Thursday, August 31, 2006

Modern Orthodoxy II

[A shortened version of this first part appeared earlier -taon]

Sislovitz, White Russia, 1900. A young masmid (diligent Torah scholar) by the name of Aaron Pines spends his days and night immersed in Torah learning. He is an intellectual prodigy, an anomaly among his peers. He is also an orphan – his mother died when he was an infant, and his father, the Rav of Sislovitz, passed away when he was just 12.

Having no home, Aaron thought to perhaps stay in the dormitory of a yeshiva, but first he had to be admitted - an impossible task for a child of 12. But he had little choice.

So he walked into the great Yeshiva of Slabodka, and, approaching the great Tzadik, The Alter of Slabodka, Aaron lacked the nerve to request admission to the Yeshiva Gedolah at such a young age, so instead he just began speaking to the Alter “in learning.”

After a while, the Alter said to him, “I know who you are and why you are here. You are the son of the Sislovitzer Rav, and you want to come to the Yeshiva.”

“How do you know?” Aaron asked.

“Such a genius like you could only be the son of the Sislovitz Rav, who was a similar genius, and only an orphan would travel alone to Slabodka at age 12. There would be no reason for you to do this other than you need a home here in the Yeshiva.”, answered the Alter.

The Alter admitted Aaron into the Slabodka yeshiva. Aaron’s dorm room was 2 blocks away from the yeshiva, but being so young, he was scared to return to his room at night after his studies. So every night, the Alter of Slabodka would come back to the Yeshiva, to walk little Aaron the 2 blocks to his dormitory.

Aaron’s name quickly spread far and wide as a truly amazing young Talmid Chacham. His brilliance had even impressed the tenacious Rogatchover Gaon ZT”L, a feat that few of even the greatest of the great of the generation could accomplish.

But even in Europe, in the small town of Sislovitz, the winds of modernization blew. His older sister, a brilliant woman in her own right, and secularly educated, tried her best to convince her beloved brother Aaron to abandon the outdated idea of learning Torah all day and to dedicate at least part of his time to the pursuit of secular studies. “The world is changing”, she told him. “The old ghetto life will soon whither and die. You’re so bright, Aaron, you have such potential. I implore you, don’t waste your life with the ‘old’ way. You can really grow up to be something important. You can really make a difference. If you pursue the ‘old way’, you will disappear into obscurity. Nobody will ever hear of you in this world.”

But Aaron was not impressed. He believed that just as Hashem does not change so too the Torah does not change, and the way of the Torah does not change. Cultures and civilizations rise and fall, but the Torah remains constant. Aaron ignored promises of fame and fortune, and stubbornly continued serving Hashem in the holiest way possible: dedicating his life to the splendor of His Torah.

As a young Torah scholar, Aaron’s name spread far and wide, to some, as one of the greatest Torah scholars of his time; and still to others, as one of the greatest wastes of talent of his time. But Aaron knew what he believed in: it was the power of Torah to overcome all.

In those days, all able-bodied young men were forced to serve in the Russian army. No freedom of religion was allowed, and so military service was like unto a death sentence for religious young men. There was, however, a military dispensation if you were an only child with no siblings. So in order to protect himself from the draft, Aaron adopted the family name of an elderly couple in his home town that passed away without any children. This way, he would appear as having no siblings, and be saved from serving in the army.

From that day on, our young Torah scholar was known as Rabbi Aaron Kotler.

Rav Aaron grew to be the greatest Torah gaon of his generation, and the most vehement fighter against modern Orthodoxy on these shores. In Rav Aaron’s own words:

“The Modern Orthodox claim that their path is the true path of Judaism, that it is the path that was followed by our ancestors throughout the generations, but that they only add some modernizations and insignificant changes in order to make the Torah appealing to the masses. But the truth is that this small point is the same as the point of the Reform, and it is at the heart of hearts of the great defection from Torah and religion in past generations. They [Modern Orthodox] change [our] ways and twist [our] concepts.” (Mishnas Rav Aharon III p.216)

Rav Aharon taught that no matter people say or believe, there is no force in the world stronger than Torah. One word of the Torah contains more light and strength than all the galaxies put together. Torah is the force with which the entire cosmos was formed.

