Modern Orthodoxy Can Do Better
As the demographic ground beneath the feet of American Jews continues to shift, old denominational definitions and self-understandings change as well. Dr. Baruch Brody offers a fresh approach to demarcating Modern Orthodoxy’s territory in the current issue of Hakira (Volume 17; Summer 2014). While his essay is a fascinating read that shows much thought and passion, it is a disappointment to those of us who want to see Modern Orthodoxy (MO) succeed, whether we fully identify with that community or not.
Future historians may very well divide American Jewish time into two eras: BP and AP, or Before Pew and After Pew. At least so it seems for some of us in the Orthodox world, who had long been making claims about where we were all going that were roundly ignored or rejected – till Pew. During the decades of the Orthodox renaissance after the Holocaust, we argued that time was on our side. Orthodoxy may have been treated condescendingly as the benighted step-child of the real Jews, but we knew better. All forms of Judaism not based on halachic commitment would prove unsustainable, we predicted, while Orthodoxy would grow and flourish. After Pew, more people are at least examining that possibility, if not begrudgingly conceding it, especially faced with the stunning (to them) evidence that Orthodoxy was already the largest denomination for younger Jews.
The demise of the Conservative movement was acknowledged by many insiders after Pew. (Interestingly, some who eulogized the denomination found solace in their finding that its kernel ideas had taken up residence elsewhere. Old Conservatism was not really dead. It had been reincarnated in Open Orthodoxy – an idea not unfamiliar to readers of Cross-Currents.)
Many factors contributed to the decline and fall of Conservatism was. Lack of a clear mission statement and definition surely contributed.
In 1988, a consortium of Conservative groups released Emet Ve-Emunah, a modest pamphlet that was supposed to finally tell everyone what Conservative Jews believed and practiced. The foreword admitted that “our avoidance of self-definition has resulted in a lack of self-confidence on the part of Conservative Jews, who are unable to tell others, let alone themselves, what Conservative Judaism stands for.” Despite that realization, Emet Ve-Emunah only added to the confusion, as every issue it touched on read something like, “Some of us believe…while others believe…and still others take a different point of view.”
Without referring to the Conservative essay, Dr. Brody sees a similar problem with contemporary MO:
When one looks at proposed definitions of this movement, they seem to be most unsatisfactory. Some definitions (e.g. they are Orthodox Jews who are less observant), are just insulting as a definition, even if often true in practice. Other definitions (e.g. Modern Orthodox Jews are those who are active in the secular modern world) neither distinguish the MO from many haredi Orthodox Jews who are equally active….This lack of a good definition may simply reflect the indifference to ideology among many Modern Orthodox Jews. My impression is that many have adopted MO as a comfortable way of living….But can you transmit to a future generation a desire to be part of a movement when you can’t even tell them what the movement stands for? I cannot prove this but I supect that the much discussed drift to the right in Orthodoxy…results from a lack of understanding of what MO is.
Brody sets out to help us understand. Armed with serious credentials in philosophy as well as medicine, he offers a bold, new definition that is simple, and elegant, and stands up to the criticism to which he subjects it. The Modern Orthodox Jew, says Dr. Brody, is one who also accepts pro tanto the values and teachings of modernity. (He immediately addresses the concerns of those of us who are Latin-challenged, by telling us in a footnote that a pro tanto belief is one that may be overridden by other stronger considerations. This is a crucial point for Brody, as he is certainly not willing to allow the values of modernity to trump clear halacha, and similarly uneasy when those values collide with other forms of traditional thinking. He spends considerable space in the essay offering different strategies of dealing with such conflicts.)
Dr. Brody then takes us on a tour of Western thought since the Renaissance, and culls twelve values that he takes as achievements of modernity that MO should embrace. Briefly, they are: 1) the value of human worth and dignity, and of human individuality; 2) the value of beauty for its own sake; 3) the value of individual conscience in interpreting G-d’s law; 4) the value of toleration (? respect) of diversity; 5) the value of inquiry even into long-established truths; 6) the tentative acceptance of the results of scientific inquiry as true; 7) the value of reason; 8) the belief in cumulative human progress; 9) the rule of law, derived from the consent of the governed that binds all citizens equally; 10) the principle of fundamental human rights held equally by all; 11) the values of liberty, equality and fraternity; 12) the importance of nationality.
Brody fleshes out each of these values, and why MO should look kindly upon each one. I could imagine that this list might some day become the Brody Test of progressive thinking, scoring people on a scale of zero to twelve. (I find some truth in most of the values, while emphatically rejecting only one. Dr. Brody amplifies item #3 with these words: “Modern Orthodox Jews should consult sacred texts to find answers to their questions. To the extent that they feel the need, they should consult the experts on the texts….The common strategy of adopting a single expert authority as one’s authority and following their views in all cases seems to me to be an abdication of individual responsibility.” To me it seems that failure to recognize the need to submit to those who are greater talmidei chachamim runs afoul of many passages in Shas and poskim.)
I will leave to others the task of weighing and analyzing each of the values, and content myself with one, overarching objection. Brody’s embrace of modernity is conclusory. He offers no reason to accept those values other than that they have become accepted by a host of people over the last centuries. Dr. Brody may feel in his bones that the values of modernity are positive and ennobling. But is that feeling a sufficient basis for a Torah movement? Why these values? How many other values in human civilization have come and gone? Accepting this list is inherently self-referential, particularly to values 3, 7, and 8. In other words, without accepting some of those values a priori, there is nothing to recommend the list – other than personal preference. We should want, I would think, evidence from within the corpus of Torah literature that these values would be important to a Torah Jew had Western civilization never gotten around to thinking of them.
Perhaps a better way of putting it is that most of us have become accustomed (and that is a good thing!) to wanting firm evidence that a Torah value emanates from Torah itself, rather than from elsewhere.
That includes some of the figures often pointed to as forerunners and architects of MO.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch summed up much of his methodology in explaining mitzvos in the phrase Judaism “aus sich selber heraus,” a Judaism that emerges inexorably from its own sources. He insisted on accepting only such explanations that grew organically from the entire corpus of halacha, including (and in this he took exception to the Rambam in the Moreh) its details. He also famously wrote that קבעת עתים לתורה should be understood as, “Did you set the values of the time to the Torah, or did you make the Torah fit into the times?” Applied to our question, this would translate as “Did you make your modern values submit to the scrutiny and limitation of the Torah, or did you insist that the Torah conform to your modern values?”
Rav Kook in several places (e.g. Olat Rayah, pg.287 s.v. matzah) stresses that the development of the Jewish people must take place in a cultural vacuum, determined only by its predilection for divinity, without the admixture of any foreign component.
It might very well be that Dr Brody or others can support some of the values on his list with compelling Torah arguments. That is not, however, the tack that he takes in this essay. Pew should have convinced us of the staying-power of Judaism that is seen by its adherents as authentic, and not just the dressing up of a contemporary zeitgeist in biblical or rabbinic language. Without making the case of inherent Torah support for his list of values, Dr. Brody’s MO will not appeal to young people as any more authentic than a dozen other failed experiments with “Torah and X.”
The apparent demise of older definitions of MO is telling. Not so long ago, for example, many people defined MO as, in principle, no different from Orthodoxy to its right, save in two regards. MO embraced the State of Israel unambiguously, and celebrated a certain amount of secular acculturation. I am not sure when and why those definitions ceased to be accurate and relevant. It seems to me that Brody is intent in coming up with a definition that quite clearly displays the difference between MO and haredi Judaism, something he insists upon in several places in the essay. (Reasonable people can disagree about his contrast of his Modern Orthodox values and their purported rejection by haredim. I believe that he seriously overstates the contrast.) The old definitions don’t yield that contrast anymore, because too many on the right of the Modern Orthodoxy world act and think similarly to those on the haredi left. (Or, if an old thesis of mine is correct, a new middle is opening up that is inviting to both of those groups. In fact, Jack Wertheimer offers a similar analysis in an August essay in Mosaic. It would thus be more accurate to see the so-called “slide to the right” as a matter less of massive defections to the haredi camp than of a shift within Modern Orthodoxy, led in this instance by those inclined to adopt aspects of haredi life while remaining nominally Modern Orthodox.
Modern Orthodoxy has a proud past, and deserves an honorable place in the future. It offers a place of refuge for those for whom some of the extremes of haredi Orthodoxy are inappropriate. Dr. Brody’s definition – as it currently stands – will not be able to deliver a position of consistency and importance.
>Rav Kook in several places (e.g. Olat Rayah, pg.287 s.v. matzah) stresses that the development of the Jewish people must take place in a cultural vacuum, determined only by its predilection for divinity, without the admixture of any foreign component.
