Playing (For Time)
As I read about the latest decision by Conservatism to kick the can down the road regarding homosexual ordination, “marriage,” etc., and the ensuing donnybrook of recrimination and response unfolding within the movement, several things just don’t compute. Let me list the ways:
The Forward reports that
On the eve of their annual convention, Conservative rabbis are locked in a fierce debate over whether movement leaders have employed improper tactics to preserve the ban on gay clergy and same-sex marriage. . . .
At issue is a procedural rule, quietly adopted last June by the assembly’s executive council, that allows the movement’s top lawmaking body to raise the threshold of votes needed to approve certain major positions. Under previous rules, the movement’s 30-member Committee on Jewish Law and Standards had required only six votes to give legitimacy to a minority opinion. The new rule raises the bar to 20 votes when dealing with selected “momentous” decisions. Many movement rabbis say that they were unaware of the rule change until last week, when the law committee decided to apply the 20-vote threshold to a sweeping opinion that seeks to overturn the movement’s ban on homosexual sex. . . .
[Rabbi Perry] Rank, the president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said that the assembly’s executive council wanted to ensure that the law committee achieves some measure of consensus on momentous changes. Also, he said, the executive committee was spurred by the existing rule requiring 20 votes to overturn a decision of the law committee. Acccording to Rank, the logic was: “Well, if it takes 20 votes to overturn a decision of the law committee, it should take at least 20 votes to overturn a rule of the Torah.”
Now, what a strange thing for Rank to say. What could possibly have led him to believe that his colleagues would accord the same weightiness to “a rule of the Torah” as they would a decision of the law committee? That committee is, after all, composed of individuals possessing not only great expertise in Jewish law, but also in-depth knowledge of all truly relevant discplines, a partial list of which includes anthropology, psychology, history, archaeology and sociology, and surely at least a few of them speak a good (or can at least say “pass the relish” in) Ugaritic or read Syriac (airport signs) as well.
But even more importantly, these committee members are all people of exquisite ethical sensitivity, infinitely more so than the authors of Torah who (if only we could identify them precisely by name, place and era, rather than have to maddeningly refer to them as the [Ghostly] Interpolater or, worse, by those silly little letters E and D and . . . oh, you get my drift) would be shown to be not only shamelessly duplicitous fabricators of a monstrous fraud on the Jewish people, but also legislated countless laws of gross moral turpitude, which it has fallen to Conservatism to expunge, such as the ban on kohein – divorcee and mamzer – non- mamzer marriage. Don’t even mention pidyon peter chamor and Amaleik. And given that the whole homosexual issue is being presented as, first and foremost, the defining moral issue of our time, the undisputed moral superiority of contemporary Conservative clergypeople makes their decisions entirely more worthy of the twenty-vote rule than is a “rule of the Torah,” and a deeply homophobic one at that.
Besides, doesn’t Rank read his own people’s press releases? Nobody’s overturning a rule of the Torah; they’re just “reinterpreting” it, because, don’t ya see, the Torah didn’t know of monogamous homosexual relationships, didn’t know of condoms, didn’t know what a lovely city San Francisco is, didn’t know of our contemporary hateful, homophobic masses who must be silenced, didn’t know that reinterpretation was
so easy I mean, so ethically imperative, didn’t know . . . whatever. That’s not at all the same as overturning a decision of the RA Law Committee, because when those folks speak there’s no ambiguity at all, being that they’re all modern and sophisticated and open-minded and stuff. Come to think of it, the Almighty could do worse than to sit in on a session of theirs (Heaven knows He hasn’t yet); he might learn a thing or two about how to speak so people can understand you and not reinterpret what you’re trying to say even after you’ve taken pains to be crystal-clear by using scary words like to’eivah and s’kilah.
The report continues:
When the law committee convened in Maryland last week, it considered four separate legal opinions on homosexual sex, and the possibility of sanctioning gay clergy and same-sex relationships. The most liberal opinion — a wholesale rejection of the ban on homosexuality co-authored by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, a rumored candidate for the JTS post — was classified as a takanah, through the vote of a modest majority, and over the objections of its authors. . . .
A “rumored candidate for the JTS [chancellor’s] post,” eh? The very same contest from which candidates have been dropping like flies? Never mind. Truth to tell, Tucker’s no Gordy-come-lately when it comes to pro-homosexual agitation. Indeed, as far back as 1993, he wrote the following interesting line in a piece favoring legitimacy for homosexuals (emphasis mine): “… I must acnowledge at the outset that in my movement (and, I believe, in classical rabbinic Judaism generally) we have never taken ‘the Torah says so clearly’ as a final, decisive and unchallengeable argument.” Methinks that to say stuff like that, you really, truly have to believe it (or have recently smoked a fair amount of a controlled substance).