Said a leader of Modern Orthodoxy about life in America. “We would be enveloped by a new economic order. . . society would be based on science, where “the sun and the moon and the eleven stars” will radiate scientific learning and technology.”

Light? Sun? Stars?

Every time a little child in 5th grade raises his hand to ask a question on his chumash lesson he ignites the entire universe in a display of flame and fireworks that outshines ten thousand suns!

Every time a Kollel yungerman learns another page of gemora, worlds upon worlds are created, enough power is unleashed into the Shamayim that Hashem Himself, kav’yochel, gets nachas from it, and proudly proclaims to the all His heavenly hosts, “Look! My dear children are abandoning everything else in the world to learn My Torah!” (Zohar Vayera).

You’re worried about the “light” of technology? Then LET THE LIGHT OF TORAH BURN BRIGHTER, ever brighter, and watch as the glitter and glamor of the world disappears like a single candle in a blazing universe.

If the energy of secular America and the energy of Talmidei Chachamim learning Torah do collide, just watch as America gets swept away like dust specs in a hurricane.

If America is a spiritual wasteland incompatible with pure torah, then let Torah shine, and watch as America bows, for the entire universe is subservient to Torah.

Rav Aharon taught that to say Torah stands no chance of survival against of the “powerful forces of America” without “integration into the social and economic culture” is wrong! To think that any forces mustered in this world, in this universe, can “swallow up” the light of Torah scholars is an insult to Torah and the Creator of the world.

No, said Rav Aharon. If it is difficult to be frum in America, the solution is more Torah, not less; what will give us the spiritual strength and the siyata d’shmaya we need is increased dedication to Limud HaTorah, not to secular studies.

So Rav Aharon set up a Yeshiva where there will be no secular studies, where there will be no tests, no “smicha” programs (although if someone wanted smicha he could receive it), no “degrees”, no “certifications”, nothing. Nothing except the learning of Torah for the sake of learning Torah. Not learning Torah as a means to any end, not even to become a “rabbi” or “teacher” (although if one wanted to that would be altogether proper) but rather as the greatest end in the world. That’s what I will do, Rav Aharon said. And let’s see. Let’s see whose light shines brighter.

Torah only. For Torah’s sake. “L’shmah”, it was called.

Here’s what happened:

In April, 1942, Rav Aharon started a yeshiva in a small town called Lakewood, NJ, with 12 students. Not necessarily the best or the brightest, but 12 boys willing to learn Torah l’shmah, 12 little flames lighting up the universe, while others were busy “integrating into America’s socio-economic culture”.

Rav Aharon’s Yeshiva grew, but it was a struggle. Rav Aharon himself went collecting to ease the financial burden of supporting the students. Rav Aharon said it is worth walking up 5 flights of stairs for even one dollar to support the Light of Torah.

When Rav Aharon passed away, 20 years later, in 1962, Bais Medrash Govoha of Lakewood had 150 students. And two more Torah L’shmah Yeshivas were opened by students of Rav Aharon, in Missouri (St. Louis) and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

But despite Rav Aharon’s success, people were not deterred from preaching the imminent dousing of the “separatist” flames of Torah in America. Indeed, the words quoted in our “Modern Orthodoxy” boards about the vital necessity of creating a “new type” of Talmid Chachamim and the necessity of integrating into American society were said in the 1960’s, not the 1940’s!

But Gedolim Tzdikim b’misasan yoser mib’chayehen, “Tzadikim are greater in their death than they are in their life.” By 1980, Beth Medrash Govoha was not only a flourishing Torah institution but the largest Yeshiva in the history of America, the largest in the world, with over 1,000 students.

Today, BMG boasts over three thousand full time Torah-only students, the largest Yeshiva Klall Yisroel has seen in thousands of years. Literally thousands of new students apply for admission each year, and the number of students accepted is limited only by the physical constraints of available facilities. Dozens of branches of BMG have opened up all over the USA and the world, as far as Australia.


