Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Orthodox Divide



A student in a course I am teaching wrote the following essay. The student is not from the Eastern Seaboard, nor any of the other "major" communities. I believe this accounts for the student making the dichotomy between Orthodox and Modern Orthodox, as opposed to an alternative perception of the divide that may apply elsewhere. Be that as it may, it is a thought provoking essay and a great springboard for conversation, whether one agrees or not.



 Us vs. Them

Although there are many different conflicts between all of the various sects of Judaism the one I find my interesting is the conflict between the Modern-Orthodox and the Orthodox. Although both of these labels are all relative, meaning each person has their own perspective on what “Modern” really means, I’m going to go according to the view in which I was born into. In the city in which I reside the “Modern” keep Shabbos and Kashrus. Kashrus when convenient, for Vegetarian restaurants are probably fine. After all, how non-kosher can they be? A person who associates with the Modern may find their tznius to be lacking. They are more comfortable in hashkafically comprising locations and situations. For example, they will attend a movie shown in a theater without a second thought and even local comedy clubs. In contrast, the “Orthodox” group in my town would never go to theater or even dream of attending a comedy show.

I never really understood the difference between both our groups. Clarification, I knew there was a difference, yet I couldn’t put my finger on it. However, it all became clear when ii attended their synagogue one Shabbos. There are many attitudes to be had when it comes towards the Torah and Judaism, yet there are two main ones. Does one see the world through the prism of Torah, or does one see Torah through the prism of the world. Which is more important, and which is secondary? Is one an American Jew or a Jewish American.

How this question is answered determines the attitude and actions towards the Torah true lifestyle. I found that the Modern, at least where I am from, tend to see Torah through the prism of the world. Whatever piece of Torah fits into the world’s society’s and values is kept. While if a Torah perspective is too “harsh” for the world’s values than that piece of Torah is altered, changes, or unfortunately discarded. A practical example would be women dancing with the Torah on Simchas Torah. While there are several minhagim against women dancing with the Torah, this is such a strong minhag that the majority of Rabbanim have outlawed it completely. However, according to the world at large, this minhag seems to be sexist and rude. Therefore, the minhag is promptly ignored.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, for once minhagim are ignored it seems to snowball until actual Halachos, for example, kashrus and halachos of Shabbos, are left to the wayside.

The initial difference may seem slight, a mere switching order of words, yet the impact on Torah true commitment and actions are strong. Hashem first wrote the Torah and then created the world from it (Midrash Rabbah, Sefer Beresheit 1:1).

Hashem looked into the Torah to see how the world should be created. Wouldn’t it make sense then that we should look at the Torah to see how to interact with the world?

Although both communities in my town, both the Modern and the Orthodox do smile at each other in the street, in efforts to build and keep shalom, it is still the Orthodox’s most fervent hope that the Modern do one day see the full beauty of Torah. The beauty of Torah within every single Halacha and minhag, no matter how insignificant or socially unacceptable it may seem.

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Something I wrote a long time ago that is relevant:


34 comments:

  1. The other question is how many of those "what the Torah says" is really from the Torah/Chazal and not from Christian Europe or other external influences of the past that, being so long running, are considered "Orthodox".

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    1. True, but I think the main point in the article is the difference in philosophy and perspective.

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  2. I would point to another important difference between "Modern Orthodox" vs. "Orthodox". On the 5th of Iyar, the State of Israel was created, the first autonomous Jewish State in the Land of Israel since the Hasmonean dynasty some 2100 years ago. Clearly, this event was the fulfillment of our 2,000 year old dream to return to Zion. The tench blessing of the "Amidah" says "blessed are you G-d, who gathers in the dispersed of his people". No one can argue that the creation of the state isn't the main factor that has allowed the Jewish population of Israel to grow to more than 6 million, more at any time in the history of the Land of Israel.

