by Akiva of Mystical Paths
In “Can Beyond BT Be More Inclusive” (here), Alan asks an interesting question. He says, “Beyond BT has established its place in the right wing of the Orthodox spectrum” and asks “Can Beyond BT make room for a Left Wing Modern Orthodox BT like myself?”
While I won’t try to answer this relative to Beyond BT, I’d like to expand the question, has the orthodox Jewish world “moved right”, and “is there room for left wing modern orthodox”?
The net answer, I think, is somewhat interesting. For generations, observant Judaism was under attack and in retreat. From the outside, such as Czarist Russia conscripting Jewish children, from the inside, as the haskala developed and presented the Jewish community (especially the young) with ‘alternatives’, and sometimes with them combining forces, such as the haskala recommending governments remove the community rabbonim and put their own in place.
After World War II, orthodox Judaism was broken. All of the strongholds of Torah, the great yeshivas and the great chassidic courts, were crushed. By the blessings from Above and the incredible efforts of those who escaped and those who survived, literally just a few handfuls, the seeds for the future were just barely planted. Many a yeshiva was rebuilt by 1 or 3 rabbonim, or sometimes not even that (just a surviving student!) Many a chassidus was literally just a rebbe or a rebbe and a few chassidim, not enough to fill an average living room.
The end of orthodox Judaism was predicted, major social studies were done that showed the future appeared bleak. In this environment, the rabbonim struggled to maintain the basics, Shabbos, Kashrus (not glatt kosher, not mehadrin, not 3 cheshers, just basically kosher), Family Purity, Education for the future generations.
There’s an interesting mitzvah in the Gemora, targeted at the rabbonim, at the leaders of the generation, that says (essentially) ‘don’t turn the community into sinners’. Meaning, it’s one thing to work to improve the failings of the community, it’s another to focus on those failings such that the whole community basically sees themselves as violating the Torah. In essence, don’t do the Accuser’s work for him. The community should consider itself good, and be taught how to be even better.
But we have another mitzvah from the Torah, be a nation of priests, a holy people. When the nation or community is in trouble, we’re not going to focus on the level of kashrus, the level of tznius, or the general aspect of what it means to be a holy people. While just barely kosher really isn’t good enough (we can debate whether 5 cheshers and 10 chumras are too many another time), when the other choice is not kosher, we’ll make whatever allowances necessary, as far as we can, to keep people in kosher status. If, thank G-d, people are keeping kosher and Shabbos, we’re not going to shout about covering hair, or the length of sleeves, or praying with a jacket, etc.
Through the post-war generations, things gradually improved. Modern orthodoxy sprang up first, trying to combine some strength of the past with the draw of the modern world to create Torah u’Madda. As a kosher alternative to Conservative and Reform, it held it’s ground and grew to an energetic community. While it’s balance created an energetic, thriving and, quite important, prosperous community, that higher involvement in the modern world resulted in the primary energy of the community being involved in the world. The Modern Orthodox community, beyond it’s initial structures (YU for example) was not generating the Torah scholars or high intensity Torah focus of the future.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Torah powerhouses of the past were, slowly, beginning to rebuild and regrow. The planted seeds grew, many yeshivas were rebuilt, most bigger than before (unfortunately, not all, some are lost forever). The chassidic courts recovered (those that could, some quietly faded away and some were lost) and grew bigger than ever. But it took a lot longer, 3 generations.
What happened then is a tipping point was reached in the Torah world. The majority of the Torah world, the focus of the Torah world, returned to the powerhouse yeshivas and chassidic courts. If you want to learn Torah, you to go Ponevitch, Mir, if you want to live Torah you go to Satmar, Chabad, Belz, etc.
And so, the day school students came too, and returned home with a black hat and a jacket or a long skirt, long sleeves and a commitment to covering their hair.
One of the challenges in the new balance is that the ultra orthodox community finds itself having slipped almost unaware into the Jewish world leadership position. Suddenly, the pronouncements of gedolim are being eagerly listened to, and responded to, throughout the world. The external leadership functions pretty much don’t exist yet. The shift in mindset from taking care and protecting the community to taking care of Judaism and the Jewish world is just beginning to be understood as a responsibility.
Part of this is the matter of tolerance versus defense. For the last 3 generations, the ultra-orthodox community has fought with all their strength to defend themselves, the Torah way of life, and grow. Thank G-d, this was successful. Now we need to transition from complete defense to developing functional relationships, and even respect, for our brothers who may not follow exactly the same path (yet still a kosher path).
