Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 27 December 2007

With Friends Like These

One of the ongoing problems with Modern Orthodoxy is the split between the ideological and behavioural groups.

The ideological groups generally look at Judaism the way a physicist looks at physics. They immerse themselves in it, strive to understand it as totally as they can but this does not always (okay, only uncommonly) translates into passionate observance of God's commandments.

The behavioural group, on the other hand, lives with a contradiction. Being Orthodox is not generally important to them but they don't want to become non-religious either, for a variety of reasons. As a result they continue to observe basic levesl of most mitzvos while judiciously ignoring those that clash with their Western liberal sentiments. They will keep strictly kosher but learning, tznius clothing and enthusiastic davening isn't high on their list.

Thus a spectrum emerges. On the extreme right are people who, like the Mizrachi in Israel, are stringent in their observance but do not share the specific worldview of the Chareidi community. On the extreme left are the crowd that are essentially Conservative in their outlook but still insist on separate seating in shul.

Certainly this makes them a tempting target for the Conservative crowd, as this article in The Jerusalem Post points out. After all, if the only difference is a small partition that everyone looks over anyway, where's the big difference?

This is a grave danger facing Modern Orthodoxy. Certainly even the strictest Conservative would never dream of thinking that his congregation is "traditional enough that Orthodox Jews feel comfortable with the prayers and rituals, and at the same time secular Jews can participate without feeling intimidated."

Let us be clear about what Conservativism is and what it is not. The article discusses the approach to changes in law, for example:

"The difference between us and Orthodox Judaism is that we look more critically at the Shulchan Aruch [code of Jewish law]," says Schlesinger. "We are willing to go back to the sources, to the Talmud, to the early rabbinic authorities to reinterpret the Halacha. The most obvious example is the role of women. They are full participants, not just in prayer and Torah reading, but also as rabbis who make halachic decisions.

This is a complete misunderstanding of halachah and the way it has evolved. Real poskim, the ones who are in a position to make decisions, build on the work of the previous generations. If they are asked a question, they do not leapfrog over those decisors they don't want to hear from to go looking for an opinion in the Gemara that will allow them to find the answer they want.

But even if that was a viable option, Conservatism has already proven that the statement above is a sham. The real difference between true Torah Judaism and Conservatism is that when a real posek is asked a question, he researches and comes up with the answer. When a Conservative is asked a question, he gives the answer the questioner wants (which is almost always "yes") and then goes looking for any reference he or she can to support that decision. And if there's no source? The decision is upheld as "the right thing to do".

Go back to the Talmud? How did that result in a legalization of homosexual marriage? Permitting unmarried couples to live together before marriage? Driving on Shabbos? When the Conservative interviewed in the article states: "We have to be clear about our demands and let our congregants know that we are totally committed to Halacha and mitzvot" he is either in denial or lying.

At some point in the next generation or two, the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy will probably formally fall away and join one of the Conservative organizations, either the JTS or the UTJ. They are free to make that decision, as damaging as it will be religiously for them but the least they can do is be honest about it and stop pretending to be observant Jews when they do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Garnel,

I just came across your blog and it looks interesting, except that I am having a bit of a hard time reading the white lettering against the black background. Just a thought.