1999, New York

“Of late, there seems to be no end to articles in learned journals and the daily press lamenting the impending demise of Modern Orthodoxy “ – Rabbi Dr. Walter S. Wurzburger Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Yeshiva University and Rabbi Emeritus of congregation Shaaray Tefila, Lawrence N.Y. He served as president of the Rabbinical Council of America and of the Synagogue Council of America.

"To be a modern Orthodox Jew today is often to feel lonely, to be without a community in which to ask ideological questions," said Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, Headmaster, pluralistic New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass ordained at Yeshiva University. Quoted in a JTA article titled, “1,500 modern Orthodox converge to define identity”

“Modern Orthodoxy needs a new rabbinical school committed to combining the best in Jewish scholarship with the best in Western cultural studies and progressive thinking, argued Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, headmaster of the New Jewish School of Greater Boston. His alma mater, Yeshiva University, has long been recognized as an institution that synthesizes traditional Jewish values and modern culture. But Lehmann called it "a generation behind intellectually. . . We need to be honest," Lehmann said. "We are the left of Orthodoxy." - “Conference probes challenges of modern Orthodoxy “ By JULIA LIEBLICH ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2/99


"Every single word of newly stated Torah rises straight up to Hashem's Kisei Hakavod. Hashem Himself embraces it, kisses it, crowns it, and holds it dearly. These single words are the material from which the worlds of the future are made". - Rav Chaim Volozhen, Nefesh HaChaim 4:20.


Modern Orthodoxy believes in going out into the world and making a living, interacting with society?

So a Satmar Chosid computer programmer is Modern Orthodox?

Is Rabbi Abraham Twersky MD, Modern Orthodox?


Please explain how studying anthropology, for instance, makes you a better Jew. And clarify please, if you have 2 Jews, one learns all day and the other learns part of the day and the rest of the day studies anthropology, that, all else being equal, the anthropologist is the better Jew?


If it says in the Torah that certain things are good, then even non-Modern-Orthodox Jews agree. If it does not, then how do you determine what is a "good" part of culture and what is not? Perhaps socialism is superior to democracy?

Outside of the Torah, what is your gauge of values?

And if I am in favor of democracy, think Salvador Dali made nice paintings, and of the opinion that Kitaro's "Silk Road" is a nice tune, then I am modern orthodox?

And why are these factors sufficient to create a new "branch" of orthodoxy?


"Yeshivish" is meaningless. It's not a movement, not an ideology. It's merely a nickname, or a colloquialism. Not everyone has to belong to a movement. But Modern Orthodoxy considers itself a movement, and therefore it must have a mission, a definition.

MO means you do "Torah v'avodah' because you want to? Why? What's the reason to want to? Wasn't going to work a curse for Adam? And, as I asked before, does this mean that someone who learns half the day and goes to college or works the other half, is superior to someone who learns Torah the whole day? If mada or avodah are pursued because you WANT them, and this becomes part of your philosophy of Orthodoxy, then that should be the preferable situation, right?

Also, does this mean that someone who learns in Kollel cannot be Modern Orthodox?

Regarding the leniencies. There are relatively strict and lenient people within all segments of Orthodoxy. Some married women shave their heads, some wear shaitlach but prohibit human hair, some permit even that. Some people keep a 72 minute Motzoi Shabbos and some are Maikel and keep 45 or 50, even though it is an issue of sofek chilul Shabbos.

Yet these leniencies would not qualify one as Modern Orthodox. So the question is, how much does one have to be lenient in order to enter the realm of "Modern Orthodoxy"?

And since Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik was the preeminent authority for Modern Orthodox Jewry, does that mean he, too was lenient? In what? He was makpid on Cholov Yisroel, for instance. Does this make those who follow Rav Moshe's heter more Modern Orthodox than Rabbi Soloveichik?


Torah Im Derech Eretz and Modern Orthodoxy are identical? I agree that Rav Hirsh would incorporate the element of secular studies, but is that all Modern orthodoxy is? What is the correlation between Rav Hirsch and coeducational Yeshivas and camps, teaching Talmud to girls, and other such exclusively Modern Orthodox practices?

If Modern orthodoxy is Rav Hirsch’s teachings, then would you consider the members of Khal Adas Yshurun, Rav Hirsch’s kehilla transplanted to America, all Modern Orthodox?

