Will the Real Modern Orthodoxy Please Stand Up?
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz’ feisty assailment of Rabbi Dr. David Berger’s July 2nd reply to Rabbis Avi Weiss and Asher Lopatin – both in Jewish Link of New Jersey – is nothing short of startling. Whether he realized it or not, Rabbi Katz, in the course of explaining to Dr. Berger what Modern Orthodoxy is (all while sniping at Dr. Berger’s own alleged misunderstanding thereof), veered so far off the Orthodox course as to assert that Modern Orthodoxy has an entirely different approach to Halacha, and that Modern Orthodox philosophical worldview should substantially impact Modern Orthodox halachic adjudication. These shocking proclamations may well describe the Open Orthodox/Neo/Conservative denomination – and they seem to fit it pretty darn well – yet they surely do not have anything to do with Modern Orthodoxy. (We speak here of official Modern Orthodox policy and accepted theology, notwithstanding the unfortunate fact that much of Modern Orthodoxy has routinely suffered from some laxity in observance on the part of laity.)
Before we even address this radical new path, it is ironic that someone from an intense Williamsburg Chassidic background, with no Modern Orthodox schooling (irrespective of his current position at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the base of Open Orthodoxy), can rebuke and lecture a scholarly rabbi and eminent Orthodox historian trained by Yeshiva University, who also serves as dean of its graduate school for Jewish Studies, about the basics of Modern Orthodoxy. Dr. Berger is the embodiment of the best of Modern Orthodoxy. But be that as it may…
Having been educated, employed and professionally affiliated in the Modern Orthodox system for decades, I have heard and probably studied every possible explanation and major nuance of Modern Orthodoxy and the teachings of the sages from which Modern Orthodoxy claims to derive its approach. The concepts which Rabbi Katz articulated are totally foreign to the discourse; I cannot state it strongly enough.
Rabbi Katz wrote:
…It (Dr. Berger’s approach) ultimately displays a simplistic understanding of the philosophy of Modern Orthodox halacha. It also, at its core, reflects a minimalist understanding of the Modern Orthodox enterprise.
His Modern Orthodoxy is a compilation of two disparate value systems which operate side by side. For him, the Modern Orthodox ethos is primarily Orthodox with a mere nod to modernity, its core, though, is exclusively Orthodox. Consequently, according to him, Modern Orthodox adjudication of capital crimes should look no different than if it were adjudicated by a chareidi posek; process (research) and product (conclusion) should be indistinguishable.
While this clearly seems to be his understanding of the mechanics of Modern Orthodoxy, it is incorrect. Modern Orthodoxy is about synthesis, not bifurcation.
Modern Orthodoxy is a two-pronged philosophy that strives for full integration. The Modern Orthodox Jew’s Yiddishkeit is enhanced by a robust encounter with modernity, while his experience of modernity is enriched by an intense engagement with his Yiddishkeit. The Modern Orthodox Jew’s Orthodoxy would consequently look different than the Orthodoxy of the non-Modern Orthodox observer, and, their adjudication of the important issues of the day would hence differ significantly.
…Once the posek has identified the relevant sources, they have to be made compatible with many of the external variables the posek needs to evaluate in order to make the ruling relevant.
Modern halachic adjudication is about making the eternal contemporary…
According to Rabbi Katz, the core of Modern Orthodoxy is not “exclusively Orthodox”, and Modern Orthodox halachic processes should operate differently, such that Halacha should not be decided according to traditional methodology, but should instead reflect a philosophy that is a mixture of Torah and secular values.
Rabbi Katz calls for total integration and synthesis of Torah and secularism, arriving at a new concoction, which he claims is the true Modern Orthodoxy. However, in stark contrast, the notion of Synthesis, as espoused by Yeshiva University Presidents Drs. Bernard Revel and Samuel Belkin, reflects a synthesis of knowledge within the individual – such that the Orthodox Jew should be learned both in Torah and in worldly studies – and does not in any way represent a synthesized pedagogy or theology, as embraced by Rabbi Katz. (See Belkin, Essays in Traditional Jewish Thought, p. 17.)