So for Alan, the answer is, there is room for every Jew, especially every Jew who is mitzvah observant. Yet, the ultra orthodox community is new to it’s bigger role, and is not yet comfortable across the board in dealing with all aspects of the wider Jewish community. However, I am sure, with G-d’s help, we will learn to work together and respect each other as brothers before Hashem.
Chassidim, yes… but chassidim?! ;-)
“Moshiach will wear a shtreimel for sure, but I have it on good authority that he will be a Sephardi so that everyone will eat at his house.”
Ron – I gotta call you on this one – the Moshiach will definitely be a misnagid – If he was a chossid then the misnagdim wouldn’t hear from it but if he was a misnagid, the chassidim would say “hey the Moshiach is here”:)
There are ways to express things which minimize the persons feeling of being de-legitimized.
What I love about Rabbi Pliskin’s book, the Power of Words is that he not only points out the halachic issues, but consistently shows that improperly expressing things does not further our goals, which in the case of all Jews is increasing their love and appreciation of G-d and Torah.
Nonobservance by Jews is not legitimate, even if individual nonobservers can be blameless for nonobservance because they were brought up wrong.
I think the problem is more of de-legitimization, which is consistent deep felt denigration, rather than onoas devorim which is more of a one time occurrences.
I think de-legitimization is at the root of the disharmony between the Modern and the Ultra Orthodox and between the Non Observant and Observant Jews. If we really saw the discord this causes, I think we would take much greater pains when we express our differences.
When we say our path is the best, we to some extent de-legitimize other paths. It may not be our intention, but it is an unintended consequence. Isn’t it more in line with Torah to find the positive traits in others, so why do we focus so often on why we are right and others are wrong.
The need to feel superior to others is a negative trait which we need to overcome. In fact the Ramban in his Letter, advises to always find the ways that we are inferior to others to increase our humility.
Let’s continue to discuss the issues, that’s what this site is about, but perhaps we can resist the need to be the best, and just try to be good, with an eye towards being better Jews.
Thanks Ora and Michoel.
Though this is not really the place for it, I’ll just let you (and Bob) know that we have made some small steps toward reconciliation in our little corner of the world here.
We will never agree on certain fundamental issues, but we’ve actually managed, though dialog, to get our neighbors to agree to come to us first, before acting out. And so far, in two instances, issues were resolved pre-emtively.
“When two parts of Klal Yisroel clash, it can be hard to speak well of both at the same time.”
There is an easy solution to this dilema: remain silent!
But I do agree with what you wrote. I respect Menachem very much.
Well, Menachem, extreme times can necessitate an extreme response such as burying the hatchet.
That’s cute Bob. Take about 100 years of deep philosophical differences on how to approach the state and sing Kumbaya to wash them away.
Actually, one of the most divisive issues separating the Chareidim and DL is the very thing you think should unite them.
Since the RZ (sometimes conflated with MO) and Chareidim in Israel share a deep interest in defending Judaism against government-promoted secularism, it is shortsighted for them to focus so intensely on their differences with each other.
Akiva, you said, “You also make my point yourself in your next comment, “by and large what I’ve seen in the younger MO generation is a move to more halachic Judaism.” Exactly.”
You have no understating of Modern Orthodoxy if you think this helps make your point.
So much of what you write make you seem like a Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep in the 50’s and just woke up. Within Modern Orthodoxy there growing numbers of people who are just as halachically observant as the most of observant of the UO. The differences often come down to issues of hashkafa and tolerence. (Bringing us full circle.)
Also, it’s a completely false assertion to say that just because the MO don’t have as many kids as the UO they are “static”. In Israel MO as 4-5 kids per family. I think it’s similar in the US. A community that’s doubling every generation is hardly “static”.
It’s media hype to assert that the the “zionist basis relative to the state has crumbled.” The Gaza withdrawl certainly raised major issues, but the underlying of MO hashkafa in Israel is quite sound and the community is vibrant and strong.
Rabbi Cardozo recently wrote a couple of essays on the future of Israel as demographics lead the UO to become a major political force. In his conclusion he said in order to maintain any semblance of society the UO will have to look to the RZ/MO for guidance as their ideology has enabled them to function “normally”. You are essentially saying something similar. In order for the UO to be able to function in their “new role” they will have to normalize and more toward a more MO philosophy.