More from the Forward piece:
In the days after the law committee meeting, rabbis across the movement reacted with a mixture of befuddlement, anger and frustration. Some rabbis have said that their ignorance about the new takanah provision is emblematic of what they described as the overall secrecy surrounding the law committee’s deliberations on homosexuality. Law committee meetings generally are open to the movement’s rabbis, but not the sessions on homosexuality.
“Emblematic . . . of the overall secrecy sorrounding the law committee’s deliberations on homosexuality”? These rabbis know better than most that the secrecy isn’t limited to this issue. Non-RA rabbis, let alone laypeople, can’t even get copies of Law Committee responsa. The secrecy extends far beyond the realm of law, of course, to things like this report from the Forward in February 2005:
The departure of CFO Richard Bengloff marks the second resignation in four months of a top seminary financial officer. Longtime seminary controller S. David Shapiro abruptly resigned his post November 9, 2004, only weeks before news stories disclosed that JTS was struggling to cover tens of millions of dollars in debt borrowed from undisclosed sources. . . .
The seminary’s director of communications, Elise Dowell, declined to discuss the institution’s financial situation, or to provide the Forward with a copy of the seminary’s annual report or with any investment policy statements. She declined to discuss how the endowment is invested or whether it had grown or shrunk in recent years.
Dowell declined to address the significance of the departure of two top financial officers in such a short time frame. But a veteran faculty member, who requested anonymity, said: “There seems to be some sort of hidden smelly mess in there that is not being publicized, and the people who get too close to it don’t want to get mixed up [with it].”
This past December, Dowell confirmed that Shapiro abruptly resigned as controller November 9 to become executive director of a day school in New Jersey. She would not discuss whether Shapiro’s departure was related to the seminary’s financial crisis. . . .
JTS officials said in December that major borrowing was necessary to offset declining income from investments and donations that did not meet projections. But Schorsch, stated in his December e-mail that the school is in fine fiscal health and that a business plan was being developed to reduce the debt. “JTS is exceedingly strong financially. Our assets far exceed liabilities by many times,” wrote Schorsch. . . .
On Tuesday Dowell declined to answer questions about the seminary’s debt or its debt-reduction plan. “We have a plan in place and we are moving forward,” she said. “We are not going to go into specifics.”
Asked about JTS’s unwillingness to provide basic information, an expert on the financial practices of nonprofit institutions said, “We think a public institution owes it to its donors, the public and the press to be transparent and accountable.”
How’s that for secrecy?
Once more from the Forward‘s report:
Other rabbis have questioned whether the rule change — which was adopted after the law committee had already reopened active consideration of homosexuality — was designed to stack the deck against reform, even at the expense of undermining the movement’s historical tolerance for a diversity of opinions. . . .
Dorff said he is concerned not only about the high threshold for approving a takanah, but also by the committee’s vote to table a ruling on the homosexual opinions until December, a move he said demonstrates “more than a little political maneuvering.”
Last week’s meeting was the last one of the law committee in its current configuration because each spring five out of the 25 voting law committee members finish their terms. This year, the committee will be losing four members known for their liberal views on homosexuality, including Rabbis Ben Zion Bergman and Robert Fine, co-authors of the Tucker opinion. . . .
Some critics have asserted that several recent appointees to the committee have been particularly conservative, including Rabbi Leonard Levy, who authored one of the four decisions last week. Levy argued that homosexuality is a sickness that can be cured through therapy, according to movement insiders.
This truly takes the cake. Here we have Conservative clergyfolks who are just shocked by the “political maneuvering” and “stack[ing] the deck” taking place with respect to what presumably should be decisionmaking based purely on “halakha.”
But surely they jest. Forget about the fact that the legitimization of homosexuality they seek is the most 100% pure example of intellectually disingenuous and political agenda-driven halakhic change imaginable. Forget as well that this is the case with all halakhic change occurring within the movement, since, as Daniel Gordis, speaking for so many others, put it “both the halakhic agenda and the outcomes of halakhic discussions are now set by [the Conservative] laity.”
Yet, to all this, the aforementioned shocked clergy might respond: True it’s all a charade, but even charades have a protocol, which shouldn’t include political maneuvering and strong-arm tactics.
But then we recall that which is written in the Sefer Hazichronos about the movement’s 1983 vote to allow women’s ordination. According to JTS’ own official history, then-Chancellor Cohen was initially opposed by the Seminary’s entire Talmud faculty, but pressed forward because a Seminary-commissioned survey found the laity supported ordination; and thus he created an independent commission on the issue, half of whose members were laypeople and only one of whom was on the Talmud faculty, the better to “ram the commission’s report down the faculty’s throats.”
It is further recorded there that Joel Roth, who authored the pivotal paper supporting ordination, wrote later that “most of JTS’ world-recognized luminaries” were opposed, but that “there were strong efforts to make them kiss the papal ring and accept the decision as infallible.”
So, is it that only the liberalizers get to use strong-arm tactics, and not the traditionalists?