Would not Rav Hirsch’s own Kehilla of German descended- Jews – then be supporters of Modern Orthodoxy is this were true? But the reality is not so, the following is a quote from Rav Shimon Schwab ZTL, Rav of Khal Adas Yeshurun, Rav Hirsch’s Kehilla in America:

“Sometimes the Modern Orhtodox Halachic foolishness which is flirting with the anti-Torah establishment may border on heresy. This is all part and parcel of the spiritual confusion of the dark ages in which we happen to live” (Rav Shimon Schwab, Mitteilungen, Bulletin of Khal Adas Yeshurun April/May 1989).

This, from the Rav of the Torah Im Derech Eretz people, in the official newsletter of the Kehilla.

You may agree of disagree with Rav Schwab, but clearly supporting Rav Hirsh’s philosophy does not preclude being vehemently against Modern Orthodoxy.

Do you really believe that the Modern Orthodox movement sat down one day and said “We want to be students of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch”? When did this happen? Who decided this?

Clearly, although it is true that Rav Hirsch had something in common with Modern Orthodoxy – the element of secular education – they are two very different movements.


Rav Schwab's article, (which was reprinted in Selected Writings as "He Who Loves Does Not Hate", had nothing to do with joining non-Orthodox groups. He was talking about mainstream Modern Orthodoxy. It was written after an article by Rabbi Hershel Shachter of YU regarding Land for Peace. Rav Schwab was harassed with derogatory leaflets and prank calls after he wrote the article (In Selected Writings, he added a statement at the end of the article telling of the harassment he endured).

I personally asked Rav Schwab if he was referring to Rabbi Shachter in his article, and he said "No. Not him specifically. I meant people like him."

Again, one either agrees or disagrees with Rav Schwab, but let's not misunderstand what we are agreeing or disagreeing with.

The Khal Adas Yeshurun are indeed primarily those whose parents and grandparents were followers of Rav Hirsch in Germany. To so thoroughly discredit their interpretation of Rav Hirsch's weltanshauung is absurd unless you have serious proof that they are so wrongheaded. You have not an iota of that.


So basically, MO is simply Zionism combined with the belief that not everyone has to learn in Kollel, and that the secular world has something to offer (that something includes, it seems, secular studies).

Who disagrees with any of this??

Nobody believes that everyone has to always learn in Kollel.

Nobody believes that the secular world has nothing to offer.

So we still have no answer to the question, "How do you know who is MO?"

And if this is all MO is, why are coed Yeshivos found exclusively and without exception, among MO Torah institutions?

And how much "secular studies" is necessary to be MO? College? High school? Post grad? Continuing education?


Everyone claims they are following the Torah -- Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Jews for Jesus. Calling it "Daas Torah" and calling yourself "Orthodox" does not prove that you are indeed following the Torah more than anyone else. These are just words, and anyone can use them.

So yes, we need not to fight, but we need to know the truth. What is "Daas Torah" and what is not? Maybe nobody. Maybe everybody. Maybe only one opinion. The people on these boards are asking just that. When you have no answers, it is a healthy thing to seek the truth, whatever it is.

If someone says "I am just a kid I can't back up what I believe" then how do you know what you believe is right? How do you know who to follow? The fact that a movement calls itself "Orthodox" does not mean it is legitimate, and nobody disagrees with that. How, then do you know what qualifies a movement as legitimate?

If every Orthodox movement is legitimate, then you are in for a logical paradox, because there are Orthodox movements that call MO "illegitimate". So is it a legitimate to say that Mo is illegitimate?

The reason for my omitting posts has nothing to do with them being offensive, but rather posts that basically say "Hey! You can't say that something is wrong because you're offending those that do it!" contribute nothing to the discussion topic, which is, is said something right or wrong.

Everyone has an obligation in this world to find the truth. If someone or many someones insist on following a path that is not in accordance with Torah and then call it Torah, and then demand respect for following the Torah, they are causing fights.

And if people cannot even explain WHY they believe they are following the Torah ("Orthodox" labels do not qualify as a reason), they must worry that perhaps they are causing fights in the above manner.