Menachem – I don’t include the mizrachi in Israel, though they’re suffering a similar problem now as the zionist basis relative to the state has crumbled. My source is merely direct experience with a number of MO communities.
You also make my point yourself in your next comment, “by and large what I’ve seen in the younger MO generation is a move to more halachic Judaism.” Exactly.
Charlie – non-covering of hair yet wearing hats among women, wearing of pants among women, as non-kosher leniences that were tolerated for generations. Mechitzas kosher only by every leniency bundled together and non-chalav-yisroel (the heter of HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l) and examples of kosher leniencies.
BTW, my wife was a mikveh lady in a mikveh that strattled a MO and UO location. She often was calling the MO rav to verify that what the ladies came and described as permitted leniencies in their practice actually had the rav’s backing. (This were usually around issues of chatzizta, such as nail extensions.)
“specific leniencies and heterim were introduced to keep the klal defined as kosher, and other laxes became customary as they existed for several generations. This doesn’t make them kosher.”
Can you give examples of such non-kosher leniencies?
“Note the simple statistic that almost every Jewish family in the US lost almost every member to assimilation.”
Rates of assimilation in Europe were almost as high.
“The “palpable sense of normalcy” that you experiencd then, but clearly see is lesser evident now is because many MO have continued to openly adapt the “norms” of the society which surrounds us, seemingly with few issues about whether the societal values are in the gutter or not.”
Actually, my experience is quite the opposite. Sure there pockets of super liberals who want to hold on to the lower halachic standards of their parents, but by and large what I’ve seen in the younger MO generation is a move to more halachic Judaism.
“To look at 40 years ago as the historical norm, is not accurate. It was a stage in the history of Klal Yisrael with some strengths and some weaknesses.”
For the past 4 months I have sat in the shiur of a grandson of one of the leading Gedolei Torah of the last century, the son of a currently Rosh Yeshiva and Gadol B’Torah, and Talmud Chachom in his own rite.
One of the most constant phrases he repeats to our shiur of mostly young, fresh, BTs is “Just be normal”.
I recently had a discussion with him about some of the insanity that is going on in the Chareidi world in Israel. (Especially in my community of Beit Shemesh.) He said to me that he grew up among Gedolim. (He’s about my age, so we’re talking approximately 40 years ago.) He said that these Gedolim were “normal”. He lamented the absence of this normalcy today.
“They have had some great rabbonim, and build some nice institutions, but as a structural community they’re static.”
Source please? (And don’t forget to include in the DL of Israel.)
Steve, here are two “authentic” versions of this, found at
“I sent the club a wire stating, ‘PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER'”.
Telegram to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills to which he belonged, as recounted in Groucho and Me (1959), p. 321
[Variant:] “Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”.
As quoted in The Groucho Letters (1967) by Arthur Sheekman
Akiva-Groucho Marx had a line that escapes me about belonging to a certain club.
Please allow me to clarify my earler posting…
I’m not a cloistered-by-nature type of person. Nor do I feel that everything secular is evil. (Would I have access to the web if I did?)
In fact, I would think that with my particular background – in which my income was made via the music entertainment and media industry – I’m somewhat familiar with dark side of society (and specifically the industry from which I removed myself painfully over the years). The music, the sleezy fashions, the seeing-as-normal sexual/partner relationships that have become accepted…in a nutshell, the openness to any and all forms of smut. Once upon a time (let’s say pre-1960) these things were kept behind closed doors, and we needn’t fear to see or hear of them on the street or in the paper (at least not in Long Island Newsday).
Sure they existed. But, it was never “in your face” like today. I could tell you stories of entertainment and media execs that would make you shudder or even get sick. If you knew what was behind what appears on TV and in magazines marketed to kids…even a veteran like me wonders what happened since “the good ‘ol days”. It is not that there is anything inherently bad about music, fashion or the media. It is the message that they openly spew forth in these days that we should not tolerate our children (nor ourselves) from being exposed to if we can help it. Yes, every generation had its societal challenges. Those freedoms that we enjoy here in the States that are a true blessing, also come with a curse. It is up to all of us to guard our neshamas from the treif influences that surround us. Those values and influences that we once shared in common with our non-Jewish neighbors…well those times are gone.
DK – the point of the article is that, whether they like it or not, the UO leadership must change position simply to fill the power vacuum. Kind of like, lhavdil, Hispanics complaining about being an oppressed minority in LA, when they exceed 50% of the population and hold the major political offices. Just doesn’t work anymore (the complaining).