As for that Levy fellow, agree with him or disagree, you’ve just got to admire his guts. But what’s a “conservative” guy like him doing in this movement, anyway?
Other closely guarded secrets at JTS:
1. how many rabbis they ordain every year (very few — a tiny percentage of the number of rabbis ordained Orthodox or Lubavitch each year)
2. what percentage of their ordained rabbis are female (in recent years, a majority, heading towards a state in which the rabbinate will be considered a female profession, like nursing or social work, AND men will not go to shul — paralleling the situation in the liberal Christian denominations, where when the women take over leadership/priestly positions, the men leave in droves)
I believe that the Conservative movement also has this “2/3rds rule” when it comes to the possibility of accepting patralineal descent. This was also done to prevent the layity from forcing the issue, since anectdotal evidence seems to indicate that an overwhelming majority of Conservative layity believes in changing to accept patralineal descent, and may defacto recognize it already.
I have predicted in the past, and I find it kind of funny and kind of sad to see come true, that the C movement would recoginize gay rabbis and gay marriage before it recognized patralineal descent.
Toby, the numbers are occasionally reported. I remember a report from a few years back that JTS was ordaining (not technically the right word) about five or six people that year, and HUC-JIR a similar number. YU alone, by contrast, is ordaining 185 rabbis next week, coveringa four year period. That’s over 45 a year.
Of course, there are many reasons for this. A great many Orthodox Jews are ordained without actually going into rabbanus or chinuch. There are also less positions in the non-Orthodox world. There are less synagogues, which have low turnover, and less schools. That said, I believe the Conservative and Reform do have a problem with their low numbers. The Reform movement, for example, wants to certify their cantors as eligible to be US military chaplains. (Currently, over half the chaplains are Orthodox.)
In the past, a number of rabbis ordained at Orthodox institutions ended up in the Conservative rabbinate. Do we see this happening any more?
Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox–all of these modified versions of authentic Judaism were characterized by Rabbi Aaron Kotler, OB”M, as attempts by Jews who are ignorant of their own tradition or who feel inferior to the gentiles around them to come to terms with the “modern world” and distance themselves from “medeival” Judaism.
As our history has demonstrated, time and time again, such attempts to abandon our tradition, in whole and in part, will end in assimilation and disappearance.
The Conservative movement is grasping at straws, in an attempt to postpone the inevitable–they will not succeed.
“In the past, a number of rabbis ordained at Orthodox institutions ended up in the Conservative rabbinate. Do we see this happening any more?”
Absolutely not. If anything, you see more and more Reform and Reconstructionist ordained rabbis taking Pulpits at Conservative temples. Which is odd, because is theory, their theology should be very at odds with what Conservative Judaism says on paper, yet no one seems to bat an eye over it.
The “right wing” Conservative temple in NJ in the 1970’s used a Friday night prayer book published by Prayer Book Press including English prayer-poems by Mordecai Kaplan. Yet Kaplan had ostensibly left the Conservative movement to found Reconstructionism. Somehow, the separation between the two movements was never clear cut! A temple in Indianapolis openly and officially belongs to both movements. Considering that Reconstructionist thought at rock bottom (minus the smoke and mirrors)is atheist, how could this be?
Some statistics gleaned from the net:
In 2005, HUC-JIR (reform) ordained 10 women/17 men, from its 3 campuses in NY, CA, and OH http://www.huc.edu/newspubs/pressroom/2005/6/Ord1.shtml
JTS ordained 17 men and women combined
Couldn’t find anything for RRC (Recons), except that “more than 200” have been ordained since 1968 (about 6 a year, roughly)
Also, no numbers are given for Hebrew College’s new “transdenominational” rabbinical school.
In response to #7, the answer is on the books, dual affiliation is discouraged by the United Synagogue (CJ’s congregational arm), but in practice it gets flouted quite a bit. I have seen this in practice in IL and NJ. Clouding the issue is that I think some congregations claim dual affiliation when in fact they mean “dual practice styles” – a reform-style service Friday night and a conservative service Sat morning. If you don’t pay yer dues, you can claim pretty much whatever you want 😉
Oh yes, and in 2004, 75 rabbis were ordained in Morristown by the Rabbinical College of America (http://www.shmais.com/pages.cfm?page=archivenewsdetail&ID=13785). I’m guessing it’s a pretty representative figure for many, if not most yeshivas.
“If anything, you see more and more Reform and Reconstructionist ordained rabbis taking Pulpits at Conservative temples. Which is odd, because is theory, their theology should be very at odds with what Conservative Judaism says on paper, yet no one seems to bat an eye over it.”
Sometimes rabbis move because their theology changes. I know of one case in which a Reform-ordained rabbi got a job at a Conservative synagogue in part because Reform had moved so far to the left (and/or he had moved so far to the right) that he couldn’t find a Reform temple that would have him. (He actually believed there was such a thing as a sin — apparently this made it difficult to get a Reform job.)
