Thursday, August 31, 2006

Modern Orthodoxy IV

The issue is: Nothing in this world has intrinsic value except Torah. Nothing. Any value anything else has in the world is only insofar as it is useful to our Torah accomplishments. That include sticks, stones, and secular knowledge. The idea that secular world's values have some intrinsic value beyond their utility function to assist us in Torah, is a modern one with no basis.

The right way to look at the secular world is that it is, at best, valueless intrinsically; the wrong way is that it has value intrinsically.

Therefore, the only conceivable reason to integrate into the outside world is only to the extent and degree that it has some Torah value. But to do so because of some value it has in and of itself, is plain kefirah.

This includes secular knowledge, studies, money, power, and anything the whole wide world has to offer. There is no intrinsic value.

Therefore, any encouragement of acquiring secular knowledge or pursuing secular values beyond what you need to perform Mitzvos or learn Torah better, is against the Torah.

This does not mean nothing in the world makes us feel good, but nothing in the world is valuable. There is a big difference.


Attitude toward secular world was mentioned without reference to Rabbi Soloveichik. So what's the point that he believed one way or the other? It does not bear on our discussion.

What does "a positive attitude toward worldly wisdom" mean? That is so ambiguous. What is positive about worldly wisdom? And is it ALL worldly wisdom?

What does "Believed in studying all wisdom...(and in) being a highly educated person" mean?

Why? Is it a Mitzvah? How highly educated must a person be? How many years of possible Torah learning, how many Mesechtos should a person give up to learn .... what? Anthropology? Or are we talking about only certain subjects?

What happened to the gold coins that we have only a few hours to collect? Why should we spend our time on stuff that will not merit for us Olam Habbah? Why are we allowed to? And even if we are allowed to, why should we bother, when we can spend out time earning Olam Habah?


Can you tell me, for instance, what Mesechta you're learning and how secular studies helps to understand it?

Number two, this does not justify hours and hours spent in college, post graduate classes, liberal arts, and many other chunks of time spent in secular classrooms. it's quite obvious that before a modern orthodox college student chooses his courses they are not limited only to those which will help him in his learning. Please come up with something realistic.

And third, that's not the reason for modern orthodoxy anyway -- Rabbi Soloveitchik stated clearly that it is "better for the soul" to learn all day, but in America the only way Torah can survive is through integration into secular society.


The problem is, Modern Orthodoxy is not a Kiruv organization. If instead of creating a new type of Orthodoxy, the proponents of MO would have said, “You know, perhaps it’s a good Kiruv idea to create an organization to be Mekarev those Jews who unfortunately integrate themselves into secular society, and instead of the normal demands we make on our youth to be full-fledged Bnei Torah, we will make allowances for these youths and work with them on their terms as much as possible”, the issue could be discussed.

But instead, they created a new version of Orthodoxy. Just imagine, if the Yeshurun people decided to mainstream their Kiruv organization, and create “Yeshurun Orthodoxy.” (“Torah V’Taaruvos” it could be called). All the time and place-specific heterim that were given for Yeshurun in France would now become the default mode of Orthodox living. Not only those who are in danger of assimilating, but all Orthodox youth will now be able to go on field trips with girls, and all the compromises that were made for the unfortunate Jewish youths in France becomes part of typical Orthodox living.

“Rav Weinberg permitted yeshurun, so we have gedolim who agree with us, too,” they would say. “There are some Jews that will surely be attracted to Judaism now that we have girls and boys mixing. Bravo for Yeshurun Orthodoxy.”

“Hey!” people will tell them. “Slow down. Rav Weinberg said it’s OK for a Kiruv organization to do this, which is an emergency situation. He didn’t say that’s what Orthodoxy is supposed to be!”

An extremely important distinction needs to be made between an emergency situation for individuals versus mainstream expectations of normative orthodoxy. Although we make allowances in order to be mekarev people who need it, and sometimes, in the case of an individual ready to do an aveirah, we would even HELP HIM SIN, in order to prevent him from doing a greater sin on his own (for instance, if someone is going to eat a treif hamburger, we are permitted and even encouraged to give him a better-tasting hamburger of, say, chicken and cheese – prohibited only m’drabonon – to prevent him from doing the worse sin).

However. However, when we make an exception it must remain the exception and never become the rule. We never, ever are allowed to permit the emergency tactics to become mainstream. This is because although people are imperfect, religion is perfect. And once you have allowed the exception to become the rule, you have made religion imperfect. This principle is found in a number of places.