Menachem Lipkin – I don’t understand your point. Modern orthodoxy, as a percentage of the community, is shrinking. They have had some great rabbonim, and build some nice institutions, but as a structural community they’re static.
Steve Brizel – my point is the same as Menachem. I’ve met some great graduates, very committed young men with semicha. But, those graduates tend to have less children and/or send their children to UO yeshivas. So it’s not growing.
Thanks for your appreciative comments about this post. A few brief replies to those with other points of view:
Dovid – once you are strong in your position, the natural community support negates the need for some of the excess defenses, IMHO.
Bob – there’s an old adage, if you want to learn, go to the misnagdim, if you want to pray, go to the chassidim. The heights of learning achieved by some of the litvish bastions of Torah are truly great, the heights of avodas Hashem achieved by some of the chassidic bastions is also truly great. But, to generalize, the bit of difference in focus makes a difference in level of achievement in the areas.
David – agreed, though now I think they find themselves being forced to take practical action as the reform & conservative / federation / uja / aipac energies are fading.
misnaged – omain! Yet, it’s one thing to be there doing your thing, another thing to truly take charge and responsibility of the community.
Charlie Hall – specific leniencies and heterim were introduced to keep the klal defined as kosher, and other laxes became customary as they existed for several generations. This doesn’t make them kosher. All historical indications are the spiritual state of the Jewish community in the US before WW2 and up through the 50’s was a disaster. There may have been bright lights, but they weren’t illuminating beyond their daled amos, or if so, with sufficient strength to overcome the burdens of the environment. Note the simple statistic that almost every Jewish family in the US lost almost every member to assimilation.
When two parts of Klal Yisroel clash, it can be hard to speak well of both at the same time. Saying that one group was on the defense is insulting to the other group, which feels that it was attacked without provocation.
Also, at some point speaking and thinking well can become the wrong path. When Jews are being physically attacked for infractions that many would see as minor, it’s time to speak out against it. If we’re so anxious to avoid lashon hara that we avoid even condemnation of criminal acts, we’ll be in trouble.
IMO you have to look at where Menachem lives–he’s probably not coming from the same place that the average US Jew is. The behavior in certain parts of Israel is appalling. The behavior elsewhere in Israel and in the US is much better, but one has to wonder, if the UO community in Community X is one of the strongest and most isolated UO communities around and it is known for violent attacks on others, does that not contradict the “defense” theory? IMO it shows that at the very least there are other factors at play. (BTW not saying this is an exclusively UO issue, there are definitely other communities known for their violence/extreme behavior as well).
“As UO communities grow and reach a critical mass of adherents they begin to flex their new found muscle. This flexing is born not of defensiveness but power. It’s an attitude of, “I don’t need you anymore, so now I’m going to do whatever I want.””
PLEASE! You are bringing us down the wrong path. Don’t you know that one is supposed to speak and think well of Klal Yisroel?
Jewish life in the US until about 40 and more years ago, was noteworthy for it’s tolerance. But it was also, in some ways, timid, ashamed and embarresed by those that were boldy Orthodox. But in some parts of Europe 150 years ago there may have been more azus (d’k’dusha) than we see today. There were physical fights between Chasidic groups, great Talmidei Chachamim being m’vazeh others when they held that it was neceasary. To look at 40 years ago as the historical norm, is not accurate. It was a stage in the history of Klal Yisrael with some strengths and some weaknesses.
Your experience in Lakewood 40 years ago serves as a good example of my earlier points
back in the original article. The desire for “power” that you describe is fictional at best. The “palpable sense of normalcy” that you experiencd then, but clearly see is lesser evident now is because many MO have continued to openly adapt the “norms” of the society which surrounds us, seemingly with few issues about whether the societal values are in the gutter or not. Look around you (in your own neighborhood) and take a look at how the young are turning out. Go into the pizza shop or the mall or just sit down on a bench and watch the kids go by. I recently attended a graduation at a LWMO school, and had to walk out because I was so turned off by what the principal was ranting on about…for all of the kids and parents to be inpired by. The Principal was bashing the “black hat” community and vying “to raise a new generation of Jews who will never wear their religion on their sleeve”. This “Knit Wit”, and his fellow educators from YU are why defensive (as in “to protect”, “to be very careful”…to be “frum”) actions in the frum world are becoming more stringent in this generation than 40 years ago (or 10 years ago for that matter). Yes, there are exceptions, and the there no easy answers on how best to fix this generation. I believe this is a test from Hashem…
Akiva-WADR, your view of RIETS ranged from consdescension to almost negating RIETS as a world class yeshiva whose students attend college. WADR, you should visit RIETS, sit in on a shiur or seder or two before writing about RIETS in such a dismissive manner.
