Monday, June 28, 2004

Great Man Theory of Judaism vs. Cultural Forces

One of the unarticulated aspects of the current debates about the Future (and therefore the past) of Modern Orthodoxy in America is the question of what is responsible for the past glories (real or perceived) of Modern Orthodoxy and what is to be credited with its current decline?
According to many, among them Geller's book on Samuel Belkin & YU, and others, this is because, in the past, great men (e.g. Rabbi Soloveitchik, Dr. Belkin, Bernard Revel, Leo Jung, Herbert Goldstein, et al.) made MO great. Now that we have no more great Modern Orthodox Leaders or Builders, the community has faltered. Others will point to how this is in sync with larger trends in American religion, the rise of post World War II Institutional & Suburban Religion & then the rise of Evengelicalism in the 1980's & 1990's. So it is not directly the fault or cause of any one individual. But rather MO Judaism is part of larger cultural patterns over which is cannot control.
This of course is similiar to the debate among historians whether history is made by great men or by social forces. Since this is not a history blog, I will not give the Mareh Mekomos. But it is interesting how these debates plays out.
My personal opinion sides with the social & cultural forces position, while not completely ruling out the influence of great men. But I would think it difficult that whoever rose to prominence, (e.g. as President of YU) would not have done something right. It is difficult to completely run organizations into the ground (although some individuals have tried & succeeded).

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