The most classic place to look is Akeidas Yitzchok, Vayiera. He had a situation where there was an epidemic of adulterous relationships in his community. A solution was proposed where, for the sake of obvious “kiruv” reasons, they would allow concubines in the community, which is much less of a sin than married women.

“What would you rather have,” people said, “Mamzerim? Married women having affairs? Or concubines?”

“Not everyone is on the level to be monogamous! We have to deal with those people or we will lose them”, they could say.

The Akeidas Yitzchok said it is better to have the Mamzerim and married affairs than to allow the concubines. Because Kiruv practices such as this is justified ONLY on an individual level, NOT on a mainstream one. You can make such permits for an individual, or perhaps for a group of individuals, but you cannot make such official permits for the public.

I always suspected that the Akeidas Yitzchok’s reasoning was based on the Yam Shel Shlomo in Bava Kamma which states that you may not misrepresent the Torah’s policies even under penalty of death. I figured that that would explain why don’t have the same flexibility when dealing at large that we do when dealing with individuals for Kiruv purposes. Because by creating new public permits you are misrepresenting the Torah, since you are taking an exception and making it look as if it is the rule. I once asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a if my interpretation is true, and he concurred.

The reason Modern Orthodoxy was accepted by those who accepted it, was not because they believed it is superior or even equal to traditional Orthodoxy, but because they believed then that Modern Orthodoxy was the only type of Orthodoxy that could survive in America. Quote:

“There is secular culture, great and powerful technology creating wonders and changing the foundations of our life . . .this secular culture entails destructive elements, many negative and perverse aspects; it may be a blessing and a curse simultaneously, and thus AS LONG AS ONE CAN LIVE WITHOUT IT SO MUCH THE BETTER FOR THE SPIRIT – [but] finally we will have to relate to it. The confrontation will . . . take place . . .in a new and alien land where the tempo of life is greatly accelerated and fundamental changes occur daily. G-d’s decree: “your seed will be strangers in a land not their own” will be fulfilled sooner or later. In a “land not their own”, I fear, we will not be able to maintain a separation between us and the surroundings. . . . Our intellectual forces will completely assimilate. On the other hand, if we think for the future, we can plan for . . . a new economic and social order.” (Rabbi JB Soloveichik, Five Addresses, p.28).

Clearly, Modern Orthodoxy itself believes (or believed once upon a time) that they are compromising. The problem is that these compromises, instead of an individualized emergency treatment plan, like Yeshurun, was introduced as a new public version of Orthodoxy. As a “Bais Shamai” to Ultra Orthodoxy’s “Bais Hillel”. That cannot be allowed.

Of course, that is one reason why, as Rabbi Soloveichik admits, he stood basically alone against the Torah world in this idea. He compares this to Yoseph HaTzadik who stood alone against his brothers. “However”, he adds, “to our great sorrow, while the tribes of G-d thousands of years ago finally admitted Joseph’s righteousness, and begged his forgiveness . . . today a segment among our brethren still LACK THE CAPACITY TO SEE REALITY AS IT IS AND THE COURAGE TO ADMIT THEIR ERROR.” (ibid p.33)

The “reality” that the Torah leaders “lack[ed] the capacity to see” (sic) of course, is the fact that America is different than perhaps all the other lands we were ever in. That here, Torah, the way it has always been practiced, will not survive. This was the second reason that Modern Orthodoxy was rejected. It was based on the notion that “America is different.” That the Torah that survived 2,000 years of Golus could not survive America without these compromises. Quote:

“Providence demands of us now, PERHAPS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN JEWISH HISTORY, to meet the outside world . . . “ (ibid p.154).

The Torah leaders (i.e. the “brothers” of Joseph) refused to believe that the glitter of America can outshine the Ohr HaTorah. True, RIETS failed in its attempts to retain a Torah-only curriculum, but that doesn’t mean others will not succeed. Yet it is that assumption – that nobody will or can succeed – that MO was based on.

So never mind whether it COULD HAVE BEEN possible, theoretically, that an “emergency integration into America culture” was necessary. The fact is that the traditional mode of Orthodoxy did survive, and is flourishing today. So then why today do we need to implement the compromises of MO?

Even if one were to claim that MO is necessary to attract certain weaker elements of American Jewry who are not yet ready for traditional Orthodoxy – ala Yeshurun – that would not justify a new mode of Orthodoxy, but a Kiruv organization. This is why it is so hard to define MO. To be sure, it was once definable, and quantifiable: an integration into American culture and society because and to the extent that is necessary for us to survive in America. But now that survival is no longer the issue, where does that leave MO?