Clarification regarding discomfort- I did not intend the word to indicate ‘deficiency’, but rather a fact that may possibly be unrelated to the specifics of the dialogue on this blog.
And I’ve never felt a ‘preaching attitude’ from you- not to worry! My point was that I rarely see it in anyone here, so when trying to identify specific ‘reasons’ for discomfort, I think it’s good to first determine if indeed the ‘reasons’ identified are truly reflective of the facts on the ground.
M, Perhaps you’re an exception, but it is very difficult to really understand another person’s spiritual struggles, even when they’re expressed, certainly when they’re unexpressed. The communication medium of the Internet decreases that sensitivity further.
People on a few occasions have expressed being put off and I’m willing to examine their complaint and not assume it is a deficiency in them.
We try not to make any subject off limits, as long as it doesn’t lead people away from Hashem. Certainly we would never consider banning Mesillas Yesharim and Bilvavi. When posting on these subjects I’m well aware that I’m not on the levels discussed and try not to preach from on high. When I fail, please send me an email or a comment.
I’d love to hear more about Mesilas Yesharim. I certainly don’t see it as “off limits”, having gone through it in a close study with a rabbi myself a few years ago.
Intriguing post Akiva.
I agree with much of Charlie Hall’s critique. You’ve given short shrift to the history of modern orthodoxy.
You claim that the intolerance we’re seeing from the UO world is born of defensiveness. I submit that it’s quite the opposite.
40 years ago when I was in an MO day school not far from Lakewood, there was palpable level of “normalcy” and tolerance that emanated from that community. Not so anymore.
As UO communities grow and reach a critical mass of adherents they begin to flex their new found muscle. This flexing is born not of defensiveness but power. It’s an attitude of, “I don’t need you anymore, so now I’m going to do whatever I want.”
This is true in the US, but much more apparent in Israel. There is nothing “defensive” about the way Chareidi segments of many communities try to force their ideology on the rest of the population. I see no indication, either here or in the US, that the Chareidi community is moving in the direction of greater respect and tolerance.
“I think what makes them feel excluded is a my way or the highway approach to Torah. And the fact that if you are doing X, you can’t possibly be serious about getting closer to Hashem.”
Is this the attitude you see here on BeyondBT?
“Possibly talk about the highest levels of purity, when many BTs are just trying to integrate and grow in TAG.”
So some subjects of growth should be taboo on the site, because it will make others uncomfortable to discuss these high levels?Bilvavi, Mesilas Yesharim, off limits?
“We can remedy it, by changing our attitudes towards our fellow Jews and recognizing everybody has different struggles and challenges. Not everybody will become the highest Tzaddik, but everybody can make progress in coming closer to G-d.”
Have you been feeling that posters do not share your views on this? Specific posters, specific posts? My impression is that just about everyone here shares these same views. Am I wrong?
“If you are a believer in the value of secular society and you read articles outlining the evils of it you feel like you do not belong.
Some will write back and argue their viewpoint while others will just find it easier to stay away.”
There are many varying points of view, on this blog and on all others. Mark and David are open to contributions of all kinds. What would hold you back from composing a counterview, either in an article form or in the comments? Is it only easy to stay somewhere if all are in agreement with your ideas?
I’m not trying to be contrary here, just offering the possibility that sometimes, discomfort is not caused by anything external to the discomfitted. Sometimes, we may feel defensive without being put on the defensive. Natural dialogue is full of opposing views, and BeyondBT in particular seems open to a multiplicity of positions.
Remember that a lot of what we take for granted as obviously forbidden by the Torah is not forbidden for non-Jews. Two examples are premarital sex, and women having sex with women. Neither fall under the Noachide laws. Why, in Israel, the rabbinate has sucessfully prevented legalizing marriages between non-Jews who don’t profess any religion! I would have thought that they would have valued a reduction of licentious behavior.
