Tuesday, September 21, 2004

America versus Israel: Modern Orthodoxy's Dilemma

Last Spring, Jewish Action, published by the OU, contained a cri de coeur by the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oak Park (MI), Rabbi Reuven Spolter. The article was entitled In Search of Leaders. (Thanks to Simcha at Hirhurim for bringing this to wider attention)

The author, who has already made an enviable reputation for himself as a talented and committed young Rav, bemoans the fact that as the Modern Orthodox community grows, an increasing number of its leaders (rabbinical, educational and lay) are moving to Israel. This leaves the people back home bereft of support, inspiration and leadership. s he points out so poignantly, there just isn't enough talent to go around. (Though, from my own personal experience, there are alot of young, committedly Modern Orthodox rabbis in the field. Not enough, I grant you, but real stars in the making.

I really feel Rabbi Spolter's angst. Having labored in the ranks of the American rabbinate for over a decade before coming on Aliyah, I know, and empathize, with the kind of stresses he discusses. (I also remember his grandfather from Winthrop.) A principled Modern Orthodoxy must be predicated upon an uncompromising commitment to Torah, combined with a fearless engagement with the world. In fact, the two are mutually dependent. In any event, that kind of intensive involvement in the totality of Torah and modernity in its totality, naturally leads to a desire for an unbifurcated existence here.

The question, then, is whether to come or not. Here, Rabbi Spolter's invocation of the Rov zt"l, is very relevant. Rabbi Spolter is quite correct. If you carefully read the Rov's Zionist writings, he talks all obout supporting Israel, especially Torah in Israel. He never (to the best of my knowledge) advocated Aliyah. On the other hand, judging from the famous letter that he wrote to Rabbanit Shiloh z"l in 1967,. he was torn between Eretz Yisrael and his responsibilities in the United States. Yet, at the end of the day, he did sem to feel that those who can contribute to the maintenance of Torah in Hutz La-Aretz, must do so.

The problem is, that there is a crying, vital need for exactly this kind of people here in Israel. Modern Orthdoxy, with strong roots in the Bet Midrash and the University Lecture Hall, never took root here. THe results have been nothing less than disasterous, as millions of Jews reach out for JUdaism and find almost noone to talk to them, noone who can speak in a coin that is intelligible to the Western Educated, though Jewishly unlettered person. In addition, this absence is directly responsible for the ever growing number of people who abandon Torah because of the inability of teachers to talk to them. Things that are elementary for a YU Musmach or educator, are revolutionary here.

So, the truth is that we have here a case of 'Shnayim Ohazim be-Tallit.' Instead of dividing it, I think we need to pour money into making the Tallit bigger, so as to enwrap both populations. Tighter cooperation and coordination between Israel and the Diaspora Orthodox communities would help too.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, after having spent the day in Jerusalem, I have to close by reminding myself and everyone else, that Qedusha, Kapparah and reality all flow from here outwards. WE are promised, moreover, that the tide will inevitably draw us from outward, inward to Jerusalem.

Gmar Hatima Tova le-khol Bet Yisrael.

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