Thursday, February 21, 2008

Develop Modern Orthodoxy in Israel

At the end of the day, there is a limit to how much one can bemoan the corrupt, self-destructive behavior of Israel's government and governing elites. There is a limit to the frustration engendered by the ongoing חילול השם of the 'Party of the Evening,' which will sacrifice Jerusalem and our lives for a few more sheqels (and to keep its aparatchiks out of jail, like the Prime Minister). There is a limit to how much you can point out the frightening parallels between the prophecies of Jeremiah and the current situation. Complaining and bemoaning don't achieve anything more than a brief catharsis, which grates on the nerves of the reader (and the writer).

So, as the expression goes, 'What is to be done?'

Well, as far as I am concerned, that means redoubling efforts to judaize Israel. After all, if we really believe that God gave us this land, we need to recall that our presence here is contingent upon our behavior and our responsibility for that of our brethren. It does not take a genius to realize that the present constellation is evidence of a portentious Divine Decree (גזירה).

As I've often said, the tragedy today is that so many Israeli Jews define themselves as Jews first, but have no access to Judaism because the religious leadership and community (especially the Religious Zionist rabbinate):

a) has reduced the Torah to Eretz Yisrael to the exclusion of all else

b) lacks the intellectual, cultural, scholarly and halakhic tools and integrity to present the Torah in a manner that will commnd the respect (and, hopefully, assent) of the average Jew

c) lacks, in its liberal sectors, intellectual and religious humility; while the less liberal sectors lack compassion.

A responsible Modern Orthodoxy can make a powerful contribution to ameliorating this situation. Unfortunately, previous indigenous efforts (in which I have participated) that focused upon institutions failed to achieve more than an occasional flash. This was largely due to organizational territorialism, considerations of ego, and (too often) fear of various types of backlash. Hopes that institutions across the sea will achieve anything are sadly misplaced. These generate little more than words.

In any event, in addition to teaching and writing, I thought that it might be a good idea to test the waters. So, I've started a Facebook group: Develop Modern Orthodoxy in Israel. The idea is to create a modest location to start thinking and acting 'out of the box.' Anyone with whom this resonates is invited to join.

Let's see how it goes.


Seth (Avi) Kadish said...

Hi Rabbi Woolf,

I agree with your analysis of the problem, and like you have been striving ceaselessly for years to try to create something positive in this direction (with limited success so far). Nevertheless, there are all kinds of interesting efforts going on, even apart from what you mention, including a number of efforts you might not be aware of.

In my opinion, the primary cause is the lack in Israel of the most important element of Yeshiva University. And by this I mean neither the "Yeshiva" nor the "University" but rather the common backbone of both, namely the fact that for generations YU has provided the rabbinic leadership for Modern Orthodox communities all over the diaspora. There is absolutely nothing like this in Israel, and the average Israeli has little hope to find any sort of Modern Orthodox rabbi or community to welcome him in the city or town that he lives in.

Even for someone dati this hardly exists. Imagine: A YU graduate who goes to law school has a pretty good chance of marrying and raising a family in a community where the rabbi will be YU musmakh! But in Israel, someone who learned in a yeshivat hesder (or at BIU) has very little chance that his eventual rav will be a musmakh of his institution, or even someone with whom he will be able to see eye-to-eye on basic issues. Unless of course he lives on a yishuv, where his community will by definition not be directly available to Israel society at large.

Such rabbis and communities simply don't exist in most parts of "real" Israel, i.e. in the cities and towns that are not heavily religious (and also not heavily "Anglo"). The charedim are there in force to influence society in any way possible, as are the pseudo-charedim (chardal), but not Yeshivat Har Etzion or BIU.

And if the dati'im can't find it, all the more so for the hilonim. Especially because even for the few lucky places where such communities do exist, they don't often see a major value in trying to be attractive to the wider public.

For some of my ideas, please see this page:

My wife (Sheri) sends regards.

Seth Kadish

Josh M. said...

I find the juxtaposition of this post and the post comparing Israel to Kosovo to be interesting, as they both seem to be based on the fact that Jews of a certain stripe have tended to cluster together in small enclaves in Israel, rather than trying to increase their power by increasing their surface coverage (to say nothing of those like myself who are still outside of the playing field altogether).

bar_kochba132 said...

I can't understand how you, someone who lives in Israel, is repeating the canard that "all the Religious Zionist camp cares about is YESHA". You certainly know that is NOT the case, as important as YESHA is. I am certain you are aware of the garinim Toraniim that are going up all over the country. I am sure you are aware of all the educational institutions affiliated with Religious Zionism that are found all over the country. You are certainly know about all the outreach programs that are going on all over the country.
I should also point out that the YU crowd in Israel has supported the MIZRACHI/MAFDAL political machine in Israel for years, and they were primary supporters of the Chief Rabbinate and the whole religious establishment that chooses the local rabbinate in every town without reference to the wishes or needs of the local religious and non-religious populations.
The fact is there is a tremendous need for reform and ALL the religious community in all its various denominations have something to contribute.

Seth (Avi) Kadish · אבי קדיש said...

Responding to Bar Kochba, I live here too and I don't think it's much of an exaggeration. Even though there has been a veritable explosion of interest by the Religious Zionist rabbinate in the general Israeli populace over the past 5-6 years, this is still relatively recent and is strongly linked to a sense of failure in YESHA ("the people weren't with us because we didn't make them realize how right we are"). Thus activities like Panim el-Panim, which were of course the most intense just before an election...

As for the Garinim Torani'im, that is a very mixed bag. There are some incredible success stories (e.g. Lod and a few others) but the more typical activity is not nearly as positive, and is often quite harmful davka to local religious communities and to religious-secular relations.

The more typical activity (unlike Lod) is simply to plant a kollel or yeshiva in a city. If our discussion here is of Modern Orthodoxy, then these often try to push policies on the local dati communities that many dati people do not really want. You won't find them pushing for excellence in secular education at local dati schools to attract a wider populace, but you will often find them building a cheder track to minimize secular education and keep their children away from others. You may even find them actively building higher walls between people: I once tried to have a local Bnei Akiva do joint programs with secular youth groups. The program crashed because the snif BA was controlled by the local garin Torani, who vetoed it. Why? Because meeting secular groups also involved boys and girls being together for the activity...

The Garinim Torani'im are proof that just like you can build a yeshivah on a hilltop in Samaria and remain irrelevant to Am Yisrael, so too can you build a yeshivah in the middle of a city and remain equally irrelevant.

Things are indeed changing though, and the wider Israeli populace is more and more on the radar screen. But the "outreach programs all over the country" have a strong charedi mentality despite their supposedly "Zionist" or Kookian orientation.

So even if things are changing, that has very little to do with Modern Orthodoxy, which was the real topic of the post.

Kenneth said...

At the core there is a need to come to grips with two key issues:

1)The definition of what is meant by "Torah U'Madda" - In a completely oversimplification: do we define it as the permission to study in both worlds, or as the effort to apply the best of Madda to Torah Scholarship and not ignore the consequences.

2)In an increasingly educated society - a secularly educated society with active literary, cultural, and artistic components, how is Orthodoxy to speak? How does Modern Orthodox address the increasing intellectual sophistication of a population when the exemplars from Israel (YU requires a University BA and an MA in course towards semicha) do not have a University degree? There has been too much pointless verbage which passes for sophistication, and too little creativity or serious engagement in deep inquiry that is multi-disciplinary in its contibution to learning.