Divorce and abortion rates have declined in the US in recent decades, although they remain higher than in most of western Europe. Abortion certainly can not explain the drop in teen pregancy (and you are correct, I really should have said teen birth rates) because much of the decline occurred in the 1960s before abortion became widely available; the wider availability of contraception is probably a better explanation. (Remember that contraception was still illegal in some areas until 1965.) Instability of African American families almost certainly increased (and such a great liberal as the late Sen. Moynihan pointed this out early on) but a major factor was probably the unwillingness of government agencies to provide assistance to intact families — talk about a stupid policy!
Yet I have never met, and am unlikely never to meet, an African American who would prefer a return to the 1950s.
The major blemish I see on our secular culture is the rampant materialism. This leads to the operational principle that anything that makes money is good, which directly leads to the exploitation of women in and overpromotion of sexual motifs in marketing, all in the name of profit, as well as lot of other things that are contrary to Torah. Yet many of us personally benefit from that material prosperity; it allows us to buy seforim and fund our schools. From this we can not hide. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for it.
“However, I am sure, with G-d’s help, we will learn to work together and respect each other as brothers before Hashem.”
Most pollyanish. A structural impossibility. All fundamentalist groups need an enemy to survive, even quiescent fundamentalist groups. Ultra-Orthodoxy must define itself as not as the leader of world Jewry, but the victim, and that preempts general leadership.
David Schallheim :
What makes them feel excluded? What needs to be remedied?
If you are a believer in the value of secular society and you read articles outlining the evils of it you feel like you do not belong.
Some will write back and argue their viewpoint while others will just find it easier to stay away.
One other thing is that some MO people are probably a bit sensitive to these issues. Since they are constantly being told that they are not religous enough, they are not serious about halacha etc. they get turned off of more RW sites rather quickly.
What makes them feel excluded? What needs to be remedied?
I think what makes them feel excluded is a my way or the highway approach to Torah. And the fact that if you are doing X, you can’t possibly be serious about getting closer to Hashem. Possibly talk about the highest levels of purity, when many BTs are just trying to integrate and grow in TAG.
We can remedy it, by changing our attitudes towards our fellow Jews and recognizing everybody has different struggles and challenges. Not everybody will become the highest Tzaddik, but everybody can make progress in coming closer to G-d.
Some might feel uncomfortable that they might be judged as incompletely religious.
In terms of Beyond BT, we’ve gotten feedback that some people feel excluded and we truly want to remedy that.
What makes them feel excluded? What needs to be remedied?
I think what bothers me is that a person who wants to get closer to Hashem by keeping mitzvos, learning Torah, Davening and doing acts of kindness needs to be included. Doesn’t the Torah automatically include such a person. Doesn’t the Torah include every Jew and every human for that matter. It’s instructions include all of us.
In terms of Beyond BT, we’ve gotten feedback that some people feel excluded and we truly want to remedy that. If your a TAG Jew (Torah, Avodah, Gemillas Chasadim) or on the path of TAG Jewry, we want to be your fellow Jew.
“Ultra orthodoxy” or even “right wing orthodoxy” or, why, even “yeshivish orthodoxy” is by definition a description of a segment or a subculture. It cannot be “inclusive” and still be an accurate description of a segment. Perhaps it should not be at all; those who are attracted to or compelled by the worldview of it will naturally find their home there, but it is neither the sole definition of Jewishness or even Judaism or even orthodox Judaism. If it tries to be it will both offend the majority of Jews and cease to retain the features that attracts people (such as myself) to that segment.
Moshiach will wear a shtreimel for sure, but I have it on good authority that he will be a Sephardi so that everyone will eat at his house.
Charlie Hall wrote
“I also disagree with Dovid regarding society being less moral”
It depends how “moral” is interpreted. If “alternative” marriages and families may become the norm for mainstream society then that aspect of morality (which the Torah transparently forbids) has definitely declined.
If ever-increasing divorce and abortion rates are an indication of moral laxness regarding the family and human life then that strain of morality has declined.
I’m intrigued by the stat that teen pregnancy hit a peak in 1957? Does that mean teens who gave birth to full term? Because with abortions easily available nowadays that could skew statistics of conception rates.
Of course government-forced segregation was a societal ill. At the same time, and ruling out justifiations or oversimplified cause-and- effect scenarios, has the stability of the African-American family declined as well? Thomas Sowell and Bill Cosby apparently think so.
Admittedly statements like “less moral” requires nuance and texture but weighing everything in the balance a substantial case can be made in support of such a conclusion.