    Yet, certain Jews who define themselves as "Orthodox" simply open the Mishnah Bruar and see that there's no mention of "hay b'Iyar" or the 28th of Iyar (when Jerusalem came back into Jewish hands during the 6-Day War), and say "since it's not in the Mishnah Brurah, we can't change anything.". If this were the approach of Jews living 2400 and 2000 years ago, we wouldn't have Purim. In fact, up until recently, community fast days were widely observed when pogroms took place. For example, the 23rd of Sivan. All of this is an example of how the Torah is not frozen in time, but rather, responds to the ever changing circumstances in which the Jewish people find themselves. In this case and based on a myriad of other sources, it seems to me that those who observe Yom Ha'atzmaut and Yom Yerushelayim as a religious holiday and recite Hallel and more true to Torah than those who don't see the hand of Ha'shem in history.

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    1. maybe not more of an oversimplification than lumping all MO together, when really the complaint is against either LWMO or MO-lite [people who are moderately orthopraxic] . then we need not hesitate to lump in all haredim into the neturei karta box --- after all they share derision of zionism as integral to their theology...

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  3. from an earlier audioroundup - Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and give some marketing advice to whomever came up with Torah U’Mada (or avodah or im derech eretz). I’d just call my philosophy (or movement) “oraita” as in “histakel b’oraita u’bara alma” to make the point that it’s a holistic view of all of HKB”H’s creation centered on the Torah, which was the blueprint for creation.

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    1. Except that R' Lamm was a student of the Rav, and thus thinking in terms of the dialectic, not in finding a single whole. RYBS didn't try to eliminate life's conflicts as much as ascribe life's meaning to our need to navigate through them. Like any good dialog (note the word "dialectic"), the value is in the question and the search for the answer more than the answer itself.

      Oraita would be a good name for Touro's or Machon Lev's approach to secular studies. Not to a university where its foremost Rosh Yeshiva didn't think the rabbanim should be meddling in secular curriculum decisions. RYBS wanted students to encounter the dialectic in its full form while still having rabbeim they can turn to in the mornings; not creating a synthesis in the school and then the problems hitting when they leave the school's bubble.

      IOW, Oraita is a brilliant formulation, and perhaps a better strategy than the one MO took, but it does not describe the Rav's approach and the strategy that ended up actually informing the staunch MO.

      (In contrast to the O-lite wing this post is about; an entirely different topic. And identifying MO with O-lite, as though there aren't plenty of yeshivish affiliated men who aren't also O-lite behind their uniforms, deserved a response like Anonymous's. I am not sure why you bothered sharing the post, as it shows such a lack of familiarity with the topic.)

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    2. In some communities, it would seem, there is no distinction between MO and O-lite, and the latter identify (or perhaps are identified by their rabbis) as the former. As to why I shared the post, it has generated much discussion. Moreover, it would have all been worthwhile for that fantastic quotation: "The Rav talked about dialectic and the masses lived compromise."

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  4. Or, the Torah UMadda thing was just saying what is pursued at that institution. Not meant to read that much into it.

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  5. Torah u'Madda was chosen because Torah vo'Da'as was taken.

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  6. There can be a division between what rabbis in a group hold and what their constituents (students, congregants...) typically do.

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  7. A comment from an astute observer who wishes to remain anonymous (the FB conversation is at https://www.facebook.com/groups/OJADAR/permalink/1402565766454083/):