‘the situation in the liberal Christian denominations’
Not just the liberals. The Salvation Army has always had large numbers of women; George Bernard Shaw even wrote a play, “Major Barbara”, whose title character is a Salvation Army minister. And the Assemblies of God sect has long had many female clergy. Today most Protestant sects have at least some female clergy.
And there are a few women who have been given private semicha as orthodox rabbis.
‘YU alone, by contrast, is ordaining 185 rabbis next week, coveringa four year period. ‘
Here is an old article from the YU Commentator that reports that for the RIETS semichah class of 2002, 24 of the 147 students who received then were pulpit rabbis — that is only six per year.
I don’t know what the stats are for the class that is getting semichah this coming Sunday, but I can’t believe that things have changed greatly in four years. Yeshivat Chovevei Torah was designed to produce pulpit rabbis — about 10 per year.
The comparison with the Rabbinical Seminary of America’s 75 rabbis/year is striking. Maybe we need more MO rabbinical schools? (Full disclosure: I work for a division of Yeshiva University.)
‘A temple in Indianapolis openly and officially belongs to both movements.’
As does the congregation Kaplan himself founded in Manhattan.
“24 of the 147 students who received then were pulpit rabbis—that is only six per year.”
One cannot simply compare “smicha” numbers. What are the musmachim doing? Sadly. there are much fewer schuls in the US than there were 56 years ago. Victor Geller did a phone book study that confirms that. Sadly with all the triumphalism written at times -less than 10% of Jews are “frum”.
I assume JTS “Rabbis” go to congregations-thats why they went there. Many musmachim of other Yeshivas went to learn.
What do you mean by this?
“And there are a few women who have been given private semicha as orthodox rabbis.”
Someone seems to have a rather elastic definition of orthodox.
Charlie, I was about to mention the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, Reconstructionism’s flagship, which is Conservative as well. Bob, remember that Kaplan stayed at JTS for many years after he founded Reconstructionism, and had a big influence on generations of Conservative rabbis.
Then again, he had a great influence on Judaism in general, including Orthodoxy, as Rabbi Schacter and Dr. Gurock have shown in their book.
Also, Charlie: RSA is Lubavitch. They are ordaining people who are becoming shlichim or are continuing to learn. It’s a somewhat different situation. I believe most yeshivas in the US (and elsewhere) don’t even give Semicha as an institution. No one gets Semicha “from Lakewood”, I think, but from a rav after learning there. The yeshivas that do give Semicha (a handful) give a relative few a year. I’d be glad if someone could correct my impression.
Finally, Hillel: Can you explain how Modern Orthodoxy is an “attempt to abandon our tradition”?
I was quoting directly from Rav Aaron Kotler, OB”M. He stated that the attempt to “Modernize” Orthodoxy stems from the same attitude that originally created the Reform movement–namely, that our tradition from Sinai is deficient and that it needs to brought up-to-date by intoducing some fashionable and trendy ideas from the “Modern” world.
Well, then, he was wrong. Or, at least, he had no idea what Modern Orthodoxy was all about.
HILLEL, RSRH first coined the term “orthodox”. He is considered the father of modern orthodoxy, which refers to an orthodoxy that is able to interact with the modern world while giving up nothing of it’s Sinaitic tradition. Thus, orthodoxy in general would really (at least most faithfully) be a term applied to RSRH’s brand of Judaism.
Anyway, I see no reason to claim the Modern orthodoxy seeks to modernize Judaism. It does not. It simply provides a framework for a faithfully torah Jew to interact with the world around us. Thus, halachos that apply to fashion (for example, wearing a hat during prayer), and are admittedly (at least by the mishna berura) subject to the vagaries of the general culture, can be changed when the general culture changes. These kinds of changes are certainly not attempts to butress our deficient sinaitic tradition. On the contrary, this attitude says that our Sinaitic tradition is Complete; it has the capacity to deal with everything, and there is no reason to arbitrarily choose one moment in general culture (say, 17th century poland) and make that a defining culture for Jews.
In conclusion, I vehemently challange your quote that places modern orthodoxy in the same camp as conservative and reform Judaism. MO does not break faith with the Laws of the torah. The others DO!
And before you say it, you don’t have to. Just because Rav Aron Kotler, OB”M said it, does not make it right. I have the highest esteem for the torah greats, and precisely because of that esteem, have no problem pointing out where they were mistaken.
The claim that RSRH coined the term “orthodox” is not only entirely untrue, but he disdained it in writing:
The German Torah Im Derech Eretz community, though now headquartered in roughly the same locale as YU, might have a word or two about the use of his name as the father of Modern Orthodoxy.
‘What do you mean by this?’
Just a statement of fact: Some orthodox rabbis have given women private semicha.
