Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

It’s Lonely in the Middle

Posted on | June 18, 2012 | By Rabbi Yonason Goldson | 110 Comments

First Published Dec 4, 2006

I’ve long been taken with the following quote from Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik: “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.”

Perhaps the quote has stuck so firmly in my mind because of the context in which I first saw it. Rabbi K., a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi, invoked this quote in an article railing against the Chareidi world for its “intolerance,” castigating Chareidim again and again for their unwillingness to accept the validity of any expression of Torah observance other than their own.

It’s a pity Rabbi K. didn’t read his own article. The thick vitriolic brush with which he paints the entire Chareidi world would do any extremist proud.

Which doesn’t mean, of course, that he doesn’t have a point. The Chareidim do, too often and too typically, look down their noses at “less committed” communities within Orthodoxy. But this kind of disdain for anyone not like ME is hardly unique to men in black.

The problem of invalidating other hashkofos seems to have become far more common of late. George Carlin once said (or so I’m told) that everyone driving down the highway thinks that he is going at exactly the right speed, and that everyone else is either obstructing traffic or a reckless maniac. But is it possible that the rational middle really has come to represent fewer and fewer Torah Jews and Torah movements than ever before, so that every group condemns every other as either fanatical or heretical? Why have the Orthodox grown so insecure that we are all racing headlong toward one extreme or the other?

In a deeply thoughtful essay in Tradition Magazine (“Torah Without Ideology,” published in 2002), Professor Moshe Koppel offers an elegant explanation for the polarization within the Orthodox world. As a physical being striving for spirituality, as a spiritual being exiled in a physical world, every Jew is sentenced to a life of inevitable and irreconcilable tension. If he embraces the physical world, he may compromise his spiritual health. If he eschews the physical, he may endanger his physical well-being. How does he choose?

Professor Koppel observes that both the modern world and the Chareidi world make the same fundamental mistake, each in its own way. In their efforts to eliminate this spiritual-physical tension, Chareidim are inclined to reject any involvement with the physical, whereas Modern Orthodoxy is inclined to legitimize everything physical in the context of being a Torah Jew. In my own language, Chareidim tend toward forbidding everything not expressly permitted, while the Modern Orthodox tend toward permitting everything not expressly forbidden.

Of course, these are not the stated ideologies of either camp, but this is where many adherents end up. In practice, each camp frequently becomes a caricature of itself. Because the painstaking avodah of evaluating what to take and what not to take from the physical world produces such acute, chronic tension, we flee for the extremes instead of striving to find balance. And, on our way, we condemn everyone who has staked out a position different from ours, lest we face the tension of having to ask ourselves why they have engaged more or less of the physical world than we have.

I can’t say it any better than Moshe Koppel: “[Internalized values] are always full of tension between conflicting poles: between loyalty to Jews and loyalty to the values they embody, between the letter of halachah and its spirit, between conformity and individualism, and so on. This tension is a wonderful, healthy thing — it is the source of a person’s intellectual vitality and creativity. Living a Torah life means living with tension…”

But it’s not easy. Today’s extremism is no mere matter of right versus left. It is the unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of other hashkofos within the bounds of halachah. It derives from a passionate desire to avoid tension, whether that tension comes from our uncertainty of how to synthesize the spiritual and the physical or from our insecurity that maybe someone else is doing a better job of it than we are. And the middle is that place where we can struggle with the tension of living as a Torah Jew, each in his own way, without resorting to the defamation of those who go about it differently.

The flight of so many Torah Jews from the middle testifies to just how hard it is. And it gets even harder for the few of us left in the middle when we find ourselves increasingly isolated from the growing community of observant Jews who refuse to accept that there is more than one kosher way to live as a kosher Jew.

Comments

110 Responses to “It’s Lonely in the Middle”

  1. westbankmama
    December 4th, 2006 @ 6:52 am

    I think this post hits the nail on the head.

  2. Bob Miller
    December 4th, 2006 @ 8:50 am

    It’s no article of faith that the middle position in every dispute is correct. Take each case on its own merits.

  3. Shoshana
    December 4th, 2006 @ 10:26 am

    Life is, in almost all respects, about achieving balance. Unfortunately, that’s no so easy and we often lose sight of the importance of the struggle when it gets too hard. Extremely important and well-written article.

  4. Chareidi Leumi
    December 4th, 2006 @ 10:45 am

    Overall an excellent article by Rabbi Goldson. The point about security is key.

    However, I would like to take issue with one point which is summed up in this quote:

    “Today’s extremism is no mere matter of right versus left. It is the unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of other hashkofos within the bounds of halachah.”

    While both sides do exhibit intolerance toward eachother’s hashkafot, “unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of other hashkofos” only goes in one direction.

    IMHO a lot that has to do with the modern Charedi concept of “Daas Torah”. If you think you have THE Daas Torah then there’s no room for the Torah of others.

  5. David S
    December 4th, 2006 @ 11:36 am

    A wonderful and very insightful article. We as Jews have the unfortunate tendency to accentuate our differences more than our similarities. At the end of the day, people who are concerned with how to uphold God’s laws even if they are inclined towards the most liberal of interpretations are all on one side of a great divide.

  6. Michael
    December 4th, 2006 @ 11:54 am

    Definitely an important, and good, article.

    I would put another twist on this issue. The Torah says v’ahavta lereiacha kamocha, which means one has a positive obligation to love his fellow Jew. I once heard a well-respected kiruv rabbi from a prominent rabbinic family state something like the following: We already have mitzvos requiring tzedakah, acts of chesed, visiting the sick, etc. etc., so it would be superfluous to say we have a mitzvah of ahavas yisroel if all that meant is to take care of one another (b.c. we already have those mitzvos). We are even required to judge on the side of merit, so it isn’t that either. Ahavas yisroel has to mean something more. Could it be that it pertains to how we handle differences in hashkafa?

  7. Ezzie
    December 4th, 2006 @ 1:07 pm

    Excellent, excellent post.

    One quibble with the piece – R’ Goldson seems to feel that people in the middle are being forced to choose one side or the other, to their detriment. I feel that over the last number of years, we’ve seen first a large split along the lines of what he describes; but more recently, we’ve begun to see the reverse – a rejection of both extremes, particularly by the younger generation, and a resurgence toward the middle from both sides.

  8. Chaim Grossferstant
    December 4th, 2006 @ 2:04 pm

    In my own language, Chareidim tend toward forbidding everything not expressly permitted,

    This slant is intensified by such typical things that you hear repeated so often:
    “Without a thorough, detailed often reviewed knowledge of hilchos Shabbos the only way to avoid chilul Shabbos is to be tied down and immobilized from candle lighting until havdala.”

    A “lamdan” ran this chakira past the Chazon Ish: How are we to understand shmiras/chilul Shabbos? Is the p’shat that if someone desecrates Shabbos he has incurred capital punishment? Or is the p’shat that at the onset of Shabbos we are all liable for the death penalty….it’s just that if we make it through Shabbos without desecrating it we are “off-the-hook”?
    While the second item is basically a parody one can almost see the logical line it draws from the first, which is in fact approximately what the Mishnah Brura writes in his forward to his third volume.

    Shkoyach Rabbi G. as always an elegantly written and thought-provocative post. Beyond BT is just celebrating its first anniversary. If it continues providing offerings like these may it (and all it’s contributors) live to be 120!

  9. Elliot Pasik
    December 4th, 2006 @ 2:16 pm

    Who’s Rabbi K? Why not give his name? Is this a case of lifnei eiver? Are you afraid that if we read the article, we’re commiting a sin? I don’t get this. A rabbi wrote an article. He gave it a lot of thought, time, and study. Do you think its wrong to critique someone else’s article, when you identify the author?

    I can’t even commment on this article, until I read Rabbi K’s article.

    The problem you may have now in publicly identifying the article is that you’ve critiqued too much…”vitrioloic”….”pity Rabbi K. didn’t read his own article” (a little bit of sarcasm there).

    Can somebody email me as to how I can read Rabbi K’s article.

    efpasik@aol.com

  10. Chaim Grossferstant
    December 4th, 2006 @ 2:17 pm

    It’s no article of faith that the middle position in every dispute is correct. Take each case on its own merits.

    The Rambam is the one who provides us with our articles of faith. Although his philosophy about the middle position is not codified among the 13 ani ma’amins it is a centerpiece of his (as well as other great Torah-thinkers’) entire approach to Torah and Mitzvahs. (see Shmone Prokim and Hilchos Deos). So with the possible exception of the haughtiness / humility polarity(about which the Rambam says to be extreme in humility) treading the “middle path” is the way to go and is described as the “way of G-d”

    Of course then you get into a whole semantical debate over defining the middle. Basically whoever gets to identify the polar opposites has automatically defined the middle. Move the poles over one way or another and, voila, your formerly extreme position is transformed into a model of thoughtful moderation. As a matter of fact, on blogs that may be the prime factor in determining whether or not your comments go into moderation!

