Monday, 22 July 2013

Facing the TWO Fronts

We have highlighted two issues facing the Modern Orthodox or Centrist Orthodox world on Nishmablog over the past few weeks.

We have noted how, mostly in Israel, the world of the the Da'ati Leumi world is pitted against the world of the Haredim.
See such posts as:



We have also noted that, mostly concentrated in the New York area of the United States, the greater population of this world in in conflict with those more to the left. See such posts as:



Many people may not realize that these two conflicts may respect a larger war. Modern Orthodox seems caught between two opposing forces.  The comparison to a physical war with fronts on two opposite sides -- East-West or North-South -- may be very real. The Centrist World fights one battle in one direction. And then, it seems to fight a second battle in the exact opposite direction -- and the challenge of this battle is often times not even recognized. This is not to say that this two front war is inherently inappropriate or problematic. It, though, needs to be recognized and truly understood for what it is.

To be more explicit in this regard, notice how, in either one of the battles, those fighting against the Centrists on one side are their allies in the battle on the other side. In regards to the issue in Israel, for example, in the battle with the Haredim, those to the left are allies even to the extent that some of the issues in the very battle with the left can be ignored. Centrists take offense to the idea of inter-branch relations in the U.S. as expressed by, for example, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, but the statement of Rabbi Dov Lipman regarding generic Torah study in the Knesset is still met with applause -- even though this would include the involvement of Prof. Ruth Calderon whose theological leanings would be similar to the more non-traditional branches of Judaism. The focus on the battle with the Haredim may lead to Centrist Orthodoxy wavering in its battle with the left -- but is that acceptable? It must clearly force the Centrist world to reconsider the issue on the left.

The Haredim are the allies when it comes to the U.S. issue of how to relate to Yeshiva Chovivei Torah. Centrists even take Haredi arguments to bolster their own challenges against the left -- for example, also using the term Mesorah almost dogmatically -- even though they dismiss such usage in the argument in Israel. The focus on the battle with the left may lead to Centrist Orthodoxy wavering in its battle with the Haredim -- but is that, again, acceptable? It must also force us to reconsider the issue with the Haredim.

Clearly, there are differences between what is happening in Israel and what is happening in the U.S. Arguments can be made for the differences in approach on the two fronts. The challenge, though, is whether people even see the inherent issue of these two fronts.
Do we see the wavering? -- not that these waverings are inherently wrong but rather that they should really be forcing us to truly think about the overall issues.
Centrist Orthodoxy's is now truly caught in the middle. The two fronts are battles Centrism must wage to be true to its essential perspective.  It is time that we started to recognize the true challenge of this dialectic and challenge.


- Rabbi Ben Hecht

9 comments:

Micha Berger said...

Well said! As I recently wrote on RYGB's blog:

... I'm sorry, the world's ending.

Sin'as chinam on one side, kefirah on the other. And I walk between them, eyes blurred with tears, plaintively singing to myself, "Veha'iqar, veya'iqar, lo lefacheid, lo lefacheid kelal..." It just isn't working.

Micha Berger said...

Also, note that R' Natie Helfgot's position changed in the past year on the subject of whether the position Farber just went on record espousing is within the bounds of Orthodoxy.

Mikra and Meaning: Studies in Bible and Its Interpretation, page 40:
The more complex issue relates to people who maintain that the Torah is a composite work from the hand of various human authors in different historical settings, but that these authors were divinely inspired – that is, those who view the Torah as equivalent to the writings of the prophets. This perspective, while arguably not technically rendering one as “denying the divine origin of the Torah” as articulated in the mishna in Sanhedrin (90a), undermines the uniqueness of the Torah in contrast to the rest of the Bible, as well as the uniqueness of the Mosaic prophesy. According to some views in [Ch]azal and some of the Rishonim, belief in the latter is an article of faith, and denial of it potentially shatters the foundation of the entire structure of the binding nature of Torah. There clearly were Rishonim, such as the Sephardic exegete Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra and the Ashkenazic pietistic scholar Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid, who maintained that an isolated section of the Torah was post-Mosaic, a gloss from the pen of a subsequent prophet. However, the notion of the entirely composite makeup of the Torah has no precedent in classical Jewish sources, and it is therefore impossible to term such a theological understanding as Orthodox in any meaningful sense.

And on Morethodoxy yesterday:
6. The more challenging issue is the attitude towards the view that expands and builds upon the view of these medieval rishonim to include wide swaths of the Torah....

Given all this, and my general inclusivist inclinations, I would argue that we not write, people who maintain this more radical position, out of traditional Judaism. This is especially the case given the fact that if I were to look at large swaths of Orthodoxy today, there are hundreds of thousands of Jews who believe things about God and His actions, or His emotions and feelings or about prayer to intermediaries or the nature of the sefirot that would clearly put them outside of the pale in the eyes of the Rambam. I, of course, realize that the 8th principle of the Rambam was one of the central points of contention between Orthodoxy and heterodox movements in the last two centuries and thus has greater resonance and emotional power. However, if we are not going to read out of orthodoxy those who directly violate the fifth ikar of the Rambam or his clear words in the Guide to the Perplexed- Section 1:36 than I am reticent to do so in the case of those who do not adopt the Rambam’s formulation in the 8th ikar, especially if they conform to the notion of the Divine origin of the Torah, a principle that has been rejected in-toto by so many modern Jews.

Micha Berger said...

