The Agudah and YU: the Quiet Revolution and the New World Order

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28 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    That the Agudah makes peace the Rav ztl as portrayed by Rabbi Shurkin is hardly surprising or relevant.  How about as he was in reality.  Shurkin’s introduction left out one detail – he taught at Yeshiva University.
     

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Dr Bill-so do I what did-emend the Shaar Blatt and “RY of RIETS”.

      Anyone who reads the American Yated knows that there is more Kavod HaTorah for and favorable treatment of the RIETS RY therein than in the secular Jewish media.

      Mycroft-quoting Professor Lichtenstein’s POV on MO in America repeatedly doesn’t establish facts on the ground-that is like Bernie Sanders blaming Wall Street for “income inequality” when in fact , no is entitled to a free lunch-the world is different today and requires a different emphasis than being a Gadol HaDor with a PhD in neo Kantian philosophy simply because the secular culture on the ground is different-See RAL’s own comments on the changes on RIETS in the YU Judaica book, on why even someone without a college degree should be allowed to learn in RIETS and his own trenchant  critique of MO in his writings

      • mycroft says:

        “Mycroft-quoting Professor Lichtenstein’s POV on MO in America repeatedly doesn’t establish facts on the ground”-

        Her written relatively recent  opinion of how she believes that current RIETS RY have turned their backs on the worldview of the  Rav is relevant. Name one person who has as much credibility as Dr Lichtenstein who disagrees with her.

        “-the world is different today and requires a different emphasis than being a Gadol HaDor with a PhD in neo Kantian philosophy simply because the secular culture on the ground is different”

        I doubt many people even during the height of the Rav’s influence cared about Hermann Cohen. If you are saying that one need not follow the Rav because facts on the ground are different-the same argument can be made by others who wish to have different approaches than the Rav. Thus, if you state that the RY can reject the Rav’s positions because facts on the ground are different- don’t attack OO if they don’t follow the Rav’s positions.

        -“See RAL’s own comments on the changes on RIETS in the YU Judaica book, on why even someone without a college degree should be allowed to learn in RIETS and his own trenchant  critique of MO in his writings”

        RAL was clearly the Rav’s talmid muvhak-however, RAL was open that he had other influences than the Rav-including Rav Hutner and Rav A Soloveichik-those talmeidei chachamim had different hashkafot than the Rav.

         

    • Shoshana says:

      Maybe it’s obvious to me and not to others.  (writing as an ex-MO who turned Chareidi after college.)   The battle is over.   The Agudah or whoever was struggling for Yiddishkeit 50 years ago.  Where would Orthodoxy go?  They’ve won/earned enough constituents (established themselves) so they no longer worry over the entire future of orthodoxy.  They can hope/daven for more to join, but it’s not crucial in the same way as it was before.  They see Open Orthodoxy as a threat to the modern orthodox in a much more severe way and as such choose to speak out.

  2. Dr. E says:

    Rabbi Farkas:

    I think that you are correct on individual and interpersonal levels among Rabbonim and Rabbeim. This also occurs in scholarship appearing in print where there is cole level of collaboration and mutual recognition. However, many figures in the mainstream Agudah/Yeshiva world are still reluctant to validate YU as an institution.  This goes even for the Yeshiva/RIETS component of YU’s complex persona.  Therefore, for example, they will decline invitations to give shiurim on the YU campuses or speak at official YU forums. [And this is without any realistic expectation of reciprocity–despite the “Purim shtick” flyer going around several years ago which had YU Roshei Yeshiva scheduled to speak in Lakewood. 😉 ]

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Take a look at YU Torah- there are more than a few “mainstream Agudah/Yeshiva ” world figures who have and will speak in the Beis Medrash and in MO communities.  If you look at what I call the Page 6 of the Charedi world-the pictures of RY and Admorim at simchos in the American Yated, it is not uncommon at all to see pictures of RIETS RY.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Take a look at Mesorah and Beis Yitzchak’s past volumes if you want more evidence.