Modern Orthodoxy, according to its leadership, calls for an unwavering and unadulterated commitment to complete belief in the Ikkarei Ha-Emunah, the Cardinal Principles of Faith, with an uncompromising fidelity to the traditional halachic system, all the while being part of the outside world, educated in its knowledge and engaged with its offerings and achievements. Hence, yes indeed, although rejected by Rabbi Katz, “Modern Orthodox adjudication of capital crimes should look no different than if it were adjudicated by a chareidi posek; process (research) and product (conclusion) should be indistinguishable”.
Numerous close talmidim (students) of Rav Soloveitchik have told me that the Rav never used the term “Modern Orthodoxy”; there was only plain, unmodified “Orthodox Judaism” or “Torah Judaism”. The Orthodox/Torah Jew’s active participation in the secular world and higher academia did not modify his Orthodox/Torah identity and hashkafa (outlook).
Modern Orthodoxy is not the hybrid child that is born when Torah and secular values merge. Modern Orthodoxy is pure Orthodoxy, plus an appreciation and a serious embrace of the positive offerings of the outside world. For the authentic Modern Orthodox, being Modern adds to one’s Orthodoxy. For Rabbi Katz, being Modern impinges on being Orthodox.
R’ Katz says, “[W]e require more complex answers. Nuanced resolutions take an inordinate amount of time.”
By the time an inordinate amount of time has passed, there will be new sensitivities to take into consideration. Will the nuanced resolutionizers just start again?
Not to relate to the specifics of the MO issue, the idea that halakhic analysis is “pure,” unaffected by worldview in one way or another, is absurd. The Hungarian hashkafa of chadash assur min haTorah certainly informed the analysis of the halakhic sources in the teshuvos of those poskim. The Gemara even notes this, saying that the halakhic ruling of one of Chazal was due to his worldview of intense love for Eretz Yisrael. There are many many more examples of this, with which all those who learn she’alos uteshovos are familiar.
It’s at the very least the goal. To say, “People don’t always live up to a goal, so it’s bad to have that goal, and we should get rid of it,” is a paraphrase of Paul from the Christian bible. It has no place in Judaism. We strive towards correct goals no matter our success or failure.
I was not saying that it is an ideal that not all poskim live up to. I don’t think it is an ideal at all. Of course, I am not discussing cherry-picking sources to match one’s foregone conclusion. I am referring to an attitude that influences the way one decides how to ascribe weight to differing positions, and how to compare matters explicitly discussed in the source material to a case at hand. I do not think that the ideal posek would be the Watson computer combined with the Bar-Ilan database.
For a scholarly discussion by a well known writer see “TOWARD A SOCIOLOGY OF PSAK” by Prof Waxman available http://traditionarchive.org/news/originals/Volume%2025/No.%203/Toward%20a%20Sociology.pdf where he states “the more carefully one considers the issue the more it is
apparent that poskim are not simply computers and that, indeed, there are
many social forces which enter into psak, both in terms of specific rulings
made for individual cases and in terms of who is recognized at any given
time as a reputable pasek. Nor is this an issue over which there is any
implicit dispute between learned “right-wingers” and “modernists.””
00 is not Orthodox Judaism. Honestly, what is it going to take for people to get it?
It is laughable, how every time Katz debates someone, he argues his opponent lacks “nuance” or “sophistication” or both. To say that about Prof. David Berger it is humorous. When it comes from Katz who claims the entire “chareidi” world is monolithic, it is actually sad.
Radical movements misappropriate and redefine commonly used words as part of their Trojan horse strategy.
I think this is really what’s going on. For decades there has been a schism between YU and the “theology” of much of the MO laity. Katz and company seek to enlist the latter into their movement, and to accomplish this it’s important to maintain the Orthodox “branding”.
“Assault on” seems better than “assailment of”
“”Numerous close talmidim (students) of Rav Soloveitchik have told me that the Rav never used the term “Modern Orthodoxy”; there was only plain, unmodified “Orthodox Judaism” or “Torah Judaism””
The Rav was not into slogans/flags etc and Modern Orthodox for example means something different if “modern” is an adjective or an attribute.