Like soldiers still fighting a war that is long over, some redefine their movement, saying that the b’dieveved is a l’chatchilah – that accepting American culture, values and lifestyle “within the framework of Halachah” (sic) is what Moshe Rabbeinu would have really wanted – or at least, what he MAY have wanted, possibly. Yet this is silly, seeing as MO clearly involves a lowering of standards from that of traditional Orthodoxy – as Rabbi Soloveichik himself has stated. And the fact that such an attitude is able to evolve was precisely the reason that emergency measures are unacceptable in an Orthodoxy-at-large framework. The standards of what the Torah wants from us has, in MO circles, changed. It used to be, everyone wanted to be Bnei Torah, in the traditional Orthodox mode. Today, there are those who believe the Torah gives equal merit to the standards of MO. It’s the “Torah V’Taaruvos – Yeshurun Orthodoxy” syndrome.

And if someone would come from “Yeshurun Orthodoxy” with the claim that, “What do you want from us? So we mingle boys and girls. You’re not perfect either. You speak loshon horah, you have illegal basement apartments, and who are you anyway to judge anyone else?” Of course we would tell them, “Yes, but we are no weaving our imperfections into a form of Orthodoxy.”


1) The quote on p.28 of Five Addresses is referring to secular culture, and Zionism both, but that paragraph specifically to secular culture, not only in context but explicitly. It begins: "there is secular culture, great and powerful technology creating wonders and changing our lives..."

Also, a bit later: "But Joseph stood fast; he was not at all secure regarding the political and economic status-quo ... "

I am fully aware that there are major disagreements among Rabbi Soloveichik's students as to what he stood for, in many different areas. Be that as it may, these are his own words, not opinions or impressions of students.

Nobody disagrees that it is an advantage to know everything about everything. The issue is that there is a bigger advantage to knowing Torah than there is anthropology, for instance, and most of everything as well. And therefore we have to prioritize our life and learn Torah.

It is a mistake to think that traditional Orthodoxy is "afraid" of knowledge. Although this is the MO party-line, and is taught in many MO schools, it is simply a misrepresentation of the facts. The issue isn't that anyone is scared. The issue is we have only a certain amount of time on this world and learning Torah is the biggest Mitzvah there is, more valuable than physics, the "advantages" of knowing about quantum non-locality notwithstanding. And there is always the fact that the Halachah prefers those who do nothing but learn all day, which sets a goal for all those who are capable of doing it.

2) Rabbi Soloveichik did stand alone in this. None of those others have anything to do with the idea that secular culture will be too powerful to overcome and that therefore everyone must integrate into secular culture to preserve Torah. That was a new idea, unique to MO.
Rav Weinberg was creating a Kiruv organization, not a new mode of Orthodoxy. He limited his heter for those who needed it, and stated clearly that it is a compromise, suitable only in emergency situations. Please show me where you derived Modern Orthodox philosophy in any of the writings of those you mentioned. He states clearly that his Teshuva does not reflect on Orthodoxy in general but rather on specific individuals. Modern Orthodoxy took similar ideas and made them into a mode of Orthodoxy. Therein lies the objections.

Furthermore, Rav Weinberg writes clearly that others will legitimately disagree with his position, and therefore, if someone prohibits his heter even in an individual situation, they should not be criticized. Modern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, has declared their way to be the only possible way to survive in America, and attributed the resistance of the majority to their “lack of courage to admit their mistake.”

What Rav Weinberg was doing – dealing with an individual case – and what MO did – refurbished Orthodoxy at large, are two totally different things. One is acceptable the other is not.

3) The phrase “beyond the pale” was not used by me, nor do I have any idea what it means. This, too, has been used by MO as a defense mechanism. “If you say we are wrong that means you are saying we are ‘beyond the pale’”. Well, no, nobody ever said that, whatever it means.

There were objections to Rav Weinberg’s heter, as he said there would be, and they were legitimate, as he said they were. But whatever wrong they felt Rav Weinberg was doing, nobody accused him of changing Orthodoxy. People can make wrong, even dangerous Halachic rulings to individuals – and Rav Weinberg was thought by some to have done that. But his version of Orthodoxy was the same as that of his opponents. It was his Halachic ruling regarding how far we may go for individuals that was debated. Not his interpretation of what best-case scenario Orthodoxy means. MO, on the other hand, changed the definition of Orthodoxy as a whole. That is unacceptable.

There is no reason to believe that Rav Weinberg would do anything but fight tooth and nail, side by side with his opponents then, against any extensions to Orthodoxy at-large of the compromises that he permitted for individuals.