      The real point as expressed by the author is that the era of YU bashing is over and what should have been stressed- the Yeshiva and Chasidishe worlds discovered that one can be a Bas Torah and Ben Torah, get an undergraduate degree from Touro or elsewhere ( a BMg BTL for example) and get into the top graduate schools in the US.

  3. mycroft says:

    Essentially agree with the basic thoughts of Rabbi Farkas. IMO the truth is that Agudah and  current RY RIETS leadership have very little differences except on Zionism where probably the leading RIETS RY is chardal rather than the masui rather than ratsui approach of Agudah.

    “but YU itself was either becoming or showed itself to have always been – there are differences of opinion – closer to the Agudah than had been realized.”

    One can’t forget the Rav left the Agudah during WWII. The differences between the Rav and the Agudah were gigantic-just look at the JO “obituary” of the Rav. It was a disgraceful way to write about a recent niftar but it expressed the true beliefs of Agudah about the Rav

    “Books such as the HaRav series of intellectual biographies by R. Hershel Schachter, and the Harerei Kedem series of R. Michal Shurkin portrayed the Rav, R.Y.B. Soloveitchik, in full “Brisk-mode”, almost indistinguishable from his close relatives, Agudah figures such as R. Chaim Brisker and the Brisker Rav”

    To pretend that the Rav was similar in ideology to R Chaim Brisker or Rav Velvel is laughable on its face. The all taught torah. Could you imagine Rav Velvel or R Chaim encouraging many of their closest students to go for doctorates, can you imagine those two pushing women learning Talmud the same as men etc. All three were great marbeizei Torah and related-that is the common denominator.

    BTW-I think the major differences in the families approach did not start with the Rav-all of Rav Moshe’s children-were encouraged to learn general culture and they ALL  had advanced degrees. That certainly is not true for Rav Velvel.

    To pretend that one reading only those 2 authors of the Rav would get a complete picture of the Rav is to put it mildly questionable.

    The following from Prof Lichtenstein explains very easily  the thesis of Rabbi Farkas that RIETS and Agudah have gotten closer-it is that RIETS has turned its back on the Rav

    “In the United States, I believe that the influence of my father, the Rov, is on the decline, and part of the community which he taught and directed, is moving in other directions. There are those who are turning away from participation in the general culture as part of our tradition, and find their home exclusively in the four cubits of Torah, shying away from general culture and a commitment to Zionism. When the Rov appeared on the American scene, most of the community was inclining toward the left and the Conservative movement; today, the situation is more complex. The toil and effort which the Rov invested in raising a generation of Torah scholars has borne fruit and his students’ grandchildren, men and women, are involved in Torah study. And yet, there are former students, notable among them a number of faculty members or former faculty members at RIETS, who have not only turned their backs on the complex worldview the Rov espoused but are anxious to claim that the Rov himself turned his back on this view. It has even been claimed that “Whatever he (the Rov) did aside from learning Torah came to him coincidentally.” It is, indeed, preposterous to think that his major philosophical essays, which interweave general philosophy and science, are “coincidental.”

    • Steve Brizel says:

      FWIW, a very good friend of mine who is a RIETS musmach whose sons all learned in BMG, and who has close ties with the hanhala of Ner Yisrael, davens either in Lakewood or Ner Yisrael with the Mesoras HaRav Machzorim-and noone says anything about it. IIRC, isn’t one of the senior Mashgichim in Ner Yisrael a former chavrusa of a talmid of RYBS when he learned in  RIETS?

  4. Shades of Gray says:

     

    I agree with this article.  As one RIETS RY  put it:

    “the past twenty years has seen a narrowing of the ideological divide between YU and the Yeshivah World. Some of the “hot-button” issues that played out in the ’60s and ’70s have since run their course, and, with it, much of the stridency in rhetoric” (“An Interview With R. Elchanon Adler”, Kol Hamevaser, June, 2009).

