Originally published 5/13/08, 12:52 PM. Link to The Jewish Week no longer works.
Dr. Marc Shapiro's recent comments in the Jewish Week -- See
http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c55_a9351/Editorial__Opinion/Opinion.html# have initiated much discussion and debate. There is no doubt a growing friction between the Charedi and Modern Orthodox world, yet Dr. Shapiro's suggestion that MO should, so to speak, break away from the Charedi world has an essential problem for MO. It will demand the MO not maintain one of its fundamental principles.
The essence of Modern Orthodoxy can be viewed from two perspectives. One is the specific behaviour of MO that distinguishes it from the behaviour of, let us say, the Charedi world. For example, MO is more favourable to the State of Israel. Of course this distinction is not absolute. There are Charedi individuals with positive feelings for the State and MO individuals who are more distant from the State but this distinction in behaviour generally stands. In a variety of behaviour there is a distinction between the Charedi world and the MO world and how one personally behaves will define which world he or she is in or he or she is put in.
There is though another major distinction between the MO world and the Charedi world and that is the distinction based on wisdom and authority. The Charedi world advocates for the value of authority -- thus its fostering of commitment to the Gedolim simply in their person of Gadol. The MO world values wisdom, thus even as they also have Gedolim, it fosters allegiance to these Gedolim because of the arguments that these Gedolim present to support their positions. Of course this dividing line is not absolute and, as there is value in both authority and wisdom, one may find the advocacy of each value, at some time, in both communities, yet there is a greater stress on authority in the Charedi world, and in wisdom in the MO world. (For more on the issue of authority and wisdom, see my article Authority and Wisdom: the Slifkin Affair.
The result is the following. The Charedi world has an easier time discounting the opinion of one scholar, even a great Torah scholar, outside of its orbit. What it ultimately values is allegiance to the position of its Gedolim, simply as authority and discounts the value of wisdom, per se, especially wisdom that points to an opposing position. Yet in the MO world, the opinion of even a singular scholar cannot so easily be dismissed, for the wisdom that may be found in this viewpoint is valued and desired. MO scholars study the Satmar Rav, the Chazon Ish and other similar Charedi gedolim because MO wishes to embrace the entire spectrum of opinions and gain an appreciation of the entire realm of Torah thought. As such, the Charedim can more easily set up parameters that push their viewpoint for the wisdom in an opposing viewpoint falls in the face of the authrity the the Charedi position and the person of the Charedi Gedolim. That is not so for MO. It will always see value in knowing and studying the position of all Torah scholars even those out of the Charedi world and, as such, give respect to all Torah scholars.
So to call for what Dr. Shapiro is asking really presents a problem for, in a way, it is a call for MO not act as MO.
Rabbi Ben Hecht