Will Modern Orthodoxy Survive?

Dr. Alan Brill has a brilliant analysis of the question:
Will Modern Orthodoxy Survive?

Here’s an excerpt:

Modern Orthodoxy is both terminable and interminable. All constructions of modern Orthodoxy are culturally situated and ever bound to a specific time. Even a single version consists of many trends, sub-movements, and cultural shifts.

All varieties of modern Orthodoxies have commonalities based on ideology, people, institutions, and texts, yet they are all terminable in that the resources, concerns, needs, and connections to other movements are all tied to a specific era. In our modern age, these constructions change regularly and rapidly, not that there is any specific need to respond to change, to assume any agency to change, or even to accept the changes.

One can personally continue to argue for a given ideology, but often one finds that it is hard to hold back time. There will no longer be a mass migration of near-illiterate peasant Russian Jews, nor will there likely be a need again for a response to the high modernism of Kant, Freud, or Existentialism; however, the need for articulate ideologies will remain an interminable need for religious communities.

Modernism and mid-20th century modern Orthodoxy may be gone, but, we can see that each era with their own ideology offers the needed construction for its community.

Beauty may be Skin-Deep but Some Hideousness is to the Bone

Today, 29 Adar Sheini is the yuhrzeit-anniversarry of the death of the great Polish Chassidic Master Reb Shloimeleh Rabinowicz; zy”a, the first Radomsker Rebbe, as well as other tzadikim and talmidei chachamim-Torah sages. The following Devar Torah is adapted from his work on the Torah and Holidays, Tiferes Shlomo, and is dedicated l’iluy nishmas –for the ascent of the sou,l of

Mrs. Lottie B. Valberg who shares the same yuhrzeit by her grandson lhbc”c Mr. Simcha Valberg, sponsor of the weely Izhbitzer Torah.

אָדָם, כִּי-יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר-בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ-סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת, וְהָיָה בְעוֹר-בְּשָׂרוֹ, לְנֶגַע צָרָעַת–וְהוּבָא אֶל-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, אוֹ אֶל-אַחַד מִבָּנָיו הַכֹּהֲנִים.

If a person (Adam) has a white blotch, discoloration or spot on the skin of his body and it [is suspected] of being a sign of the leprous curse on his skin; he should be brought to Ahron the Kohen or to one of his descendants; the kohanim…

—Vayikra 13:2

זֹאת תּוֹרַת, אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ נֶגַע צָרָעַת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תַשִּׂיג יָדוֹ, בְּטָהֳרָתוֹ

This is the Torah governing he who has within him the leprous curse…

—Vayikra 14:32

Comparing and contrasting  these two pesukim we find that there are two distinct types of metzoroim; one whose tzaraas-leprous curse is superficial; no more than skin-deep and the other whose tzaraas is described as being “within him”; at the core of his being. Moreover the first type of metzora is described as being an adam, the word in lashon kodesh –Torah Hebrew, that connotes human-beings at their highest level.

Reb Shloimeleh Radomsker, echoing the Ramban, (Vayikra 13:46 D”H v’habeged) reiterates the concept that the entire spectrum of negaim –skin ailments that exude tumah-ritual impurity, and their purification has nothing to do with physical maladies nor are the kohanim mandated by the Torah to deal with negaim dermatologists.

Negaim are HaShems way of disciplining the afflicted person and affording him the opportunity to cast his sins aside and return to HaShem where he will find mercy and healing. Read more Beauty may be Skin-Deep but Some Hideousness is to the Bone

To Feast or to Fast… THAT is the Question!

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 It (Yom HaKipurim) is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you and a day when you must afflict your souls. You must keep this Sabbath from the ninth of the month until the next night.  

-VaYikra 23:32

Chiya bar Rav of Difti taught: “and …you must afflict your souls…[on the] ninth of the month” Do we begin fasting on the ninth?  [In truth] we don’t fast until the tenth! Here, the Torah is teaching us that all who eat and drink on the ninth are considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth.

-Yoma 81B

On the tenth day of the seventh month you must afflict your souls and not do any melacha…This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned to purify you. Before Hashem you will be purified of all your sins.

-VaYikra 16:29, 30

There is a lot of conflicting data on the subject of the Torahs attitude towards asceticism.  On the one hand, Shabbos the basis of sanctified time, is identified with pleasure “And call Sabbath pleasure” (Yeshaya 58:13 ) and the entire chapter of Yeshaya 58 takes a rather dim view of fasting unless it is coupled with social justice. On the other hand, the very holiest time, the Sabbath of Sabbaths is a fast day.  The Nazir, who abstains from the fruit of the vine, is called both holy (BeMidbar 6:8) and sinful (Nedarim 10A) as is one who engages in voluntary fasts (Ta’anis 11A). The place of eternal rewards is called “the Garden of Delights”, but the delights there are of a decidedly non-physical variety; “the righteous sit with their heads crowned and bask in the radiance of the Shechina-the Divine indwelling”

In practical terms this quandary is most pronounced on the 9th and 10th days of Tishrei when the day of feasting that precedes the Day of Atonement and self-denial is reckoned as a day of fasting as well.