    The Agudah now tries to communicate better even when criticizing; this is especially necessary in the internet age(in 2006, a Moetzes member said at the annual convention, “we can not always be engaged in y’min mekareves, because the truth we hold sacred most forever be upheld”… but  “neither do we want to be busy too much with s’mol docheh, because ultimately, it is not very productive”). Simultaneously, YU  “Slid to the Right”, moving closer to the Agudah, but also resulting in the creation of Open Orthodoxy.

    Ironically, the Slifkin issue, described by R. Adlerstein in a 2014  Tablet Magazine article  as  “watershed moment in contemporary yiddishkeit” represented a new divide that was less pronounced, for example,  in the times of Professor Cyril Domb(profiled this week in Mishpacha). One underlying point is  that unlike the 1950’s-1980’s, Bnei Torah no longer attended CUNY institutions and other secular colleges and became more insular(according to a recent Tablet Magazine article by Dr. Yaakov Elman, Rav Hutner commented to a  Chaim Berlin student, who was attending Brooklyn College at night, with a copy of one of the works of the German philosopher G. W. Friedrich Hegel in his hand, “It was better in the original!” ; I would add, parenthetically, regarding worldly rabbonim, that many people, myself included, had the  opportunity to   discuss  worldly issues with Rav Yisroel Belsky  zt’l, whose loss is now felt by many ). This change  did not affect the YU/Agudah divide, practically and organizationally,   for the reasons RDF mentioned in this post. I think of YU in some ways being  today  where the Agudah was in the 1950’s-1980’s.

    One way to look at the evolution of the YU/Agudah divide is how Dr. Yoel Finkelman discusses the Yavneh organization in his 2013 Torah U-Madda Journal article(“History and Nostalgia: The Rise and Fall of the Yavneh Organization”):

    “Yavneh’s demise signified not its failure, but its success, its growing redundancy. During the late 20th century,the right was not defeating the left, but the two sides of Orthodoxy were growing simultaneously, were constantly defining themselves through their disagreements with the other”

    • Steve brizel says:

      The war has been over for a while. In our law school class at cardozo we had a large number of from students including the future eExecutive VP of agudah who gave a chasan shiur for any of who were chasanim

       

  5. lacosta says:

    it’s not a marriage , not even a cohabitation—maybe more like neighbors that you occcaisionally say hi to,  and will borrow a cup of sugar from if hard-pressed. in many ways two separate communities with often non-overlapping [or even conflicting ]  interests  .  certainly there are very few communities whose rabbinical candidate could be either from a Haredi or a RIETS institution. certainly the type of education will vary . ‘university’  in this context may be glorified trade school , not a place to get a broad-based cultural education. certainly the amount of the goyish culture in the life of the two communities will differ markedly.           but could a  RY from either institution talk in tora to the other  [ not talk in the other institution–this is not a Messianic Time]  ?    absolutely…..

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Take a look at one of the new young rabbonim in the Five Towns-he learned in the Mir, BMG and RIETS, where he was a very popular and influential Sgan Mashgiach,  and rav of one YU’s neighborhood shuls in the Heights.

  6. An ordinary Jew says:

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I see this article as being sharply critical of the Aguda (with no criticism of the YU world). It is well known that all major decisions of the Aguda are directed by its Gedolim, and this kind of criticism is by extension an attack on those Gedolim. Furthermore, the author explicitly refers to Rav Schach, Rav Gifter, and Rav Svei Zt”l as figures with “complicated legacies.” I believe that public criticism of this sort is a large scale bizayon hatorah. These 3 people were among the greatest talmidei chachamaim of our time. They were not chas vsholom mere political figures. All of their decisions were guided by Daas Torah, and how can we have the audacity to judge them and publicly proclaim that they erred on many matters? Bizayon Talmidei Chachamim is an extremely serious matter, as codified in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 243:4.

