Historical persepectives on current issues part 2
(part one is below)
There were other orthodox responses to reform besides communal stringency. R Tzevi Hirsch Chajes in Minhat Kenaot critcized his fellow rabbis for a number of failings: Being unaware of the changes that were taking place, and having no knowledge of what the reform advocated, defects in religious education(focusing only on halachic issues and ignoring history and other subjects), those that did not take part in opposition to reform but considered it beneath their dignity to debate those that were not their equals in scholarship. One quote
Even that segment of the youth that prepare to devote themselves to a rabbinical career have not the vaguest notion of the scope of that office... they study only the laws of passover, and eventhat section not in its entirety..if even one of them has a smattering of proficiency, even if he does not know that David reigned after Saul, he will be recommended by the Rabbis as the most qualified rabbinical candidate"
One other response is one that Prof Bleich terms the "positive response." R. Jacob Ettlinger, in Minhat Ani called on leaders to concentrate on education and instruction geared to those whose faith had faltered. He stated that criticism alone would be ineffective. He, along with R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, and R. Azriel Hildesheimer, started the movement now known as Torah u'madda(Tum), enouraging high standards of Torah learning, but also mandating high standards of secular knowledge as well. It is interesting that these early TuM leaders, along with a few subsequent leaders such as R. David Tzvi Hoffman and R. Y. Y. Weinberg were highly regarded by their more right wing(and usually Hungarian or Lithuanian) contemporaries, but later advocates of Tum were not given similar respect. Additionally, while gedolim such as R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski referred to R. Hirsch as "the Gaon, and scholar", R. Hayyim did not support Tum outside of Germany, feeling that it was a particular solution to the particular problem of modernity in Germany, rather than a model that should be adopted by Orthodoxy in general.
Times have changed since the start of the reform. However, the 3 broad groups that emerged are still under far too much influence of those years gone by. Non-traditional Judaism(I group reform, non-practicing, and most if not all of conservative in that group, please dont argue this point) is the majority. There is no communal religious authority(outside of Israel). Most of the Jewish world lives in social freedom, exposed to secular culture, or at least with that culture all around. Each group has new and different aspirations and problems:
non-traditional Jews: Non-traditional Judaism will not be accepted by orthodoxy as a ligitimate expression of the faith. To quote Eugene Borowitz(a reform theologian)
Theologically, Orthodoxy cannot recognize the teaching of Progressive Judaism as valid. The basic, authoritative texts of Jewish las clearly classify our modernist re-interpretation of Judaism as our tradition's equivalent of heresy. I deally, it can never be condoned, We cannot ask Orthodoxy to violate its own faith and accept Progressive Judaism, de jure, as a fully equivalent, if alternative interpretation of Judaism.
With regard to Jewish unity, as the orthodox are frequently accused of limiting unity because of theological and halachic concerns, R. Borowitz says this:
Had Kelal Yisrael(the unity of the people of Israel) been our most significant concern, we could never have brought Progressive Judaism into being, for its creation seriously divided the Jewish community by defying the accepted community leadership and the established traditions of our people.
In fact, a common mode of early orthodox responses was a plea for unity. This is possible, as long as the non-traditional accept that from the orthodox point of view they are not the true carriers of the Mosaic tradition. However, from the orthodox side, there needs to be a recognition that non-traditional judaism is not going away, and that the approach of education, commonality and unity as much as possible is preferable to shunning and excommunication. The early path of stringency and ignoring reform clearly has not worked. There are obviously limits as to what is acceptable to Jewish tradition(for example, Jews for Jesus is totally out), and more discussion and thought needs to go into figuring out what those limits are.
For the Chareidim, who are the descendents of the stringent approach to reform and modernity, there needs to be a recognition that the battle against Reform is over. And, that the halachic arguements that were made to bolster orthodoxy against reform may not be the halachic arguements that are appropriate to a different day and age. As a small example, the Hungarian rabbis forbade praying in a shul where the bimah was not located in the center of the shul(no davening if the bimah was in the front). R. Moshe Feinstein later wrote that this was a horaat shaah(a ruling applicable only to that time and place). Stringent rulings about metziza befef, mechitza, and other issues, which were viewed as walls to protect against the reform, need to be reexamined without the outward pressure of the barbarians at the gates, so to speak. Issues of belief and dogma, such as what R. Slifkin wrote, should also be reassessed. What may have been an appropriate approach when dogmatic belief could stave off reform 150 years ago,is not appropriate today. The problem is that the Gedolim of the past 200 years all were surrounded by the seige mentality of the day, and there are volumes of written material regarding their rulings, and it is difficult for one today, even if they wanted to, to go against the cumultive writing and awe/respect for the writers.
However, while there exists lots of writing against dealing with non-traditional Jews, there are many anecdotes of how those gedolim interacted with non-tradtional jews(how can I have an essay without mentioning Haim Soleveitchik?) R. Yehiel Mikhel Epstein was very friendly with a non-traditional maskil in his town, saying "yes, I am obliged to hate him, but I cannot hate a Jew". R. Avraham Hakohen Kook, in dealing with secular Jews in Israel said "better that I err in engaging in groundless love than in groundless hatred"
The problem, it seems, is that the chareidi community is still fighting the old battle. And, the new reform are.... the modern orthodox. Recall that the first debates between reform and orthodoxy were halachic in nature. R. Tzevi Hirsch Chajes, in Minhat Kenaot writes
the rabbis at their forefront justify their actions, saying the law is on their side, and they are acting in accordance with Torah...based on some isolated dicta that are found in the talmud or Midrash with regard to other matters, and they endow them with alien connotations...."
Of course, the difference between MO and classic reform is a chiasm. But from a chareidi perspective, one could see some similarities. The obvious difference of course, is that MO by definition are totally committed to Torah, Mitzvot, and tradition, both in words and in deeds. However, in issues like women reading Torah and other things, there may be a superficial resemblance.
To be continued