This is an incomplete view of R’ Kook’s position on the matter. Rather he allows (demands?) for the admixture of foreign components into the kodesh as long as this is done from a position of spiritual strength. Specifically, a Jewish nation and society in its own land (so your sources may well represent his position regarding communities in the exile). Further, he makes a distinction between inner knowledge and outer knowledge, where there is a core of inner knowledge that can only flow from Knesset Yisrael outwards, but outer knowledge (and there are areas of Torah which R’ Kook includes in this category) are subject to outside influence. Overall, for Rav Kook, Torat Eretz Yisrael allows for a greater engagement with universal knowledge and influence, it is only in the narrow confines of Torat Hutz LaAretz that extra precautions are needed to isolate Jewish thought from the majority foreign influence.
אורות ישראל ה, ב
צְדָקָה עָשָׂה הַקָּדוֹשׁ-בָּרוּךְ-הוּא עִם עוֹלָמוֹ, מַה שֶּׁלּא נָתַן כָּל הַכִּשְׁרונוֹת בְּמָקוֹם אֶחָד, לֹא בְּאִישׁ אֶחָד וְלֹא בְּעַם אֶחָד, לֹא בְּאֶרֶץ אַחַת, לֹא בְּדוֹר אֶחָד וְלֹא בְּעוֹלָם אֶחָד, כִּי-אִם מְפֻזָּרִים הֵם הַכִּשְׁרוֹנוֹת, וְהֶכְרַח הַשְּׁלֵמוּת, שֶׁהוּא כֹּחַ הַמּוֹשֵׁךְ הַיּוֹתֵר אִידֵאָלִי, הוּא הַגּוֹרֵם לְהִמָּשֵׁךְ אַחֲרֵי הָאַחְדוּת* הַמְרוֹמָמָה, הַמֻּכְרַחַת לָבוֹא בָּעוֹלָם, וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא – יִהְיֶה ד’ אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד (זכריה יד, ט).
אוֹצַר סְגֻלַּת עוֹלָמִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא גָּנוּז. אֲבָל כְּדֵי לְאַחֵד בְּמוּבָן כְּלָלִי גַּם-כֵּן אֶת הָעוֹלָם עִמָּם מֻכְרָחִים צְדְדֵי כִּשְׁרוֹנוֹת מְיֻחָדִים לִהְיוֹת חֲסֵרִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, כְּדֵי שֶׁיֻּשְׁלְמוּ עַל-יְדֵי הָעוֹלָם, וְכָל נְדִיבֵי עַמִּים.
וּבָזֶה יֵשׁ מָקוֹם לַקַּבָּלָה שֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל מְקַבֵּל מֵהָעוֹלָם, וּמִמֵּילָא פְּנוּיָה הִיא הַדֶּרֶךְ* כְּלַפֵּי הַהַשְׁפָּעָה, אֶלָּא שֶׁהַקַּבָּלָה הִיא מִבַּחוּץ וְהַהַשְׁפָּעָה מִבִּפְנִים, כְּלוֹמַר פְּנִימִיּוּת הַחַיִּים שְׁלֵמָה הִיא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּאֵין צֹרֶךְ לְהֵעָזֵר מִשּׁוּם כֹּחַ זָר בָּעוֹלָם, וְכָל שִׁלְטוֹן-מִשְׂרָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל מִקֶּרֶב פְּנִימִיּוּת הַחַיִּים הוּא נוֹבֵעַ, “מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ – מִמֻּבְחָר שֶׁבְּאַחֶיךָ” (בבא קמא פח.; ספרי דברים, שופטים קנז). וּלְחִיצוֹנִיּוּת הַחַיִּים מִזְדַּמֵּן שֶׁצָּרִיךְ הַשְׁלָמָה דַּוְקָא מִבַּחוּץ, “יָפְיְפוּתוֹ שֶׁל יֶפֶת בְּאָהֳלֵי שֵׁם” (מגילה ט:), “חֵיל גּוֹיִם תֹּאכֵלוּ וּבִכְבוֹדָם תִּתְיַמָּרוּ” (ישעיה סא, ו), וּמִשֶּׁפַע פְּנִימִיּוּת הַחַיִּים כְּנֶסֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל הִיא רַק מַשְׁפַּעַת וְלֹא מְקַבֶּלֶת, ד’ בָּדָד יַנְחֶנּוּ וְאֵין עִמּוֹ אֵל נֵכָר (דברים לב, יב).
שמונה קבצים – קובץ ז סב
כשההתגלות של העולם המפורד מתגברת על ההתגלות העליונה של העולם המאוחד, החומריות מתגברת על הרוחניות, והתאוות הגופניות עומדות הן אז בשורה הראשונה של תכנית החיים, ואפלת העולם רבה היא וכשההשקפה של העולם האחדותי מתגברת, אז התשוקות הרוחניות וכל השאיפות העדינות מתגברות, והעולם הולך הלוך ואור. אוירא דארץ ישראל הוא המחכים, הנותן הארה בנשמה להשכיל את היסוד של העולם המאוחד. בארץ ישראל יונקים מאור החכמה הישראלית, ממהות החיים הרוחניים המיוחדים לישראל, מהשקפת העולם והחיים הישראליים, שהיא ביסודה ההתגברות של העולם המאוחד על העולם המפורד. וזהו היסוד של ביטול עבודה זרה וכל שאיפותיה וסעיפיה. בארץ העמים הטמאה אי אפשר להשקפת העולם המאוחד להגלות, והעולם המפורד שולט. בחזקה, והשקפתו הפרטית והמפורדה, המחולקה ומנוכרה, היא הרודה בכל מערכי החיים, ועם כל ההתאמצות לנשום נשימה ישראלית ולהשכיל אל הסוד של העולם האחדותי, אויר ארץ העמים מעכב. על כן מלאה היא האדמה הטמאה שבחוץ לארץ מסרחון עבודת זרה, וישראל שבחוץ לארץ עובדי עבודה זרה בטהרה הם. ואין דרך להנצל מחרפת עבודה זרה כי אם בכינוסן של ישראל לארץ ישראל, לתת לכם את ארץ כנען להיות לכם לאלהים. מסוגלת היא ארעא דחשוכא לפלפול הפרטים, הבא מתוך הפרוד, אבל חכמת האורה רק בארץ האור נמצאת, אין תורה כתורת ארץ ישראל.
אגרות ראי”ה אגרת צ”ו
הבדל עצום ונשגב בין תורת א”י לתורת חו”ל. בא”י שפע רוח הקדש מתפרץ לחול על כל ת”ח שמבקש ללמוד תורה לשמה, וק”ו על קיבוץ של ת”ח, והרוח הכללי, השופע בנועם והולך ומתפשט, הוא הרודד את הפרטים, הוא המרחיב את ההלכות, הכל מלמעלה למטה. מה שא”כ בחו”ל. רוח כללי קדוש א”א לשאוף באויר טמא ועל אדמה טמאה. אלא כל פרט ופרט מן התורה מעלה איזה ניצוץ, איזו הארה, להתקרב אל רוח אלקים חיים, השוכן על עמו פה בארץ חיים. “על הגאולה זה תלמוד ירושלמי ועל התמורה זה תלמוד בבלי” (זוהר חדש רות).
הידיעה הזאת היא מאירה נתיבות גם על מהות הלמוד בכלל, גם על סדריו, גם על סדר העבודה השלמה הראוי’ לבחירי יחידי סגולת ת”ח במקום אורו של עולם, גם על עצם תכנם של עצמיות הסברות, ההויות, החדושים והפלפולים. “עתידין בכ”נ ובמ”ד שבחו”ל שיקבעו בא”י”. אנחנו יכולים להמשיך טל אורות של אויר ארץ חמדה באופן כ”כ נוזל ושופע, באופן כ”כ מעדן ומקדש כל רוח ונפש וכל קרב וכליות, עד שילך עמנו אור הבבלי להתאחד עם התלמוד הירושלמי ויחדיו יאירו באור שבעתים. ואל זה אנחנו צריכים לשאוף. לא לעזות יחשב לנו, כי “חביבה כת קטנה שבא”י מסנהדרי גדולה שבחו”ל”. יסוד הגלות והשפלות הנמשך בעולם בא רק ממה שאין מודיעים את א”י, את ערכה וחכמתה, ואין מתקנים את חטא המרגלים שהוציאו דבה על הארץ, בתשובת המשקל: להגיד ולבשר בעולם כלו הודה והדרה, קדושתה וכבודה, והלואי שנזכה אחרי כל ההפלגות כולן, מצדנו, להביע אף חלק אחד מרבבה מחמדת ארץ חמדה ומהדרת אור תורתה ועלוי אור חכמתה ורוח הקדש המתנוסס בקרבה. מובן שבכל דבר שבקדושה, וכמ”כ בחול, ישנן מעלות ומדרגות. ו”כ”א נכוה מחופתו של חברו”. אבל זה המין של האור והעדן של הקדושה הנמצא בא”י לת”ח מבקשי ד’, איננו נמצא כלל בחו”ל. ואנכי הנני בזה יודע ועד, כפי קטני.
[YA – Perhaps what I presented was incomplete, but it remains virtually unaffected by the citations you’ve shared. (And thank you for that. They are beautiful!