Rav Aharon ZTL may have spoken at the RCA for whatever reason, but he was clearly, decidedly, unequivocally, vehemently, against Modern Orthodoxy. Please see Mishnas Rav Aharon (Hesped on Brisker Rav) where he explicitly compares them to the Conservative movement, for both of them make compromises based on what they feel is “needed” for the better of Judaism. He spent his life fighting against the secular education attitude, and commented about a very, very prominent and revered leader and Halachic authority of Modern Orthodoxy (who shall remain unidentified here) that he is responsible for “most of the tumah in America”.

Even his son, Rav Schneur ZTL, who was known for his kindly and humble manner, refused to walk in to the building of Yeshiva University. At the funeral of a close friend of his that was taking place there, he had his driver circle the building until the procession came outside, at which point he joined.

Modern Orthodoxy is far from universally accepted as legitimate. Meaning, it was wrong to create it in the first place.

If you would like to disagree with Rav Aharon ZTL and the rest, that’s one thing. But please do not falsify their views.

The problem is that you speak in terms like what is “with Torah Judaism” or “affiliations” or being “close with”. All this is not the point. Obviously, nobody is saying that it is prohibited to walk into a YI or YU. Rav Schneur ZTL, as the Rosh Yeshiva of the largest Yeshiva in the world, was merely underscoring his opposition to it, as opposed to making a Halachic ruling.

There are levels of unacceptability, and to say that well, MO was not treated like Conservatism is true, but irrelevant. We do not consider Islam idolatry, as we do Christianity. But that does not mean that we accept it. The fact that there are worse movements does not mean that MO is accepted. And the fact that “associations” sometimes exist does not change that, any more than the fact that Rabbi Sherer of the Agudah was “close” with Cardinal O’Conner. (That was merely a demonstration that affiliations and closeness do not imply approval; it was not a comparison to Christianity).

But let’s be fair, here’s a quote:

“The ani maamin . . . rejects a further theory, that separation from the world is the only way to observe Torah. In other words those who uphold this theory of complete isolation admit by their silence the position of the reformers that within the modern cultural, historical constellation the observance of Mitzvoth and the study of Torah are almost impossible”.

- Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, Five Addresses, p.175

There is a great gap between Modern Orthodox and non-Modern Orthodox. A very great gap. Does this mean, according to anyone, that MO is considered idolatry? No. Does it mean that we cannot include them in a Minyan? Of course not! But does it mean they are misguided, that the movement is wrongheaded, and Hashem would have been happier if the movement never would have started to begin with? And that for every Jew who joins it, instead of the traditional Orthodoxy (for lack of a better term), Hashem is unhappy?

Yes, it does. And according to Modern Orthodoxy, as espoused by their leading theologian, the same thing applies to at least some of their opponents’ (I am not sure exactly who fits the above description) philosophy as well.

So you may be right, or you may be wrong. Or you may be a little right and a little wrong. But you should find out, because yes, it DOES matter. A lot.


In the interest of fairness, I would like, first, for those who consider themselves modern Orthodox to explain simply what that means.

So far we have many different, even dissenting opinions. And question still remain unanswered. Such as:

Question: How much secular knowledge does one need to fulfill the requirements of MO? Elementary school? Post graduate school?

Do I have to know computers? Programming? How many languages? Where do I begin and where do I stop?

Question: If secular studies make you a better "person" do they make you a better Jew? Doesn't mussar seforim also make you a better person? So why would I choose to study anthropology more than Rav Yisroel Salanter? In my quest to be a better person, am I not abandoning the better path for the less effective?

Question: Even if we concede that there is some value to secular knowledge, what about priorities? Isn't there more value in Torah? There is value in pennies but more value in dollars, so which should I pursue? There is only 120 years in a lifetime, in which I cannot even finish Torah! So why should I spend time that could be providing me with Torah, on anthropology?

Question: Is ALL secular knowledge in this category? Knowledge of sports? The latest developments in the UNIX platform? The different approaches to mass transportation in different cities? The sleeping habits of duck billed platypuses? The latest developments in pornography? What is and what isn’t? If going to college means spending required time on non-productive knowledge as well, is it worth it?

And what does any of this have to do with the coed yeshivos, Zionism, or many other exclusively MO practices?




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