Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Component Parts of Modern Orthodoxy

In the first volume issued be the renewed (and now, sadly, defunct) Kenes Lavie II, based on a suggestion offered by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, I first set forth my ideas on the component parts of Modern Orthodoxy. As I still think they are largely valid, I will use them here to provide an overall framework for our discussion here.

Now, it's been objected that my entire premise here is a bit off base, because Modern Orthodoxy is a quintesentially Diaspora, and specifically North American, phenomenon. In brief, it can't be translated into an Israeli context. I strongly disagree. However, there is a lot of truth in this observation, and we need to carefully wweigh the differences between the Diaspora scene and the Israeli reality, in order to adapt the key elements of the Diaspora model to Israel.

Herein, therefore, are the key elements of Modern Orthodoxy:

1. Axiological Openness to Outside Culture
2. Advancement of the Status of Women
3. Commitment to the Jewish People at Large
4. Religious Zionism

A first glance at the list presents an interesting irony. These four points correspond to the major componentsof Religious Zionism, as advocated by te founder of Mizrachi, R. Yitzhak Ya'aqov Reines ז"ל. The irony is that Diaspora Modern Orthodoxy and Israeli National Religious Orthodoxy adopted three of these four planks. On two, numbers 2 and 3, they agreed (until the advent of the Hardali rabbinical phenomenon). They diverged on the other two.

Diaspora Modern Orthodoxy enthsiastically adopted number 1, while remaining largely passive regarding number 4. (In other words, the MO community passionately supported Israel, but has been pareve when it comes to Aliya.)

The National Religious community has, of course, internalized the overarching value of living in the Land of Israel. However, as opposed to the Diaspora, it has not adopted an axiologically positive atitude to Western (or any other form, of non-Jewish culture). This is especially true of the rabbinic and Jewish educational frameworks, from kindergarten to Post-Hesder. Consider, for example, the case of the flagship educational institutions of Religious Zionism in Israel: Merkaz HaRav and Bar Ilan University. The former is, essentially, a Haredi school that atributes messianic significance to the State of Israel. However, it split in two (and the community with it) over the innocuous issue of ataching a Teachers College to the Yeshiva. Bar Ilan, on the other hand, is a first rate university with the best Jewish Studies Faculty in the world. However, its parochial element is not central to its activities. [Another irony lies in the fact that Yeshiva University began as a yeshivah and expanded into a university, while Bar Ilan started as a university and only much later founded a Bet Midrash as an epicycle to itself.]

In the coming posts, I intend to focus upon the definition of element number 1, its possible development in Israel and the consequences of achieving and not achieving that dvelopment. [We will return to the other components, after wards.]


Anonymous said...

this looks to be interesting. i assume that your penultimate paragraph should read "The NR community IN ISRAEL has, of course..." [also, check your opening sentence.]
do you really think mercaz split over a teachers college? this split was in the making for decades. the college was just the last straw. though i agree with your assertion about it being essentially a hareidi yeshiva with equally extreme zionist messianism. [it does differ from a typical hareidi yeshiva in its emphasis on machshava/emuna/hashkafa.]
i also question your characterization of bar ilan as rz. perhaps it was founded by rz, but in what way is it rz? is it really that different from hu in praxis? to my mind, yu is more of a rz college.
looking to hear your response as always.

J. said...

You write that the Israeli RZ have internalized the OVERARCHING value of settling the land. Perhaps they have over-emphazised it?
When I read the writings that emanate from this camp, I am struck by how little resemblance their ideas (Torat Eretz Yisrael etc.) have to commonly practised Judaism for the last couple of thousand years, and the tortuous apologetics that are necessary to justify why rov minyan u-binyan of gedolei yisrael throughout the generations didn't focus on yishuv eretz yisrael to anywhere near the extent that they do.

Nachum said...

Prof. Wolff:

I've seen similar lists elsewhere over the years. And I have to say, I really don't see how the "women" clause deserves to be its own category. Important, sure, but subsumed into others. (For that matter, the others can be largely subsumed into each other as well.)

Did you see this story about these kids who refused to sell the photos of Ramon's crash? It's a lovely story and a kiddish Hashem, but I was a bit disturbed by the existence of RZ schools- and not high-level yeshivot but elementary and high schools- who proudly proclaim (and who are proudly cited) that secular studies are kept to an absolute minimum.

robert said...

Please explain #3. I do not see it as an exclusive element of MO. I believe that non-MO orthodox are also committed to the jewish people.

Please explain how MO advances the status of women in light of the refusal of normative MO rabbis to condone the reading of the ketubah by a woman, and the treatment of women in the synagogue.

Are there not chareidi people-especially in america who are open and engaged to the outside culture? Are there not chareidi professionals in the field of medicine, law, and education, including the universities? They too, see a value in the outside culture, although they see it as subservient to torah. But then, so does MO.

I believe that at this point in time, it is anachronistic to say that these 4 elements are the exclusive domain of MO. #1,2,and 3 as stated in this post, and #4 as you stated that RZ in light of the chardal is no longer an exclusive MO phenomenon.

At the present, MO defies the pigeon holing of "key elements".

Jeffrey Woolf said...

First, there is a clear difference between American Hareidi and Israeli Hareidi. In the US and Canada, Hareidim have adopted much of the MO position on eduication (though even there the stress is on practical trades and less on the value of so-called 'secular studies,' per se.

2) I am trying to chart a course for Israel, not the US. Therefore, the comparisons are not apt.

3)As for the status of women, I object to the pigeon-holing of that question to reading the Ketuba and the structure of the synagogue service. Here in Israel we paint on a much broader canvas and the results are high women's literacy, and the creation of contexts wherein they can use their skills (eg Toanot Rabbaniot and Yoatzot Halakhah).

Once can work to advance women without radically altering traditional role divisions in the synagogue, divisions that are sanctified by millenia of usage. (BTW, I see no reason for a woman not to read the ketuba).

Anonymous said...

Although "zionism" makes everyone's top 10 list of M.O. principles, I wonder why this must be. I don't believe there is anything that is inherent about the M.O. approach to wordly knowledge, its willingness to engage in dialogue without demonization of others, and its interest in critical thinking that demands that one be a religious zionist or leads inevitably to religious zionism. Rather, it seems to me, zionism appears on the list because it is one of the easier ways to distinguish between "us" and "them" - i.e., the M.O. and the charedim (though I think in America this is not so useful a litmus test). Perhaps it is also related to the historical shunning of secular zionists by those we would call "not M.O." - and our willingness to engage with secular zionists is the issue that defines us as M.O. But then we should be asking ourselves, "why is it that we can engage with secular zionists but not reform and conservative Jews?" (To digress for a moment - the answer to that question is that the Rav poisoned the well for M.O. with his very sharp view on this and I personally believe it is high time we put his approach into the archive and articulated a more reasonable, less divisive vision of Orthodox engagement with non-Orthodox Jews. This actually raises one of the unstated principles of M.O., at least American M.O. at the moment, which it shares with chabad - its spiritual leader is long dead yet the community continues to rely on him for leadership, guidance, and psak). Anyway, back on point - I think one can be M.O. and feel equivocal about medinat yisrael; one can be M.O. and feel that am yisrael has squandered the opportunity that was given to it; one can be M.O. and look at Israel as a test from God that am yisrael is flunking (I need only point to the rabanut as evidence of that am yisrael is flunking). So, I myself am very much a modern, I am very much orthodox, and I feel no compulsion, no call, no desire whatsoever to live in Israel. Does that make me "modern" and "orthodox" but NOT "modern orthodox?"