The two interplay too... We get cries of "apiqoreis!" from the right on issues that are far from that severity. Then it gets painful to exclude people the way we felt excluded. We are so afraid of conducting a witch hunt, too many of us will make excuses for someone who espouses real heresy!

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Drawing the line of eilu v'eilu is a powerful challenge. As much as we point to how Beit Hillel accepted Beit Shammai, there was no similar acceptance on any level of the Tzuddikim. Drawing that line is again a most powerful challenge. If we err on one side, we are guilty of sinat chinum (see the Peticha of the Ntziv to Bereishit). If we err on the other, we are guilty of advocating for apikorsus and accepting one we should, theoretically, hate (see the actual language of the Rambam in presenting the ikkarim). Rav Micha adds the modern day existential issue to the already most difficult theoretical issue.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I wanted to add a further thought to Rav Micha's last post. There is a significant connection between how one understands the authorship of Torah and authority in Halacha. If the words of the past are simply the product of solely Divine inspiration, Halacha is indeed more malleable. It is not surprising that the advocats of more liberal views within Halacha in the past were always found in a world which also challenged more direct Divine authorship of Torah. This is the practical and pragmatic side to this issue that cannot be overlooked.

In this regard, I would recommend that people look at R. Dovid Weiss Halivini's work "Revelation Restored" -- not because I am in agreement with this view (which I am not) but because he identifies the actual practical halachic issue behind all this. His basic attempt seems to have been how it is possible to accept the Divine imposition of Halacha without accepting this specific ikkur of the Rambam -- which he does not. He maintains that other rishonim also disagreed and that we are thus not bound to having to accept the Rambam's ikkur. But he understood what the Rambam was establishing thereby in regard to Halacha -- and why this was important. The acceptance of an ikkur that would have the same result is thus still necessary to him. His book was thereby an attempt to present an understanding of Revelation which would give the Halacha the same authority. If anything, his presentation was actually challenged for being too restrictive in terms of halachic movement. What is occurring in this present case is not this but a corollary attempt to weaken halachic authority with challenges to the nature of Divine authorship.

Micha Berger said...

Well, technically this would be kefirah, not apiqursus, if we follow the Rambam Hil' Teshuvah 3:8 (3:17 in Yemenite editions). Hil' Teshuvah ch. 3 defines the three types of heresy in a manner that parallels the 13 articles of faith in his Peirush haMishnayos. The Iqarim requires close to the same list. He has 3 iqarim, which he limits to postulates, plus shorashim which are also mandatory beliefs, but derived from the iqarim. And the 2nd iqar and its shorashim also require specific beliefs about the Torah.

Now I believe that kind of criterion is what's used by conversion courts, assessments as to who can serve on a beis din, whose wine I can drink, etc... But R' Melech (Dr Marc) Shapiro made an argument that the only real criterion is shemiras Shabbos, and therefore any belief system that justifies keeping Shabbos to the best of one's willpower would not be heretical.

But even by that criterion...

Farber's G-d has no way of revealing law. The whole notion of DeOraisa gets deprecated. Derashah becomes a word-game, a way to insert ideas the human author couldn't have intended, rather than relying on Divine Wisdom to provide hooks for us to develop into ideas. Halakhah shifts from RYBS's creative partnership between Hashem and man and becomes a merely human construct.

I do not think this philosophy supports a more rigorous legal process than the Conservative movement's. Which is, indeed, buttressed by a variety of philospohies quite like this one.

There is nothing in his writings that makes the difference between "taking the bad from the good" and "taking the good from the bad" on Shabbos an expression of Divine Will. It's too nit-picky for inspiration, if G-d didn't relay words or very specific concepts.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Precisely my point. The issue of Divine authorship is not simply an academic one but goes to the very practical essence of Halacha. It is not simply that RZF is beyond the theological pale. He is giving a background that supports a more radical movement in Halacha.

My reference to RDW Halivni is to show that he understood this -- and thus while he was in that academic world recognized that to maintain his allegiance to a more authentic halachic perspective, he had to come up with a view of Revelation that also supported this. I am not evaluating his conclusion -- but he read between the lines and we must do the same in this encounter.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Micha Berger said...

There are secondary effects to the open question of whether a dayan is a kofeir. Such as whether a conversion performed by his beis din was indeed a valid geirus as part of the ritual requirements is that it be performed in the presence of three observant men. Even if everything else were done by the strictest standards, the validity of the beis din is itself a requirement.

The Noda beYehuda would also invalidate gittin that rely on a kofer to be one of the three judges of the beis din. Similarly, because he rules that a gett pro forma requires the bet din. (Which his explanation for why the gemara concludes that a gett may not be given at night, as beis din cannot convene at night.)

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

From my position it seems that Centrist Orthodoxy is fighting the same battle on both sides.
To the left are people who look at secular liberal values, see them as ideal and do what they can through selective interpretation of the sources to create a Judaism that minimizes conflict with those values.
To the right are people who look at the Taliban, seem them as ideal and do what they can through selective interpretation of the sources to create a Judaism that minimizes conflict with those values.
In the middle you have Centrist Orthodoxy which values unique and historic Jewish values and brings in from the outside world those things which are compatible with those values while rejecting those which aren't. For example, we let women learn Gemara because to the left universal equal education is a value we've incorporated to enhance the primary Jewish value of valuing learning. But it's the primary Jewish value, not the secular one that is primary.