Thursday, June 16, 2005

belief and action vis a vis modern orthodoxy

"It is neccessary to distinguish between two types of modern Orthodoxy. One may be called philosophical, while the other is more appropriately characterized as behavioral. Within the category of philosophical modern Orthodox, or centrist Orthodox, would be those who are meticulously observant of halakhah but are, nevertheless, philosophically modern. Within this context, being modern means, at minimum, having a postive perspective on general education and knowledge, and being well disposed to Israel and religious Zionism.

The behaviorally modern Orthodox, on the other hand, ore not deeply concerned with philosophical ideas about either modernity or religious Zionism. By and large, they define themselves as modern Orthodox in the sense that they are not as meticulously observant as the right wing states one should be. "

Chaim Waxman, in "Towards a Sociology of Pesak" found in Tradition 25:3 12-25 and Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, ed by Moshe Sokol.

My childhood, by Dr. Waxman's definitions, would have been a combination of the two types of MO. My parents actually were deeply concerned and involved in the philosophy of MO, and inculcated it in us, but as far as observance, we were behavioral. In thinking about where I want to be, and should be, it is quite obvious that the only place is strictly philosophical MO. If one believes in Torah and mitzvot, and wants to call oneself Orthodox, then one should observe the details of mitzvot, big and small. One can of course argue about the exact details fo the mitzvot, but for most mitzvot there isn't much debate.

My children frequently have little friends over at the house, most come from MO homes and go to day school. I rarely hear any of them say a bracha before eating. Even more rare is hearing them say a bracha afterwards before they run off and play. To be honest, my children dont have a perfect record either, but they remember more often than not, and when I remind them, smile and say it, without looking at me as if I was from Mars.

A valid criticism of behavioral MO from the right is the lack of attention to mitzvot. Public mitzvot, like going to shul or observing Shabbat in public, or even keeping kosher in the home(counts as a public mitzva because the public wont eat in your house if you dont) are easy to keep. Its the little things. Brachot before eating. Washing hads in the morning. davening three times a day. Kashrut when eating out or away from the 'hood. The behaviorly MO(and I have been there, and am trying to escape) seem to lack a constant awareness of God, or at least a frequent awareness of God. God only appears on Shabbat, Holidays, school, or other specific occasions, but not as part of regular life. I think that keeping the minutiae of mitzvot, and the small(as far as time commitment) mitzvot, keeps the idea of God around. If you say "asher yatzar" after using the bathroom, you mention God, even if only with minimal attention, a few more times a day.

The philosophical MO are the leaders of the MO movement. There are some more to the right, like the YU Roshei Yeshiva, who seem to attract philosophical MO followers(and those who are behaviorly strict), and some more to the left, like R. Saul Berman, Edah, R. Yitz Greenberg and others. They seem to attract both the philosophical MO, and those who are a mix of philosophical and behavioral. (The strictly behavioral would lean to the left, but may not be very involved in looking at the philosophy and beliefs of orthodoxy). In other words, there is a significant group who care deeply about the philosophy, but are lax(by traditional standards) in observance. It seems logical that one of the goals of the left wing of MO should be to increase the levels and standards of observance in their followers. Halachically based differences about beliefs and large issues like the place of women in religion certainly are items for discussion. Making a bracha before and after eating should be taken for granted by all who call themselves orthodox.

Comments-[ comments.]

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't one be ideologically lax?
What I mean is, being philosophically MO could also mean taking a stance that says "I am focusing on other issues, not just saying a bracha over food. I may be being lax, but, so what... are these things really important?"

RightWing Orthodoxy places great stock in these little things such as the length of a skirt, the kashrut level of a restaurant...

Is it soooo terrible if they don't make a bracha?

3:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anoymous, I think Jesus had similar ideas about the insignificance of ritual observance ...;-)

Not only do the behaviorally MO not nec. say brachot and the like, they therefore don't become as comfortable with the language, don't learn as much, and their ideas about how to be religious are coming more from their own sense of things than from chazal. A big problem.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Anony III said...

I find that a major place where behavioral and ideological MOs have a conflict is with regard to school. I think about how it is great to have an integrated Torah U'madda curriculum and the next parent next to me says that she is glad that the only reason she sends her kids here is because classes are mixed-gender.

8:49 AM  
Blogger anonymous said...

dilbert

for some reason my computer stalls whenever i load your blog, but not on other blogs. do you know why this is? it is going on for months. do you keep an unusual amount on one page or something?

1:23 AM  
Anonymous Menachem said...

Right on target! I have been struggling this with many years. Many of us (PMO's) fall into the trap of believing that the only way to grow is to move into the right-wing camp. However, in doing so we are forced to compromise on some of our core beliefs, e.g. religious Zionism, Torah U'maadah, etc.

Since I made aliyah almost a year ago I've discovered that there exists a much larger community of PMO's here. I believe the main reason for this is that there is very little grey area between PMO and Chareidi (unlike in the states) so one can't straddle the fence the way many do in the States.

The other reason is that PMOs, being by definition more "religious" about their philosophy and religion, are probably the largest group of people making aliyah. Like other areas of observance, aliyah is just not something the BMOs have high on their radar.

Menachem

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think BMO's largest problem of weak observance, at least in elementary and high schools, is in the area of issurei negiah and the like. no BMO school will officially sanction such behavior (as far as i know), but its one of those things that everyone does anyway. PMO, on the other hand, are more likely to send their kids to seperate schools and camps, and have a smaller problem in this regard.

12:44 PM  
Blogger dilbert said...

Thanks for the comments. In response to annonymous first, I think there is a big problem in taking the view that brachot are not a big deal. You dont have to yell and scream at your kids to say them all the time, but a gentle reminder and setting a good example is neccessary. Why should saying a bracha be less important than any other religious observance?

annonymous- I am sorry you have trouble loading my blog. I have no idea why that is, and no idea how to investigate or fix it. If you have any suggestions I will be happy to hear them. Please email them to me.

12:58 PM  
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