We have more genuinely religious Jews in America than ever before, but we risk becoming too complacent. For example, it’s easier than ever to look the part of a religious Jew without truly being one in thought and deed. When frumkeit was unfashionable, the appearance of frumkeit wasn’t so useful to an amoral person on the make. Now there are too many opportunities for charlatans to infiltrate our system.
I disagree with much of the post.
First, while the torah centers of Eastern Europe were indeed destroyed, torah centers in America, Britain, Eretz Yisrael, and the Mizrachi world were not. And the leading rabbis of those areas were as great as any in Eastern Europe.
Second, “modern orthodoxy” as we think of it today is much older than World War II. It certainly is as old as Rav Reines and was the leading hashgafah in America thanks to the leadership of Rabbi Dr. Revel, whose yeshiva and college were thriving. Indeed the criticism of modern orthodoxy (which in America mostly meant Yeshiva College and later Yeshiva University) for not producing “high intensity torah” is clearly false when you consider the incredible scholars — and number of scholars — who came through its doors. (I read somewhere that Rov Soloveitchik personally gave semichah to over 2,000 rabbis.)
Third, the premise of the paragraph on level of observance is wrong. “Just barely kosher” actually *is* good enough if it actually *is* kosher! Chumrot are just that: stringencies beyond the halachic norm. And it has been well documented that rabbis *do* shout about halachic violations; for example, the author of the Aruch HaShulchan bemoaned the fact that women in Lithuania no longer covered their hair — in Lithuania, in the 1880s! In contrast, davening with a jacket is absolutely not a halachic requirement. Later on, in America, Rabbi Joseph Lookstein had ushers posted in his synagogue to tell congregants to stop talking to each other during the services. (Maybe we need more rabbis today to take on Rabbi Lookstein’s methods?)
I think that a bigger problem is that the Eastern European Ashkenazic world was tramatized by the Shoah and has yet to recover.
Orthodox Judaism *is* compatible with most of modern society and teaches us how to distinguish between the worthwhile and the not worthwhile.
I also disagree with Dovid regarding society being less moral. I am old enough to have seen the segregated south. The fact that racism, something completely antithetical to torah values, is not unacceptable in polite American society is a miracle. I agree that mass media objectify women and glorify licentiousness, but I’m not sure that actual activity has changed much. (The teen pregnancy rate in the US peaked in 1957.) Violent crime has dropped in recent years and in New York City it is at record low levels.
Charnie makes an interesting point about Torah being more accessible. While attention is often given to forms of dress and community kashrut standards, in fact there are far more processed foods under supervision than ever before. There are also far more seforim available far more widely than ever before, and many in English translation. (Visit the YU seforim sale this week!) An even bigger change that especially affects families with small children is that there are now very few orthodox communities in America today that do not have a functioning eruv — and every public eruv requires application of leniency after leniency after leniency. Center City Philadelphia just got one — built to the more rigorous Sefardic standards — after 267 years! I had to be very conscious recently when I spent a Shabat in one of the few frum communities that did not have one to remember how to avoid carrying. That is such a huge lifestyle change that it can’t be described. Opportunities for learning are greater than ever before — for men and for women. And there is now no area of torah study that is not open to women.
It is clear to me that while we have moved to the “right” in some areas, in others it is much easier to be Jewish.
I give thanks that I am able to live in such a time.
Akiva, you’ve accomplished the near impossible here by condensing an enormous amount of Jewish history into one very well written post!
This brought to mind an observation – it’s brought down that each generation is a little less then the previous one. Yet, today, we see tremendous growth in Torah observance. Could it be that Orthodoxy has become more accessible to the masses? Kiruv isn’t really a new phenomenon, after all, isn’t that what Rabbi Akiva was doing? But it may have been suppressed during the centuries of hardship on that awful continent of Europe.
We are in the Footsteps of Moshiach!
The same American society that tolerates Orthodox Jews (unless, of course, we try to push our views on society) also tolerates virtually everything else. The degenerate portion of “everything else” threatens us morally.
Let’s talk supermarkets. Specifically magazines near the cash register. Aren’t these some indication of where people’s heads are at? Same way with most TV and movies. All these media were much more wholesome 50 years ago. Can anyone deny that?
Dovid : The path and values of the society in which we live is on a downward spiral. On most fronts, the core values and media-dominated lifestyles continue to get worse. This is cause to consider why we must be concious of allowing these values and influences into our lives. much MORE now than was need in the past.