1) MO IS a chutz-la’aretz phenomenon. It is quite distinct from your DL world – one in which Dr Brody’s definition would not make it to a list of the Top Ten Tentative Defs of DL.
2) R Kook speaks of a shefa of the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael, working its way through talmidei chachamim (and more importantly, a consensus of talmidei chachamim). Not exactly the process we are looking at in the Brody proposal
3) R Kook owns up to the corrosive power of an upwelling of gashmius. Should we start a new thread on how that effects thought here – whether in the MO community or the haredi?]
In response to your main objection, it seems to me that every one of these twelve values can be supported, to one extent or another, with statements in Tanach, Chazal, and/or Rishonim. We can quibble over details, argue over the word “extent,” and, of course, point to opinions that say the opposite and those who have practiced the opposite (of course, the fact that they’ve become so widely accepted may be seen as “proof” that they are the correct side of the argument, but that’s a bit dangerous), but I don’t think you can argue that any of these don’t have at least some basis in Jewish tradition.
As to your “previous” Modern Orthodoxy, I don’t see how it’s too different from this one. Both accepting a (secular-founded and run) State of Israel and secular culture and education fit very well into Brody’s overall definition.
[YA – I’m sure some can be supported. I said as much. But that was not part of Dr Brody’s article, nor part of the definition. If MO should be defined as adherence to the 12 Brody values that all have formidable Torah support, then so be it. But then the “modernity” factor becomes irrelevant. They are to be supported because the Torah supports them. The definition we are considering here defines a movement (Modern Orthodoxy) because it embraces modernity qua modernity.]
“Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch summed up much of his methodology in explaining mitzvos in the phrase Judaism “aus sich selber heraus,” a Judaism that emerges inexorably from its own sources. He insisted on accepting only such explanations that grew organically from the entire corpus of halacha, including (and in this he took exception to the Rambam in the Moreh) its details.”
Similarly Rav Soloveitchik ZT”L was famous for constructing his philosophy fro extrapolations of halacha.
So let me pose a thought experiment – 2 gedolim study the exact same corpus of Torah over the same time period – one becomes a religious zionist/MO and the other a chareidi/torah only thinker. Now there could be many reasons for this from a sociological/psychological standpoint, but isn’t it true that even limiting oneself to the textual inputs, one can find many philosophical strands in Chazal, We seem to view Chazal as speaking with one voice but (and I am no talmid chacham) it seems to me in fact one might support a wide (but not infinite) range of philosophical life approaches from the corpus of Chazal.
As it’s Elul it might be worth reminding ourselves that we will be judged not only (and I think not primarily) on the choices we made, but on how honest we were in trying to do the ratzon Hashem (God’s will) in making those choices.
If some alien being without preconceptions landed here from outer space to survey the scene, he might have a different take on what modernity now is. He might decide that, on balance, modernity is a state of exceedingly low morality, sexual and otherwise, combined with exceedingly high addiction to the use of electronic gadgets. He might be unimpressed by other, more high-sounding definitions people might offer that are based on the “modernity of the past”.
Actually, the demographic signs were clear and abundant much earlier than Pew. The 2000 National Jewish Population Survey showed that Orthodoxy had more children than any other denomination. It also showed, for the first time, that Reform Judaism had more adherents than Conservative Judaism.
Modern Orthodoxy has already won. That American Yeshiva students all get high school diplomas, that speeches in shul are given in English, that there are tens of thousands of yeshiva students with higher education degrees, that we are discussing this on the internet – all of these are points that are or were opposed by traditionalists. So to express the hopes of those “who want to see MO succeed” is in error – it has already succeeded, wildly so.
Americans, in particular, must also bear in mind the huge stress MO places upon living in Israel. And, in fact, large numbers of students from MO schools go on to make aliyah. That IS success, as MO defines it. The yeshivah world, cloistered in their own environment, is often completely unattuned to this.
In essence, the point is that Judaism – and I speak here only of orthodox Judaism here – is not a game in which there can only be one winner. In reality, there have always been many paths, and the boundaries of each are constantly shifting and encroaching upon the other. The MO borrows the emphasis on learning from the yeshivah world, the yeshivah world borrows the emphasis on derech eretz from the modern world. God created the world so that everything in nature borrows from one another. (See Shemos Rabbah 31:15)
As part of the “chareidi left” or as Saw You At Sinai defines ppl with the dropbox option of “modern yeshivish”, I concur with R’ Adlerstein’s thesis that new middle ground within Orthodoxy is coalescing (Landers in Queens is a good example of this middle ground). Briefly, North American Modern Orthodoxy also suffers from its success as its unabashed political Zionism instilled in many of of its best and brightest the ideal of living in Eretz Yisroel with Toras Yisroel. Many talented mechanchim, educators and even doctors will move to Israel depriving many American communities of that vigor. Second Modern Orthodoxy, as it name implies will always be evolving b/c as its very name implies, the modernity that it engages in, is always evolving.
I also read the above linked article and found the same to be an exercise in assuring the reader that MO has answers to all of its adherents hashkafic problems-WADR, none other than RYBS pointed out that living with unanswered questions should be an element of every Jew’s belief.
I also thought that Dr Brody overemphasized the positive results of “modernity” vis a vis Renaissance values in the abstract, as opposed to the results of modernity on the ground in politics and its impact on Judaism and Jewish communities. We tend to forget that anti Semitism today, and since the French Revolution, is predominantly secular and LW in origin, as opposed to the classical bases in early Christian thought.
One of the greatest challenges that Modern Orthodoxy has to overcome is the ability to train and hire their own Mechanchim in their schools. Since Modoxy has more or less taught it’s children that you can be just as successful/idealistic a Jew being a professional (with it’s high salary and comfort) as being a Rebbe/klei kodesh, then most young people would then not want to go into chinuch – especially with the attendant difficulties of low income and social status. There has to be some idealizing of chinuch if you want to attract the best and brightest.
The result is that Modoxy looks to the right to provide mechanchim and thus cannot perpetuate its message.
I think the challenge you are putting to Modern Orthodoxy is a challenge that every stream of Orthodox Judaism would fail. There are plenty of values in non-MO Orthodox Judaism lacking evidence that Torah would consider them important if they were not considered important outside the Torah world. Values and ideals in the non-MO Orthodox community have demonstrably shifted many times over the last 2000 years. They can’t all have been self evident from Torah.
[YA 1) I’m not challenging MO. I’m challenging a proposed definition. 2) Whether other forms of Orthodoxy suffer from the incorporation of foreign weeds (no pun intended, even though the stuff we smell around your shul on Venice Walk is not just ocean air) is irrelevant to my piece. 3) Not sure which values you refer to that have been lifted primarily from the non-Jewish world. Values that are easy to point to as anti-Torah e.g. run-away materialism (who needs the non-Jewish world to corrupt you, when you have dozens of pages of color ads in Mishpacha each week doing a more effective job), are not seen as core, definitional elements. Dr Brody is not talking about values that MO people share, but core definitional values.]
“Many factors contributed to the decline and fall of Conservatism was. Lack of a clear mission statement and definition surely contributed.” The single, most important reason for the decline of Conservatism (maybe the only important reason) is that the movement was structured to service a non-observant membership. While preaching fidelity to halacha (as they defined it) and proclaiming the importance of ritual and behavior, they serviced the 90% of their membership that believed in neither. To be fair, a large part of organizational Orthodoxy did the same thing. However, Orthodox Judaism developed alternative institutions (the entire haredi world and Young Israel for examples) which were structured to service those who did observe halacha, and did engage in ritual behavior more than twice a year. The result, noticeable as early as the 1960s, was that the almost all the children of the observant faction of Conservative Judaism, upon reaching college age and adulthood, chose to identify and affiliate as Orthodox. It this a good thing? Not necessarily, as critics of “modern” and “open” Orthodoxy, myself among them, have tried to show.
This analysis by R’ Adlerstein and Bob Miller’s point I think are the key questions with Dr. Brody’s essay, the problem of “post-modernity”. Dr. Brody is clear in his essay that he does not feel post-modern philosophy is compatible with being Orthodox. As such, he strives to define the elements of modernity that are acceptable based on his own reasoning. The issue is that as R’ Adlerstein notes, that this contradicts the premised belief in continual human progress. If the value in modernity is based in part on continual human progress then recent “progressive” concepts (including sexual liberation as noted by R’ Bob) should be valued as well, not just the values of the French and US revolutions. In fact, this move to post-modernity is the reason Israel has lost the support of Progressives in places taken by post-modern philosophy (i.e. Western Europe and college campuses). #12 above is not a post-modern value and has been replaced by the concept of the global village, so Israel with is nationalistic premise is out of favor.
I believe Dr. Alan Brill has noted this contradiction as a criticism of MO, that for MO to be true to its philosophy it must embrace all modernity including post-modernity.
