Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Tragedy of Monochromatic Orthodoxy

During a sweep through my links, I came upon a blog entitled Daas Hedyot (and thanks to Allison Kaplan Sommer for the reference). The author describes himself as a former yeshiva student who is grappling with life 'on the outside.' He deeply resents, for example, that:

Basically, in the frum world, when you reach adulthood you’re expected to have essentially the same views on Yiddishkeit that you had when you were in 3rd grade. And probably nothing would make our rabbeim prouder if when we died at a ripe old age we still thought everything we read in The Midrash Says really happened.

I found myself deeply pained when I read his musings. My first response was triumphalist. 'See! If Modern Orthodox thinking were more available, he would have the tools to struggle with his Judaism from within!' That, however, is too facile and a bit disrespectful. The Modern Orthodox path is the harder one, the more challenging one, the bigger humra. The Rambam would probably say it's for everybody, according to his capacity. I think that's true, but I understand the fears of those who are afraid to try (or to try it out on their children).

In any event, I am convinced that it is the moral obligation of the Modern Orthodox Leadership to agressively assert itself in both ideological terms and through the cultivation of careful, sensitive piety and solid Talmud scholarship (i.e, lomdus). Historically, the latter validates the former. The former can save the souls of many more like Da;as Hedyot.


The Hedyot said...

Can you elaborate on the phrase, "If MO thinking were more available, he would have the tools to struggle with his Judaism from within!'" What tools do you have in mind?

Gil Student said...

I fully concur. I've found that almost all of such people's questions would be resolved if they merely had access to Modern Orthodox literature written for a popular audience. It is the duty of the MO world to present itself as a viable option for the intellectually-oriented Orthodox Jew.

Anonymous said...

Agreeg, but beware the pitfalls that Conservative Judaism fell into.


The Hedyot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Hedyot said...

While it's possible that MO ideas and literature might have appealed to one like me as I was maturing, keep in mind that the black-hat world I lived in prevented that from happening on many levels. Most obviously, I wasn't exposed to such ideas. On a deeper level, the truth is that even if I had been exposed to it, I wouldn't have considered it worth taking seriously because in the yeshivish world all that has to do with MO is mocked and disregarded. On an even deeper level, know that even after I took the step of moving out of the black hat world a bit, and allowed myself to engage in MO society and MO Judaism, I still couldn't bring myself to accept that it was as authentic and genuine as the yeshivish one I was raised in (this, despite the numerous ways it greatly appealed to me!). I just couldn't view it as "Real Yiddishkeit". I had been taught that "Real Jews" practice their Judaism like their fathers and grandfathers have done through the ages, not watered down with modernity, and the only ones who were truly faithful to that tradition were the yeshivish crowd. It took many years before I could undo the damaging influence of those ideas.

MO society might be negligent in their responsibilities, but I honestly don't think it would have made a difference to one like me who had the yeshivish world really pull a number on him.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but this is just a bit too funny. Do you realize the number of MO kids who don't take religion seriously and have crises of faith, despite being exposed to all this stuff? There is no ideology that can stop defections from orthodoxy. The problems relate to many other areas. I think this post is naive, despite my great respect for the poster.

Gil Student said...

There is a difference between the MO intellectual world and the general MO society. I am speaking intellectually, not sociologically. The development of halakhah is not a faith-issue to someone who has access to MO writings.

People go off the derekh for many reasons, faith-issues being (in my experience) the least of them. They are generally more behavioral. People want to enjoy their lives. This is especially true when you're in a secular college and have all sorts of opportunities for forbidden pleasures. Once you have a taste of them, ridding yourself of faith is very easy.

Anonymous said...

Dr.Woolf responds to Hedyot in a surprisingly simplistic way. Just as Modern Orthodoxy looks monolithic to those outside it, so does the world of the yeshivos to those outside it. In reality there is as much variety in the one as in the other. To take the childish prattlings of Hedyot as Toras Lukshen is just silly. What roshei yeshiva want from their talmidim varies widely, and there are none who want them not to grow with time. There are obvious disagreements with MO as to many of the goals of growth, not to mention the core values of the religion. For those outside a community to assume that an unsophisticated comment from one unhappy dropout tells it all is evidence of poor scholarship and a lack of critical thinking. In much the same way as we would hold up only the more sophisticated MO as examples of products to be proud of, and ignore the large number of the unsuccessful results, so should we approach the yeshivishe world. If we did, we might be surprised at the range of opinions & depth of knowledge.