    I will further conjecture the following. Most readers will agree with the author and dismiss my post as extremist and unreasonable. And nearly all or all of those readers will identify themselves as modern orthodox. I might be wrong, but I believe that a higher percentage of the “Aguda crowd” than the “YU crowd” are cognizant of this very serious issue of Bizayon Talmidei Chachamim, and think very carefully indeed before criticising Gedloim, especially in public. None of us are eager to lose our share of Olam Haba r”l (as stated by the aforementioned Shulchan Aruch). It surprises me that the Cross-currents administration actually published this piece.

    I welcome a rebuttal, and ask mechila if I’ve misjudged.

     

    • DTF says:

      Reb Ordinary Jew,

      I hardly think this is “sharp criticism” of the Agudah world. And speaking of being judgmental, I wouldn’t rush to conclusions that the YU world doesn’t care about “bizayon talmidei chachomim” – they would just say that questioning some of their past decisions does not amount to bizayon. (Not to go on too far of a tangent, but similar issues come up with regard to the “sins” of the Avos mentioned in Bereishis. While some rishonim will explain them away, others rishonim will clearly say that our forefather had sinned and made a mistake. I don’t think you can accuse those rishonim of having no respect for our avos.)

      In the end,  you are just highlighting that there still remain differences between the Agudah world and the YU world, and this is definitely one area. Those in the Agudah world are far less likely to ever imply that one of their gedolim was anything other than perfect  – at least publicly. But RDF was not arguing that the two groups had become one – only that the battles between them have been disappearing.

    • mycroft says:

      “It is well known that all major decisions of the Aguda are directed by its Gedolim,”

      To what extent  the Agudah has been a laity controlled or Rabbinic controlled organization has been a point of dispute since the Agudah’s founding see The Politics of Torah-The Jewish  Political Tradition and the Founding of Agudat Israel by Alan Mittleman

      “All of their decisions were guided by Daas Torah,”

      One can’t categorically state that about anyone-one who knew someone may guess that about one person but even then we are not bochen kliyot valev. I have no reason to doubt your statement but also have no reason to doubt that statement about most people including some attacked by writers in CC. I suspect most of us have not spoken to all 3 of the people you mentioned.

       

    • Ben Bradley says:

      I for one do not identify as modern orthodox yet see no problem with the article, I certainly don’t see sharp criticism of the aguda or bizayon talmidei chachamim. If you think most readers of this blog identify as modern orthodox  then either you’ve not very familiar with the discussions on here or perhaps this is not the forum for you. One of the hallmarks of this blog is honest discussion of the views of Torah scholars of all camps, including those who were not Agudists.

  7. GG says:

    Rabbi DF,

    A very well written article. I think another factor is that the Agudah is mainly engaged in politics and not really a Yeshiva per Se. As such there interests have become about getting influence in Washington and school tuition . Other than the statement against OO I don’t recall any significant halachic or hashkafic pronouncement.

  8. I would add, that for those who believe this kind of criticism is not Bizayon Talmidei Chachamim, please see Kovetz Iggros Chazon Ish vol 3 #92, and Michtav M’Eliyahu vol 1 p. 75.

    • Contemporary of DF in NIRC says:

      For the vast majority of us who won’t look up the sources, could I suggest you quote them?

  9. dr. bill says:

    I think the responses reflect the spectrum of opinion pretty accurately.  Yes, if you count only current most current RIETS RY and members of chareidi-lite world, the differences are minor and the acceptance between groups may be acceptable, particularly in integrated communities.  But the chareidi lite world still bows in the direction of their icons on the Moetzet and Israel, where such tolerance is less apparent.  And while you no longer hear rhetoric from charedi icons that degrades talmidai chachamin associated with YU as the article deftly expressed, as was noted by a commenter you also do not see even a modicum of respect towards RIETS.
     