The often irresistible lure of this-worldly pleasures is, arguably, the major contributing factor to sin and its concomitant impurities. As such, there is a compelling logic to how abstaining from of this-worldly pleasures would help us attain the contrary outcome of decontamination.  As the Pesukim (VaYikra 16:29, 30) state: “afflict your souls …to purify you! “  However, as Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains, HaShem desires to sublimate everything (in his parlance to “sweeten” everything). Eating and drinking are the general categories under which all the temporal desires and delights fall.  HaShem wants all of these to be sanctified as well.  Holy self-gratification may sound like an oxymoron. But since our only will is to fulfill His will and “we cast that which weighs us down upon Him” He then “sustains us” with spiritual nourishment. (Tehilim 55:23). When we eat on Erev Yom Kippur in order to fulfill HaShems Mitzvah, eating becomes a catalyst for purity identical to the mortifications of Yom Kippur itself.

The Mohn-Manna Bread provides an intriguing precedent for this counterintuitive concept. The Torah states that the Mohn was like a “honey doughnut” (Shemos 16:31). Per Chaza”l diners tasted every flavor that they could imagine emanating from the Mohn (Yoma 75A). Moreover, the clouds that showered down the Mohn sprinkled pearls and jewels as well (ibid). The impression one gets is that the Mohn delighted all the senses. Yet the Torah describes the Mohn experience as one of mortification and affliction (Devarim 8:2, 3). Cognizant of the one-day-only supply of Mohn we can well imagine the anxious longing with which the Jews in the wilderness anticipated its daily arrival. The take away lesson for all generations of Jews from this Hedonistic-Ascetic hodgepodge is that we should yearn for HaShems salvation and be totally reliant on Him for both the eating and the abstention from eating. The feasting and the fasting are both only done to fulfill His will.

The verse: “Before Hashem you will purified of all your sins” implicitly alludes to Erev Yom Kippur. “Before HaShem” meaning feasting on the day before HaShem’s great and awesome day, Yom Kippur, will purify and decontaminate of your souls just as the fasting on Yom Kippur itself does.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen,  taught that whenever a Jew consumes food as a Mitzvah the food contains the flavor of Mohn which is the bread of the ministering angels and, as such, it is the flavor of other-worldly pleasure, the taste  of the radiance of the Shechina.  The topic of Mohn appears in the chapter entitled Yom HaKipurim in tractate Yoma because Mohn consumption is exactly like fasting on Yom Kippur the point of both activities being to experience spiritual gratification by absconding from the temporal pleasures of the physical world. When the Gemara says “all who eat and drink on the ninth are considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth“  it is not because eating on the 9th  is like fasting but rather because fasting on the 10th is a different kind of eating, a spiritual angelic ingestion.  On Yom Kippur we dress, stand, go barefoot and wear white like angels.  We fast and are at peace with one another like angels. On Erev Yom Kippur we eat like the nullivore angels dining on “the grain of heaven and the bread of the mighty” (Tehilim78: 24, 25).

 Adapted from Toras Emes Erev Yom Kippur 5625-1865 A.C.E. (page 57)

and Machshevos Chorutz 12 (page 95)

My Two Cents on BT-Ness

By Bob Miller

By now, it should be clear that anything a BT writes about BT-ness strongly reflects his/her own life experiences and personality. This has led to confusion and even acrimony in Beyond BT discussions, as each commenter knows deep in his/her heart what the teshuva process “really” is, while each reader or later commenter has some alternative reality. This, anyway, is my reality, as revealed somewhat in an interview with myself.

1. Q. Did some teshuva/kiruv operative or organization find you one day and straighten you out? A. No.

2. Q. Did you have some unusually depressing or inspiring moment that sent you headlong into a new life? A. No.

3. Q. Can you point to one particular mentor you always use as a guide? A. No.

4. Q. All right, already! What got you into teshuva mode?

A. It’s like this:

From college onward, I kept observing movements in action whose adherents and essence were clearly phony (Communism, Anarchism, an assortment of weird eastern religions, Reform and Conservative Judaism…). At each turn, it became clear to me that these were inferior to real Judaism in every way. But it took a long while to make the logical decision to take real Jewish learning and practice seriously enough to do them wholeheartedly in practice.