  11. Chaim Grossferstant
    December 4th, 2006 @ 2:18 pm

    my last one, tentatively numbered “9″ just did!

  12. DK
    December 4th, 2006 @ 2:27 pm

    I don’t understand the premise of this post. True. the Charedim have moved to the extreme right. No argument there. But when have the MO moved to the Left? This is not true. Not at all. In fact, they have moved to the right as well.

    So stop acting like both camps are doing the same thing, but in different directions. Only yours is.

  13. Gershon Seif
    December 4th, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

    One of the most commonly voiced expressions I use in my home is “things aren’t black and white. there’s many shades of gray”.

    I agree with Ezzie that many of the 20 to 30 year old are striking some kind of middle ground.

  14. Mark
    December 4th, 2006 @ 2:48 pm

    “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.”

    How are people understanding what extremism is? Do you feel that Torah greats like the Chofetz Chaim, Chazon Ish, the Steipler and others who avoided the material as much as possible were extremists.

  15. Dina Mensch
    December 4th, 2006 @ 3:13 pm

    The Rambam did not say that the middle position in every hashkafic dispute is the correct one. What he did say is that in the realm of tikkun ha middos, that one should strive for the golden mean (with the exception of Anger). Such as: be generous, but not too generous that you impoverish yourself, and not too stingy.

    He was not writing about philosophic debate.

    I think Bob Miller’s point is valid. Also, one could say that for shalom, one can ackowledge other points of view, but that doens’t mean one has to agree with them. I can love my neighbor and do everything for him, and be friends with him, but I can simultaneously think he is making a mistake. We have to be careful not to mix up Jewish notions of ahavas yisroel with American everything-is-valid style tolerance.

  16. Mark
    December 4th, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

    I think Rabbi Goldson’s main point that there is a great need to increase tolerance of other people’s paths within Torah Judaism is one that most of us can agree on.

    However I’m not sure that there isn’t a subtext message people are reading of “But of all the paths, certainly the middle is the best”.

    As Chaim G alluded to above, we do need to do some introspection and analysis to even determine that we are in the middle. It could be that we’re living in the middle by default and not by design.

    Every person and every path has it’s benefits, weaknesses, conflicts and struggles. The human condition that Hashem created is founded on conflict and struggle and nobody can, or is, avoiding it. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that anybody has found an easy way out of this condition or that our path is certainly the best of all possible paths.

  17. Gershon Seif
    December 4th, 2006 @ 3:31 pm

    Mark, You are right in that there are many great people who “climbed the ladder”. Certainly from the perspectave of many of our “middles” they are way off to the side.

    But my guess is that you have heard as I have that when studying the messilas yeshorim, read the whole sefer, BUT realize that getting to chapter 9 might just be as far as you ought to reach for in this lifetime.

    Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l once said that we can learn from Yaakov’s ladder. It’s head was in the sky, and its feet were on the gound. And there were rungs to climb up. No jumping steps.

    That still leaves everyone with a wide range of where they set their heights. I think much depends on place in history, upbringing, personal nature and geographic location. The Chofetz Chaim reached high, but lets not forget where he grew up… Even the messilas yeshorim that gets all the way to ruach hakodesh, writes in the intro about people that were rolling in snow and doing other things that he felt were over the top. It seems that he was finding the middle too. Just a different middle than ours.

  18. C. G.
    December 4th, 2006 @ 3:32 pm

    We have to be careful not to mix up Jewish notions of ahavas yisroel with American everything-is-valid style tolerance.

    A. I don’t think that Elu V’elu Divrei Elokim Chaim= “These and those are the words of the Living G-d”(said about mutually exclusive Halakhic opinions)

    B. I’m not grasping the distinction that you’re making between middos and Hashqafa. I’d like to thing that among Gedolei Yisroel these form a seamless whole.

    Thanks for the kudos Mark but in answer to your question “Do you feel that Torah greats like the Chofetz Chaim, Chazon Ish, the Steipler and others who avoided the material as much as possible were extremists?” and relevant to Mrs. Mensch’s point above, the answer is “absolutely not”. They were centrists whose every move was permeated by their dedication n to the “Golden Mean”. The point of my above comment was that, perhaps, the dissonance between their lifestyles and our own stems from the fact that, through the prism of their Torah-vision, they had established different polar extremes than the ones that we understand.

  19. JR
    December 4th, 2006 @ 3:33 pm

    The Kotzker Rebbe said the middle of the road is for horses.

    Dina is right – the Rambam talks about the middle road when it comes to middos.

    Which chareidim reject the material? All? No. Chasidus teaches that those things which are not mitzvos and not forbidden, i.e. divrei reshus or “neutral” things of this world, must be used in the service of Hashem. This is the injunction of “kol maasecha l’sheim shomayim” and “b’chol derachecha da’eihu” – know Him in all your ways.

  20. SephardiLady
    December 4th, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

    Maybe I am completely out of touch with the pulse of the Torah Jew in America.. . . . but I am finding it difficult to put my finger on a significant subset of observant Jews (from the right to the left) who are “reject[ing] any involvement with the physical.”

    It seems that today the bar for gashmius/physicality has been raised so high that it is a bit ridiculous to claim that there is rejection of physicality.

    (If there is a mass movement for the rejection of gashmius, please let me know. It would make a fantastic blog post).

  21. C. Grossferstant
    December 4th, 2006 @ 3:40 pm

    JR

    I beg your pardon, but I believe that the correct quote from the The Kotzker Rebbe is that “the BEATEN path is for Horses. A man makes his own way.” Big difference. Maybe the challenge of the Rebbe is for everyone (within hte confines of Torah) to establish their own Center.

    Also you wrote: “Chasidus teaches etc.” Chasidus??? Shouldn’t that be “Judaism teaches” or “the Torah teaches”?

    Why arrogate a universal philosophy to a particular stream?

  22. Mark
    December 4th, 2006 @ 3:45 pm

    Gershon, I agree with everything you said. My point (which was obviously not well made) was that the word extremism as used by Rav Soloveitchik implies negativity and I was assuming that most people don’t view Torah greats negatively.

    If the point is that extremism is relative, then I’d say that is not it’s common usage, and it does not seem to be the way Rav Soloveitchik was using the term.

    And if we say that everybody is in the middle, which I agree is true from some perspective, then I’m totally confused as to what Rabbi Goldson means when he says it’s lonely in the middle.

  23. C. Grossferstant
    December 4th, 2006 @ 4:22 pm

    In comment 18 above
    A.
    should have nede with th e words: “is an American value but a Jewish one”

  24. David S
    December 4th, 2006 @ 4:31 pm

    Many great thoughts in this thread. The main point that I think the article stresses is not that its hard to be in the “statistically derived mean”, as if the distribution of opinions defines the middle, but more that “middleness” for lack of a better word is defined by the willingness to accept ambiguity and to even embrace it. A quality that is lacking from extreme positions, but which was clearly to be found in some of the historic greats of Torah learning.

  25. Charnie
    December 4th, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

    I’m with SephardiLady on this one – right, left, middle, wherever, the physical world is certainly in a prominent position. How else to explain the hundreds upon thousands spent on kitchen remodeling in Boro Park and Lawrence (presumably opposite sides of the street), as an example.

  26. Jaded Topaz
    December 4th, 2006 @ 4:35 pm

    I think that Rabbi Goldson , is mixing and contrasting two different concepts , the Global “middle” on a jewish nation/community level and the Local “middle” the individual’s spiritual/emotional inner equilibrium level within a given path be it middle or extreme.There really is no middle cuz even the pure and unadulterated middlemen have their own local level middle issues like discipline /adhering to halachah kind of stuff to deal with. Which would still classify their behavior as some form of extreme and not middle albeit on an emotional/ brainwaves /chemicals…. but still ” in the middle” level.

    Gershon, regarding that ladder and R Wolbe, the fact that the ladder has rungs does not prove that you cant skip rings nor does it prevent skipping rungs not sure how that proves that there is no skipping rungs in life. And when you expound on a given end user’s inner equilibrium and achieving that middle you cant base your middle on current state of existence cuz what if its a state of existence, of which “the middle” is not really the spiritual achievement g-d is looking for.If an individual is geographically located in the mud thats securing the proverbial ladder , is his purpose to find the middle path in the mud or to focus on fixing himself to the first rung on the ladder over him , which would be an extreme and not the middle according to his muddy existence.The middle is not always the way to achieve spiritual/emotional inner equilibrium.
    I think all or nothing works so much better cuz its a win win situation.Either your extremely spiritually happy or your extremely physically happy.

  27. JR
    December 4th, 2006 @ 4:51 pm

    I don’t think the Kotzker quote is documented so there’s no knowing exactly how he put it.

