Tuesday, May 24, 2005

historical Persepectives on current issues part 3

(parts one and two are below)
The modern orthodox are pretty much the inheritors of the legacy of R. SR Hirsch, R. Ettlinger, and R. Hildesheimer. The response of these three to modernity and the challenge of reform was to embrace the secular scholarship that was available, while maintaining strict standards in Judaic learning and practice. It is the task of the modern orthodox to find the path between non-Halachic leniencies on the left, and the knee jerk reaction of stringency on the right. It is a matter not only of practice, but also one of hashkafa/belief/dogma. The issue of what a Jew must believe to be considered orthodox was germaine in the 1840s, and remains so today. Cutting off an entire branch of thought ala banning Slifkin clearly is inappropriate, but so is wandering into non-Sinaitic Torah. The task of the MO is to articulate beliefs that are consonant with our Mesorah, but also do not treat the people as non-thinking school children. This has been the goal from Saadia, Rambam, on down.

From a practice point of view, strict observance of Halacha is the sine qua non of orthodox Judaism. MO has to beware of the path that was taken by the reformers. That does not mean that every humrah in the kitzur shulchan aruch has to be treated as Torah from Sinai. However, any changes from traditional practice need to be based on solid Halachic ground. MO certainly should look at the responses from the last 200 years with history in mind, and realize that some of what was decreed was a response to the times. But one cannot throw away 200 years of psak just on those grounds.

With regard to relations to the Charedim to the right and the non-traditional to the left, MO has to be steadfast in its beliefs and practices. While attention should be paid to Chareidi poskim, it should be realized that they pasken out of a different attitude and cultural milieu than the one that MO lives in. It is unclear to me why the early deference on the part of the Chareidimshown to R. Hirsch, Hildesheimer, Wienberg and Hoffman was not continued to their students and followers. One side would argue that their ideals, practice and standards of Torah learning were not upheld. The other side would argue that the degree of intolerance for nonconforming beliefs and behavior increased, and the limits of tolerated beliefs narrowed. Also, those pioneers came from the same roots as the chareidim, while the next generations were more removed. It could be argued that the first generation was one of personal friendship and admiration, although of differing hashkafa, and the only thing that was passed on to the next generation was the differing hashkafa, but not the personal friendship and admiration.

With regard to non-traditional Jews, MO has to maintain the orthodox beliefs, and represent them accurately and faithfully, even when it means not participating in a communal activity. As R. Ettlinger noted, engagement and education are the imperatives, not seperation and shunning. With regard to clergy, R. Akiva Eger noted that a posek needs to be one who is knowledgeable and believes. A non-traditional rabbi is not fit to be a posek. Either he lacks the knowledge, or he is knowledgeable but does not acept talmudic law as normative. If he is ignorant, how can he presume to issue legal rulings? If he is knowledgeable, but knowingly repudiates talmudic law, how can he be regarded as a rabbinic decisor?

By looking at reform and the response to it, we see the rationale behind a lot of the contraversy that involves our community. If we keep history in mind, we can untangle a lot of what has become complicated. We can also understand others, even if we dont agree with them, at least we know "where they are coming from." And we all continue to try to serve God in the best way we know how.

(I again strongly reccomend reading Prof. Bleich's essay, Rabbinic Responses to Nonobservance in the Modern Era for a much more thorough and elegent treatment of the history mentioned here)

Comments-[ comments.]


Blogger Menachem Butler said...

do you not realize that hirsch wasn't translated into english until wayyyy after many of the twentieth century modern orthodox thinkers already developed their own philosophies?

12:47 AM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

This is a very interesting series of posts, Dilbert. While a lot of it is not new to me, the idea that the attitudes which are currently splintering the orthodox community were born out of the conflict between Orthodoxy and the Reform movement is fascinating.

From a Medical point of view, it seems similar to an antibody reaction being triggered by a foreign antigen, which then spins out of control and begins attacking the host's own body.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Kin said...

I would add...that R' Hirsch and the whole Hirschian philosophy rejected any dealings with non-Orthydox Jews. This was R' Hirsch's big machlokes with the Wurzberger Rav. As open as they were to the modern world and secular knowledge they wanted nothing to do with Jews who weren't m'dakdek in mitzvos.

4:35 AM  
Blogger dilbert said...

Menachem-my copy of The Nineteen letters with a commentary by R. J. Elias references a translation into English by Rabbi Bernard Drachman in 1899. There is also an excerpt from a letter by R. Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, dated 1896 where he says " I am very pleased that this work has now been translated into our holy tongue"

12:30 PM  
Blogger Ke'evei Beten said...

or you can also read
One People? By jonathan sacks

7:05 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

"It is unclear to me why the early deference on the part of the Chareidimshown to R. Hirsch, Hildesheimer, Wienberg and Hoffman was not continued to their students and followers."

Three words. 'Rupture and Reconstruction'. Eventually everything about contemporary Judaism seems to return to that essay. The Holocaust really uprooted far more than many of us realize and after it a lot was rebuilt from scratch. That the reconstruction of charedi(ism) after 1945 isn't an exact duplication of what was shouldn't be surprising.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous kaspit said...

Thanks for the series of posts and comments. If it's not to late to comment:
I wonder if this type of analysis get bogged down by using terms like MO and charedi, because then you/we need to draw generalizations that would somehow work for these sweeping terms. There are times when "Orthodox" forces (institutions, discourse etc) converge/unify and times when the forces are more centripetal. The conflict w/reform was unifying. But, some appearances notwithstanding, I think we are seeing a period of diversification. [Economics analogy: It's like a period of market expansion and not yet a shake-down of the competitors.] The center does not hold and there is no MO that can fill the bill in your proposal: "MO has to maintain the orthodox beliefs, and represent them accurately and faithfully etc." Orthodox controversy today may be far more driven by such internal dynamics that its self-differentation from Reform. As a result, options for navigating and mediating controversies are different as well.

FYI I'm not writing about this directly on my site (yet), which deals with how Jews tackle environmental, economic and other public policy issues. But the fragmentation and controversies within Orthodoxy are quite relevant to my work.

Thanks again. Let me know what you think.

10:00 AM  

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