Interestingly, I see the modern orthodox world’s unwillingness to address new realities as a growing problem. Authors and commenters on this blog and elsewhere often quote titans of previous generations to address current realities as if nothing has changed in 30+ years. Two examples of a growing number will suffice. Consider first advances in neurology and tests for brain death and second the historical, archeological and literary record of the biblical period. Might not the former impact pesak and the latter hashkafah? Without trying to explain why, intrinsic to a flourishing modern orthodoxy is a willingness to address (though not embrace) current realities. It is not hard to imagine yet more dramatic changes that we will encounter in the future that will have to be addressed.
I never saw this in print but have heard numerous times that a Kabbalistic reason for golus is, to incorporate various cultures and philosophies into Judaism. perhaps the Zohar is the source.
please comment based on R’ Kooks teaching that it has to be in vacuum.
[YA – Look at some of the other comments, especially that of n_livni. I think what emerges is that what must develop in a vacuum according to R Kook are the core beliefs and structures. Once in place, there is room to learn from external sources, provide that the proper gatekeepers are available.]
As for #3 do we not learn that from Avraham Avinu, both in arguing with G-d about S’dom and in praying that he not have to actually carry out the Akedah (Isn’t that the prayer that G-d answered on Har Hamoriah that we invoke in s’lichot). The Torah demands complete obedience; it does not demand unquestioning obedience.
[YA Actually, no, it is not the way most commentators understood Avraham’s stance at the Akeidah]
Not so long ago, for example, many people defined MO as, in principle, no different from Orthodoxy to its right, save in two regards. MO embraced the State of Israel unambiguously, and celebrated a certain amount of secular acculturation. I am not sure when and why those definitions ceased to be accurate and relevant.
I think they still are accurate and relevant. And i think they are a better way to distinguish Modern Orthodoxy from the Haredi world than the vague distinction of saying that MO values the teachings of modernity.
But I’d point to five specific differences, not two:
1) MO believes in the religious significance of the State of Israel.
2) MO believes that secular subject matter has inherent value in and of itself.
3) MO believes that women may participate in various religious activities and practices within the bounds of halacha that they may not have engaged in in earlier historic times because of sociological factors.
4) MO believes that one can engage in discussions and conversations with non-Jews on non-theological issues without a problem.
5) MO believes that there is inherent value in working closely with non-Orthodox groups on issues where we share opinions and beliefs (such as supporting the State of Israel, for example).
I have a feeling Bob Miller is right. Rav Hirsch and derivative ideologies spoke in terms of sanctifying high culture, R’ JB Soloveitchik’s modernity was more about western academic knowledge. Neither of which are significant parts of “normal” contemporary life in the west, nor is even belief that they ought to be more present part of the general society. Modern Orthodoxy is a solution to a problem that no longer exists.
In Open Orthodoxy, the “Torah and” includes western values in addition to culture and academic knowledge. Which is why they’ve been getting so much flack for their continuing use of the word “Orthodox”.
Going back to R’ Jonathan Rosenblum’s recent post, the Mussar Movement straddled the line on many of these issues. Not in a MO sense, more in a classical (pre-R Feldman) Ner Israel sense. I think this is because mussar negated the need for the strategies promoted by the more popular party lines. If we were more self-aware, and could actually analyze case-wise the pros and cons of each new thing that comes down the pike given my own propensities, we wouldn’t need blanket policies. Neither the chareidi use of insulation to avoid dangers, nor the MO assumption that everything is an opportunity we have to figure out how to lean. Obviously someone may have a different pro-vs-con assessment of having internet in the home than the assessment of whether it is a net positive to attend college. Having one answer for nearly all such questions can’t be right. And, if we expected to have one-off and personalize decisions on these things, they would cease to be a communal dividing line altogether. (Much the way Volozhin housed those who valued informal secular education and those who were against all secular education, Zionists and anti-Zionists, and many of the other issues that today make up communal lines.)
To “Glatt some questions”‘ list, I would add:
6) MO believes that rabbinic authority includes the halachic aspects and to a lesser but very real extent the aggadic value aspects of a question, and not to guidance on issues where the unknowns are mundane. (No more so than asking any other genius a question that is outside his usual field.)
“But can you transmit to a future generation a desire to be part of a movement when you can’t even tell them what the movement stands for? I cannot prove this but I supect that the much discussed drift to the right in Orthodoxy…results from a lack of understanding of what MO is.”
And then he proceeds to attempt to define MO in an apparent attempt to quell the shift to the right and save MO.
I think an alternate question to ask is “Why should we care to save MO if we don’t even know what it is?”
In other words not “Can we transmit…?” but “why should we transmit?”
Micha wrote above,
“If we were more self-aware, and could actually analyze case-wise the pros and cons of each new thing that comes down the pike given my own propensities, we wouldn’t need blanket policies.”
How could this be done without promoting continued communal atomization into smaller and smaller affinity groups?
I think Bob Miller’s sharp little comment raises an important general issue, which I’ll take the trouble to articulate. Are the generally weaker standards of Modern Orthodoxy’s adherents (for argument’s sake) an indication that the risks of being more open to modernity – even if perhaps theologically tenable – cannot be acceptable to us in practice? Can we take the risk of being open to possibly positive trends of modern society (and the modern secular State of Israel) without being negatively influenced by so many other aspects of that society? However strong the theoretical underpinning of MO are, what can we learn from the facts on the ground?
With respect to R. Adlerstein, I believe he is misunderstanding and misapplying R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s approach, which, in my view, is actually consistent with the apporach R. Adlerstein is criticizing.
R. Hirsch was thoroughly convinced that the Torah is not the exclusive repository of all Truth (capital “T”). On the contrary, he views history as a continual path of upward development in which mankind becomes (or should become) ever more refined and truly human true to its calling to be “tzelem Elokim” by discovering, creating, and developing True values. Indeed, in his essay on Chanuka and “rabim b’yad m’atim,” (Collected Writings Vol. II, pp. 233-248), R. Hirsch spoke of the dangers of thinking that the Torah is the exclusive repository of Truth, or that all Truth can only be derived from the Torah itself. R. Hirsch wrote:
“There is one other particular danger which is to be feared by a Jewish minority. It is what we would call a certain intellectual narrow-mindedness. This danger becomes especially acute the more closely a minority clings to its cause and the more anxious it is to preserve that cause. . . . it may easily come to regard all other knowledge in “outside” domains as unnecessary, or even as utterly worthless. it may reject all intellectual activity in any field outside its own as an offense against its own cause, as an inroad upon the devotion properly due to that cause [Torah]. . . . Once this attitude has taken hold in a Jewish minority, that minority will be unable to form a proper judgement and a true image of those intellectual pursuits which are not cultivated in its own ranks but pursued mainly by its opponents. . . . The minority may come to regard these outside pursuits in themselves as the roots of the spiritual error which deplores the majority. . . . Rather, it has cause to regard all truth, wherever it may be found on the outside, as a firm ally of its own cause, since all truth stems from the one Master of truth.”
R. Adlerstein wrote that “Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch summed up much of his methodology in explaining mitzvos in the phrase Judaism “aus sich selber heraus,” a Judaism that emerges inexorably from its own sources. He insisted on accepting only such explanations that grew organically from the entire corpus of halacha, including (and in this he took exception to the Rambam in the Moreh) its details.”
This is, of course, correct. However, it refers specifically to R. Hirsch’s theory of taamei hamitzvos, which he insisted must be developed inductively (“from its own soruces”) rather than deductively. As a perusal of Horeb demonstrates, in practice, this meant that when developing his theories of the lessons to be learned from various mitzvos, R. Hirsch did not begin with a reason of the mitzva and make the mitzvah fit the theory, but instead began with the halakhic details prescribing the performance of the mitzva and sought to articulate a purpose for the mitzva that adequately accounted for all these details. This approach to taamei hamitzvos, however, has nothing to do with adopting or integrating “external values.” R. Hirsch, I think, would agree that TORAH values and hashkafa must be developed organically from within the sources of the Torah itself, but he is also firm in thinking that TORAH values are particular to our JEWISH existence, and that there is a whole world of HUMAN existence that is broader than Torah and which we cannot ignore (see his p’shat on why Avraham had to wait until he was an accomplished human being before receiving a bris and becoming a “Jew”).
Furthermore, R. Adlerstein referenced R. Hirsch’s famous quote, ““Did you set the values of the time to the Torah, or did you make the Torah fit into the times?,” and applies this quote to the instant issue as asking “Did you make your modern values submit to the scrutiny and limitation of the Torah, or did you insist that the Torah conform to your modern values?” This is all well and good, so far as it goes, but it seems to me that something is missed in R. Adlerstein’s interpretation. For R. Hirsch, the Torah of course must be the yardstick with which we measure the times and the values of the times (i.e., we can not use contemporary values to evaluate the viability of the Torah). But this is a negative limit, and R. Hirsch says explicitly many times that the way we make this evaluation is by rejecting anything that CONFLICTS with the Torah. In other words, if an externally developed value or idea or knowledge seems good (in that it furthers human development as emulations of the Divine), then the burden of proof is on the Torah to show that this value cannot be squared with Torah, rather than on the external value to show that it is contained in or derived from the Torah.