    As for why to ascribe elevating the neutral to holiness to Chassidic philosophy, the answer is because the Chasidic Masters emphasized this Torah teaching, amplified it and explicated it as no other stream within Judaism did. It is derived from the kabalistic idea of elevating the sparks of holiness which fell and scattered throughout creation and are elevated through our proper use of the material.

    By the way, where does “lifnim m’shuras ha’din” (sometimes translated inexactly as “going beyond the letter of the law”) fit in to this discussion of the “middle of the road” being optimal?

  28. Elliot Pasik
    December 4th, 2006 @ 5:17 pm

    I’m still waiting for someone to tell me where I can find Rabbi K’s article. Its geneivas das that I’m being denied access to this article. I have a right to make up my own mind about it, and not to be preached to. This is condescending. Maybe its because most of us are BTs, and the rabbi thinks we’re not smart enough to think on our own.

  29. Elliot Pasik
    December 4th, 2006 @ 5:18 pm

    My email is efpasik@aol.com.

  30. C. Grossferstant
    December 4th, 2006 @ 5:21 pm

    whoa Elliot…slow down. You don’t know Rabbi Goldson’s schedule, he may not have evn laid eyes on this comment thread yet.

    PS (any avid reader here knows that Rabbi G. is a BT too.)

  31. Elliot Pasik
    December 4th, 2006 @ 5:29 pm

    No wonder. An FFB rabbi would have give up the name in the first place.

  32. C. Grossferstant
    December 4th, 2006 @ 6:04 pm

    I reiterate. Calm down. No slight was intended and lashing out like that is really uncalled for.

  33. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 4th, 2006 @ 6:24 pm

    Thanks, Chaim, for your calming influence. I’m gratified by the amount of discussion this post has generated, and rather astonished that so much has been said before I’ve had a chance to comment.

    Elliot:

    I was not trying to be coy by quoting Rabbi K. Rather, I was trying to avoid making the issue personal and using my own reaction to the article as the foil for my post. I did try a websearch before I submitted the post but was unable to find the article, which I read several years ago.

    In any event, I really don’t think that you have to take my word for what Rabbi K said. I believe the body of my comments stand on their own. If I do locate the article, however, I will be happy to email it to you.

  34. Chaim G
    December 4th, 2006 @ 7:09 pm

    DK (comment 12)…

    To me it’s obvious from both the title and the whole tone of the post that Rabbi G. does not identify with the extreme Charedi right and, in fact, considers himself a moderate Centrist. Even if he may have “come up” through “their” ranks he has, in effect, “evolved” to the point of revoking his membership in the extremist camp,.

    IMO calling it “his” camp may be the result of your engaging in “pole-moving” (see my comment 10) . By shifting both poles to the left, you begin to transform moderate thoughtful people to your right, into extremists.

    While I agree with your basic assessment of the rightward drift of the MO camp I think that, based on what you’ve written in the past, your own choice has been to move in the opposite direction. Perhaps even to an extreme.

  35. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 4th, 2006 @ 7:27 pm

    I’ve tried to phrase my comments to avoid reducing the subject to merely another “right-left” debate. In general, I believe it’s foolishly simplistic to try to define a “true centrism” by arbitrarily placing oneself equidistant between two perceived poles.

    I do agree with the comments above that the Chofetz Chaim was indeed a centrist, in that he found the perfect balance for himself according to his own spiritual level. There are sufficient stories about his love for his fellow Jew, regardless of hashkofah, without compromising his passion for his ideals.

    Also refer to the stories of Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev, whose love for his fellow Jews included the misnagdim who drove him from his town one erev Shabbos.

    Finally (for now), consider the comments of Rav Yisroel Salanter, that “the problem with the Chassidim is that they have a rebbe; the problem with the yeshivishe veldt is that they don’t have a rebbe.”

    Is is possible the the “middle” is in fact an elusive place we are supposed to constantly strive for without ever reaching?

  36. JR
    December 4th, 2006 @ 8:28 pm

    the Chofetz Chaim was indeed a centrist, in that he found the perfect balance for himself according to his own spiritual level.

    Sounds like you are defining “centrist” as one who finds the perfect balance for himself according to his own spiritual level. Problem is, I don’t understand what that means. Perhaps you can explain it and tell us how anybody can apply it to themselves.

    Another problem is that this seems to be your own, personal definition. The dictionary defines “centrist” as 1) a person who takes a position in the political center
    2) supporting or pursuing a course of action that is neither liberal nor conservative

    And I fail to grasp what Ahavas Yisrael has to do with being a centrist. Ahavas Yisrael is a mitzva that is incumbent upon all Jews.

  37. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 4th, 2006 @ 9:09 pm

    All right, JR, I’ll try to be clearer. Take a look at CG’s comment #18. Although I can’t speak from first hand experience about the Chofetz Chaim’s level, Rav Dessler’s discusssion about the nekudah haBechirah, the point of free will, suggests that everyone must continually grapple with inevitable conflict between the body and the neshomah. See also the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim, that man finds himself in a perpetual battle between comfort and suffering, between wealth and poverty, between the extremes of life in the physical world.

    When I call the Chofetz Chaim a centrist, I mean that he, like virtually all Torah luminaries, demonstrated more success than most of us at achieving balance between these dissonant poles. I don’t believe that the Chofetz Chaim insisted that his approach to Torah was the only legitimate approach. He recognized that every Jew is different and therefore there have to exist different but acceptable paths. He taught his approach because it was what he understood best and because it was the way on which he had found success.

    Because he began looking at his fellow Jew from a perspective of ahavas Yisroel, he was able to see every Jew as a fellow and as a Jew before he saw him as a member of any particular hashkofah. That, today, has become increasingly rare.

    Rav Twersky writes that his father used to talk a lot about tightropes, that one must be careful not to tilt too far to one side or to the other. My primary concern in this post was not those who tilt this way or that, but those who condemn any who don’t tilt the way they do.

    I’ll say it again: within the bounds of halacha, there are many avenues to avodas HaShem. Every way can be corrupted by those who take it to an extreme. Most, if not all, can benefit those who follow them with sincerity and throughtful introspection.

  38. JR
    December 4th, 2006 @ 10:18 pm

    I am taken aback and perplexed by this discussion of the Chofetz Chaim. He achieved balance? Between what and what? Between comfort and suffering, wealth and poverty? On what basis do you say this?!

    I am taken aback by your assessment of gedolim and your conclusions about their struggles and achievements.

    And again, you are defining “centrist” with your personal definition.

    Where do you get the idea that the Chofetz Chaim even spoke about paths? What paths within Orthodoxy did he discuss?
    Do you have quotes from him about his thoughts on “other paths?”

    You say he taught his approach. What approach would that be?

    Where are you getting your information about the Chofetz Chaim’s “ahavas yisrael perspective” from? I’d like to see it.

    You seem to be saying that Jews with ahavas yisrael are centrists. How does that particular label help us in any way?

  39. Dina Mensch
    December 4th, 2006 @ 10:27 pm

    …within the bounds of halacha, there are many avenues to avodas HaShem. Every way can be corrupted by those who take it to an extreme.”

    Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong, theoretically at least, with being an extremist, as long as one continues to act first and foremost with ahavas yisroel. If one’s neshama really identifies with the reasoning of either of the “extremes,” within a halachic parameter, then that is right for that person. What is so holy about being a centrist anyway?

    Rabbi Goldson, what you wrote in your last post (#37) seems to be that your problem was not with extremists per se, but that extremists seem to have a problem with those who are different. (Unless your definition of extremist is he who is intolerant) That’s a completely separate point than extremism in thought and practice. People might disagree with some of Rav Feinstein’s psakiim, for example, but none of them would dispute his legitimacy in psak.

    The real problem is people’s disagreeing on who represents daas Torah today. After Rav Moshe’s petira, from what I am told, the unity he was able to create has left us.

  40. Stephen
    December 4th, 2006 @ 10:36 pm

    You mentioned: “In their efforts to eliminate this spiritual-physical tension, Chareidim are inclined to reject any involvement with the physical …. [and] tend toward forbidding everything not expressly permitted.”

    I’m not so sure that is the case all the time or even most of the time. In the chareidi community to which I am attached it definitely is not. The emphasis is consistently on raising up the physical rather than rejecting it, and it’s pretty well perceived that things not forbidden are allowed. It is an extraordinarily respectful group, whatever another Torah Jew’s minhag may be. Many times, in many shiurim in the congregation it’s explicitly stated that each person starts from where s/he is and proceeds at his/her own pace, step by step. Guest speakers range throughout the observant range, from misnagim through chassidim. We and the neighboring Modern Orthodox schul down the block collaborate on community projects, visit each other’s homes, and wave to each other as we pass, every Shabbos and Yom Tov. So, I guess I don’t follow where you’re coming from ~ it’s just something I’ve not found in my day-to-day experience.