I have recently started reading some historical Jewish works and it seems that in every generation I have read about the Rabbis are talking about how they are dealing with a new level of sin in the secular society. It reminds me of what kids say every generation – their parents don’t understand because THIS generation is different from all others.
The funny thing though with all this is if you look at our secular soceity today we Jews are respected, treated well and allowed to practice our religion and prosper like never before. Additionally, you would be hard pressed to convince many people that todays society with its focus on equality and its generally high respect for human kind is much worse than the societies of the past.
I am the first to admit that there are horrible flaws in secular society (e.g. promiscuity) and an observant jew must treat carefully around these areas but I find this ranting about how evil it has become a little overdone.
There are many aspects of secular society which the Torah world could learn from (e.g. equality between races, etc) and there is a great risk to Judaism by stating that everything outside of our dalad amos is evil.
“Yet, the ultra orthodox community is new to it’s bigger role, and is not yet comfortable across the board in dealing with all aspects of the wider Jewish community.”-
The Ultra- Orthodox community is prepared. Look at Chabad. Can you truly say they are not prepared? They are in every ‘nook and cranny’ of the world. The entire world is prepared. Open your eyes! Moshiach is almost here!
Very nice historical overview, Akiva. You managed to combine a nuanced approach with brevity, which is no small challenge.
I think we can see the beginning of a transition to responsibility for Klal Yisrael, first and foremost with the kiruv movement, which was founded by the students of those handful of survivors you described.
In fact, the roshei yeshivos with which I have studied always talk about taking responsibility for Klal Yisrael.
“If you want to learn Torah, you to go Ponevitch, Mir, if you want to live Torah you go to Satmar, Chabad, Belz, etc.”
Is this some type of either/or? Akiva, please explain.
Akiva…a pleasure to read your work.
“Part of this is the matter of tolerance versus defense. For the last 3 generations, the ultra-orthodox community has fought with all their strength to defend themselves, the Torah way of life, and grow. Thank G-d, this was successful. Now we need to transition from complete defense to developing functional relationships, and even respect, for our brothers who may not follow exactly the same path (yet still a kosher path).”
In my experience, I do not believe that the defense side of things will soften any time soon. The path and values of the society in which we live is on a downward spiral. On most fronts, the core values and media-dominated lifestyles continue to get worse. This is cause to consider why we must be concious of allowing these values and influences into our lives. much MORE now than was need in the past. Sadly, those who choose to ride the fence by choosing to expose themselves and their children to the mass media, the sick societal “norms” (which are NOT even remotely the same as they were just 50 years ago) and believe that they can maintain some type of kedusha in their lives…are treading a thin line that is likely destined to snap. The signs of this are already open for all to see.
Let us be honest and consider what the future holds. The left wing (LW) should not be disturbed or confused about why those who they call ultra orthodox are being more caucious about their relationships with their fellow Jews, who continue to find a place in their lives for these societal “norms”. If it continues, Chos v’Sholom, there won’t be anyone Left…
A beautiful and refreshing post (I just caught up on 70+ comments from Alan’s post).
I feel that BeyondBT seems to be a great arena, as Akiva wrote, “to work together and respect each other as brothers before Hashem.”
“Part of this is the matter of tolerance versus defense. For the last 3 generations, the ultra-orthodox community has fought with all their strength to defend themselves, the Torah way of life, and grow. Thank G-d, this was successful”
I remember this point being made on the second “Inspired” film regarding kiruv, and it’s also been discussed recently on Cross Currents on “Alternatives to Triumphalism” regarding political activism.
I believe that the Torah community today is, B’H, in a much better position than it was two hundred years ago in certain ways. But one might say that in each generation there are unique challenges, and one can perhaps make the argument that some of the very same problems exist in recycled, lessened, or in mutated forms. One can be hopeful and confident that Torah growth and revival is a fulfillment of the Torah’s promise, yet still recognize that the “defense” part of the battle is not yet over, as Moshiach has not yet arrived.
As far as “room for LW MO”, I would think it’s less of an issue on this blog. If you would be debating communal policy and ideology such as religious pluralism, specific institutions, etc, then one would need to establish a standard which might make less room for LWMO. If one focuses on personal growth , then just because someone at a certain point in their life believes that boys and girls should socialize doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have anything to contribute to many topics.
Also, even when ideology comes up, those who think they are on the left can still couch their ideas respectfully and still participate. I comment on other blogs each with different standards, and I find that I am able to adopt to them(I hope this comment is acceptable on this blog :) )