‘there are much fewer schuls in the US than there were 56 years ago’
The destruction of the Jewish community in the Bronx is alone sufficient to make that a true statement. See http://www.bronxsynagogues.org and cry.
‘I was quoting directly from Rav Aaron Kotler’
WADR to Rav Kotler, there have been Orthodox communities in the United States since early colonial times, and the hashgafa of almost all of them until World War II was what would today be called “Modern Orthodox”. If you read the their correspondence, their archives, their struggles to maintain observance despite the complete lack of support from the Rabbinate of Europe for almost 200 years, you will see that they desired to be a full part of the gentile society around them yet did not feel that there were any deficiencies in the Sinai tradition.
I’m overwhelmed. So, I guess I’ll answer my critics by simply stating that hyphenated Judaism, of any type, is an oxymoron.
There is only one Jewish tradition (Mesorah), handed-down faithfully from Sinai, by our great Torah leaders.
If we break this chain of Mesorah, we are cut-off from Sinai, and we will quickly disappear amongst the nations that surround us, as the Reform and Conservative are now doing.
Yakov, I stand corrected. I did not really mean what I wrote. What I meant was that the German Reformers were the ones who coined the phrase “orthodox” as a disparaging way to refer to jews who kept the “old” way. Rav Hirsch picked up on the phrase and said, “yes, we are ortho=straight, true, dox=doctrine”, ie, we do have the truth. That is what I meant. As for the Jews of the Torah Im Derech Eretz community, they can have many words about it, but the fact stands that Rav hirsch was the father of the movement to allow complete observance of mitzvos to meet and embrace the modern world. Sure, there are people who call themselves MO who do not live up to that standard, but there are also charedim who do not live up to that standard. Point is, the cream of MO crop is in line with RSRH. Either way, it is a far cry from anyone to put MO in a group with reform and conservative, for the reason I already mentioned: One keeps the torah, the others don’t.
There is only one Jewish tradition (Mesorah), handed-down faithfully from Sinai, by our great Torah leaders.
Only one? So who has it? Satmar? Lubovitch? YU? Chardal? Mafdal? Yeshivish people? I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Hillel: I’m overwhelmed. So, I guess I’ll answer my critics by simply stating that hyphenated Judaism, of any type, is an oxymoron.
There is only one Jewish tradition (Mesorah), handed-down faithfully from Sinai, by our great Torah leaders.
Ori: Is there anything inherently wrong with Ashkenazik-Judaism or Sepharadic-Judaism (note the hyphens)? If there is truly only one Mesorah about everything, then either the two are identical (they aren’t) or one of them is not truly Jewish.
To take it back in time, the sages of the Talmud often said that the sages in “the west” (= Israel) held particular opinions, which they sometimes disagreed with. Were the Talmudic sages not faithfully Jewish? Or were their contemporaries in Israel the ones who were not faithful to Judaism?
Not everything is Judaism. Not everything done by Jews in Judaism. But that does not mean that anybody who does not follow a particular Torah leader is not acting as a Jew should. Judaism does not have a central authority, the way Catholicism does.
22 b Adar
The secular Israeli newspaper Haaretz.com wrote about the COnservative rabbis’ conference in Mexico City this week.One rabbi is proud that they have eliminated the Torah reading for Yom Kippur because it isn’t PC. See the article “Conservative rabbis to weigh end to ban on gay rabbis” which states that:
“Rabbi Alan Cohen of Overland Park, Kansas, said his synagogue, in a show of sensitivity to gays, years ago replaced a traditional Bible reading on the afternoon of the Yom Kippur Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year.His congregation dropped the reading that included Leviticus 18:22, which says: ‘Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.'”
There is a major difference between Sefardi-Judaism, which is one way of practicing Judaism, and what some people have made of Modern-Orthodoxy, which (for some people) is a combination of Modern values and Orthodox values. The truth is, none of those people are actually following modern orthodoxy. Modern Orthodoxy is the belief that living in the modern world does not in any way contradict living a Torah life. The Mesorah itself gives us rules for how, and how not, to live in today’s world.
That said, there are a good number of people who do practice the wrong kind of modern orthodoxy, the kind that involves a balance between modern values and Torah values. These are the people who mislead the Chareidi community to think that’s what MO is about.
In regard to R’ Aharon Kotler, OB”M, it is also important to keep in mind that Modern Orthodoxy as a philosophy and as it was practiced in the forties and fifties are two very different things.
Charles B. Hall,
When you write “Just a statement of fact: Some orthodox rabbis have given women private semicha.”
1. By what definition are such rabbis orthodox? Are you referring to their training or to their affiliation when they took this action?
2. By what definition have such women been given semicha?
3. Which, if any, rabbinic organizations have endorsed any of these attempts at semicha before or after the fact? Which, if any, have expressed disapproval before or after?
“Only one? So who has it? Satmar? Lubovitch? YU? Chardal? Mafdal? Yeshivish people?”