The Rav, always demanded a strict following of halacha. He was the one who led the opposition to mixed pews. In many areas, such as hilkhot avelut, the construction of eruvin in cities, and his refusal to grant a shetar mekhirah even to close supporters authorizing non-Jewish workers to operate Jewish factories or commercial establishments on Shabbat, the Rav consistently issued rulings that are at least as machmir as those of chareidi authorities.
The Rav differed from the Haredi figures and makes him the authority figure of so-called “Modern Orthodoxy” is his endorsement of secular studies, not just for parnassah but as a lechatchilah-we can all think of numerous close students who only went to graduate school because of the Ravs encouragement and who the Rav encouraged to get their Phds. The Rav espoused of religious Zionism but not a messianic religious Zionism, and the Rav’s pioneering of intensive Jewish education including Talmud for women in the same manner as for men. The Rav was probably the only major Gadol in favor of the Orthodox movement NOT leaving the Synagogue of America -his attitude towards dialogue with non Jews was certainly different than other American gedolim. One can argue about each one of those positions from a traditional Jewish standpoint but it is plain revisionism to pretend that the Rav was identical to other gedolim in his approach.
So at what point do we just give this guy a little pat on the head and move on? He doesn’t even present himself as a worthy opponent, and his “taking on” the likes of Rav Schachter and Rabbi Berger just magnifies how out of his league he is.
One thing the OO chevra export in major quantities? Hubris.
To the extent thatyou may believe that too much ink is wasted on discussing OO-I agree. I don’t even think it is tactically wise. The last time I heard anyone associated with OO speak I believe was about 30 years ago when Rabi Weiss debated Rabbi Teitz onSoviet Jewry. “I have heard both RHS and Dr Berger numerous times and generally go to listen to them when they are in my neighborhood.
He doesn’t even present himself as a worthy opponent, and his “taking on” the likes of Rav Schachter and Rabbi Berger just magnifies how out of his league he is.”
It is irrelevant who is making the argument-one argues on logic, sources and precedents. Nothing prevents any of us from arguing with anyone we all have the right to do so to the extent that we can argue cogently. Of course, in halacha we are mandated to accept the halacha that is accepted in our communities-we can’t reopen settled halacha. New circumstances is where arguments can be made and then it is the quality of ideas. One idea that IMO is clearly wrong “when there is awill there is a halachik way” Anyone can argue-Dr Berger is not shy about responding. It is basically the quality of the argument that determines who gets followed.
Just to be clear, we’re in agreement on a number of points, including the ones you made in your second paragraph. Indeed, anyone can argue but as you put it so succinctly it’s to the extent that there is substantive content to the argument. Rabbi Katz has not demonstrated that ability, and so it’s hard to take him seriously.
I wonder why Katz always lists his semikah from R Yechezkel Roth and his learning at Novardok when he has utterly rejected the derech that he learned there?
Just a tad hypocritical, don’t you think?
“Modern Orthodox adjudication of capital crimes should look no different than if it were adjudicated by a chareidi posek; process (research) and product (conclusion) should be indistinguishable.”
The concern that many have (and this may be a side point) is in that “worldview”. The “Closed Orthodox” position would be to look for a way to kill the evildoer. The “Open Orthodox” position would be to automatically let him/her off (which is just as wrong). Chazal’s position (and what should be ours as well) is to look for all types of Chumrahs in the Issur Retzicha (even if they are Kulahs in the Chiyuv of Bais Din to punish) to let the person off, but reluctantly kill if absolutely needed. Unfortunately, reflecting the outlook of the respective societies, Chazal’s opinion may be better reflected by the “Modern Orthodox” Posek than the “Charaidi” one.
With some notable exceptions, it appears that most Tannaim and Amoraim were “modern” orthodox.
katz has clearly defined he movement he is associated as being outside the definition of Orthodoxy with his article. Orthodoxy, modern or otherwise was defined by making Halacha primary not secondary to the whims of the day. As opposed to all the various spin offs of Judaism. Which have all come up with ways of doing away with Halacha by trying to redefine the primacy of Halacha.
The real question to ask, is how does he and actually, why does he, insist on affiliating his movement at all with Orthodoxy?