Even then, there was no sudden makeover. Incrementally, I began learning this and doing that, with great support from my wife. It’s great when a couple can be moving in the same positive direction. Since we were married, we have lived in seven different cities (plus, I was working away from home in New Hampshire for several years and commuting back monthly or so—a story for another time). In each of them, we met great Jews as neighbors or rabbis. We learned a lot from them and often still correspond with them. We are still works in progress, as Jews should be, and fit no pat paradigm at all.

The upshot is that I can’t be totally skeptical about any teshuva path suggested at Beyond BT, because they can all probably work in the right place at the right time for the right people.

There is a fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness. We want to distinguish ourselves from the wild and crazy members of general society. We want to connect with the true Mesorah and its practitioners and disconnect from the lies and the liars. On the other hand, the temptation exists to classify even some halachically valid forms of Orthodox Judaism as irretrievably over the line, because these don’t appeal to us or match the path we’ve taken. There is enough pain in the world that we shouldn’t amplify it by taking in-crowd-ness to a laughable level well beyond principle.

Everyone’s Meshugah!

I recently read Baruch Horowitz’s “Are you Happy Being Haredi?” To a certain extent, it reminded me of feelings I’ve had regarding people choosing different derachim than mine. Some of my fellow BT travelers will remember the comic bit where a comedian asks the question: “Did you ever notice that anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot… and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac?” Funny. And true! There have certainly been times during my post-teshuvah life (for lack of a better term) when I could have rephrased this as: “Did you ever notice that anyone to the right of you is a “fanatic”… and anyone to the left of you is an “apikorus”?” While that may be a bit of hyperbole, for me, the concept has, at times, rang true.

Reconciling the fact that one’s chosen derech may not be the best derech for another wasn’t simple for me. After all (I subconsciously thought), if I have chosen a certain derech, that must be THE derech. However, I eventually realized that I needed to focus on the fact that it is not THE derech but actually THE derech for ME. I also found that the area in which I was making most of these judgments was centered around the way people attempted to find the proper balance regarding the level of interaction with the non-frum or non-Jewish world. It seems to me that this is, perforce, an area of extreme importance for any BT. Here is an example: If I had a question about my ability to attend a holiday work party and my Rov advised me to go, I would view a friend’s Rov’s advice that he should not attend as unnecessarily strict. On the other hand, if my Rov had advised me not to attend and my friend’s Rov advised him to go, I would view my friend’s Rov’s decision as being too lenient. It took me a while to realize that my friend’s Rov was making a decision taking my friend’s individual issues into account and advising him within the Rov’s own well established derech.

Much was said about the topic of BTs being judged by FFBs in Rabbi Yitz Greenman on Integrating into the Frum Community. That brought me to do some personal soul searching only to discover that I too can be negatively judgmental of my fellow BTs and of FFBs. (what a BT being judgmental?!) I wonder if this is a wider issue or just my own challenge.

The Temptation of the Bekeshe

How do American black-hat “Lithuanian”-style haredim — such as myself, and especially the BTs among us — answer the implied philosophical challenge from the hasidim?

One of the main topics on Jewish blogs concerned at all with religion is the question of “haredism” — a term with very different meanings in Flatbush and in Bnei Brak, but it will do for now — versus “modern orthodox” — also tremendously plastic but, again, let us use what we have. In any event, in the context of baalei teshuva, (talk about troubling terminology!) the question often arises: Why is “haredi” kiruv so dominant? Why can’t there be more kiruv oriented to bringing people to Torah and mitzvos, yes, but without the subcultural accoutrement of the black-hat way of life?

Now because many of those asking the questions are not themselves committed to Torah and mitzvos, I find it a rather disingenuous inquiry, at least from them. But it is not, per se, an unreasonable question. Yet it has been hashed and rehashed in the Jewish blogosphere, and I have no intention of opening yet another thread on it here, but rather to suggest it as a context for the following question: Why aren’t we all hasidim? I think that question is a legitimate one.

I have several answers to the question of why BTs such as myself end up (some faster, some slower) on the “right” of the orthodox spectrum. One of them is that having grown up on a steady and tasteless diet of compromise, we are suspicious of half measures once we decide to make, and understanding the meaning of making, a commitment to being an observant Jew. We also believe that to the extent that modern orthodoxy stands for more engagement with the non-Jewish world, we acknowledge the high likelihood of slippage in our own commitments, considering our previous modes of life. I am asking commenters here not to reopen these issues in the thread that may develop here — my point is a different one, namely: If we claim to eschew compromise, where do we draw the line? Or is the “line’ itself illusory, and are we indeed engaged in perhaps exactly what critics accuse us of — a thoughtless thrust to the right, to the rejection of the old self, to the comfort of the chumra (strict practice) without regard to the merits?