  41. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 4th, 2006 @ 11:05 pm

    I heard from Rav Leff the following story:

    Someone came to the Chofeitz Chaim and asked why there is so much disparity in Jewish practice. “Why,” he asked, “can’t all Jews practice Judaism the same way?”

    (At this point Rav Leff adds: “You can be sure that his intention was to have everyone do everything his way.”)

    The Chofeitz Chaim answered: What if you were a general and I came to you and asked, “General, your army is in disarry. You have some men on horseback, some on foot, some manning large guns and some with rifles, some men on ships and some with mountainclimbing gear. Why don’t you get your troops orgnaized?”

    The man replied, “I’d say that’s ridiculous! You need many different types of soldiers to respond to different conditions on the battlefield.”

    “Exactly,” said the Chofeitz Chaim. “And since we are in a war against the yeitzer hara, we need many different strategies and tactics to defeat him. That’s why there are so many ways to serve HaShem.”

    Having said that, JR, and looking back at my own comments, I really can’t fathom the cause for your shrillness. You seem to have an emotional aversion to the term “centrist” as acute as those who disdain either the right or the left. I’m sorry if I haven’t succeeded in articulating my ideas, and I’m eager to hear your objections if you can show me where I’m wrong, but I can’t find anything I’ve written that’s worthy of such fervent objection.

  42. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 4th, 2006 @ 11:14 pm

    To try to be clear: I am not advocating Norman Lamm’s vision of Centrist Orthodoxy for everyone, nor am I an adherent of his hashkofos myself. I am trying to explain that normative Torah observance has enough room to accomodate a range of acceptable hashkofos, and that I can believe with security in the authenticity of my own without negating the value of someone else’s.

    Can someone please explain to me why this notion is meeting such resistance?

    Stephen: I think I said clearly that extremism is not the always the case. I said that there is often a tendancy to take ideologies to their extreme.

  43. Mark
    December 4th, 2006 @ 11:37 pm

    Rabbi Goldson, I think most people agree with your advocation of the acceptance and tolerance for different hashkafos. I think the problems came in your attempts to define extremism, the middle, Charedism and Modern Orthodoxy. These terms mean many different things to different people and their definitions might not fit exactly with yours.

    I think I once made the claim that anybody reading Beyond BT was not Charedi, but many here don’t consider themselves Modern Orthodox either and the claim of being in the Middle is made by many different groups here in America. So in America, the taxonomies we are using aren’t working so well.

    I think it’s time for TAG Judaism, which means the belief in continual improvement in Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim with emphasis on working on those fundamentals on a day by day basis.

    Perhaps if we change our focus from whether we are Modern, Charedi or in The Middle to belief and practice of the TAG basics, we’ll be in a much better and much more unifying place.

  44. Stephen
    December 4th, 2006 @ 11:57 pm

    Rabbi Goldson mentioned: “Stephen: I think I said clearly that extremism is not the always the case. I said that there is often a tendancy to take ideologies to their extreme.”

    Hey, I’m easy.
    (Oops! I’m also chareidi.)

  45. Baruch Horowitz
    December 5th, 2006 @ 12:06 am

    It is rather confusing navigating the current shifting of the Orthodox world. “TAG” is really where it’s at, when all is said and done, and transcends the RW/MO divide.

    It is interesting to imagine what a “shvil hazahav”, golden mean would be. As R. Goldson quotes Dr. Koppel, neither the charedi world nor MO on a whole have the perfect balance, although individuals may have acheived it.Then again, we are not living in a perfect world.

    Also, a broader and holistic view would recognize that both sides contribute to the Jewish world, and neither probably couldn’t manage alone, whether or not both like to admit it.

    I respect those who can admit that one’s own ideology is not perfect, and I am suspicious of anyone who can’t. At the same time, I don’t have a problem with Side A holding that Side B has problematic elements, and therefore A prefers to avoid B’s weakness, and feels that his path is better over all. As long as A and B focus on commonality as shomrei torah umitzvos when coming together. The Netziv in the preface to Bereshis is a good source on tolerance between different ideologies and groups.

  46. Bob Miller
    December 5th, 2006 @ 8:56 am

    It’s our job to seek out and live by the truth. The idea that the truth is always found right in the middle of any argument or issue is unfounded. Likewise, there is no reason to take the most extreme position reflexively.

    When we get to a person’s overall approach in life, it’s basically good to be balanced and not some flaming nut case, but everyone knows there are also times to take a hard line.

  47. David S
    December 5th, 2006 @ 9:22 am

    At the risk of receiving approbation, why are we not mentioning the possibility of a bigger tent…one that includes Jews outside of Orthodoxy? Lets look at the argument as follows: Is Judaism a big tent or a small tent? Should it be one or the other. Lets look at an example from another religion. When the Puritans moved to Massachusetts Bay Colony they had a ritual that would enable them to figure out which people were among the “Elect” on earth. Through a series of intense questions they would descern which people were going to be in heaven and which ones were not, the ones that were not, could not join the community. The problem came when the discussion lead inevitably to the Children of the “Elect”. Members with Children wanted to have their children get automatic entrance while other members felt that it would destroy the concept of the Kingdom of God on Earth. In the end, there was a split and a large chunk split off and formed their own Church in what they called the “New Haven”. A short while later, the same thing happened in “New Haven” and there was a split. A newer church was formed in a place that they called “New Ark” now Newark. The descendnets of these churches still exist but they are not tied to each other in any way.

    To my understanding, the Torah forbids us from doing this sort of thing.

  48. Charnie
    December 5th, 2006 @ 9:58 am

    Thanks, David S for a most interesting American history lesson!
    When I first read this post yesterday, my immediate reaction was “oh no, here we go again”. While it appears to me that Rabbi G was very genuinely trying to avoid the pitfalls that several articles in this blog have succumbed to, we’re about to topple in that direction again. What we need to realize is that we’re a small part of a small nation, under a tent that can only grow larger with Ahavas Yisrael. We’ve already seen enough splits, with both the Conservative and Reform movements being splits with (what the Conservative subsequently named “Orthodox”). And the B’al Shem Tov was able to bring about the birth of the Chassidic movement as a result of a dissolusion many had with what was perceived as an exclusionary Yeshiva Velt.

  49. Gershon Seif
    December 5th, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

    Jaded, Were you really serious when you wrote: “I think all or nothing works so much better cuz its a win win situation.Either you’re extremely spiritually happy or you’re extremely physically happy.” ???

    Odds are that in the extememly spiritually happpy approach, there’s going to be some hard and painful crash landings. Not a good thing. (As for the extemely physically happy side, that works only for a while. Then what?)

    Rav Wolbe wasn’t /proving/ anything from Yaakov’s ladder. He was simply using the metaphor to teach a basic principal of human growth. One step at a time. (I have heard from my teachers that on rare occasions one might be able to skip a step, but that should be the exception, not the rule.)

    Not sure how to resond to your ladder in the mud question. I will venture to suggest that when things are that bad, perhaps growth has to come in many phases. For a few months or longer, perhaps the middle of the mud is all that can be expected. When that’s shored up and it’s possible to see beyond the mud, only then set your visions higher. Eventually there will be only dry land at the bottom of the ladder and… the sky’s the limit!

    Many years ago I heard the following from Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, where he spoke publicly about this. He said it took him 7 years from the time he started exploring Judaism until he was fully observant! Looking back decades later we might question why a year into being around frum people he might have still been eating treif or not observing Shabbos. Answer: as they say in Israel, “L’at, L’at”… A little at a time…

    Jaded, You also asked:

    :nd when you expound on a given end user’s inner equilibrium and achieving that middle you cant base your middle on current state of existence cuz what if its a state of existence, of which “the middle” is not really the spiritual achievement g-d is looking for.

    I think you’re mistaken. God is indeed looking for us to find our middle. He just wants us to keep upping the bar, one step at a time. There is no absolute middle that God is looking for. He wants us to keep growing our entire life. Even in the ud situation, where the person is at at that moment, if being in the midle of the mud is part of a long term plan to get out of the mud, it’s a good thing!

    People who are addicted to heroin, are weened off of it by going on mescalin. Is mescalin a good state of being? Well for a heroin addict it is! It’s actually exactly what he should be taking! Hopefully a few months later he’ll be beyond thatr!

  50. Steve Brizel
    December 5th, 2006 @ 1:20 pm

    While I also would have appreciated a link to the article that R Y Goldson mentioned in his thoughtful article for the purpose of examining the same in its full context, I think that Mark’s usage of TAG is important for a critical reason-All hashkafos within the Mesorah are developed by their authors and advocates as supplements to TAG. When the hashkafa, due to intellectual hardening of the arteries by subsequent leaders or followers becomes a rationale that that threatens to supplant the Mesorah itself, the hashkafa itself loses utility as other hashkafic, historic and other developments all but render it irrlevant except for a few loyal followers.This is evident from an examination of all of the major hashkafic trends from the days of the Gaonim and Rishonim to our time.