Dear R. Gordimer.
You begin your article by casting aspersions rather than dealing with the arguments. You employ insidiously derogatory and insulting adjectives liberally sprinkled throughout, such as “feisty assailment, startling, sniping, alleged, shocking”. You then proceed to set the fact as axiom that R. Katz has already “veered off course”. Sorry, but somehow I thought this discussion was about attempting to drive at G-d’s Truth (חותמו של הקב’ה אמת). You claim to uphold the Torah but your words decry the attempt.
I suppose that I’ll just comment on your last statements.
“Having been educated, employed and professionally affiliated in the Modern Orthodox system for decades, I have heard and probably studied every possible explanation and major nuance of Modern Orthodoxy and the teachings of the sages from which Modern Orthodoxy claims to derive its approach. The concepts which Rabbi Katz articulated are totally foreign to the discourse; I cannot state it strongly enough.
R.Gordimer, I’m always suspicious when someones trumpets their education rather than discussing the issue itself. Arguments must stand on their own merits. How about an attempt at an intellectually honest and rigorous discourse? I suppose that’s why you claim R. Katz’s words are foreign because in your discourse there isn’t much room for facts and reasoned analysis.
Happy to see the good rabbi is back on his usual path; your foray into women in print brought your sensibility into question. But on this topic, in part I agree.
I don’t know Rabbi Katz and I suspect he does not know Rabbi Dr. Berger. Anyone knowing Dr. Berger would dismiss Rabbi Katz’s categorization of Dr. Berger’s views of how the halakhic process operates as naïve at best. I doubt Dr. Berger would be happy with either Rabbi Gordimer’s or Rabbi Katz’s view of the halakhic process.
My concern is davening with Jews who cheat and steal and do not show any level of remorse (except for getting caught) and are honored on their release by so-called gedolim. I can explain why someone would tolerate thieves, miscreants, defenders of sexual abusers, etc. but cannot abide one who questions traditional hashkafa; regrettably, only the latter is seen as a threat to their religious values.
Most interestingly Rabbi Gordimer asserts that a (modern) “Orthodox Jew should be learned both in Torah and in worldly studies” but that not impact his hashkafa or his psak. I guess doctors will tell us to eat red meat, but just avoid the cholesterol. Some traditional Jews encountered the world around them, others tried to isolate themselves; all were influenced by their environment. Revisionists always argue that the influence is only in the manner of expression, not in the underlying ideas themselves. Anyone who reads critically knows otherwise.
Dr Bill-ITeshuvah is required for transgressions that are viewed as Deos Raos as well as for Averos that you described.
Beneath R Katz’s veneer of yet another definition of what he described as Modern Orthodoxy but what is really modernity dictating what should be the Orthodox response to any issue is a total lack of any discussion or awareness of how he proposes that such a Zeitgeist driven definition ( in a way akin to how a politician responds to poll numbers) is capable of transmiting to the next generation any semblance of a committment to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. R Kataz and the institution that he is affilated with IMO utterly and completely fail to answer the question that all proponents of any hashkafa must answer-does his approach even remotely suggest why one should be a Shomer Torah UMitzvos.
Here is a blog post from Mottle Wolfe on Times of Israel and his recording of his interview with Zev Farber. Read and weep: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/who-wrote-the-bible-does-it-really-matter/.
Also check out his previous post of gay marriage. It only gets worse….
That Zev Farber doesn’t believe in Torah MiShamayim is not news. Is it fair to tie his views to various organizations that claim to accept Torah Misinai-IMO it is no fairer than to tie R David Hartman’s non belief in Torah to Rav Soloveitchik and RIETS.
When the views offered in the linked article are set forth as an answer to “why be Jewish” ( or why be a Shomer Torah UMitzvos), the spiritual poverty of such a POV is apparent, and presents no cogent approach to the next generation of how to approach the issue. One wonders what the author has in his mind when he davens and recites any Biorkas HaMitzvah. One sees no basis for which to transmit even the smallest fraction of a legacy of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim to the next generation. Offering the POV of “how else should I live” cannot serve as a spiritual conveyor belt to the next generation