Wednesday, June 02, 2004

How to blow things up

One of the more irksome aspects of the current issue Edah Journal (and of the journal as a whole) is its tendency for otherwise excellent scholars to rant about what bothers them. On the one hand, it is far better than meaningless abstract scholarship. But a bit of distance and a few less personal anecdotes would serve the journal well. Clearly, these authors have serious issues with the direction that their community is heading, and it is good to voice your opinion, but do not couch it in an seemingly scholarly article or review.

An ideal approach would be Alan Brill's essay, which, though passionate, is nonetheless a well reasoned and scholarly manifesto.

Speaking of passion about Modern Orthodoxy, R. Berel Wein's recent oped from the J-Town Post (itself a passionate response to Samuel Heilman's oped) has created a huge discussion whereever it is mentioned. Clearly this is the most viceral issue within the Modern Orthodox community today. But although Waxman , Heilman, & Wein mention some causes for the "shift to the right" (which is itself a misnomer) none really capture the whole issue.
Among the reasons given:
1) Moral decline of the USA (BW & SH)
2) "Hareidi" Teachers in MO Schools (BW & SH)
3) A decline is talented (ideologically) MO teachers (BW & SH)
4) The year-in-Israel experience (BW & SH)
5) "Hareidi" culture & community is more attractive (e.g. BTL's, fake degrees, professionalism, more services) (BW)
6) Hareidim are less obvious in their anti-zionism so they are less noxious to MO (BW)
7) America is becoming more religious (CW)

Waxman (in my opinion) unsuccessfully attempts to make the argument that the community is not moving to the "right".
However, people are not asking the right questions:
What people are most bother by is why things are changed. Parents are bothered why their kids do now share their values? Why Modern Orthodoxy is not the same as it was 20 years ago? And while mimesis & lazyness were once a strong force in Judaism in America in today's Spiritual Marketplace, one must accept that religion is fundamentally voluntary.

Although this is not the thrust of his article Brill mentions the two reasons that I think are best explanations. While Waxman (against Rav Aharon Lichtenstein) does mention that as American has moved towards evangelical Christianity so too the Jews have, Brill really engages this topic (with footnotes). This is fundamental to understanding this issue. Secondly, as Brill & Wein point out in their article the self-perception among Modern Orthodox that Chareidim are more authentic in their Judaism, more sincere, more closer to Gedolim. It is easier to believe in Chareidi Society than in Modern Orthodoxy? This is why the Cult of the Rav exists, because it gives people something to believe in larger than themselves. Whatever facts on the ground are about the various Modern Orthodox & Chareidi communities, individual's self-perception favors affilating oneself with the Hareidim.

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