4) The reason why it would be a mistake to view MO as merely responding to the times as opposed to making compromises, is because when a response involves lowering standards it becomes, by definition, a compromise.

The difference between traditional Orthodoxy and MO in regard to meeting the times is NOT a difference of quantity. It is the difference between keeping exceptional cases as exceptions versus making them into the rule. It also involves accepting the Torah's values - which puts learning first and foremost - and prioritizing your life based on those values.


So what's the difference between MO and Torah Im Derech Eretz?
Well, for that question we will let the answer come from Rav Shimon Schwab ZT"L, the Rav of Rav Hirsch's congregation in Washington Heights, one of the last students of Rav Breuer, Rav Hirsh's son-in-law, and formerly Rabbi in Frankfurt.


“However, in addition to the legitimate shitos we have discussed, there is yet another, more modern version in vogue called “Torah Umaada”. Apparently this is identical with Torah Im Derech Eretz, especially since both claim a belief in the priority of Torah over maada. Both seems exactly alike, but like two left gloves which cannot be worn together, they don’t fit! . . .

“Rav Hirsch ZTL has inscribed two emblems on his banner. One is Torah in derech eretz and the other is the so-called “Austritt”, which means severance, or total and non-recognition of any type of institutionalized heresy, “minus” or apikursus. This is also a resolution not to contribute, participate in, or support any cause which accords validity to the disbelief in Hashem or to the denial of the authenticity of Torah shebiksav or Torah shebaal peh. In other words, “Austritt” states that the Torah is our sovereign ruler, and it makes us independent of all those who deny its Divine origin…

“To summarize, Torah im derech eretz without Austritt is considered treif l’chol hadeios! Even if you call it Torah Umaada.

(Selected Essays pp.160-162)

“Let me single out two examples where silence is not permitted . . .

“The first item is Modern Orthodoxy . . .most of it has become stale, stagnant, and fossilized, and we could not call it modern anymore.

“In the meantime, the contemporary generation has advanced and risen to higher standards, Boruch Hashem. We are witnessing the rise of a new type of American Orthodoxy. This is the Yeshiva and Bais Yaakov generation . . . This is the new generation of bnei Torah and baalei batim who do not intend to stand still and remain satisfied with a tiny yarlmuka or a teaspoonful of Jewish knowledge…They are marching on! And so we are zocheh, Baruch Hashem, to prestigious yeshivos gedolos in America and American-born Roshei Yeshiva , rabbanim, and poskim.

“Today, our youth in America is the real Modern Orthodox, if you must use this expression, and they are marching forward. Whether they belong to chassidishe, yeshivishe, or Torah im derech eretz variety, they are marching forward, step by step, to a more wakeful form of avodas Hashem. . . Their greatest pride and joy and nachas consists of children who are talmidei chachamim, bnei torah and bnos Torah.”

(ibid p.89)

“Shameful are the ways of the glorified am haaretz who . . . condones the aberrations which Hirsch condemned, such as religious nationalism, Orthodox-Reform collaboration and neutral Judaism. Foolish are those who sympathize with the “Department Store Academy”, where Brisk and Slobodka are offered on the first floor and Graetz and Dubnow on the second. When such a person takes Rav Hirsch’s name in vain, wielding Torah im derech eretz like a weapon against recognized Torah schools, he becomes somewhat ridiculous!

“What a travesty! Rav Hirsch, who was the warrior without compromise against those who hated the Torah, has to let his memory be invoked today against those who love the Torah. . .

(ibid p. 151)


I know that this ("Western culture but loyalty to Halachah"), too, is the party line of MO and is taught in many MO schools. But here, too, is an other fallacy, baseless and against the Torah, as was discussed.


The Gra, as quoted by his Talmid R. Yisrael of Shklov in the Hakdoma to Pas Hashulchan writes that to the degree one is lacking in secular knowledge he will lack in Torah knowledge.
Modern Orthodoxy does not advocate liberal arts and post graduate studies solely because it may help the students in their learning. The GRA was first of all referring to objective wisdom, such as math, as opposed to Law School, for instance, where you basically learn non-Torah legal opinions in order to become a lawyer and use those opinions, and if you are lucky, do not violate any Halachos doing so.

Don’t forget, this is the same GRA who declared in his commentary on Laws of Avodah Zarah that even the Rambam has had certain of his Torah positions corrupted due to the influence of his secular studies in philosophy.

Before a Modern orthodox Jew chooses his curriculum he doesn’t consider only the question of "What will help me understand Mesechta Zevochim better"?