    I would be the first to admit that greatness in both Torah and maddah in one individual is exceedingly rare.  But that does not mean that observant Maddah centric individuals are not to be valued for what they bring to a traditional Jewish community.  Their judgment is likely to complement (if not trump) daas torah in their respective domains.  Take philosophy, where anyone with good training is more likely be able to address challenges to the ikrai emunah more cogently than many Torah icons who still expound debunked ideas.  Or take history, where there is little appreciation for what exists outside the Jewish world and how that might inform a religious outlook.  To this type of a modern orthodox stand, the right has minimal or no tolerance.

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    ” In the year 2016, the Agudah and YU are both standing tall. ”

    I don’t know about AI, but YU is barely standing, having lost almost half its endowment because of incompetence, corruption, or some combination thereof, having laid off lots of faculty and ended programs, having increased tuition to Ivy League levels despite having far fewer opportunities in the secular side, and having had to divest itself of its medical school so that it can no longer be ranked as a “research intensive university”. 

  11. Shades of Gray says:

    Some interesting points about Rav Gifter zt’l:

    In the Torah U-Maddah Journal  article I referred to in my previous comment, R. Gifter’s involvement in Yavneh is discussed. A relative of mine who went to Brooklyn College while attending Torah Vodaas in the 1960’s remembers hearing R. Gifter speak at a  Columbia University Yavneh event(men and women on separate sides) and described him as dazzling the audience. On the same day, he met R. Gifter in a Midtown restaurant(roshei yeshiva apparently need to eat, too 🙂  ).

    A few years ago, one of the editors of the Jewish Observer spoke as part of a  lecture series in Bnei Yehuda in Boro Park. He mentioned that R. Gifter strongly encouraged him to have R. Aryeh Kaplan write for the JO.

    R. Slifkin’s website has a ” Letter from Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, late Rosh Yeshivah of Telze, on the age of the universe” to R. Pinchas Stolper in which he writes:

    כמו כן ברור שמה שכמה החושבים עצמם למאמינים קוראים “אפיקורסות” הוא מחסרון דעת.

  12. Contemporary of DF in NIRC says:

    I think a couple corrections are due…Rav Elia Svei z”l wasn’t niftar until years later, although he was indeed sick. Regardless, the passing of these giants did not factor in to this discussion because the rabbanim who replaced them were of the same mindset.

    As well, while I can’t speak for the Agudah itself, the “Agudah community” has certainly not conceded on the Internet war, as illustrated by the many schools who have strict and enforced policies regarding having it in the home, it’s use, it’s filtering, etc.

    The Jewish Observer didn’t close it’s doors because of the Internet. Many magazines have flourished in recent years. They were simply drowned out.

    And IMHO, I think the article points to a phonomenoh that hasn’t truly transpired. The Agudah simply reserves it’s energy for where it can be productive. Reb Dovid, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how our rebbeim would respond to your remarks?

    • dr. bill says:

      You may be correct that the views of Rabbis Svei and Shach are largely held but their successors.  However, they had a different public posture and rhetoric than RYK, RMF, RSZA, etc.  The latter seem to have impacted the Agudah’s current public posture and rhetoric at least in the US.  On a personal level, Rabbi Svei’s involvement with a number of items wrt to the Rav ztl makes it difficult for me to view him objectively;  I have no such problem with most other american chareidi gedolim.

  13. mordy rakover says:

    i think part of why the agudah and yu have found peace is because the world of yu has some serious high calibre talmidei chachamim who agudists cant bring themselves to reject much like the lithuanian and polish torah worlds could never fully condemm Rav Kook z”l (unlike the Hungarians with the chodosh assur min HaTorah tradition of Hisbadlus). Furthermore the Aguda has become a far more baalebatishe orginization and right or wrong many bnei Torah especially of the Brisk/Israeli Olam HaTorah persuasion are not involved and are even critical of Agudah.

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