Well, Daniel Weltman put it somewhat better in #19 than I did, I suppose.
R’ Menken: True about the current Hirschian community. On the other hand, it can be correctly argued that they’ve strayed somewhat from his vision as well.
Dr. Hall (and others): You might also point out that R’ Kotler’s “version” of Judaism is also of relatively recent vintage. Most if not all current forms of Judaism are. Moshe Rabbenu was neither “Modern Orthodox” nor “Charedi”.
Bob Miller: It can be a bit complicated. So let me ask you this: A woman learns all of the things a man does to gain semicha. She doesn’t get it. What’s her status? Would you ask her if a chicken is kosher? Could you?
22 bAdar Re the percentage of women studying to be rabbis in heterodox movements. The March 2006 issue of Hadassah magazine http://www.hadassah.org has 2 articles on women rabbis with the following numbers on p.30 (I am not vouching for the reliability):”more than a third of current students at Conservative JTS are female (up from 5 percent in 1985), as are 60 percent of current class at Reform HUC-JIR in NY and two-thirds of those in Philadelphia’s Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.” A Reform male rabbi told me the percent of men in rabbinical schools increases when the general job market is tight. When it’s hard for men to find work in other professions, they turn as a last resort to the rabbinical schools.
“The German Torah Im Derech Eretz community, though now headquartered in roughly the same locale as YU, might have a word or two about the use of his name as the father of Modern Orthodoxy.”
It is an open question how much they have strayed from a Hirschian approach to a “Yekke Litvash approach” The question goes back to at least when they hired R. Shimon Schwab ZT”L. R. Shimon Schwab went to Litvish Yeshiva. See the recent Jewish Observor where yjey print letters of R. Gifter ZT”L writing from Tels-in the 30’s refers to Rav Schwab as the only Ferman who follows proper approach the Litvish approach.
Charles Hall – I take it you are referring Mimi Feigelson, who announced her smicha well after the rabbi in question passed on, and Evelyn Goodman-Thau, who claims ordination from Rabbi Jonathan Chipman? Both of whom are now throughly enconsced in non-Orthodox Jewish settings, except when trotted out by JOFA as needed?
Anybody can ask anybody for advice, but psak falls into another category. You may get an indication from an educated Jew that the chicken you bought is or is not kosher, but you still need to consult with a posek to get a decision you can act on.
However, if the advisor is falsely posing as a rabbi, that makes any input from that advisor problematical, as it puts the advisor’s veracity and character into question.
Very good questions!–So, let me attempt a clarification.
There is only one true Mesorah tradition from Sinai. In the Pirkei Avos (Chapters of the Fathers), this line of traditon is specified clearly as being in the hands of the leading sages of each generation.
When the Jewish People were sent into exile after the destruction of the Temple, different practices arose in different areas of the world, mainly Sefardi and Ashkenazi. Both practices are accounted-for in the Shulchan Aruch. Both traditions are loyal to the Torah, without question–the differences are relatively minor.
However, we have periodically suffered from Jews who have sought to imitate the gentile cultures around them–Karaites, Saducees, Hellenizers, Maskilim, Reform and Conservative Jews. The defining characteristic of these heretics is that they suffer from an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the majority gentile culture that surrounds them. To make themselves feel better, they seek to integrate these gentile ideals into their version of Judaism, thereby compromising Torah standards.
Rav Kotler was describing these kinds of heretics when he spoke about “Modern Orthodoxy.”
Rav Kotler was not referring to Jewish professionals, who strictly observe Torah traditions according to the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). Rav Kotler fully-supported Agudas Yisroel, which, as you know, has a very large membership of Jewish professionals.
Hillel, I would just correct your last post by saying that the defining characteristic of these heretics is not that they suffer from an inferiority complex, etc. That may be a commonality, but it is not the defining one. The defining characteristic is their response, which is to change, or modify, the teachings of rabbinic, or orthodox, judaism, in order to allow themselves to remain true to some aspects of their faith, while at the same time allowing them to try and enter that gentile culture wholeheartedly. This, MO does not do, at least in theory, and the way it is practiced by many.
Hillel, did the Rambam “suffer from an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the majority gentile culture that surrounded him”? Did Rav Hirsch? Did Rav Soloveitchik?
Are Jews to whom modernity means far more than “being a professional” able to “strictly observe Torah traditions according to the Shulchan Aruch”? Does R’ Norman Lamm, who is not a “professional” but a Rav and Rosh Yeshiva?
“In the Pirkei Avos (Chapters of the Fathers), this line of traditon is specified clearly as being in the hands of the leading sages of each generation.”
Where does it say that? Read what it says. In any event, Pirkei Avos is speaking of halacha- of Torah Shel B’al Peh. Not whether secular studies is permissible, or whether black hats need be worn.