All the best.
[YA – Afraid I can’t agree. In fact, I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that it is you who misrepresent both the letter and spirit of RSRH, and that if he were alive today, his critique of Dr. Brody’s article would concur with mine. It would differ only in that it would be a good deal harsher.
We do not disagree about RSRH finding much that is good and valuable outside of the narrower precincts of the Torah community. He does not shun truth and beauty in the general community. In the Chanuka piece you cited, he cautions against such regressive isolationism. (I would have cited the even more remarkable praise of Schiller in vol. 9 pg. 146.) He does not directly deal with whether Torah is the “exclusive repository of Truth” or not. If by “exclusive” you mean that others have no access to it, then you are correct. RSRH sees human progress as having achieved much of what the Torah regards as true and positive. If “exclusive” somehow means to you that it has all the knowledge that Jewish Man needs to accomplish his mission, then we must pause. IIRC, he does argue that “Toras Hashem temimah” means that it is 100% complete, not 99%. We need not go elsewhere to learn what is important to us.
Again, this does not mean that truths embraced by the Torah cannot be found – and learned from – by looking outside our own community. The issue is where we go to determine that something should be accepted as a Torah truth. Do we use Torah merely as a “negative limit” as you suggest? Do we look out only for “conflicts,” and accept anything else that appeals to us? We could debate this, but why bother? Let’s see what a genuine master of RSRH and gadol baTorah says [thanks to Doron Beckerman for the reference]:
הרב הירש לא קיים את התרבות הנוכרית אלא לאחר שעברה בכור-המבחן של תרבות ישראל, זאת-אומרת, תורת ישראל. במלת דרך ארץ נתכוון הרב הירש, הן להשתלמות מקצועית המשלימה את האדם לפעילות אזרחית, והן להכשרה והתאמנות מדעית כדי ללחום מלחמת התרבות הישראלית המקורית, שרק אותה לבדה ראה הוגנת לעיצוב דמותו הרוחנית-מוסרית של עם ישראל ושל כל יחיד מישראל.
היו שטענו נגד הרב הירש, שהוא כאילו הרגיש אהדה מיוחדת לתרבות האשכנזית בזכות קיומה של הפילוסופיה המודרנית בתור השלמה לתרבות היהודית לשם הפראתה המחשבתית.. אני לא מצאתי סמך לדעה זו בכתבי-הירש.
The author of these lines was none other than R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg zt”l, the Seridei Aish. This is no embrace for modernity qua modernity, but a somber delimiting of what we ought to be looking for in general society. It does go beyond seeing secular knowledge as instrumentalities of Torah living, but it is certainly not an invitation to drink deeply from a font of insight and enlightenment lacking in Torah.
So we are left where we began, I believe. Before we hitch our wagon to any part of modernity, we want to know whether it is firmly rooted in Torah thought. If it is, we ought to accept it – but its position and prominence in the modern pantheon of ideas will be irrelevant to that determination. Buying into particular notions simply because they are “modern” courts hashkafic disaster. The modern notion of autonomy unconsciously leads to ill-equipped people replacing their mara d’asra (and his search for halachic answers as a bikush ha-emes, rather than legal formalism) with picking from a menu of potential halachic positions generated by Rabbenu Google. It is modernity that needs to be firmly resisted.
You are correct about RSRH applying the “aus sich selber heraus” rule specifically to taamei hamitzvos. To leave it at that, however, is to eviscerate it. Rav Hirsch went out on a limb with his approach, gingerly taking issue with the Rambam himself. He wanted to see explanations of mitzvos emerging from Torah sources, rather than have them imposed from outside; more exegesis and less eisegesis. There is no reason to limit this insistence to the area of taamei hamitzvos. All the more that it should apply to determining core values, principles of faith, and definitions of the Jewish mission.
Addendum: a reader quickly chimed in with yet another citation. This from RSRH to Vayikra 18:4
I would define MO differently, not in reference to modernity, but only in reference to historical continuity, which is I think a major selling point. Modern Orthodox Jews are Jews who A) are loyal to halachic and hashkafic mesorah of traditional rabbinic Judaism, B) without adopting the norms of a particular charedi community. This definition encompasses not only MO, but also the dati leumi of Israel, and most observant Sephardim (ie, those who haven’t adopted charedi norms of dress, etc.)
Charedim are arguably a new phenomenon (created by the Besht and his disciplines on the one hand, and the Yeshivah-centered world founded by R’ Chaim of Volozhin) leaning toward strictness in halacha, rejection of most secular culture, and uniformity in dress and other community norms. That’s not to say they’re wrong; they have been more successful than MO in withstanding negative cultural trends (such as the modern trend toward very small families). But the MO are making an important statement by not joining them, and remaining loyal to traditional (that is, Orthoox) Judaism.
I read Dr. Brody’s article and I reject his suggestion as to what Modern Orthodoxy should stand for. More to th
The point, I believe that it would be rejected by those personalities who have often been pointed to as exemplars of the Modern Orthodox approach.
The key difference between Modern Orthodoxy and what is now being called Chareidi Judaism is the presumptive attitude to secular thought. Right wingers will assume that any idea that emanates from the outside world is presumptively false and inimical to authentic Jewish values and belief. Modern Orthodoxy, as I have always understood it, recognizes that there is wisdom among the nations and there is therefore much that can be learned from secular philosophy, literature, etc. But despite the recognition of the wisdom that can be obtained from secular knowledge there is also a recognition that there is much that should be rejected. There is no automatic assumption that a particular value or idea, whether it came into vogue before or after the Renaissance, should be presumed to be consistent with Jewish values. There is no automatic acceptance of the twelve values of modernity, with these values to be believed in because they are values accepted by the gentile world – unless, of course, they can be shown to be unequivocally at odds with a clear cut Torah value. Rather each and every idea and value of modernity has to be evaluated by the standards of Torah without any presumption that it is evil (as some in Chareidi circles would have it) or that it is valid (as Dr.Brody would have it).
Dr. Brody would have an Orthodox Jew follow two belief systems, that of Judaism and also that of Modernity. In fact he refers to a Modern Orthodox Jew as a “follower of Modernity.” Where there is a conflict between these two allegiances that of Judaism would prevail. But absent a conflict, one should follow Modernity. I do not feel that this approach is legitimate from a Torah Judaism point of view – and I assume that Dr. Brody would want Modern Orthodoxy to be part of Torah Judaism. An Orthodox Jew is a “follower” only of Judaism – nothing else.
This does not mean that secular ideas and culture are automatically rejected or denigrated. One can recognize that there is much of value in secular culture without becoming a “follower.” I would like to offer an analogy. Near my house is one of the wonders of the modern world – a station where one can board what in my opinion is a masterpiece of technology and social engineering. I am referring to a stop of the NYC subway system. Every ten minutes or so eight air conditioned cars glide to the station and for a minimal fee will take you to one of many destinations, many of which are miles away. The system operates twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It is truly a marvel of human ingenuity. In addition to the technological feat that it represents it is a wondrous boon to society. Besides enabling people to reach distant locations where they can be employed, it enables them to for a small fee access some of the great museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions of the world. As you can tell, I think the subway system is great. But I am not a “follower” of the system. I do not take the subway whenever I can – unless of course I must refrain because of a conflict with Judaism (no subways on Shabbos). As much as I admire the subway system, I do not take it to wherever it goes but only if it goes to where I want to go. And where I want to go is determined by other considerations that are totally independent of the subway system.
Similarly, there is no pro tanto assumption that I should accept the ideas of Modernity. I will accept them if they help me go where I want to go. If they help me understand ideas that are embedded in the Torah but that I failed to appreciate until I saw them beautifully described in literature or philosophy and recognized them as being Torah ideas or values, I will accept them. The values of modernity that I will accept are determined exclusively by the values of the Torah. After all there is wisdom among the nations and we can and should learn from it. But what of secular culture is truly wise must be decided on case by case basis, without any presumptions.
Incidentally the term pro tanto is not, in my experience used in the manner used by Dr. Brody. Pro tanto means to the extent. I have seen it used in the legal field where, for example, an insurance company has to divide a payment between two insureds. The payment to one of the claimants is made pro tanto, meaning that of the total insurance proceeds he is paid to the extent of his share as compared to the share of the other insured.
“Charedim are arguably a new phenomenon…But the MO are making an important statement by not joining them, and remaining loyal to traditional (that is, Orthoox) Judaism.”
I think this is a dispute between both groups. In “When It Comes to ‘Ultra’ History Speaks for Itself”(Forward, 3/3/14), R. Avi Shafran argued the reverse:
“I suggested using the unadorned word “Orthodox” to refer to Haredim, whose lives, I contended, most resemble those of their forbears…Haredi attitudes and practices are those closest to the attitudes and practices of observant Jewish communities of centuries past. A familiarity with Jewish history and responsa literature readily evidences that fact.”
