On Pink Elephants, Accomodating The Latest Trends, And Heroism

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20 Responses

  1. Eli Julian says:

    There’s a pink elephant in the room in this discussion too. And that is the reason we single out Rav Hirsch and Rav Soloveitchik as the heroes from among their peers. What was singularly special about these two people was their ability not only not to compromise Torah values – there were droves of rabbonim in Europe and early America who knew how to do that, but that is not what saved authentic Judaism there. It was their unique ability in addition to the lack of compromise, indeed despite it, to glean from the Torah and the mitzvos messages that spoke to the very Jews who were considering leaving the fold, messages that exposed the grandeur and beauty that there is specifically in uncompromising adherence to all the minutia of halakha. In my mind to only stress their uncompromising nature is to miss the main thrust of what made them so special.

  2. Ben Bradley says:

    And yet there have been changes in communal structure, social norms, modes of education etc which have sometimes strengthened and sometime weakened the various segments of the Torah community, and have been endorsed by Torah leaders, including those you reference.
    So the question is not whether to accommodate or to stand firm. The question is how and where we do each of those. That requires a rare wisdom which has been lacking in this debate IMO. And no, I don’t know either.

  3. Mr. Miller says:

    While it is true we have many worldly and articulate Orthidox jews, we do not as a group present a welcoming face to our fellow jews. Having been involved in kiruv for decades, I have observed many jews turned off by the casual racism, unwillingness to be honest about abuse, binary thought, and intellectual obscurantism in our community.

    More significantly, the author uses a flawed premise. Modern history is replete with examples of adapting or even creating institutions to allow retention of our people. Two examples: The yeshiva movement, which created an intellectually elite community to compete with the intellectual movements of its time, as well as having students dress in a modern style to enhance their standing among the hoi polloi. The bais yaakov movement took on the gymnasia to provide an alternative stimulating educational structure for our daughters.

    We have chased out many of our best and brightest with our witch hunts and our “my way or the highway” attitude. Open orthodoxy creates a convenient straw man. Led by generally sincere individuals who lack serious scholarship, they present an easily dismissed, and rightfully so, alternative for those uncomfortable with Orthodoxy.

    But the choice is not open orthodoxy or bust. OO is asking many of the right questions, but is giving the wrong answers. The problem is that in today’s climate we are unwilling to listen to those who do have the right answers, and marginalize them.

    • Rafael says:

      Mr. Miller,

      With all due respect, what “right questions” is OO asking? Their “questions” are guided by a principal that Orthodoxy should change, guided by societal changes to gender, acceptance of homosexuality, non-opposition to Biblical Criticism, reading out heresy from the lexicon, political liberalism, liturgical changes, etc. Does normative Orthodoxy have to make changes to these questions? Maybe the answer is that Orthodoxy cannot be all things to all people. Orthodoxy has limits that cannot be removed or ignored. You also make a blanket statement of chasing our “best and brightest”. Can you provide examples of this? I have not seen this. OO is not a strawman. OO is a problem because it retains the name “Orthodox” while at the same time taking positions that are reservedly unOrthodox. For example, woman’s ordination is an innovation not seen in the Orthodox World. It is found in the heterodox movements. It has not been seen until now. This is a challenge to millenia of how things were and how things are currently.

      Also, can you tell me who are those with the right answers? Names? Personalities?

      • Mr. Miller says:

        Rafael:
        One example of someone giving the right answers to the right question OO is asking (how do we understand the seemingly conflicting biblical texts) is Rabbi David Fohrman who deals intelligently with Biblical criticism and does not expect everything to be taken literally. Another is Rabbi Dovid Katz who uses history to explain why some innovations in Judaism are legitimate and some are not, another good qustion asked by OO. For example simchas torah is a holiday created by the folk genius of the Jews. Talk about liturgical changes! But we don’t set off fireworks in shul or dance with candles on our apples anymore. The Rambam stopped chazaras hashatz for a time, but we do it today. It takes intellectual honesty to address these issues head on.

        Ari Heitner: I bet one of those families in Pittsburgh was the Butlers, who are the finest people I ever met, and certainly are a good face for yiddishkeit. And they are not charedi. I agree yiddishkeit is awesome. But if you don’t think the issues mentioned above have contributed to the OTD phenomenon, you are flat out wrong. And I believe what we call Orthodoxy is for everyone. Hashem gave to Torah to all Jews. A yerusha vests automatically.

        I am from a charedi background myself, though I am close with many students of YCT. The point is we need to look inward. The al chet is we have sinned, not they have sinned. As for the best and the brightest, many of my friends in YCT are those people. You and I may not agree with them, but they are talented and intelligent and it is a shame they arent using their talents in an appropriate manner.