Again, I’m not saying the Rambam was “Modern Orthodox.” Try the following sentence:
“____-Orthodoxy was created in the 1970’s or at the earliest the 1960’s. It is based on certain ideas and institutions going back to the 1920’s. It draws inspiration from Jewish ideas of the 1800’s, 1700’s, the middle ages, and as far back as the Talmud.”
You can stick “ultra” or “modern” into the blank. Neither goes back to Moshe at Har Sinai.
Does anyone think that the seemingly endless stream of ridicule and sarcasm, directed on this blog against practitioners and leaders of the non-Orthodox denominations, will bring even a single Jew closer to Torah observance? Is the successful practice of “kiruv rechokim” (Jewish outreach) furthered or hindered by these relentless attacks on other well-meaning-if-misguided Jews? When one feels compelled to expend so much energy expressing his animosity to others, is it not reasonable to suppose that he is simply masking an internal sense of inadequacy or jealousy?
Do you believe that the charges made are not true, or just not useful?
If you felt deeply that your religion was being publically falsified, sabotaged, and demeaned in an organized way, with or without bad intent, what would you do?
My defense of authentic Jewish tradition was not intended as an attack on you or any other Jew–our tradition demands Ahavat Yisroel (love of our fellow Jews).
The issue is physical survival and honoring our obligations to G-D, which we undertook at Sinai.
Kiruv of alienated Jews is not promoted by watering-down authentic Judaism with an admixture of Darwin, Marx and Freud. We will bring our brothers back from the wasteland of modern life only by showing the true beauty of real Torah Judaism–Shabbat, Yom-Tov, and spiritual purity.
In my comment (no. 39, above), I was speaking in terms of tactics and in the belief that (1) authentic Judaism can stand on its own, without the need to resort to vilification of other Jews, and (2) productive dialogue is best centered not around personalities but around issues. These beliefs have been solidified through years of engagement in kiruv rechokim, both in professional settings and on a personal level.
Following are some examples of sarcastic, mean-spirited and/or polemical comments made on this blog that I believe are unproductive (or worse) if our goal is to truly present the beauty of Torah to our fellow Jews. Does any one of these comments truly exemplify the Ahavat Yisroel that Hillel (comment 41, above) acknowledges as being incumbent upon each of us:
“That [Conservative rabbinical] committee is, after all, composed of individuals possessing not only great expertise in Jewish law, but also in-depth knowledge of all truly relevant disciplines, a partial list of which includes anthropology, psychology, history, archaeology and sociology, and surely at least a few of them speak a good (or can at least say “pass the relish” in) Ugaritic or read Syriac (airport signs) as well … But even more importantly, these committee members are all people of exquisite ethical sensitivity, infinitely more so than the authors of Torah …”
“He actually believed there was such a thing as a sin—apparently this made it difficult to get a Reform job.”
“A Reform male rabbi told me the percent of men in rabbinical schools increases when the general job market is tight. When it’s hard for men to find work in other professions, they turn as a last resort to the rabbinical schools.”
” … Reform and Conservative Jews. The defining characteristic of these heretics is that they suffer from an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the majority gentile culture that surrounds them.”
“I cannot help thinking that both the Conservative movement and Hamas are bent on destroying things sacred to Jews: the Conservative ideology is destroying Jewish law, and Hamas is bent on destroying the Jewish state.”
“I can’t wait for the bestiality vote. That’ll be a fun one to watch. After all, the torah says all kinds of things about being kind and loving toward animals. That should be a slam dunk.”
“The tragedy here is that the Conservative experts are not knowledgeable enough in Torah to even recognize the right thing. They are spinning their wheels until they identify the most expedient decision.”
‘Nuff said, at least for now. Our Jewish people await our better efforts.
As the author of one of those comments, I feel obliged to respond to your assertions.
Certainly, if one is addressing a secular Jewish crowd, these comments would not be helpful at all. If one however, is addressing a crowd that understands why these movements are flawed, there is no reason not to do so. In fact, it can be most enlightening and helpful in illustrating why we hold so fiercely to our principles. I’d like to believe that this blog primarily addresses Jews of that order and I believe the tone of many of the articles written by our bloggers reflects this as well. Rabbi’s Feldman, Adlerstein, Menken, etc. all have written pieces dissecting the ReCon movements. Our comments reflect those sentiments.
You may be correct in worrying that to a secular these comments will be unhelpful and therefore question the very premise of the blog [I actually wonder that as well] but so long as it exists, I think we should make our point clear as day. Couching our distaste for the falsification of Judaism in politically correct terms will serve absolutely no useful purpose at all.
I’m sorry, sometimes tough love is required, and that is true Ahavat Yisroel.
When our Conservative brethern delete required Torah readings from the Yom Kippur service (Leviticus/Homosexuality punishment) in order to cater to the current politically-correct fashions, we must tell it like it is and say that they are exhibiting the signs of a classic inferiority complex.
