Friday, August 14, 2009

Plus Ca Change: Torah UMadda and Rav Melamed

I was trained in the method of the History of Ideas. This subsection of Intellectual History traces the delicate balance between the essential meaning of ideas and the ever-changing nuances that those ideas acquire over time, in different eras and cultural contexts. For me, the approach is the ideal way of maintaining the fundamental integrity of traditions and awareness while tracing the variations and changes which that they underwent over time.

One upshot of this approach is the persistent awareness that (at least in this) the French were right: 'Plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme chose' - 'The more things change, the more they stay the same.' The same issues keep arising, responded to by many of the same counter-arguments. As a result, one feels eminently grounded. On the other hand, one wonders why we can't put (at least some issues) behind us.

A case in point is the legitimacy of secular studies within the Orthodox community. The debate has been raging for over two millenia, with no end in sight. It has spawned dozens, even hundreds, of articles, monographs and books. I suspect that it will continue to rage עד ביאת הגואל.

The problem is that the debate has not really begun to commence here in Israel. A principled Modern Orthodoxy has never developed here. Religious academics and professionals buy into the argument that they a) are not fully religious b) their involvement in the outside world is a concession and not a value c) are walking embodiments of Bittul Torah. In addition, these perceptions are all too often dumbrated by religious academics (especially in the humanities and social sciences) who all too often exhibit a lack of religious sensitivity, intellectual humility and respect for the integrity of Jewish tradition. In me extreme cases, religious academics use their religious status to advance positions and ideas that even the widest interpretation of Jewish Tradition would be hard pressed to sustain. As result, the message of a principled encounter of Western Culture and Torah is lost upon the more traditionally rooted portions of the community.

On the other hand, the representatives of Torah (with some exceptins) are typically marked by rejectionism. Even, or especially, Religious Zionist rabbis don't really get it. I was 'treated' to an example last night on Reshet Bet. R. Zalman Melamed (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet El - not the Kabbalist school), was given a huge chunk of time to expatiate on his 'moderate' position that so long as one has nothing better to do, and the material is censored, there can be a place for extremely limited study of secular studies. It's only ex post facto, as proven by the fact that R. Melamed is proud of the fact that he doesn't even have a High School education.

So, there is a zero sum game playing itself out here. And who do you think loses?

That question will have to wait until after Shabbat.


Anonymous said...

so nu? what do we do?

J. said...

Does anyone know if R. Lichtenstein's masterful essay in JJ Schacter's book is available online?

Yosef Blau said...

If religious Zionism stands for creating a state that will be run according to Halakha then secular education is a necessity. If instead it reflects a messianism where the Mashiach will resolve all questions then it is not.
Yosef Blau

Jeffrey Woolf said...

I only wish it were. In fact, I only wish someone would sponsor the translation of the Orthodox Forum volumes into Hebrew.

ben bayit said...

the arguments about whether Torah U'Madda is lechtchilla or bedieved, or whether RZ is messianic or not are so tiresome. It's time to get over them and move on.

I believe that a secular education is necessity and permissible. I also believe that it is legitimate to hold the opposing view.
I believe that RZ is largely not messianic and that people who claim otherwise repeat a cannard over and over again.

A state run "according to halacha" can have a very broad definition of what halacha is when running a state. If one reads Rav Naftali Bar-Ilan's 4 volume set on running a state according to halacha it is very clear that this is not necessarily a contemporary version of the Aruch Hashulchan Haatid meant for future use. Also everyone knows that charedim don't really mean it when they say that they want the Shulchan Aruch to be the constitution of the state.

That being said that doesn't mean we have to bend over backwards (like some "modern orthodox" religious zionists do) and take Arik Carmon's and IDI's post-zionist constitution as normative.