    • Ari Heitner says:

      Y’know, every week I seem to read another op-ed somewhere bemoaning the sorry state of Orthodoxy – it’s so closed-minded, it’s sweeping abuse under the carpet, it’s abusing women, it’s not educated or educating, it’s cold and unwelcoming (and of course perhaps 50% of these missives come from YCT alumni here to tell the world about how different *they* are than that other cold grey Orthodoxy … or Heaven-forbid ultra-….)

      I worked in outreach for years in Toronto, and we found no better place to bring our fresh-off-the-street high school kids to learn than with avreichim and baalei-battim of the Thornhill Kollel (a Lakewood Kollel, an offshoot of R’Shlomo Miller’s Kollel Avreichim). We regularly took the highschoolers to the Bobov Kollel. We hosted piles of highschool- and university-aged guests, and over time many of them developed deep relationships both with baalebattim in the community and avreichim from the kollel. Having a range of Torah mentors helped them in their own growth.

      Now that we’ve come back to Eretz Yisroel, we participate in hosting all sorts of beginner groups here in our little Ultra-Orthodox bubble in RBS A. The students – Aish UK Fellowships, girls from Jewel, boys from Ohr Somayach’s J-Internship, etc etc – all have a blast. Whether they’re total beginners, or kids learning in yeshiva or sem, they gain so much from meeting different types of young families – Litvish, Chassidishe, Sefardi, working or learning, BTs or FFBs – living real life and positively modeling what the students are hearing in class.

      Hey, wait a minute – when I was a kid with a kippah (or sometimes baseball cap) on my head who thought I was frum because I kept kosher and Shabbos, I went away to university in Pittsburgh and met a whole slew of families who loved hosting students. They had an incredible influence on me. I’m the person I am today because of them. I love Yiddishkeit today because of how much they loved Yiddishkeit. I love hosting students today because of how much they loved hosting students.

      Who exactly decided we’re having a crisis of mean nasty cold close-minded I-don’t-know-what Orthodoxy?

      Yiddishkeit is *awesome*. Secular life has nothing on it. Our community is warm, dynamic, outgoing, fun and exciting. I live in Eretz Yisroel and it is a *blast*. There are so many experiences that are amazing to share with beginners.

      If your community stinks, fix it. If they’re hopeless, leave ’em. Gimme a call, we’ll have you on a plane in no time.

  4. dr. bill says:

    Your arguments/examples are inconclusive, if as I assume you mean to buttress opposition the OO movement and their fellow travelers. Here are three reasons:
    First, the cases you cite, omit the compromises the Rabbis you mention, made.
    Second, you assume that post hoc ergo propter hoc, hardly an accepted principle of deduction.
    Third, you assume those situations are comparable to the case at hand.
    A full discussion would add another chapter to Prof. Shapiro’s recent book, but let me very briefly illustrate each point.
    First, R. Hirsch’s school curriculum and his appreciation for various elements of German culture, the Rav’s introduction of a co-ed school, allowing continued participation in the SCA, encouraging advanced secular studies, and advanced Talmud for women and the changes that schools like Torah Vodaath made with the introduction of secular studies all represent compromise.
    Second, the history you cite had many actors and forces. The Rav ztl was only one of many factors that contributed to stemming the tide of defection from orthodox ranks. What people do not often cite were the Rav’s private efforts that accelerated the ability of orthodox students to enter secular society in various professions. While R. Hirsch’s actions are always mentioned (albeit with moderate revisions) he was strongly opposed by two rabbis, Rav Azriel Hildesheimer, the orthodox proponent of Wissenschaft des Judentums, and Rav Bamberger, who opposed separation, whose stature as gedolim/poskim towered over his. German orthodox Jewish life until the Second World War was in no small measure influenced by their actions as well.
    Third, to imply any comparison of the past to a movement that stresses halakhic observance is hardly reasonable. By R. Hirsch’s time, German Jewish assimilation, as well as opposition to Shabbat and Milah by some reform elements had already happened. Mordechai Kaplan’s tenure at JTS preceded the Rav’s arrival in America and their (short-lived) revised Siddur of the 40’s occurred as the Rav began as the RY at YU.
    When separation versus cooperation is called for is a fundamental dispute going back centuries or longer. It will not be settled by anecdotes, on either side; it is a hard decision in which many well intentioned erred, going in either directions.