    The "Orthodox Divide" post and FB comment thread that followed further solidified my hesitance to completely identify as either MO or Chareidi. It seemed like the author's designation of "Orthodox" wasn't limited to Chareidim, but to "non-progressive"' Orthodoxy and "non-lazydoxy." The MO protestors on the thread seem to be missing the author's point. I don't think the author was really referring to people who identify as MO and try to follow halacha in every aspect of their lives, but follow some shitos (in halacha and/or hashkafa) that others don't. I would strongly argue that a strictly observant MO person isn’t usually following so many drastically different shitos in halacha than your average "charedi/yeshivish" person. I don't think the author was speaking about a community full of R. Jeremy Wieders (who's makpid on yashan, has publicly opposed to IBD) and R. Yosef Adlers. I actually thought the author was being rather apolitical by not dividing Torah-observant Jews into so many subgroups. The final sentence was indeed quite condescending. But let's be real: Can one honestly say that, on the ground, the only difference between your average MO and Chareidi community is that the former follows some different shitos in halacha and hashkafa? Other than the Glueck Beis Medrash at YU and a few other places, where there's slow davening and where you can hear a pin drop, you're really going to tell me the only difference in environment is that MO shuls say the Prayer for the State of Israel?? I'm not ch"v bashing a whole community, nor do I even disagree with many aspects of MO hashkafa, but I dare say many of the voices of opposition represent the "elite" of the “academy” that maybe looks past - or doesn’t encounter - the women jogging in hot pants on Shabbos morning or the deafening talking that takes place in many MO shuls. I’m honestly not judging individuals and I think everyone should be welcomed into communities and no one excluded. It seems clear that the author is describing the metzius/sociology, not the academic ideal. The parties are talking past each other.

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    1. slow davening and quiet? that's maybe 1% of haredi establishments. pick tznius, pick learning torah , but not quiet, slow davening...

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    2. Based on personal experience, I think the original commenter is correct.

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  8. Although there are many different conflicts between all of the various sects of Judaism the one I find my interesting is the conflict between the Haredi and the Orthodox. Although both of these labels are all relative, meaning each person has their own perspective on what “Haredi” really means, I’m going to go according to the view in which I was born into. In the Jerusalem neigborhood in which I reside the “Haredi” keep bein adam lechavero, when convenient, for refraining from displaying hatred towards non-religious is probably fine. After all, isn't hating chilonim "mesirus nefesh" for Hashem's honor? A person who associates with the Haredi may find their hishtadlus in parnassah to be lacking. For example, some entire communities will rely in large-scale proportions on government handouts to learn all day. In contrast, the “Orthodox” group in my town would never dream of defying the Rambam or shirking their kesuba-mandsated responsibilities.

    I never really understood the difference between both our groups. Clarification, I knew there was a difference, yet I couldn’t put my finger on it. However, it all became clear when i ran into one of their protests one Shabbos. There are many attitudes to be had when it comes towards the Torah and doing "hayashar vehatov", yet there are two main ones. Does one keep Torah as an addition to hayshar vehatov, or has Torah eliminated the requirement for doing hayshar vehatov? Is one a Jewish mentsch or just a Jew?

    ....This is just the tip of the iceberg, for once refraining from spitting on and cursing 8-year-old girls is ignored it seems to snowball until actual Halachos, for example, not giving false reports of Yeshiva student numbers in order to receive more funds, are left to the wayside.

    The impact on Torah im derech eretz is strong. Hashem gave precedence to derech eretz and only then gave the Torah. Wouldn’t it make sense then that we should take derech eretz into acount as well, to see how to interact with the world?

    It is still the Orthodox’s most fervent hope that the Modern do one day see the full beauty of derech eretz, ahavat yisrael and mentschlickeit. The beauty of derech eretz combined with Halacha and minhag, no matter how interfering with "falshe frumkeit" it may seem.

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    1. I am not sure I follow what you wrote 100%, but there are certainly values and principles that we should wish fervently that each side of the divide learns from the other!