If they were proud and confident of the validity of their Torah traditions, which were handed-down to then directly from G-D at Sinai, they wouldn’t dream of making such a cowardly deletion.
“The tragedy here is that the Conservative experts are not knowledgeable enough in Torah to even recognize the right thing. They are spinning their wheels until they identify the most expedient decision.”
I stand by this 100%.
For the record, I disagree with Edvallace. We have a varied audience, and that’s the way we want it. Yes, there are readers of Cross-Currents attending Conservative Jewish congregations. We see no reason to avoid discussing ways in which they are being failed by their leadership.
If one goes over Larry’s quotes, none of those which speak about “Conservatives” or “Conservative Jews” come from our writers, and with good reason. We know the difference between the laity and the Rabbinate. The fact that the level of vitriol aimed at Orthodox Jews (not merely its Rabbinate) by Reform and Conservative leaders is incomparably more vicious, is not even the point.
Comment #1 is from Eytan. Conservative leaders do believe they can make more knowledgeable Torah decisions because they can balance Torah with anthropology and psychology — “there was no such thing as a monogamous homosexual relationship then.” Yes, we think that is ridiculous (an adjective which means “deserving or inspiring ridicule“).
Comment #2 is actually not from one of our writers, but is quite similar to #3 from Shira Schmidt — these are recollections of statements made by the Reform Rabbis in question. So Larry is saying that we can’t quote Reform self-criticism? Is that because it is “mean-spirited” or because it is “polemical?”
We do not believe the modern movements are a long-term success. Not long ago, I said that “history demonstrates that resistance to conversion and opposition to intermarriage serves the Jewish people well.” A comment in response called this “nonsense.”
There are still people out there who beleive the Reform and Conservative rabbinates have their act together. It behooves us to point out that this is not the case, even with mild sarcasm.
I agree with Larry.
– To protest so vigorously against these “aberrant” causes is to accord the very esteem we would wish to withold.
– The degree to we object should be commensurate with the degree of impact the objectionable activity has. No one with whom I have debated this point has argued that there is an actual threat posed by Conservative and Reform. The argument invariably is that we need to fight for the truth, for (literally) g-d’s sake!
– This is all based on a lot of confidence about what g-d wants from us. I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that Rabbis Kanievsky or Elyashiv are OK with us NOT making a mecha’ah here. I would actually be surprised to find out that these “problems” are on their radar screen
– Absent a constructive purpose, we should feel safe sticking with a default of ahavas yisroel, with everything else needing an airtight cost/benefit analysis (i.e. heter). I can’t imagine getting blamed for such a stance when it really counts.
“It behooves us to point out that this is not the case, even with mild sarcasm.”
Is mild sarcasm ever OK when it comes to pointing out gaps in orthodoxy?
Rabbi Menken states (in comment no. 46, above) that “the level of vitriol aimed at Orthodox Jews (not merely its Rabbinate) by Reform and Conservative leaders is incomparably more vicious” than the level of anti-Conservative diatribe on this blog. I have not found this to be the case; indeed, in my many dealings with leaders and rabbis of the non-Orthodox movements, I have rarely witnessed or experienced any anti-Orthodox animus. Could you give some examples or links to examples?
Larry, see here and here. That latter essay, from the then-head of the Reform movement’s association of rabbis, won an award from the American Jewish Press Association for “Excellence in Commentary.” I doubt you’ll need further proof of the attitude of non-Orthodox clergy or press.
“Larry, see here…”
I haven’t heard this expression in years
JO, are you a Larry, too?
Here is a perfect illustration of the kind of Modern Orthodoxy that I, and every other G-D-fearing Jew, can endorse:
Regarding the point made by Rabbi Menken to Larry concerning the question of the comparable viciousness of the non-Orthodox towards the Orthodox vs. the animus of the Orthodox towards the rest of Judaism–I must agree with Rabbi Menken and I am not in the Orthodox world.
The point needs to be made that simply because some other group or person is more negative–this is no opportunity to respond in kind. I would like to see all Jews to act in lovingkindness towards each other. It is truly disheartening to hear some Reform and Conservative Jews speak with such vitriol. When I call them down for such sentiments, the response is often 1) apology followed by 2) more vitriol. Then, when I complain that the apology appears to be half-hearted, sometimes there is no acknowledgement,sometimes there is denial and sometimes the person can be reached.
Bob said: “JO, are you a Larry, too?”
I don’t understand the question
“‘Larry, see here…’ I haven’t heard this expression in years”
So I was wondering if he had heard “Larry, see here” from people talking to him.
“So I was wondering if he had heard “Larry, see here” from people talking to him.”
ah! now I get it! no, I am an Aaron. So Bob, what is your charedi name?
In Hebrew, I’m Yitzchak Avraham. Our family took the name Miller somewhere around 1800 (this was an older brother of the B’nai Yissaschar)