Friday, October 08, 2010

Allan Nadler on Modern Orthodoxy: Some Initial Observations

Allan Nadler is, without a doubt, one of the most insightful and brilliant people I know. He is also fearless. He gives no quarter to those whom, he believes, deserve none. His elegant, dazzling and forthright style of writing is always wonderful to read, thought-provoking and (for many) often infuriating. Therefore, when he sets his sights on a subject, attention must be paid. [In the interest of openness and full disclosure, Allan and I have been good friends for (gulp!) almost thirty-five years.]

In the present case, I refer to his review of the latest volume published by YU's Orthodox Forum. That volume revisits the question of the '
The Relationship of Orthodox Jews With Believing Jews of Other Religious Ideologies and Non-Believing Jews.' Nadler's, admittedly disappointed, take on the enterprise is:

Despite the forum’s presumably noble aspirations, many of its essays are marked by a palpable condescension toward “the others,” rendered all the more distasteful precisely because they were made manifest in a forum whose fundamental conceit is that there is something uniquely open, modern and even ecumenical about the Modern Orthodox community. The tangible sense of the book is that this characteristic, though never properly defined, renders it more evolved, if not superior, to the Haredi community.

As far as Modern Orthodox Relations with non-Orthodox Jewish groups, Nadler decries the lack of creativity evinced by the various contributors to the volume. He zeroes in on what he views as the Rav's '
paralyzing paradigm' in which he distinguished between the 'Covenant of Fate,' shared by all Jews, and the 'Covenant of Destiny,' which uniquely belongs to those who are committed to Traditional paradigms of Observance and Belief. He properly notes the fact that, in many ways, Orthodoxy has learned from and adapted much that originated on its left flank. Nevertheless, the impression one gets is that many of the writers related to this topic in much the same conflicted manner as Caesar responded to the crown that was offered him: 'he was very loath to lay his fingers off it,' (Julius Caesar I, ii). In other words, the issue was there, but it was neither embraced nor rejected.

I am the first to admit that Nadler raises many important, painful (for me, at least) points about the present state of Modern Orthodoxy. Still, there are a number of places where I instinctively sense that the reality with which he counters the essays in the book are a lot more nuanced and complex than it would appear. For example, the Haredi/Modern divide cuts both ways, both in Israel and in the Diaspora. While there is much to bemoan about the fabled 'slide to the right' within our community, Haredim have adopted (and are increasingly adopting) key elements of the Modern Orthodox agenda, especially secular education and (unofficially), culture. From another angle, there is the issue of Hiloini-Dati relations in Israel. Here, Nadler highlights the daring and creative essay by my friend and neighbor, R. Yuval Sherlo. R. Sherlo is, indeed, a courageous and forward thinking individual. On the other hand, the dynamic between Hiloni and Dati and Haredi Jews in Israel is so fundamentally different than that which obtains in the US and elsewhere, that I am extremely hesitant to discuss Sherlo's essay with the rest.

In any event, I intend to engage the questions and strictures posed by Professor Nadler in the near future. His questions, though, should be carefully considered by those of us for whom the Modern Orthodox enterprise is not an 'option,' but the essence and promise of Orthodoxy and Judaism in the future.


Gil Student said...

I question whether R. Sherlo's essay is creative and daring. He lists a number of concerns a halachist needs to take into account but does not tell you what he intends to do with them. I asked him this at the conference. His essay could be taken as merely restating the approaches of Rav Herzog and Rav Yisraeli or could be something much more radical. What did he mean? He didn't really answer, nor did he fix his essay to give a clear conclusion.

Anonymous said...

looking forward.

YMedad said...

The use of "covenant" recalls to me the paradigm employed by Harold-Harel Fisch of the covenant between God and the Jewish people which is actually a contract with three partners:

"The Covenant rests on a triad of relationships: God, land and people. The land is holy only because God chooses to dwell in it and chooses that we should dwell in it with him. Take away the theological dimension and Zionism itself turns to ashes.

Fisch, Zionist Revolution, p. 20

Anonymous said...

i dont buy it. if there would be no jewish state/zionism it would be open season on jews, and we would be far closer to another genocide.