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    2. Thank you, Rav Bechhofer, for your reply. I will explain what I meant.
      My grievances with the student's article are:
      1. The writer mentions actions and behaviors that are halachically problematic (if not downright forbidden), and then attributes them with a very broad brush to "Modern Orthodox", bar none. He/she doesn't say that "some" of them do these things. According to the article, "they" do them. And I don't think that there is *any* MO group or subgroup in which members eat in treif restaurants or watch raunchy movies en masse, the way one could say that Reform Jews daven in mixed-seating arrangements.
      2. And MO, virtually without exception, includes YU, Har Etzion, Rabbanim Bigman, Riskin, Sherlow, Sperber, etc. - is the writer seriously oblivious to that? Is she/he really defining "Modern" as those who disregard tzniyus, kashrus and Shabbos, and is not referring to the larger group known as MO? And if so, then criticize laxity in observance, not the "Modernishe" outlook, because one has nothing to do with the other.
      3. Then he/she starts to frumkeit-ishly pontificate about seeing the world via Torah or vice versa is the cause of why the RW-ers and "Modern" act as they do, respectively. How was this conclusion reached as an unequivocal fact? Mind reading?
      4. The, those who support women's hakofes are accused of worrying about things like sexism and rudeness, which are important to the "world at large". Torah doesn't care about discrimination that makes people feel left out? What about Pesach Sheni? Benot Tzelofchad? למה ניגרע? They may be wrong in disregarding mesorah, but are their intentions so deplorable, as if they come from totally foreign values and ideas?
      5. Then quoting a midrash to instruct us how to act? Does he/she not realize that for almost every midrash there is another midrash that contradicts it?
      6. And then the patronizing closing remarks, with the "fervent hope" that one's adversaries will see the "full beauty of Torah". Just because someone disagrees with you, dear wriet, does not mean that only you see the beauty of Torah and the rest of us despise it and want to bite it like a donkey bites.
      7. And if none of these points are at all convincing, then perhaps it's just my old Galitzianer-style chip-on-the-shoulder (do Yekkes have chips on their shoulders? You certainly don't seem to :) ) causing me to get annoyed at what we call "chinyokes". Veir vayss?

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    3. 1. In an out of town community such as that of the author, such a phenomenon is not uncommon. But I agree that i is certainly not universal.

      2. The author was completely focused on practice. I am sure the student has had no exposure to the theory of MO.

      3. See my similar assertion concerning the MO of Rabbi Shubert Spero's school in the Letter to the Editor included in this post.

      4. The author is taking the position that RMF takes in his teshuva on "women's liberation."

      5. This is a pretty basic Midrash.

      6. Again, the author is reaching conclusions based on personal experience. The author might have had to reside in the Northeast to see otherwise.

      7. :-)

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    4. The author is totally clueless and needs to meet and live with some shtark, learned keepah sruggot. These guys will make most Haredi kollel men look not-so-learned.

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    5. The problem is that these are very rare in Chu"l. (This was the primary reason I started wearing a hat in Chu"l when I came back for Pesach during my first year in Sha'alvim. My first hat was navy blue - they actually existed back in the '70s!) Maybe less than a dozen, certainly less than 50. This number has been fairly static for decades.

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  9. Please see the extensive comments at

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/OJADAR/permalink/1402565766454083

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  10. http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2017/05/the-orthodox-divide-not-what-appears-to.html

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  11. interesting column for parshat kedoshim. i don't think the Author of which foresaw His people [ His 'haredim lidvar Hashem, according to THEM] demanding Glatt Kosher yoshon prison food for the great Kiddush Hashem they make there....

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  12. I tend to agree re: R'YBS although my general feeling is that sometimes he was clear (the 2 mountains approach) but other times not so much (at least to me). In any event imho it seems the TUM as synthesis vs. separate is unfortunately outweighed by the Well all I want is to just be free, Live my life the way I wanna be (hat tip-The Seeds) group
    kt

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    1. I think RYBS's hashkafah has inherent dangers when you try to turn it into a communal ideal.

      1- Halachic Man sounds great, but doesn't speak to the experience of anyone but a poseiq. A synthesis of religious man and creative man? Really? How many of the rank and file have or even should have significant creative outlet in how they decide to practice?

      2- The whole dialectic thing is fine for a rabbi doctor (PhD), or someone with that intellectual and emotional bent. But for far more of the masses, all this talk of dialectic is not well understood, and certainly not integrated on a daily-life level. The Rav talked about dialectic and the masses lived compromise.

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    2. "The Rav talked about dialectic and the masses lived compromise." That should go down among the great quotations of all time!

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