    IMO, this fact is an issue which all devotees of any hashkafa should remember-is hashkafa a supplememt to TAG or does it threaten to supplant TAG?

  51. Elliot Pasik
    December 5th, 2006 @ 9:04 pm

    There is nothing in the Rav’s quote informing us to aim for the middle. The Rav appears to be counselling us to avoid extremism by not justifying one’s views through intolerance of others. This has nothing to do with seeking the middle, which often involves unacceptable compromises.

    Easy Torah examples come to mind. Pinchos killed two sinners, and was awarded a bris shalom. This type of emes brings shalom to the world. Avrohom was on one side, and the whole world was on the other. Nothing middling about either.

    I am guessing this is what Rabbi K. wrote about, and I have to say guessing because I still don’t know his name, nor his article. Torah is emes, and the Torah life is about pursuing emes. The greatest Jew who ever lived, Moshe, was the ultimate ish emes. Torah scholars argue with each other all the time, sometimes most vociferously, and remain chaverim, because they understand they are all seeking emes.

  52. JR
    December 6th, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

    As Bob puts it: “It’s our job to seek out and live by the truth. The idea that the truth is always found right in the middle of any argument or issue is unfounded. Likewise, there is no reason to take the most extreme position reflexively.”

    And as Elliot said: “Tora is emes and the Torah life is about pursuing emes.

    Avrohom and Pinchas – good examples.

    Rabbi Goldson, if you can answer the questions I posed in comment #38 rather than ignore them or provide additional unsourced anecdotes, as well as explain how “lifnim m’shuras ha’din” fits in here, that would help clarify your point.

  53. David S
    December 6th, 2006 @ 2:54 pm

    JR, Eliot, you both seem to be going out of your way to misread what Rabbi Goldson has said. He is not saying that one should always be at the MIDPOINT between two extremes! Nor is the quote from Ha Rav meant to imply that either. What he is saying is that one should avoid extremes! His seemingly harmless use of the word middle is being used to construct some kind of arithmetic mean where there is no committment to anything and frankly I dont see why you are trying to paint him in this light. Moreover, your focus on Rabbi K and what he wrote is a plain old red herring. The article could easily by been written without any refernce to Rabbi K and still been valid on its face. All Rabbi Goldson seemed to be saying with that paragraph is that there are people who claim to be tolerent and yet display extreme intolerance. It could have been said without any reference to Rabbi K whatsoever without any loss of validity.

  54. JR
    December 6th, 2006 @ 3:32 pm

    David – Rabbi Goldson said way more than that. If all he said was to avoid extremes, I would still ask him: what about Avrohom? what about Pinchas? what about Mordechai not bowing? what about the many, many Jews who had mesirus nefesh for mitzvos like kashrus and Shabbos which they didn’t have to die for? even mesirus nefesh to preserve their beard! that’s quite extreme!
    There are countless examples throughout our history which show that the outstanding leaders and heroes of our people were not “middle of the road” kind of people.

    But R’ Goldson went even beyond that and made unsubstantiated claims which I questioned in post #38.

  55. Elliot Pasik
    December 6th, 2006 @ 4:26 pm

    I would also like to hear from Rabbi Goldson on this discussion.

    The first mitzvah that Moshe did on behalf of the klal was to kill a mitzri, and first he looked left, and and then right.

  56. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 6th, 2006 @ 9:06 pm

    David S –

    Thank you for your concise articulation of my point. Maybe I should make you my press agent.

    As far as Pinchas, Mordechai, and Moshe, there are definitely circumstances that call for extreme action. This does not make one an extremist.

    JR — I’m sorry I haven’t succeeded in responding to your points to your satisfaction. I’m afraid that further effort will yield no more fruitful results.

  57. Gershon Seif
    December 7th, 2006 @ 1:09 pm

    As everyone here knows, baalei teshuva try hard to do “the right thing”. Doing “the right thing” is hard enough, but then there’s figuring out what “the right thing” is! The notion of making drastic life changes and yet putting on the brakes within that life change at the same time, is a very unsettling state of being. It’s much simpler to accept the new lifestyle and now go full steam ahead. I believe that those who asked their questions were really sincere. Looking at Pinchos, Moshe and Mordechai and all those Jews who gave their lives to not break a custom, it is easier (at least the logic of it is easier to grasp, if not the performance) to form the view that this becomes “the right thing” that now defines the intire spirit of all of observance.

    I believe this issue needs to be spoken about at length and not easily dismissed. Too many very sincere baalei teshuva are trying to be shtarker than is fitting for that stage of their life. It’s not because they’re nuts (well at least often times it’s not), it’s because they’re trying to give it their all.

    Perhaps you would consider writing a follow up article that clarifies the distinction between those times where extreme action is required, and those other times where searching for the middle is called for. (IIRC there’s an essay in Michtav M’Eliyahu on being a kanoi inside but not on the outside. Maybe that’s a good starting point for elaboration)

    Here’s a thought… Rabbi Dovid Kaplan of Ohr Somayach is a great guy. We’ve known each other since about 1979. Yes he knows Torah and lots of great stories too. But I believe his greatest virtue (and his wife Tammy’s as well) is that they have a wholesome sense of humor. They are down to earth. That comment cited in The Kiruv Files he made about yanking out the payos when they’re grown too soon, is something he would indeed say. But knowing him, you have to know, he would probably say it with a smile and a chuckle. That is key.

    Even when talking about finding the center, for some reason people get all worked up. Relax. Have a sense of humor. That is the first step to finding your center.

  58. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 7th, 2006 @ 9:14 pm

    Pinchas was virtually unique in that his zealotry was correctly channeled. That same zealotry later lost him his position as novi (in his persona as Elyahu). The Jewish zealots who resisted the Roman occupation of Yerushalayim cost literally millions of deaths.

    Today’s zealotry/extremism may take the form of those who encourage (or perhaps coerce) young men to stay in full-time learning when they are clearly not succeeding (by which I mean they do not have the temperment and the financial resources to apply themselves to Torah study for the eight or ten hours a day that is expected of an avreich in kollel). Similarly, extremism may take the form of discouraging (or coercing) a young man who has the mind, the temperment, and the financial resources to succeed in learning to pursue a professional career.

    Neither full time learning nor an hour-a-week seder is necessarily extremism. Extremism is the ideologically-driven rejection of all but a single shita in avodas HaShem.

    How’s that, Mark?

  59. Mark
    December 7th, 2006 @ 9:31 pm

    Although I detect there may be some subtle differences, I’m still not totally clear how the extremism you defined is different from what many call intolerance?

    I was also thrown by this paragraph which seemed to reject the path of huge segments of the Orthodox world.
    Professor Koppel observes that both the modern world and the Chareidi world make the same fundamental mistake, each in its own way. In their efforts to eliminate this spiritual-physical tension, Chareidim are inclined to reject any involvement with the physical, whereas Modern Orthodoxy is inclined to legitimize everything physical in the context of being a Torah Jew. In my own language, Chareidim tend toward forbidding everything not expressly permitted, while the Modern Orthodox tend toward permitting everything not expressly forbidden.

    In any case, I’m a big proponent for more tolerance for multiple paths within Torah. So if that’s your driving point, I’m with you all the way.

  60. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 7th, 2006 @ 11:02 pm

    I shy away from the word “tolerance” because I’ve been told that there is no equivalent in loshon haKodesh. Without quibbling over what is meant by the term in common usage, the idea of tolerating that which one believes to be morally wrong is clearly not a Torah value.

    I’ve tried, therefore, to direct my discussion toward the range of hashkofos and shitas within the bounds of normative Torah observance. I don’t consider myself Brisk, Chabad, or Mesader Rav Kook, but I recognize the legitimacy of all of them within the Torah community, and I wouldn’t tear kriyah if my daughter married a boy from any one of them.

    If that’s tolerance, then I’ll not argue semantics. But if tolerance means accepting the legitimacy of groups and individuals that are clearly outside the bounds of normative observance, then I will have to plead guilty to intolerance.

    As for what constitutes “normative,” that’s a discussion for another day.

  61. Bob Miller
    December 8th, 2006 @ 9:56 am

    Words, including “extremism” and “normative”, have traditional meanings, which should be used in discussion.

    The acceptable range of Jewish beliefs and practices has to be defined by leading Torah scholars at the highest level, not by just any well-meaning rabbi, professor or everyday person.

  62. anonymous
    December 8th, 2006 @ 12:18 pm

    That same zealotry later lost him his position as novi (in his persona as Elyahu).

    He lost his position? because of his zealotry? Where can I look that up?

  63. Gershon Seif
    December 8th, 2006 @ 1:33 pm
  64. Baruch Horowitz
    December 8th, 2006 @ 3:33 pm

    Bob,

    This is a sensitive issue. I agree that Torah is transmitted to us through a Mesorah, and that a local Rabbi’s–even an Orthodox one– interpretation of major hashkafa issue, based on his understanding of a Rishon is not as authoritative “as leading Torah scholars at the highest level”.