    • Mycroft says:

      Essentially agree with Dr Bill’s ideas.
      In addition to the Rav being instrmental to the RCA remaining in the SCA one should remember that’s the Rav believed in non theological dialogue with non Jewish religions. The Rav himself spoke at a monastery in Boston . Te Rav did not have the approach of RMF who treated Conservative Rabbis as reshayimz theRav in general treated them as mistaken. See for example the relationship of the Rav with Reabbi Shubow.
      RSRH has had major revisionisim -essentially no one follows his ideas. The right rejects SRH TIDE while the left rejects the separation of SRH. In Germany very few followed the separTion ideas of SRH.
      An interesting similarity of revisionism is that one can state with reasonable confidence that the haskafa followed by RSRH, Rav Kook and RYBS is not followed today in KAJ/SRH, Mercaz Harav Kook, and RIETS.

  5. Reb Yid says:

    It is interesting how this poster makes very selective use of personalities like the Rav. He only sees the Rav as one who did not innovate. That would be a rather deceptive and incomplete description.

    To take just one very significant example out of many–the school that the Rav established–Maimonides. Co-ed Jewish day school through high school. Boys and girls alike studied Gemara. The Rav was ahead of his time in this regard and needs to be acknowledged for recognizing how retrograde it would have been to do anything different.

    [YA – When I first came to California, one of the heads of late-lamented Conservative movement on the West Coast wrote a diatribe against baalei teshuva. They are no source of pride, he proclaimed. That launched a firefight in the Jewish media. Particularly worthwhile was a sound-bite submitted by a group of Chabad women: “Yes, Judaism is flexible. A tree can bend in the wind. But that doesn’t mean that it can pick itself up and walk twenty paces.”

    The Rav was an innovator. Innovation, however, is not the same as rupture from the past.]

  6. Arthur says:

    The central theme that “those who did not compromise where compromise with authenticity was impossible stand today as our heroes of history” is circular and silly. The “our” refers, definitionally, to the people who self-select as agreeing with the world-view of the “heroes.” As to the majority who do not agree, the Torah leaders were not heroes or even particularly relevant. This makes a point?

    As for the bit about “We speak English better than the average American does. We know the culture. We are in touch. We have college degrees.” etc., query: How much longer will that hold true?

  7. PL says:

    I think one of the points is that rabbonim who stood firm against Western culture influences endured over time. Is this so? Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik left Agudath Yisrael and endorsed the Mizrachi movement. As well he introduced Torah U’Maddah (learning and general education) and it was a greatest success. Definitely an example of an embrace of modernity. Perhaps the recipe for success is not those who completely avoided the cultural influences, but maybe those who became involved in the cultural topics and took leadership to attempt to direct it properly?

  8. Larry says:

    The expression is “elephant in the room.” Pink elephant refers to hallucinations. As you correctly state, the alleged elephant in the room of (G-d forbid) losing Jews by standing to our Torah values has been always been in the room. There is precedent, there are role models.

    However, there is a new elephant in the room. The elephant is the RCA. The RCA, which seems to want to lead the fight against OO, has many OO Rabbis in its membership, including OO Rabbis who teach at YCT and serve on major committees at the RCA. How is this possible? How does one trust the RCA, when the Agudah has declared members of the RCA not to be orthodox? How is this not the elephant in the room?

    As a member of the RCA resolution committee I am sure you know the RCA resolutions better than me. The July 16, 2014 RCA resolution on Jewish Prayer on Har HaBayit “implores the goverment of the State of Israel to accomidate Jews who wish to pray on the Temple Mount.” I am likewise certain that the RCA is well aware of the many articles on this site highly critical of Jews who ascend the mount. And yet, the RCA members who write on this site are silent. Why do you not defend your resolution?

    It seems to me that RCA members pick and choose which resolutions matter to them. Just like you do not care about the resolution on Har HaBayit (perhaps because it is clearly prohibited according to halacha to ascend), the OO Rabbis in the RCA do not care about the resolution on women Rabbis. The elephant in the room is lack of leadership and consistency at the RCA. That is my fear, that the RCA, without strong Torah leadership from Roshei Yeshivot, does not have the credibility or appetite to stand up to OO.

    • Mycroft says:

      Does anyone believe. That the Rav. Would have been in agreement with praying on Harhabayis . Just another example of change in RCA.

    • David says:

      First of all, it is not “clearly prohibited according to halacha to ascend”. What is clear is that you have not researched the issue, otherwise you wouldn’t have made such a blanket, unqualified statement.

      Second: don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the writer who most frequently authors “articles on this site highly critical of Jews who ascend the mount” does not allow comments, so how could they defend the resolution?