He writes similarly in “Don’t Call Us ‘Ultra-Orthodox'”(Forward 2/24/14) and in “Ultra-Cation”(Cross Currents, 3/3/14).
I agree with you that in reality, Post-Modernism is incompatible with being Orthodox, yet much of modern Haredi ideology is VERY connected to PM. PM teaches that there is no truth, only “narratives”. This is quite in line with the rewriting of history we see many Haredi historiographies , e.g. “The Zionists (or the Secular Jews) were responsible for the Holocaust”, or the writing of Rav Kook out of Haredi history, although he was close to the Hafetz Haim and Rav Sonnenfeld, among many other Haredi leaders. PM is anti-nationalist and supports anarchistic (i.e. opposition to Establishent power) tendencies which are also prevelant among some Haredi groups.
Also PM is open to “New Age” spirituality and inward looking Haredi groups are very receptive to this. I think it is PM that explains much of the attraction of some young secular Jews to Haredism.
Permit me to add my two cents to this important discussion. In a former generation, Jewishness was a natural part of the environment. People spoke Yiddish, ate Jewish foods, and fraternized with other Jews.Even the secular were very tribal.We had a shared memory of persecution and we remembered the world before there was a State of Israel.I recall from the 1960′s in New York, Hbrew National restaurants that were open on Shabbos and had no supervision but were “kosher”.That world is gone.Conservative Judaism filled the needs of that generation that was not as knowledgable or observant as their immigrant parents but still felt Jewish enough. It really did work for a while. I remember lots of people coming to late Friday night services in the 1950′s and ’60′s when our shul switched from nominal orthodoxy to official conservative. But, it was all an inch deep and few of the young people of my generation stayed active,some married out, others became orthodox(two or three). The tragedy is that orthodoxy is just not close enough to contemporary life to appeal to most Jews and it is the only group that has any long term appeal. Modern Orthodoxy is what most frum Jews are in reality, as others have pointed out.All movements today lack the calibre of leadership that is needed to save American Jewry. Who are the “greats” in Reform or Conservative? I can’t think of any. Unfortuntely, I also see a vacuum in our orthodox world, few who are willing to take on the extremists who are also recognized as “great”. Here is the crux of what scares me. “The Hugarians have won.” is the answer I get when I ask why women’s pictures are now forbidden in publiations .The very strict have the most children and they don’t believe in “pluralism” of the orthodox kind. In one shul I know, a balcony that has been kosher for close to 100 years is going to be covered with a wall of some kind so the men can no longer glance up to see if their wives are in shul. The excuse is that “the women want it” which is another way of saying that normative orthodoxy is no longer good enough.
We desperately need major talmudic scholars who are not afraid to take stands that are not right wing.We are orphaned.
“Dr. Brody amplifies item #3 with these words: “Modern Orthodox Jews should consult sacred texts to find answers to their questions. To the extent that they feel the need, they should consult the experts on the texts….The common strategy of adopting a single expert authority as one’s authority and following their views in all cases seems to me to be an abdication of individual responsibility.” To me it seems that failure to recognize the need to submit to those who are greater talmidei chachamim runs afoul of many passages in Shas and poskim”
It is clear that when it comes to where Halacha has spoken no one has a right not to follow what the generally accepted psak is. We believe that is what is required-where halacha is silent what does one do. There is an apparent dispute between those like the Rav who held that he has no special expertise in non halachik matters and those who will ask their Rebbe what medicines to take for illness. What does one do where Halacha is silent eg certainly there are mainstream Orthodox writers who have discussed issues of an ethic independent of halacha-in that case what is better to consult than to try and ascertain what Chazal would have done in the situation and the best way to do that is to immerse oneself in Chazal-talmud, midrash etc. This of course is only for when Halacha is silent.
Are you equating post-modernism with subjectivity? If so, can you identify a strand of today’s Orthodoxy that is the least subjective in approach?
So for those who understand that Chareidim “will assume that any idea that emanates from the outside world is presumptively false and inimical to authentic Jewish values and belief.”, how do you understand the emergence of concepts such as zayin tuvei hair as local government leadership (or the number of members of anshei knesset hagedolah not following the pattern of 70 of the sanhedrin) or the takkana of rabbeinu gershom on monogamy or halachic workarounds to allow daughters to inherit…..???
Dr. Brody writes this: “Some definitions (e.g. they are Orthodox Jews who are less observant), are just insulting as a definition, even if often true in practice. Other definitions (e.g. Modern Orthodox Jews are those who are active in the secular modern world) neither distinguish the MO from many haredi Orthodox Jews who are equally active.”
The Modern Orthodox world I know is not at all “less observant”, it simply has a different definition of observance. Would he call adherents to yeshivah-style orthodoxy “less observant”? – because compared to Chassidim, they are. And if he cant define MO by activity in the modern world because, he says, there are many charedim who are equally active, well then, wouldn’t even Dr. Brody agree that there are many modern Jews who are equally as observant as others?
That little exercise in talmudics gets to the problem here. For all his good intentions, Dr. Brody – and he is a fine representative – cannot get away from his biases. They are latent in everything he writes. I’m sure if a more “pro-MO” writer tried to write the mirror opposite article about charedim, the same points could be found. That’s why I think articles like this miss the boat. You can make one camp your home base, without denigrating, even with good intentions, the other. Each has to borrow from the other. If I had to cite a public figure as a role model to emulate, I would mention Rabbi Berel Wein (biz 120.)
I am always amazed at how people claim Chariedism is new or not traditional and has no historical roots, while MO/DL represents traditional values, and trace everything back to the BESHT, or R’ Chaim Volozhin. I think if you study Jewish history, you will see that Chareidi and MO thought, if we can describe them in these modern terms, always existed as streams of thought. A more insular perspective, extreme perhaps, and a more universalistic, broader perspective stream. Both streams existed but now are in the form of two distinct modes of Orthodox thought and practice. Chareidim will never go away, because its views are historically represented in Yiddishkeit, as is MO. From those two modes of thought come approaches to secular knowledge, the State of Israel, the role/centrality of Torah learning, etc. that we see today.
I once heard Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel of Baltimore, say that the study of hashkafa didn’t start in an organized way was that they received their hashkafos from Halacha. This sounded like pure wishful thinking to me. I have desperately looked for someone who has no philosophical training whatsoever to create a system based purely on laws. Unfortunately, my experience in the olam hayeshivos has taught me that you either find the halachists, the lamdanim, or the hashkafists. Anyone who exists in both categories only does so because of study, not because of any transfer of information. I too pine for the Rav’s vision expressed in the last words of Halachic Man, for an ideology purified from worldly influences and based on Halacha values. It just has become a distant fantasy. Rav Hirsch’s desire for a self-contained Judaism merely molded into constant rejoinders to follow the mitzvos, a message which doesn’t create new hashkafa but points it back towards the existing elements of Judaism.
Thank You Rabbi A. It is such a pleasure to see Rav Hirsch’s Hashkafa presented based on HIS ideas. Most usually invoke his name in support of ideas which,were he alive,he would be the loudest and clearest voice objecting to and fighting against. I always wonder whether MO commentators ever read his writings.
If I were more formally religious, I would very likely define myself as being on the more conservative wing of Modern Orthodox Judaism. Since there is apparently no clear definition of what that movement means, I feel free to interpret it as I perceive it to be. And the way I see it, it is a kind of corrective to Chareidi Judaism. I will now give some examples of what I mean.
I see Chareidi Judaism as being too narrow, too intolerant of anybody who is not super religious. Appealing only to carbon copies of the Chovetz Chaim or the Brisker Rav may sound laudable, appealing to the highest possible standards of serving G-d, but that also excludes probably more than 90% of Jews in our present given lifestyle. This causes many Jews to react in a most negative way, either by starting such absurd movements as Reform Judaism, or bitterly quitting Judaism altogether. It would seem to me that a better approach to Jews, is to see one’s fellow Jews not in terms of how much religious practice they lack, but to what extent their embrace Judaism. Again, I go back to Jews serving in the Israeli army. What if a minimally-observant or even non-observant Jew, saves hundreds or even thousands of the lives of their fellow Jews, when fighting on behalf of Israel? Should such a person be called an evil person, as I have heard Chareidim say of such notable Jews as David ben-Gurion and Eliezer ben Yehuda?
And what about the existence of the Jewish State of Israel itself? In too many instances, I have gotten the distinct impression that Chareidi Jews to this day, regret the fact that we have our Jewish land back under our control (as do our islamofascist enemies. That is some coincidence). While I admit that the Modern Jewish State of Israel definitely has its shortcomings when it comes to truly running it the Jewish way, isn’t it wonderful that we have our State back, where we can militarily defend ourselves, and where we at least have the opportunity to run our own country in the Jewish way it was intended to operate in?