    However, it might be argued that there are portions of the Yeshivah world that, although recognizing the Torah greatness and Yiras Shomayim of Rav Soleveitchik and Rav Kook, both of them Zt’l, consider some of their major opinions such as those on Zionisim or secular education outside the well-defined “mesorah of the yeshivah world”. It is also possible, although I am not sure how clear this is, that some consider some of the opinions of Rav Hirsch Zt’l as well, outside the yeshivah world’s mesorah, although as before, everyone recognizes his Torah greatness.

    Thus, the issue of what’s “in the mesorah” is sensitive both because it requires definition by the Torah leadership of our generation, but also because it divides Shomrei Torah U’mitzvos: some of those in the Charedie/Right-wing, with all of those of the Centrist/Modern Orthodox.

    This makes for perpetual discussion in the blogosphere, and is perhaps its raison d’etre. However, a site such as this one, which attempts to transcend the MO/RW divide, should agree to disagree on these age-old issues. It doesn’t mean “I’m okay, your okay”, but rather, that it is unlikely that focusing on the issue will result in either side conceding defeat.

    That is why I agreed in comment # 45, above, that ” ‘TAG’ is really where it’s at, when all is said and done, and transcends the RW/MO divide.”

    When we each go home, we can consider what we feel is “Emes” and what is “Krum” or “less than 100% truth” , but there is no use in trying to prove it either way. However, judging from the fact that latter is the raison d’etre of the blogosphere, obviously people enjoy indulging in such discussions(I sometimes do as well).

  65. Bob Miller
    December 8th, 2006 @ 4:22 pm

    One thing about growing up in America: we have a better gut feel for democracy and free expression than for some basics of Jewish thought.

  66. Boruch Horowitz
    December 10th, 2006 @ 11:00 pm

    “Bob,

    To quote Rabbi Yehudah(Leo) Levy in the Jewish Observer(January, 2006):

    “Before we disqualify any idea as totally out of bounds, we should first make sure that not one authority supported it”. This is a very general statement, and indeed a future issue of the Jewish Observer issued a disclaimer or clarification , about the article’s thrust in general.

    Rabbi Emanuel Feldman wrote(Jerusalem Post, May 17, 2006):

    “Similarly debilitating is the split between yeshiva-world Orthodoxy and the modern Orthodox, with each viewing the other as unsuited for future leadership – a far cry from a generation ago, when Lakewood’s Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the pre-eminent sage of yeshiva Orthodoxy, invited Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the pre-eminent sage of a more modern Orthodoxy, to be the guest speaker at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner.”

    I may be bias, and furthermore, my hashkafos may conceivably move more to the “right” with time(I guess I am “a work in process”). As I said above, I don’t believe in “I’m okay and your okay”, and unlike some, I see strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the RW/MO divide.

    However, just like one should not follow a halachic practice based on the analysis of a blogger(or one published in the Yated, for that matter), so too, one should read critically the hashkafos of bloggers. People should ask their local Orthodox rav/posek/mashgiach which of Rav Kook, Rav Soleveitchik, Rav Hirsch or the Rambam’s hashkafos are included in “today’s mesorah”!

    I stand by my statement, though, that in a website that attempts to transcend the MO/RW divide, as I assume this one does, it is more beneficial in terms of avodas Hashem to focus on Torah, Avodah, and Gemilas Chassadim.

    If side A says: “your Gadol is not a Gadol, is really unfit for leadership of the Jewish people, and/or their understandings of basic Jewish thought are not authoritative”, Side B will simply disagree, and nothing will be gained besides ill feelings. In private, of course, a person may certainly express themselves stronger(and respectfully) regarding what is Emes and what is not, as they understand it.

  67. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 11th, 2006 @ 12:50 am

    Gershon, thanks for the link.

    As my family was driving back from Shabbos in Chicago, and my wife had brought candy-canes as treats for the kids, I was reminded of an incident several years ago at father/son learning seder:

    As I was learning with my son, the principal of the cheder passed by and handed me a candy-cane for my boy. I thanked him, adding that I should have thought to bring something myself.

    He responded by thanking me for thanking him. The previous father to whom he had offered a candy-cane had vehmently told him off for “putting tumah into the mouth of his pure child.” The principal suggested that he lodge his complaint with the O-U, which had given the hechsher to the candy producer.

    If you don’t want to give your kids candy-canes, fine. But is there really any justification for chewing out a menahel over something so trivial as the shape of a piece of candy?

  68. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 11th, 2006 @ 12:54 am

    While I’m ruminating, it’s always struck me as odd how Rav Hirsch called his movement “neo-orthodoxy,” yet he is claimed by the Chareidim (who often disregard or water down his philosophy) and given relatively little attention by the modern community, whose banner of “Torah U’Maddah” is somehow contrasted against rather than compared with Rav Hirsch’s “Torah im derech eretz.”

    I think there’s plenty of fodder for discussion there, no?

  69. Chava
    December 11th, 2006 @ 8:27 am

    “Tumah in the mouth of his pure child”? Oy. I guess we are in trouble with the eggnog fetish we have going on at our house ;) .

  70. Bob Miller
    December 11th, 2006 @ 9:13 am

    Rabbi Goldson,

    Did Rav Hirsch ZT”L call his approach neo-orthodoxy, or even use the term orthodox itself (except perhaps to criticize the choice of this word)? Please clarify your sources.

    As I recall, his followers preferred “Torah-True” and the like.

  71. Bob Miller
    December 11th, 2006 @ 9:18 am

    Baruch’s points in #66 are well-taken, but there is (somewhere) an outer boundary of acceptability.

  72. Baruch Horowitz
    December 11th, 2006 @ 11:01 am

    I agree as well that there is an outer-limit of acceptability. I, personally, would like to include all of the hashkafa writings of the Rambam, as well as all of the thoughts of the other three above-mentioned Torah leaders in such range, but my own thoughts are not authoritative!

    Let each person follow their own local rav and/or the publicly expressed views of Gedolim whom they look to for guidance on these and other matters.

  73. M
    December 11th, 2006 @ 11:06 am

    Are you sure about the neo-Orthodoxy? I have never heard the term from old timer Rav Hirsch followers.

    Orthodox was not a term chosen by those it labels; it was coined by the Reform movement in Germany, to differentiate between themselves and those who retained Torah observance in its unaltered form. Torah Observant seems a much more accurate term, and also more unifying.

    One additional point- on a thread that is promoting tolerance, isn’t it counter productive to begin yet another discussion of MO, Rav Hirsch, and Charedim? Why does it seem that even when original intentions are noble, the direction tends to take a dividing position? Baruch Horowitz said it well- BeyondBT really tries to transcend the divide, to focus on the real issues- T.A.G.

  74. Baruch Horowitz
    December 11th, 2006 @ 11:53 am

    M,

    Personally, I find the subject of RSRH, his shittah, and his times a fascinating one. There is always room for discussion(or debate). There is an expression, “to each man a different Hirsch”, and one can discuss what would he say were he alive today.

    If this site is not the venue for it, you are welcome to stop by Mishmar.blogspot.com(the group blog that I write for)–maybe someone can post on the topic, and we get a discussion going regarding different views on the subject.

  75. M
    December 11th, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

    I agree with you that it’s an interesting topic, Boruch. In an ideal world, we would only discuss these issues from a perspective other than whose right or wrong, and it’s wonderful when it does happen.

    I do want to check out your blog, thanks for the link. I just thought that a thread on tolerance might focus more on how we’re the same, (observant Jews share so much!) rather than how we are different. Goodness knows there’s already reams written on how we’re all different! :)

  76. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 11th, 2006 @ 1:01 pm

    In Triumph of Survival, Rav Berel Wein writes that Rav Hirsch “was the father of what came to be called Neo-Orthodoxy, a movement which Hirsch himself more correctly characterized as Torah im Derech Eretz.” (page 58)

    This seems to imply what Bob said above, that Rav Hirsch did not use the label himself. If so, then I stand corrected.

  77. Baruch Horowitz
    December 11th, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

    M,

    The topic of Rav Hirsch is probably a good topic here as well. There just needs to be good will all around to keep the subject more academic than personal.

    I have no problem if at an Agudah or OU event, each side promotes why their shittos are more correct. It is certainly possible that only one side is correct overall, although I think one may find strengths and weaknesses on either side.

    But if you want to bring people from both groups together and transcend the gap, then you have to agree that for purposes of the specific conversations and interactions, you will be considering the Torah leaders and poskim on both sides as legitimate, and focusing on something that bridges the gap.