Melech Press

Jeffrey said...

I am gratified by the responses, to which I hope to reply after pondering them over Shabbat.

Anonymous said...


Can you give us some specific MO works that you would suggest for a person like Daas Hedyot (assuming he is serious) to have read?


aiwac said...

Dear Melech Press,

I find your response to be disrespectful
and condescending. Perhaps you should
consider whether the haughty attitude of
superiority that seeps from your post is
part of what drove hedyot away.

If you want to disprove the arguments,
bring proof (e.g. concrete exmplaes),
instead of making general statements
that say little.


mnuez said...

How'd'ya do ~ I just came to your blog - actually Through hedyot - and am enjoying myself here. Nice blog, well done. But I've gotta get this off my chest: I Hate that expression MO, Conservative and Reform types have for "struggling with their Judaism". It sounds so childish and ridiculous to me. I mean, what exactly are you struggling with? The ability to believe (because otherwise you'll rot in purgatory) and not believe (because the candle of logic dispels the amateurish shadows of primitiveness) at the same time? You like Orwewll, well, you must love doublethink - the ability to believe something and its opposite at the same time. In fact, I believe Alice in Wonderland had something to say on that matter as well.

So R' Jeffrey, what's the struggle for? How about weighing the evidence and standing by their conclusions? And if they aren't conclusive (as nothing quite is) then go with the odds - as you would regarding any investment of your time, money or interest? And if you have a taste for gefilte fish even if it's obvious that the Satmar Ruv had no direct line to God, then ess gezunter heit!

Instead of struggling, how about allowing for a true-dichotomy ~ that most of our religious literature was composed out of a misunderstanding of science and history and that even the Five Books of Moses seem clearly not to have been the direct word of God - However, having been born and raised in this society, and enjoying being a part of it, and also knowing that /maybe/ there is something to this religion {(and also in my heart of hearts having an irrational fear of god and the fate of my soul in the afterlife - sshhh)}, I choose to live, more or less, as an Orthodox Jew. Not to mention the fact that if I were to publicly be mechalal Shabbos I would lose many friends and possibly my job.

Now there's an honest statement. It isn't mine, it may or may not be yours, but I think its one that many "strugglers" could easilly adobt as they toss off that nauseatingly pious expression of "struggling with their faith".

nu nu,


Tzemach Atlas said...

A question to MOs

When you speak of MOy, particularly in Israel, do you mean the legacy on Rav Kook primarily? In America it roughly means YU. Is the Israeli MO mixture of both?

thanbo said...

To understand what the MO views as "struggling with one's Judaism", read the works of R' Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. I'd recommend "Kodesh V'Chol" as a reasonable starting point - good mix of Torah & philosophy, and a description of the inner struggle, the inner tension of the MO Jew, making choices about actions. For a different view of much the same process, see R' Dessler's Michtav M'Eliyahu in the first volume (maybe 2d or 3d in the English, don't remember) where he talks about free will and the bechirah-point. The point at which the tension exists moves as one grows, but the tension, the struggle to overcome the yetzer, is constant.

"Halachic Man" is a bit too idealized, being a view of the Rav's ideal Torah personality, his father - not really all that applicable to most of us.

Anonymous said...

Daas Hedyot's reluctance to consider MO might stem from the culture of MO. He seemed to be saying that it "seemed" like something foreign, and not authentic, but said this from ignorance of what it is about -- intellectually and not culturally.

Both Haredim and MO would do well to disentangle culture from ideas and religious practice, something I find that they do not do. It prevents people from joining either group who might otherwise join. That said, I guess it serves the useful purpose of self-identification (a form of proclaiming one's allegiances). Who knows.

rebelmo said...

MO has its own pressures of conform or leave, and those intellectual MO's who think they have found the syntehsis etc. should look and see how homogenous and undiverse their communal life is

Jeffrey said...

I want to respond to the issue of 'struggling.' I was not implying that the acceptance of Judaism is at question. My point is that growth requires struggle, whether it's in Talmud or in one's religious weltanschauung.