I admit that when it comes to the gentile world, that it becomes more difficult to have a more open and tolerant stance. After all, one of the most painful aspects of Jewish history, is that ultimately, wherever our people live, the host nation inevitably and eventually turns against us in a most violently horrific manner. And so when it comes to the secular world, we need to proceed with caution. However, it seems to me that it is throwing away the baby with the bathwater, to take the position that everything that is not specifically Jewish, is automatically to be avoided. What about taking a more positive stance, and try to see the good that comes out of the gentile world? Just to give an example, I have heard it said that Victorian values were essentially Jewish values. And so it seems to me, that studying that culture is a worthwhile activity. And think of the tens of millions of fundamentalist Christians, who are often more strongly pro-Israel than too many Jews are. Think of how that is an outgrowth of the Founding Fathers of this country, who were almost instinctively pro-Jewish. The idea is to expand one’s mind as much as possible, without sacrificing Torah True values. To me, that is what it means to be a Modern Orthodox Jew, to be as expansive in one’s thoughts and actions, without sacrificing our Torah values.
Your comment about a one-size fits all approach to answering questions of modernity and the fact that in Volozhin multiple approaches co-existed gets right to the issue (in my perspective) regarding MO. The introduction to the first Torah U’Madda Journal raises the question of how TuM as a movement was different from all the historical examples of Religious Jews studying secular knowledge. The answer provided is that adherents of the TuM belief system believe that the study of secular knowledge and modernity should be institutionalized and universal. In contrast, in the past certain individuals studied secular knowledge and were to greater and lesser extents involved with modernity, but this was not deemed a universal value and each individual had their own unique level of engagement with modernity. This still exists today, where the actual on the ground involvement by chareidim with secular knowledge and modernity is very individualized, with individuals who attended the Tikvah program highly engaged, and others much less engaged or interested in engaging with modernity.
“He might decide that, on balance, modernity is a state of exceedingly low morality”
He might also decide that, on balance, modernity is a state of exceedingly high morality, at least in the parts of the world where it has influenced the prevailing culture. Not only slavery is unacceptable but so are religious and racial discrimination. Racist immigration laws are falling by the wayside. Teen births are at record lows. And the general public’s support for science has led to significantly longer lifespans, with better quality.
“anti Semitism today, and since the French Revolution, is predominantly secular and LW in origin”
While secular anti-religious ideology does date from the Enlightenment, the biggest source of anti-Semitism today can be traced to fervently religious Muslims.
Rabbi Adlerstein has argued that a definition of MO must argue that whatever modern values it embraces are inherently Torah values. Based on this I would then ask that perhaps the starting point of the discussion is wrong. Why don’t we ask the Haredi world to provide a definition of Haredi Orthodoxy (see r shaya’s comment above).
I think what would emerge from this type of dialogue is that the two worlds would differ on how to resolve the tension between some specific Torah based values which naturally come into conflict with each other, with the sides differing on which side of the balance scale to weigh more heavily, including: individual autonomy vs. the need for submission to authority (both of which are Torah values when appropriate); opportunities to learn / gain valuable things from the outside world and also to positively influence the outside world vs. the dangers involved in leaving a “safe” environment; universalism vs. particularism; focusing on practical realities in order to effect change vs. focusing on spiritual realities to effect change (where both are important and necessary components of the Torah approach); and the desire for nuance and complexity vs. the desire for being straightforward and clear.
So let me pose a thought experiment – 2 gedolim study the exact same corpus of Torah over the same time period – one becomes a religious zionist/MO and the other a chareidi/torah only thinker. Now there could be many reasons for this from a sociological/psychological standpoint, but isn’t it true that even limiting oneself to the textual inputs, one can find many philosophical strands in Chazal, We seem to view Chazal as speaking with one voice but (and I am no talmid chacham) it seems to me in fact one might support a wide (but not infinite) range of philosophical life approaches from the corpus of Chazal
Your thought experiment actually happened regarding Chovevei tziyon. R Hirsch and R T Kalischer in fact engaged in such a dispute. R Hirsch vigorously asserted that you can’t force the Geulah and rejected RT Kalischers ideas. But at the end of one his letters he essentially accepted that R Kalischer deserved schar for his attempts and he (R Hirsch) for his opposition. (The letters are in shemesh marpeh. I can try to find the exact sources if you’re interested)
Micha, to say that the Rav ztl only absorbed knowledge not values from western culture, is a bit unfair. His belief in ethics that might conflict with halakha (conversation with perhaps his best talmid, in the opinion of RAL) derives from adopting values not just knowledge. Make no mistake – he would choose halakha, but not without awareness. And he was entirely aware of how he would use the halakhic system in those cases.
RAL famously describes Dante’s role in helping him be mekayain the mitzvah of Kibbud Av. Again, values not just knowledge.
Beyond that, there are those who argue that absorbing knowledge but not values may not even be possible. Were that correct, and I believe it is, your distinction describes something that cannot even exist.
I think that MO is a wonderful option-that you can be a successful professional, etc and be a Lamdan and Talmid Chacham and/or a Bas Torah who is committed to Torah Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. Slogans such as TuM are nothing more than supplemental hashkafic notions that tend to supplant the need to adhere to Halacha and Mesorah, and ignore the fact that the secular world of 2014 is a far more complicated and problematic environment than the secular world of the 1950s and 1960s.
Baal Chalomos: You mean Halakhic Mind.
Moshe: And Haredim don’t distort Rav Hirsch?
I wrote: “If we were more self-aware, and could actually analyze case-wise the pros and cons of each new thing that comes down the pike given my own propensities, we wouldn’t need blanket policies.”
Bob Miller asked: “How could this be done without promoting continued communal atomization into smaller and smaller affinity groups?”
But later in that same comment, I wrote “And, if we expected to have one-off and personalize decisions on these things, they would cease to be a communal dividing line altogether.” My point was that if everyone did their own customized thing, what was best for their own development as Jews, that in itself would become the community defining norm. Rather than having thousands of three or four person “communities”, we would have one larger and more heterogeneous one.
Rafael Araujo and Shades of Gray: It is true that this issue is contested, but it seems clear there are many aspects of modern Charedi life that were not found before a couple hundred years ago.
Sure, there were always those who were inclined toward strictness (R’ Shammai!) or towards mysticism (as in the Rambam/Ramban debates). But both Rambam and Ramban were physicians. Even those who were more strict or more mystical were not averse to learning from the secular culture of the day. Even the Vilna Gaon was deeply immersed in secular learning (advanced mathematic and astronomy, among other things).
And there’s no evidence that anyone was ever as strict about community minhagim as charedim are today. Can you imagine Ramban or the Arizal wearing a fur streimel in 100-degree heat?
The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah had 120 sages over its 200 year history, not at once. It happened that way.
The Torah permits monogamy but Chazal did not view it as the norm, certainly not de facto. The din derabanan of divorce after ten years of childless marriage, rather than taking another wife, is a direct function of monogamy being the expected norm (see Kesubos 77a with Rashi s.v. lisnei; see also Mishnah Yevamos 2:10 with Tiferes Yisrael).
The permissibility of a mechanism that allows a daughter to inherit also finds its source in the Talmud. The institution of kesubas benin dichrin (a clause in the kesubah that a specific wife’s sons inherit X from their father, above and beyond the general estate) was meant to encourage a father to give his daughter a sizeable sum for her dowry without fear that it would go to another woman’s sons from this father. The Gemara (Kesubos 52b-53a) makes it clear that there is significant tension between this institution and the Biblical law that only sons inherit, but considered the need for the daughter to marry while assuaging her father’s concern to be of sufficient counterweight to allow it (as it is indeed technically permitted). It seems that as this element of the kesubah fell to the wayside, the shtar chatzi zachar replaced it.
Doron Beckerman – your interpretation of the 120 is against a befeieusheh Gemara – both in the bavli and the yerushalmi.
Sheygitz, you are correct.
Sorry, someone correctly pointed out that my explanation regarding the Anshei Knesses Hegedolah is against the Gemara.
“Accepting this list is inherently self-referential, particularly to values 3, 7, and 8. In other words, without accepting some of those values a priori, there is nothing to recommend the list – other than personal preference. We should want, I would think, evidence from within the corpus of Torah literature that these values would be important to a Torah Jew had Western civilization never gotten around to thinking of them.”
I’m (pleasantly) surprised to see epistemological concerns raised by someone coming from a more Yeshivish angle. I say this because I always feel this to be the major achilles heel for the more mesorah-oriented approaches. Mesorah is by definition self-referential. A person who believes mesorah to be the #1 guiding principle probably does so because that is what their Rebbe told them. This circular logic exposes a serious epistemological problem for which I have never heard a great solution. Similarly, believing that “we should want, I would think, evidence from within the corpus of Torah literature that these values would be important to a Torah Jew had Western civilization never gotten around to thinking of them,” are just as assumptive as you are claiming Dr. Brody’s values to be. I can see why someone might make the claim you are making, but it is not 100% logical. Torah sources are usually open-ended enough to be interpreted in multiple ways, it always depends on what your a priori assumptions are.