  78. Max
    December 11th, 2006 @ 1:33 pm

    Some of my best friends are extremists and I love them dearly.
    Extremists in kiruv rechokim, bitachon, ahavas yisrael,…

  79. Bob Miller
    December 11th, 2006 @ 2:12 pm

    Unfortunately, nearly all discussions on tolerance veer off into the dark side with arguments about related issues such as:

    “What’s really intolerable, after all?”

    “X won’t tolerate Y”

    “My group is tolerant, while the other group is not”

    And many snotty questions akin to “when did you stop beating your wife?”

    Running into so many of these side discussions in blogs has become intolerable.

  80. JR
    December 11th, 2006 @ 2:30 pm

    Gershon Seif (re comment 58, 62 63) – I checked the R’ Frand article and nowhere does it say that Pinchas-Eliyahu lost his position as navi. Is there a source for his losing his position or not?

  81. M
    December 11th, 2006 @ 2:33 pm

    “But if you want to bring people from both groups together and transcend the gap, then you have to agree that for purposes of the specific conversations and interactions, you will be considering the Torah leaders and poskim on both sides as legitimate, and focusing on something that bridges the gap.”

    I agree. It’s a good starting point that can help us transcen divisiveness and get past the all encompassing our way/your way trend.

  82. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 11th, 2006 @ 4:26 pm

    JR –

    1 Melachim 19:15-16 Then HaShem said to [Elisha], “Go, return on your way … and anoint Elisha ben Shofot from Ovel Mecholah to be prophet in place of you.

    This concludes the exchange between HaShem and Elisha discussed in Rabbi Frand’s essay.

  83. JR
    December 11th, 2006 @ 7:05 pm

    Thank you. I see it’s the Rashi on the pasuk you refer to. Though the fact that Eliyahu doesn’t die but goes up in a stormwind and we pour the cup for Eliyahu at the Pesach seder as well as the idea that a great person merits “gilui Eliyahu”, that there are a myriad of miracle stories concerning Eliyahu etc. seem to indicate that G-d didn’t exactly write him off …

  84. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 11th, 2006 @ 7:57 pm

    It’s not a question of HaShem “writing him off.” Because Elyahu invoked judgment upon the Jewish people rather than invoking mercy on their behalf, he disqualified himself from the job of novi. Because he accused them of foresaking HaShem’s bris, HaShem forced him to attend every seder and every bris milah to teach him that, no matter how corrupted the Jews might become, they remain conscious of their identity.

    As far as “Elyahu’s cup” goes, we don’t pour it for Elyahu to drink (a popular misconception) but to await Elyahu and the days of Moshiach to learn which opinion we follow — to drink four cups or five at the seder.

    None of this contradicts the fact that Elyahu was one of the most extraordinarily righteous individuals in Jewish history. Indeed, it is precisely because of his greatness that HaShem dealt with him so severely.

  85. David S
    December 12th, 2006 @ 10:00 am

    For my edification, what is TAG?

  86. Mark
    December 12th, 2006 @ 10:08 am

    TAG or T.A.G stands for Torah, Avodah (Prayer) and Gemilas Chasadim (Lovingkindness).

  87. David S
    December 12th, 2006 @ 10:13 am

    Thanks Mark, I didnt know we had acronymed (sic) Ha Shlosha Devarim. lol

  88. Bob Miller
    December 12th, 2006 @ 10:34 am

    But avoid TNJWW

    (Totally Non-Judgmental Wishy-Washiness)

  89. Mark
    December 12th, 2006 @ 10:53 am

    David, Sometimes you have to repackage the basics.

    The current taxonomy of LWMO, RWMO, TheMiddle, LWUO, RWUO or Modern vs Charedi is not working because people are so caught up in boxing themselves and others into exclusive segments.

    The beauty of going back to the basics of TAG is that it transcends the unproductive segmentation quagmire that we are in. We can focus on improving in all TAG areas and work together with our co-religionists who are interested in growing in these areas.

  90. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    December 12th, 2006 @ 12:51 pm

    I don’t know who said it first, but it’s been often repeated that the remedy for sinas chinom is ahavas chinom. Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai, says the gemara, “fought with swords and spears” out of great passion for determining the emes approach to Torah. But the mishna testifies to the ahava and the l’sheim Shomayim between them, so that their machlokesim never devolved into personal attacks.

    Each of us can be passionate about our beliefs, avoiding TNJWW (see note 88) without getting so caught up in labels that we can’t speak or reason with civility. As Rav Leff says concerning kipah styles, it’s more important what’s in a person’s head than what’s on it.

  91. David S
    December 12th, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

    Well said all. I think that the discussion of Rabbi Goldsons article has come full circle and landed on the right spot.

  92. David S
    December 12th, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

    An interesting view. While not directly applicable, it certainly has something to say on this subject.

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3339089,00.html

  93. JR
    December 13th, 2006 @ 4:37 pm

    Because he accused them of foresaking HaShem’s bris, HaShem forced him to attend every seder and every bris milah

    As far as I know, because he accused them of forsaking Hashem’s bris, he attends every bris and the seder has nothing to do with this.

  94. Dovid
    January 1st, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

    I just became aware of this great web site and decided on reading this series of comments. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on so many important and sensitive ideas. It is most thought provoking and also confirms many asumptions that I have made over the years. My wife and I became BT’s some 10 years ago in an “out of town” location in NY. Subsequently, our neighbors across the street also became observant. Both our family’s relocated after a time. Our neighbors moved to Teaneck, NJ and we moved to Monsey, NY…two communities which are as unlike as one could find among today’s observant Jews. We each chose paths that we felt were the best for us. We each have our challenges with the changes in our lives. Since we moved (about 7 years ago), our contact with our old neighbors has slowed down to a trickle. Mainly because, I believe, we each have adapted a very different hashkofa.

    They feel we’ve gone over the edge and are radicals (it’s amazing what a black hat and a sheitel can cause people to think) and we feel they are drinking “Torah-light”. They feel we have chosen a cloistered life, and we feel they can hardly differntiate between the secular life they led before and the one they live now, albeit “within halachic parameters”.

    Words like “Centrist” or “Normative” are not commonly used terms in any shiurim that I attend. I feel, in the society in which we live here in the USA, that a so called “middle path” will not be successful in the long term. Some souls bloom when life is as black & white as they can get it. Others avoid having to define almost anything (especially what is right and wrong) and can’t bring themselves to any sort of concrete commitment. Indeed, it is a life-long struggle to grow and learn and live. Just remember, life is not a competition. Focus on growing and choose your path. This forum is a wonderful opportunity to learn about this and I thank you all for your insights into life as a BT….

  95. Steve Brizel
    June 19th, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

    What a great article! Perhaps, it needs to be featured more often to remind each other that are many legitimate hashkafic paths within the Mesorah of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.

  96. minyan lover
    June 19th, 2012 @ 10:27 pm

    Rabbi Goldson,

    If the following excerpt from this heartwarming 2006 post is still true :
    “I’ve long been taken with the following quote from Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik: “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.” ”

    then how would you classify the gra’s personality ?

  97. Ron Coleman
    June 24th, 2012 @ 10:14 pm

    The problem, Minyan Lover, is that “extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism” are merely labels which, as Rabbi Goldson pointed out, aptly describe those maniacs driving too damned fast or those idiots driving too damned slow — i.e., they impart no real information.

    The GR’A [Vilna Gaon] would certainly have been deemed an “extremist,” a “fanatic” and an “obscurantist” from the point of view of almost any of those reading Rabbi Soloveitchik’s article sympathetically… but he, of course, would never have described the Gaon that way (I assume). Nor would he have described R’ Aharon Kotler that way, but can it be doubted that his readers knew exactly whose followers “the Rav” meant when he wrote this?

  98. Shades of Gray
    June 24th, 2012 @ 10:56 pm

    I have not seen RYBS’s original article. Does anyone know the context of his statement, what he was referring to?

    This is a similar statement made by R. Shimon Schwab in “These and Those”:

    “He who is strong in his conviction is even strengthened by the clear exposition of the opposite viewpoint. He who is strong in his conviction will welcome an open discussion based on mutual respect for the opponent’s opinion. Mutual intolerance betrays mutual weakness. Only he who is fully convinced can afford to be fully tolerant towards his opponent and yet remain adamant and stand his ground.”

    This is the Maharal (Be’er HaGola #7), as translated by R. Daniel Eidensohn in his Daas Torah:

    ” [Concerning the questions raised by those of other religions concerning Judaism and in particular the Talmud] This is also true concerning what they have written regarding religion also. It is not proper to hate their words but rather they should be brought close. If this is not done and the words of those who disagree are not accepted lovingly but rather are simply rejected – it definitely indicates that one’s religious views are weak and that is the reason criticism is rejected. That is because someone with the weak indefensible position can not withstand opposition. Consequently it is not correct to reject out of hand any views which are opposed to his – especially those which are expressed not out hostility but out of genuine interest in his religion. Even if these question are against his faith and religion he should never say, “don’t speak!” or “shut your mouth!” If he did so than there is no clarification of religion. Rather his reaction to these types of religious questions should be “Say whatever you desire to express.” He should not leave the opponent saying, “If I could I would say more.” Because if he simply silences critics and questioners he is simply showing the weakness of his religion.”