Considering this question, I reflected on what the “Lithuanian” style does for American haredi BTs: It provides us with something of an out. One reason, as petty as it seems, is that the American version of “litvish” or “yeshivish” orthodoxy” tolerates clean-shaven faces. True, this toleration is marginal at best. We beardless ones may not be depicted as Abbas or Tattys in Artscroll or other haredi publications (zeydies are allowed to be clean shaven; still, a R’Moshe-Sherer-style moustache is preferred to complete whiskerlessness). But you will see us getting awards at yeshiva dinners and acting as mohels and presidents of haredi shuls. Combine this assimilation-friendly outcome, now, with the Lithuanian mode of dress — a dark suit and a white shirt — and guess what: Except in those offices where adult dress has been outlawed, an orthodox yeshiva man looks pretty much like a lawyer or an accountant (abstracting from the yarmulke issue, which we will not even touch here), which he is, after all, fairly likely to be. The acceptability of sheitels among haredim in the US extends this flexibility to women as well.

I don’t mean to rewrite my earlier post or the ensuing discussion, on “dress codes” for Jews. Rather, my point is this: Non-hasidic, clean-shaven haredi men and custom-sheitel wearing women can move through the world without that harsh separation from it that hasidim (most of them — and the issue of how Lubavitchers dice and slice these issues is also too complex for this post), with their beards, peyos and usually long coats, effect. Given that the haredi BT has gone from complete assimilation to a philosophical commitment to a distinctly Jewish manner of appearance and a level of separation from the gentile culture, how exactly does he rationalize this rollback of separation, given that to some extent it appears (appears — I am open to suggestion that it is not) to be an accident of history?

This is not merely a matter of clothes, of course, though as I did argue before, the way we present ourselves to the world is always a choice fraught with meaning. I believe that many non-hasidic haredim feel, in their hearts of hearts, that — notwithstanding the difference between what we call hasidim today and the idealized hasidus of the time of the Baal Shem Tov — today’s hasidim demonstrate an undeniably high level of commitment to Yiddishkeit that not all of us can claim we would be prepared to make. Some hasidim say, indeed, they measure the mantel (cover) to the sefer Torah, while others seek to cut down the scroll to their own size Well, we can debate whether their way of life and appearance are more or less relevant today as a matter of service to Hashem than they were in Eastern Europe 250 years ago. But the relative lack of compromise with the host culture and the level of faith in Hashem over one’s life that the hasidic way of life implies cannot be denied. I cannot myself deny that I often feel an implicit rebuke when I am in the presence of hasidim: Why aren’t I at least trying to be “that frum”?

There are two possible answers, each supplied by a different though related haredi philosophy, and neither one entirely satisfactory. One is from the classic Lithuanian — and here I will use the term “misnagdic” — perspective: There’s nothing more orthodox, young man, about hasidim. Truly frum Litvaks, facial hair aside, are virtually indistinguishable from hasidim in religious practice (look at Lakewood), and frankly the outside world can’t tell the difference between us, notwithstanding our short suit coats. A black hat is a black hat, and the hasidim, far from being a “purer” or “truer” form of orthodox Judaism, are merely focused on, some would insist they are even obsessed with, a peculiar mode of lifestyle. It is one that obtained in a certain time and place and which by and large is, for its focus on a central leader in the person of the rebbe or admor, would in the view of a true Misnagid a cop-out, not an improvement, in terms of an individual’s personal obligation to labor on his own in finding the path to service of Hashem.

Another answer comes from Rav Hirsch, whom we discussed here last week. It starts with the Lithuanian answer but takes it a step further: The cultural disengagement by hasidim, which is so extreme that most of them have a great deal of difficulty according what we believe is proper respect to our gentile neighbors as men made in God’s image, is worse than the mere stunting of growth or misguidedness emphasized by the Litvak. It is not at all what Hashem wants from us — as much as we admire the d’veykus, the commitment, the pride, it is nonetheless represents a positive failure to engage the world that God has put us into. It is a guarantee of a permanent level of unsophistication about worldly affairs as well as useful wisdom, and a lifestyle that has many elements that far from raising our status in the eyes of the world, does the opposite.

Two good answers. There are more; it is a mistake to idealize the hasidic way of life. A clean, ebony bekeshe (frock), curly peyos and a shtreimel make a stunning fashion statement, but you still have to wash neigel vasser in the morning.

And yet I am not a Lithuanian, save by intellectual bent; I am a scion, two generations removed, of Gerrer hasidim. And I cannot escape that silent, silken black rebuke.