      • dr. bill says:

        i agree with your view. at least in part, this issue depends on one’s reliance on historical data. many of those who ascend, rely on rabbinic opinion that would often use clear historical data telling them at least where the second Beit HaMikdash did NOT stand. There are many interesting isolated opinions: I believe some Brisker will not even touch parts of the retaining wall; the world’s most famous Bible scholar will not ascend despite the fact that he knows where the BM was NOT, because he considers the whole Har as Kodesh. When I flew over the temple mount by helicopter 20 years ago, I told the pilot to stay far away from the makom hamikdash.

      • Mycroft says:

        For at least centuries it has been by far the accepted opinion not to enter Har Habayis. I am aware of discussions and probably agree with the argument that at least some parts of the Temple Mount are not Har Habayis. But if not Har Habayis why the emphasis to stir up a religious war. Of course,, it was decades ago that the CR put up its sign near the entrance for non Islamic believers to enter warning of the grave sin of entering Har ha ayes. The Rav as a religious Zionist was NOT a messianic religious Zionist. He did not believe that we should attempt to inflame the world.

  9. Michael Mirsky says:

    R. Fischer:

    You say that Old World Torah leaders were unsuccessful in keeping many American Jews within the fold in the early 20th century because “They never got a hearing because they did not communicate in the lingua franca.” I don’t think that was the reason at all.

    What you are overlooking was the difficult cultural and economic times. Saturday was a day of work – period. Those who didn’t show up on Shabbos were summarily fired in most businesses. My great-uncle had a new job every week because he was fired in Toronto in the 1920s every Monday when he didn’t show up on Saturday. Imagine the terrible stress on families, the need to put bread on the table, and the solace that they got by joining Reform because they were told they could work on Saturday.

    I am not saying they did the right thing, but I am saying that some understanding and less smugness should be forthcoming. In the same manner, speaking the lingua franca is important today in attracting and retaining searching individuals, but it is only a small part what is needed.

    • Mycroft says:

      Essentially agree-two factors have changed since pre WW 11 North America. The first that Michael Mirsky discusses is that Sabbath Observance requires much less sacrifice today than then. When my mother took the SATs it was only offered on Shabbos-no Sunday administration she had to stay at a chaperones house a public school teacher who wanted to enable Orthodox Jews to be able to take SATs- and then take them Saturday night 900 PM. To 3AM.
      Also the demographics of the immigrants changed those who fled the Nazis were not constrained by prior statements of many god lim treating the US as a trifle medinas. Thus one had a much more religious population later than earlier. No Yom Kippur balls.
      Re smugness I will quote a Rabbi of mine from the UWS from decades ago-simcha Gateshead afterwards studied at BMG. He would criticize the arrogance of those who attacked the Rabbis of the 20s and 30s of Manhattan. Compare what conditions they were faced with compared to today and that was spoken decades ago.
      Rabbi Fischer takes it as a given that prior godlims actions did not unintentionally increase the amount of those who left Yiddishkeit-suffice to quote two of the Ravs positions. When he advocated not following the Yeshiva model in the Us he stated that he is not sure that that it was the proper approach in Europe but in his mind it certainly was not the approach for the U.S. The Rav stated we are also paying the price for Chazal not systematically trying to explain Yahadus.He and Chazal believed we had a great product Chazal essentially believed it could sell itself. It didn’t,t thus we were left with another religion that systematically sold itself and for close to 2000 years caused us great harm. We have had great models but it does not mean they chose the correct path in retrospect. Modesty both ways in criticizing those who you believe we’re not doing a good enough job in the US who were not gdolim and don’t assume god lim were necessarily correct in their judgement of what to do.

    • Mycroft says:

      Agreed economic factors have changed-no more if you don’t come in on Saturday don’t come in on Monday. The Jewish demographics have changed until just before Ww11 many gdolim called America the treife medinah thus those who emigrated to America were different religiously than the rest of the population. Certainly there is a correlation between those who don’t listen to gedolim and those who are less religious.
      To the best of my knowledge unfortunately most decisions are not made on the basis of data but on the basis of authority. Thus, policy X or Y was a valid policy because Gadol A or B was in favor of it.
      Thus, I would look at the past 250 years in The Western World and see what the results have been. For example the great decrease in. The amount of shomrei Mitzvot need not be evidence that god lim did have the right policy in dealing with Jews. That of course does not mean that they were not great tal eider chachamim, ethical people who had the interests of Klal Srael at heart.
      As Rav Soloveitchik would say he has no expertise in non Halachik matters.

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