  99. Bob Miller
    June 25th, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    Ron Coleman wrote, “The GR’A [Vilna Gaon] would certainly have been deemed an ‘extremist,’ a ‘fanatic’ and an ‘obscurantist’ from the point of view of almost any of those reading Rabbi Soloveitchik’s article sympathetically.”

    Ron, what makes you say this? Do you have a real perspective on this readership?

    When you read Rav Soloveitchik’s works, what is your personal attitude going in?

  100. Shmuel
    June 25th, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    Ron Coleman:

    It’s apparent from what you wrote that you are familiar with the context of the words of Rav Soloveitchik that Rabbi Goldson quoted. After all, you called several terms used therein “merely labels,” and you couldn’t have done so without knowing the context. Additionally, you say that there can’t be any doubt “whose followers” Rav Soloveitchik was referring to when he wrote this. You can’t have learned it from Rabbi Goldson’s post, since Rabbi Goldson only quoted two short sentences from Rav Soloveitchik (with no mention of anyone’s “followers”), and then what an anonymous “Rabbi K” wrote about these two sentences.

    So can you explain to us what R’ Soloveitchik was talking about, where he originally wrote or said this, how it connects with Rav Aharon Kotler, etc.?

    If you can’t, you’ll be revealing what I suspected when I read your comment –that in order to help Rabbi Goldson with his educational objectives, you agreed with him to post a comment illustrating the problem described in his post.

  101. Bob Miller
    June 25th, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

    When you join an in-group, you need to be told who are the shining lights of the out-group, so that when you later stumble onto some piece by the latter you know to reject it.

  102. Ron Coleman
    June 25th, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

    Did you just say something from chemistry, Bob?

  103. minyan lover
    June 25th, 2012 @ 11:06 pm

    Shmuel,
    Is the following statement (attributed to RYBS) “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.” a true statement?

    Does the veracity of the statement depend on the original context ?

    If you believe the statement and specifically the conclusion are true, how would you classify the personality of the GRA, who upon information and belief, was an extremist that was quite secure.

    One other quick question, do you believe the GRA would agree with the opinions/objectives expressed,referred to or argued with in this post.

    Whose halachic opinion concerning the matter in discussion, would most closely align with those of the GRA, R Goldson, Rabbi K, RYBS, George Carlin or Rabbi Koppel.

    Please provide citations to the law (provided by the GRA) when stating what you believe GRA’s position was.

  104. minyan lover
    June 25th, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

    Shades of Gray,
    If the statement and conclusion are true, why would the original context matter.
    And why would it have been used in both the article quoted and in this post then ?
    On a different note, why are the maharal and r schwab opinions u provided relevant or similar.
    The question concerning the conclusion, whose context you were unsure about,suggested that someone who is secure cannot be an extremist.
    Just for the record, I have no idea if the “hareidim” in question are gra approved, that would be an important point to address at some point…..
    But GRA (extremist but learnt from many different sources places people etc) is the perfect personality to analyze especially within the context of this post. (please see my questions to Shmuel, )
    I actually found that when I’m in extreme gra learning mode, i’m much more secure, and even more respectful of all groups and religions. I also respect and enjoy learning/listening to other viewpoints so much more. I spent 15 minutes today listening carefully to a “did you hear God our mother” speech, on a city sidewalk. I walked away with a whole new understanding of second chances, God as a mother (who also functions as Jerusalem and bride in heaven) and Passover in June. I not only learnt new insights,but it was a genuine mutual respectful conversation. And I realized again how important God, the bible and passover is to so many people. And I never loved the gra more.

  105. shmuel
    June 26th, 2012 @ 8:15 am

    Minyan lover: I am definitely the wrong person to ask. I don’t know anything about the quote, and the only positions of the Gra i am familiar with firsthand are those that are quoted in the Mishna Brura/Biur Halacha (which actually makes them secondhand, I guess!).

    Better to ask Rabbi Goldson, who I assume is familiar with both.

    But it sounds like you are suggesting the Gra was an “extremist.” in what way do you mean this?

  106. Bob Miller
    June 26th, 2012 @ 8:31 am

    I guess every rabbinic statement (and maybe blog comment, too) should come with a precise definition of terms.

  107. Steve Mantz
    June 26th, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

    glad to see this article being discussed again here.

  108. Shmuel
    June 26th, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

    to go back to the main point of Rabbi Goldson’s post, what do people think is the antidote (on a personal, not societal, level)to “condemn[ing] everyone who has staked out a position different from ours?”

    I sometimes try to avoid these kinds of pitfalls by taking a step back and thinking of basic beliefs and values –for example, that G-d is the Creator of the world and Giver of the Torah to Bnei Yisrael. When I think of how significant these are, I realize how much I share with anyone who thinks the same thing, even if we have (sometimes very significant) differences on other issues. Just an idea.

  109. Ron Coleman
    July 3rd, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

    The Vilna Gaon obviously did not consider himself an “extremist,” but many others did.

  110. Ron Coleman
    July 3rd, 2012 @ 10:02 pm

    Shmuel wrote:

    It’s apparent from what you wrote that you are familiar with the context of the words of Rav Soloveitchik that Rabbi Goldson quoted. After all, you called several terms used therein “merely labels,” and you couldn’t have done so without knowing the context

    I have all the “context” that was offered to all the other readers of this post (see more on that point, below). “Context” is a well-known dodge in polemics for avoiding the plain meaning of what one has, often regrettably, uttered. As Minyan Lover wrote, “If the statement and conclusion are true, why would the original context matter?”

    Additionally, you say that there can’t be any doubt “whose followers” Rav Soloveitchik was referring to when he wrote this. You can’t have learned it from Rabbi Goldson’s post, since Rabbi Goldson only quoted two short sentences from Rav Soloveitchik (with no mention of anyone’s “followers”), and then what an anonymous “Rabbi K” wrote about these two sentences.
    So can you explain to us what R’ Soloveitchik was talking about, where he originally wrote or said this, how it connects with Rav Aharon Kotler, etc.?

    I did not quite say that, but frankly, it would have been a mistake for me to do so if I did.

    If you can’t, you’ll be revealing what I suspected when I read your comment – that in order to help Rabbi Goldson with his educational objectives, you agreed with him to post a comment illustrating the problem described in his post.

    Is that really what you suspected? Or are you just being a wise guy? I suspect the latter.

    So, what was the context? I found this on Wikipedia:

    Soloveitchik stated that although he felt that he successfully transmitted the facts and laws of Judaism to his students, he felt that he failed in transmitting the experience of living an authentic Jewish life. He stated that many of his students “act like children and experience religion like children. This is why they accept all types of fanaticism and superstition. Sometimes they are even ready to do things that border on the immoral. They lack the experiential component of religion, and simply substitute obscurantism for it….After all, I come from the ghetto. Yet I have never seen so much naïve and uncritical commitment to people and to ideas as I see in America….All extremism, fanaticism and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.” (A Reader’s Companion to Ish Ha-Halakhah: Introductory Section, David Shatz, Yeshiva University, Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute).

    I frankly have no idea how to reconcile this “context” into the way this quote was used in Rabbi Goldson’s article — for it does not seem to fit Rabbi Goldson’s “woe for the middle” thesis at all, and in fact, smacks of a bit of — uh, oh! — intolerance for those guilty of “naïve and uncritical commitment to people and to ideas” as J.B. Soloveitchik sees it.

    So I revert to the context that I assume was intended by Rabbi Goldson when he used this quote (as he does often, it appears). And what is that context? Rabbi Goldson first says,

    Today’s extremism is no mere matter of right versus left. It is the unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of other hashkofos within the bounds of halachah.

    He writes in the next breath, however,

    The flight of so many Torah Jews from the middle testifies to just how hard it is.

    This is a problem. For how can it be said that “so many Torah Jews” have “flown from the middle” when he had first defined this “middle” as a movable place, a philosophical location personal to each Jew in which tolerance of others’ hashkofos was the sole, defining criterion?

    So the way I read the “context” here, Shmuel, is that — as is typical in laments such as these (that’s why, Bob, I wrote not of a “readership,” but of a “sympathetic readership”) — Rabbi Goldson is bemoaning not the abandonment of some fluid, personal “middle” of intellectual tolerance and openness he says he means. After all, can’t these “flying” Jews have taken their personal middle with them “in flight”?

    Rather, by all appearances Rabbi Goldson is upset that these Jews on the wing have flown Yonason Goldson’s coop — his personal “middle”; for on Rabbi Goldson’s highway, just as on most of ours and even on Rov Soloveitchik’s, no has any more use for the “maniacs” or “Sunday drivers” than anyone else.

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