Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 25 November 2012

What YCT Does Right

It's often easy to criticize the Morethodoxy crowd.  Whether its blurring the line between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy or just the annoying naivete, the YCT gang always seems to come up with something that makes one slap oneself on the forehead.
It's a lot more important, then, to note what Morethodoxy does right.  It's especially important since they are embracing a fundamental Jewish principle that much of mainstream Orthodoxy, Modern, Zionist and Ultra have all seem to have forgotten about - common decency.
We are told that the Torah's ways are those of pleasantness.  Heck, we sing it every time we put a sefer Torah back into the aron kodesh four times a week.  But does anyone else notice that these days the Torah isn't so much a source of pleasantness but rather a hammer used to bludgeon people over the head with?
It seems not a week goes by without a new chumrah appearing or a new statement on behalf of "the Gedolim" that alienates a segment of the Jewish nation from the rest.  How much violence have we seen in the last few years in the name of Torah and purity?  How much anger does the public propagation of Torah have accompanying it nowadays?  Am I the only one wondering if there's a contest out there to see how unbearable Jewish observant life can be made before everyone except a select cabal somewhere in
Meah Shearim or Bene Beraq goes OTD?
This is where Morethodoxy shows its strength, albeit with the wrong tactics.  Instead of exclusion they preach inclusion.  Instead of disenfranchising they preach participation.  Yes, they do it without considering the boundaries that halacha has in place, not extremist opinions but mainstream ones, but their underlying motive, their genuine sincerity is refreshing and necessary.
Consider their concern not just for other Jews but for humanity as a whole.  While we are a separate nation by virtue of our closeness to God, that closeness itself demands a certain ethical leadership from us.  Cloistering ourselves away from general society reduces the danger of contamination from its excesses, sure, but it also reduces our chance to spread knowledge of God and His kindness to humanity which is something we are charged with.  
There is also the issue of inclusion of women in Jewish life.  The approach Morethodoxy uses is certainly controversial as they seem intent on creating an egalitarian form of Orthodoxy, something which is an unfixable contradcition but the idea that women should not be treated as objects to be shoved to the back of the bus but should be seen as important parts of Jewish life, in fact as the bedrock of what the Jewish family and nation rests on and treated with commensurate respect is a valid one many of us would do well to implement.
Now sincerity only counts for so much.  Rav Yonasan Rosenblum wrotes years ago of meeting a group of Reform rabbis and being impressed with their friendliness and kindness.  Despite that he couldn't simply say that they were good rabbonim.  Afer all, they didn't keep kosher, didn't observe Shabbos, etc.  You can be the nicest person but still fall far from the ideal Torah miSinai demands of us.  But that's the point - the balancing of bein Adam l'Makom with bein Adam l'chaveiro.  As we well know, the guy who keeps only mehadrin min mehadrin min mehadrin kosher but cheats and steals in his business dealings is little different than the Reformer who is scrupulous in his personal dealings but enjoys a BLT while driving to shul on Shabbos morning.  Maybe the former is worse, in fact, because his chilul haShem potential is much higher.
The Midrash tells us that one reason Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, was chosen to be the leader of klal Yisrael is because of the kindness he showed the flock of sheep he was tending.  Imagine how such leadership would manifest today.  Instead of carrying a weary sheep to water, the leader would berate it for stepping out of line and kick it back into the sheep pen.  How far from the example Chazal wanted us to emulate are we?
There are limits, of course.  The halacha must ultimately guide us as to what is acceptable and what is simply beyond the pale.  The danger of good intentions is that they ultimate replace objective standards.  We want so much to be nice to others we push aside the rules that distinguish and define us.  The other concern is replacing our subjective feelings with those values the Torah objectively demands.  Shaul haMelech is our guide in this case.  All who know their Tanach understand that what finally cost him his kingship was his desire to please his people after their battle with Amalek, forcing him to reinterpret God's command in that matter in order to accomodate them.  We certainly cannot forget that being nice is not an end unto itself.  It is a tool in the implementation of Torah, not a replacement for it.
In conclusion we must look to what Morethodoxy does right and inject some of that into mainstream Orthodox practice.  Their enthusiasm and general sense of decency is something that should be examined and brought into the fold under the guidance of halacha to enhance what we do and how we do it.


SJ said...

In some cases guidance of halacha might turn the general sense of decency into reverse.

i.e. shunning family members for intermarrying.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I believe that Dr. Shapiro writes that in one of the Tzridei Eish's letters to his friend, the professor at HUC, that one of the latter's students was a walking Chillul Hashem. It seems that one his way to Eretz Yisrael, at the suggestion of his professor, the student stopped in Switzerland to meet the Tzridei Eish, who actually found this Reform rabbi to be just an outstanding human being -- and this is what the Tzridei Eish meant in referring to him as a walking Chilul Hashem. When this guy will get to Eretz Yisrael and be compared to frum individuals, people will praise Reform Judaism and critique Orthodoxy for the former creates such outstanding individuals while the latter sadly has many adherents who don't reach such a level.

The fact is that the frum often like to quote Rashi in Chukkot about how the 'goyim' will laugh at Jewish observance. There is this thought, it almost seems,that to be frum, you have to in conflict with the values of the world. The fact is, though, that there are many sources that point to the fact that we are actually suppose to be looked upon favourably by the world which means that we are also be be seen in a positive light through their secular values. Is this always to be the case? No. There are times that we to be in conflict with the value direction of the world. But that is not the necessary ideal and our call must be to consider and balance the unique values of chukkot HaTorah with the natural moral perspectives of humanity. Garnel is right in that YCT is to be commended for reminding us that natural human morality has a place within Torah even though we can strongly disagree with their vision of the balance.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Bob Miller said...

Plenty of movements have wanted to be inclusive, but some of these have wanted to include in order to lead a greater number down an objectively wrong path.