasingly being relegated to non-existence.  We have mehadrin buses, the burka babes of Beit Shemesh, Photoshop(tm) efforts to remove women from any public photos and a general attempt to make them seem that all women are sources of sin and temptation that need to be buried from public view.  The more one distances women from one's reality, harei zeh meshubach!
On the other side we have YCT and its ongoing efforts to create Egalitarian Orthodoxy.  Other than the mechitza there is a hardly an area of synagogue ritual that the Morethodox haven't altered in order to be more "inclusive" if not halacha-obedient.
But behind all the various justifications for these initiatives is the missed point.  Jewish observance, the learning of Torah and the performance of mitzvos are about developing a relationship with God and bringing His Will into this world through our actions.  If I keep an extra-special bit kosher it should be motivated by my desire to come closer to Him, not just to keep up with the Jonesteins or because it feels right to be machmir for the point of being machmir.
This is, however, not what is happening out there.  On the right side the stringencies are increasingly becoming the defining factors of Orthodox Judaism.  It's not tzedakah, chesed or rachmanus that are being stressed but what we wear, how much Yeshivish we speak and how much we avoid interaction with the opposite gender that are the gauges of Orthodoxy.  We pride ourselves on being an intelligent people but for many in the Orthodox world it is the mindless mumbling of the mantra "I only do what the Gedolim tell me to do and never dare think for myself" that is repeated over and over.
And again on the other side YCT doesn't seem to be so much motivated by a genuine desire to connect to the Divine as a dynamic that suggest that secular liberalism is the Divine will so the closer Orthodox Judaism comes towards it the more true it will be.  Their mantra is quite similar: "I do what secular liberals tell me to do."
But if YCT has any traction and is gaining any ground among possible adherent one can only blame the Agudah.  All its attempts to limit the definition of "Torah true" to its crowd and those to the right of it have led to countless observant Jews feeling disenfranchised or unconnected.  If you tell someone with a rational mind that he must surrender his independence of thought to "the Gedolim" and accept religious opinions that are patently contradicted by reality (for example, the age of the world and whether or not dinosaurs existed) if he wants to be Orthodox you will drive him from Torah observance.  Many folks recognize that the stringencies that exist in mainstream Chareidism are largely a result of a "holier than thou" attitude with many of them having little justification in halacha (separate seating at Shabbos meals, for example).
These folks don't want to leave Orthodoxy so instead they react.  Does the Agudah want us to believe that mehadrin buses are normative Judaism?  We'll bring in women to lead services.  Doese the Agudah hold that photoshopping women out of advertisements and newspaper photos is unexceptional Jewish practice consistent with our mesorah?  We'll give the women aliyos as well.  To a large extent YCT is simple an opposing reacton to the folks who have taken Torah observance too far to the right and is yanking left hard in order to keep it relevant to its followers.  Do the Chareidim believe that Jews are a Chosen People with a special relationship to God and subject to an all-encompassing halacha that affects our entire lives and defines right and wrong?  YCT will simply redefine Orthodox as one movement amongst many, equal and equivalent without any aspect of exceptionalism.  Does Cross Currents wants you to believe the Torah we have today is 100% identical to the one handed by God to Moshe Rabeinu, a"h without a single letter having changed over the millenia?  YCT will have its number one guy publish essays on the internet endorsing the Documentary Hypothesis!
The more the Chareidi community pushes to to the right the more outrageous YCT's antic will become.  The critical difference is that there seems to be no right border to Orthodoxy.  The most nutbar Satmars who think that burning the Israeli flag on Iyyar 5 is a tradition that dates back to Matan Torah are still considered Orthodox. But there is a left sided border to Orthodoxy and the time will come when YCT will cross it.  Then how will they justify themselves?

1 comment:

RAM said...

This argument fails because, in general, the reference point for the people in question is not what the "ultras" are doing or not doing, but rather the mores of contemporary society. That is, they seek ways to self-identify as Orthodox while also following those mores to the greatest extent they consider allowable.