So I guess my question to you is what you think the role of logic is in determining one’s hashkafa. How willing are you to ask “how do I know what I know is true?” And if you have answers to this second question, I think it would do all of your readers a service to hear them (and maybe yourself a service to put them into words).
Thanks for another thought-provoking article and Shavua Tov.
[YA – I am willing, and I have asked the question. I certainly do not have a complete answer – but I didn’t set out to offer a new definition of charedi Judaism. The imperfect, brief version FWIW employs a similar strategy to the way most of us do halacha, which also often offers a dizzying variety of possibilities. We use a weighted metric of evidence. (Yes, this is as much an art as a science.) You look for a preponderance of halachic weight on one side of an argument, with some poskim assigned greater weights than others. Similarly, in hashkafic matters you look for patterns and themes and repetitions across centuries and continents of commentary. Some ideas emerge with lots of Torah power behind them, and others with much rejection. (Still others, say R Moshe Taku’s corporealist view, are so thoroughly rejected that they cease to be options at all.)
This does deserve far more – but that will have to await some grant money.]
To Shlomo PilL
How do you decide “if an externally developed value or idea or knowledge seems good (in that it furthers human development as emulations of the Divine)”? How do you know what furthers “emulation of the divine”?
I think that numbers win out… And. Given chassidim with ten to fifteen children , and yeshivish with five to ten— even if MO had no OTD loss, the Haredim even with 20 or 30 percent loss win easily in a generation or two… And MO in fact. Has. MUCH higher loss rates…
DF wrote: ‘Modern Orthodoxy has already won. That American Yeshiva students all get high school diplomas … ‘
Would that this were so. In Lakewood, after eighth grade, almost all boys go to Mesivtas in Lakewood that, unfortunately, have ZERO secular studies. These Yeshiva students get no formal secular education whatsoever after 8th grade – let alone high school diplomas.
Years ago, there was only one Mesivta in Lakewood and, although that Mesivta never had secular studies, many boys went to ‘out-of-town’ high schools that had secular studies, e.g, Philadelphia, and those boys did get high school diplomas.
Today, there are 30+ Mesivtas in Lakewood and very few (2 or 3?) have secular studies. So, almost all of the Yeshiva students in Lakewood do NOT get high school diplomas.
This is one area where MO has not won – and these Mesivta students are the losers.
I think that every sizeable MO community needs either a SEED program or a community kollel-to demonstrate the importance of full time Limud HaTorah and the proper attire of a Ben or Bas Torah. I think that being MO does not mean that one apes or imitates the dress code of the secular world-especially in the summer time.
Doesn’t the Mesorah itself contain an approach or range of approaches to stimuli, including information, from outside the group? We should try to understand how organized information is different from the bits of information so organized. Even if the organizing principle of a given packet of outside information is not 100% emes, or 100% necessary to absorb or understand, some of the content could be.
One problem we can have is accepting an “outside” concept as Jewish only because isolation keeps us from recognizing its actual outside origin. Extreme examples include superstitions some Jews have domesticated somewhere along the line.
Simply put, you make a judgement call (or, if you feel that you are not sufficiently informed to fully understand both the external value being judged, the humanistic criteria of mankind’s mission to be tzelem Elokim, and the limitations (as well as possibilities) created by the halakha, you defer to the judgment call of someone you think is sufficiently knowledgable).
As for the actual criteria, R. Hirsch spends a good deal of time on this in various places (see especially, his commentaries on the first two perakim of Bereishis; on the Eitz Hadaas and the idea of b’zeyas apeicha tochal lechem; on the Dor Hamabul (end of Bereishis and begining of Noach); on the changed state of the natural world post-mabul; on the Migdal Bavel and Dor Haflagah; his essays on Chanuka, Tishrei (especially on the Levyoson, the korbanos of Succos, and the relationship between Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succos), as well as his essay on the relvance of secular education to Torah education, and his opening discussion of symbolism with respect to tzelem Elokim, Adam,adamah, etc (Vol. III of the Collected Writings); and, of course, you cannot miss the first several letters of the Nineteen Letters, where he discusses the natural world, the lessons about how mankind generally is supposed to act in emulation of the divine that God has built into the observed natural world and history.
Dr Bill: Rather than giving me examples of where RYBS uses secular examples to enrich values he learned from the Torah, to make your point you would need to show cases where he adapted the Torah to fit those examples. He obviously knew kibud av from the luchos, not Dante. So it’s not an example of having absorbed secular values. His justification for women learning Talmud wasn’t based on western notions of self-respect being conflated with kavod haberios (human dignity as a halachic principle), it came from the age-old criterion of women needing to learn enough to live observant lives. The same argument as the Chafetz Chaim’s, back when Beis Yaakov had to parallel primary education he used when Stern had to parallel other colleges.
And while as you note, there are times when he felt his native values were in conflict with halakhah, but that meant ignoring them. Halakhah reined supreme.
(Halakhah was particularly central in his worldview. RYBS repeatedly spoke of a dream of teaching a hashkafah built from the ground up from halakhah; not even from earlier aggadic works. For all his neo-Kantianism, RYBS was still a Brisker.)
RDB: Shemaya veAvtalyon weren’t qualified to be voting members of the Sanhedrin, even though they were the gedolei hador who ran it. The notion that the Sanhedrin had only 69+1 voting members while having another 50 participants is quite plausible. Members whose arguments would be heard and debated, but not whose opinions went into the tally of majority.
To Shlomo Pill:
The issue is whether values in vogue in secular culture should be assumed to be true and worthy of adoption if they are not found in the Torah. Dr. Brody would have an Orthodox Jew adopt that value as long as the Torah does not rule it to be out of bounds because as you put it, “Torah is not the exclusive repository of all Truth “ and “if an externally developed value or idea or knowledge seems good “ it should be adopted unless it contradicts the Torah. “[T]he burden of proof is on the Torah to show that this value cannot be squared with Torah, rather than on the external value to show that it is contained in or derived from the Torah.” Yet when I ask you how, if the Torah is silent (as far as we can tell) as to a certain value can we know if it is “good.” Surely not all values that have been widely, even almost universally, accepted by the world at large qualify as being “good”. What are the criteria to be used? In response you mention values and criteria that are drawn from the Torah. “[E]mulations of the Divine”, and “humanistic criteria of mankind’s mission to be tzelem Elokim” are values of the Torah (although I am not sure what you mean by “humanistic criteria) of emulating the divine – as opposed to what?)/ Thus when push comes to shove you are relying on a Torah concept and value and not on “an externally developed value or idea” that is not embedded in the Torah.
An example to illustrate my point might be number 2 in Dr. Brody’s list, “the value of beauty for its own sake.” I am not a Talmud Chacham who can based on his vast knowledge and immersion in the Torah say whether there is support for that value in the Torah. But let us for the sake of our discussion assume that there is not, and further that there is nothing in the Torah that is antagonistic to beauty. Why should I assume that beauty, in and of itself, is somehow morally good? I may derive pleasure from a beautiful painting but I may not. If I do not, I see no reason to believe that I should strive to develop an appreciation for art – other than to derive pleasure and to appreciate Hashem’s handiwork or the handiwork of his creatures – but not because absent an appreciation of beauty for its own sake I am morally, spiritually, or religiously deficient . According to Dr. Brody “the value of beauty for its own sake” is a value of modernity and therefore should be presumed to be true and worthy. But by what criteria can that “judgment call” be made? If you say that to pursue beauty is to emulate Hashem then you are resorting to a Jewish value. But if you say that there is no Torah value to support it then you are saying, that I accept it as a value because the world around me does. That is a position that I reject.
I did not realize that there are 30 mesivtas in Lakewood that do not offer secular education beyond 8th grade and only 2 or 3 that do. This trend has not hit “out of town” yet, as far as I know. However, I think that many of those boys will eventually work for a living either in business or they will get some kind of degree later on.The ones who remain in learning for life are not the majority, at least that is what I think, but ,of course, I am not in the loop.
As far as Modern Orthodoxy, it is a question on demographics. There are 30 mesivtas in Lakewood ,as above and how many co-ed modern high schools with how many students? Ramaz and its type may be the flagship of a different orthodoxy but numerically they pale in comparison to Lakewood and Boro Park,etc.
I also wonder what the retention rate is as far as Sabbath obvservance is concerned between alumni of these two divergent streams.
If there were no Modern Orthodoxy, we would lose many thinking Jews who can’t believe in whatever you want to call the other extreme. But, that extreme does seem to have a large birth rate and increasing wealth and political savy. I personally have my hashkafos, but, if demography is destiny, we are going to see a much more yeshivish/chassidish orthodoxy with only pockets of open orthodoxy and pockets of Centrist orthodoxy. There has not been a new leader to replace Rabbi JB Solvietchk and there is no one who is recognized as a godol by all camps who espouses “modernity” in its various shades, or am I wrong.