Second, although the GRA believed that a lack of knowledge of math and objective science will allow a gap in your Torah understanding, he also believed, certainly, that a lack of knowledge of all the Torah will create an even greater gap. It is true: The GRA used science and math to understand Torah. But that was on a level way beyond the basics, and even the advanced levels.

So if we're talking about a 17 year old HS graduate, or a 70 year old Torah scholar today, the question is, what will best serve his needs of knowing Torah: To like, finish Shas perhaps, and Shulchan Aruch in depth, Tanach, Medrash, Sifrei Mussar, or...

...should he learn liberal arts and science in college?

Please. If you are the GRA, then such a statement is relevant. But if you still don't know Shas and Shulchan Aruch cold, then you have higher priorities than anthropology to spend your time on.

And the problem with Modern orthodoxy is not merely the value it puts college as opposed to learning Torah, but the entire lifestyle, the "integration" into secular "culture". The assimilated values of American society, the desire for "maximum integration into secular society", "within the framework of Halachah".

It's the value on "maximum integration" that's a problem. The ultra-orthodox goal is different. It is "maximum growth in Torah". There is a big difference. And although not everyone can reach the "maximum growth in Torah", nevertheless, to teach anything less as an ideal is unacceptable.

The reason MO leaders started this movement was because they figured that anyway nobody will be interested or successful learning all day so if we're going to unfortunately integrate anyway, we may as well "prepare for it" by creating a system of Torah education for the integrators.

That could have been a decent Kiruv organization. but the mistake was that the integrators will be "everybody", and therefore we ALL MUST join in this lowering of standards in order to survive in America.

Of course, this was all a mistake. Yeshivas are B"H flourishing. And MO is enveloped in an identity crisis and struggling for its own survival.


MO's integration into American culture and lifestyle does not limit itself to what you need for learning. Nor does it limit itself to only academics.

The idea that Modern Orthodoxy has anything to do with statements such as that of the GRA or others explaining that certain secular knowledge helps us in our learning is simply false. Nobody is questioning the necessity to learn the arithmetic necessary to learn Eruvin (or buy a calculator), or the measure of cow biology to learn chulin. Or to consult a doctor when ruling medical questions, or a judge when ruling on dina d'malchusa, or an engineer when ruling on electrical questions for Shabbos . . . And of course the GRA is not a chidush that if we would know all of this on our own it would help us. But no aspiring Talmid Chaham in his right mind would spend his life - that's what it would take - collecting PhD's in all the fields of peripherally helpful professional knowledge, though it theoretically would be helpful if somehow he would know everything about everything in the world.

But none of this has anything to do with Modern Orthodoxy.

Nowhere in the prolific explanations of Rabbi Soloveichik about why he believed we must integrate into American society is there any hint of any such GRA-like reasoning. Such reasoning applied in this context would be absurd, as I explained. Rather, economic and cultural integration is described clearly as the only way to survive the great and powerful secular forces of America, despite it being intrinsically not the best for the soul. In America, either we integrate into society and become Modern Orthodox, or we die a spiritual death. For Rav Soloveichik, there was no third choice.

Obviously, this whole notion was wrongheaded, so much so that today, Ultra-Orthodoxy is criticized more for its "spirit of triumphalism" instead of its supposed inability to survive.

Nor was the modern Orthodox idea that we MUST ALL integrate or be crushed by the glitter of America shared by any philosophy in Orthodox Jewish history. Not Rav Hirsch, not Rav Weinberg, nobody. The idea that circumstances in America demand that only through economic and cultural integration - through Modern Orthodoxy - will we survive a technologically advanced society was a completely new concept. “Providence demands of us now, perhaps for the first time in Jewish history, to meet the outside world . . . “ (Five Addresses, p.154).


The reality is that the entire philosophy was based on the idea that only modern orthodoxy would survive, while traditional Orthodoxy would shrivel and die. It would have, had he been right.

Clearly, that has not happened. If anything, as time goes by, the shoe is more and more on the other foot.

So the basis for the whole idea was a bad mistake.

And the idea that Rav Aharon Kotler and others disagreed with him because of character flaws ("lack of courage") rather than their honest opinion is ridiculous and bizarre.

And the reason they did not want to join the mass integration into Western culture has nothing to do with fearing it. It's like saying I would prefer eating steak and wine over crumbs in the garbage because I am afraid of eating out of a garbage can.

It can get you sick, sometimes, true, but why in the world would someone want to eat from the trash in the first place?

So, too, why in the world would anyone who has an opportunity to spend his life learning Hashem's Torah want to feed his soul with the junk food of Corporate Law?

I mean, if a guy has to make a living, that's one thing. But as a "value"? Puh-lease.




Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home