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Merging the Orthodox Streams


Broadly respected gadol hador, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986).

Broadly respected gadol hador, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986).

As ridiculous as it may seem, one of the things that I wish would happen is a merger between Beth Medrash Gavoha (Lakewood) and Yeshiva University (YU). Although I can hear the howls of laughter and screams of protestation on both sides of the Hashkafic aisle, I really think this would solve a lot of the problems we have today in Orthodoxy.

The truth is that this is not as far fetched as one might imagine. At least from a purely Hashkafic perspective. If one looks back to the early days of American Chinuch post Holocaust, one would see exactly this kind of institution existing at the grass roots level.

Outside of New York – elementary schools catered to all kinds of students from all kinds of homes. My classmates came from Yeshivishe homes, Chasidic homes, Modern Orthodox homes, Lubavitch homes, and even non observant homes. Our teachers respected those differences and taught us accordingly. Learning Torah came first, but secular studies were considered very important and treated seriously. Even among those on the right. The idea of attending college was a given then in almost all circles. Parnassa, was the number one concern in those days.

How important was college to the right wing in those days? If one looks at Yeshivos like Chaim Berlin and Torah VoDaath, the vast majority of their students attended college while in the Yeshiva – usually at night. They got degrees in fields like accounting or went on to professional schools to become doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers… what have you! All while maintaining Yiras Shomayim and a strong commitment to Torah and Mitzvos.

The idea of learning full time for long periods of time well into marriage was an ideal reserved for very few people. Only the most elite and most motivated people would even consider doing that.

But somewhere along the line the paradigm started changing. As the religious communities grew new schools were created to cater to specific Hashkafos.

On the surface that might seem like a good idea. But that was the beginning of the divide that ‘keeps on giving’. We are moving further and further apart. As the community grows, there are new schools with even more fine tuned Hashkafos being formed – adding to the division. I believe that all this fine tuning is one of the most divisive forces in Orthodoxy.

There are now schools on the right that consider secular studies a waste of time at best. Secular studies are belittled! There are schools on the left that are pushing the envelope of ordaining women and allowing them to act as Chazanot in certain parts of Tefilah. Some may see these divisions as a plus. But I don’t.

I prefer an Orthodoxy that has a broad Hashkafic spectrum under one roof. While we may (and I emphasize the word “may”) lose some on the fringes of the right and left, the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry would experience a far greater sense of Achdus. We had a hint of that at the last DafYomi Siyum. Although it was sponsored by Agudah it was attended by almost the entire spectrum of Orthodox Jewry. And it was a positive experience for the vast majority of them – over 90% were inspired by it according to one poll (mine).

So in theory I think it is possible to create this hybrid. The practical benefits of such a merger would transcend even the sense of Achdus that it would generate.

Each Hashkafa has a weakness that is hurting it. On the right, the disdain for a decent secular education pushes their masses into a life of poverty. On the left the weakness is in the inability to produce enough great rabbinic leaders. While there are exceptions in both communities, I think that this is basically the rule.

On the right – the aggrandizement of full time Torah study for everyone and the default second class status of the working man has resulted in 1000s of families who are unable to make a decent living. Unless they have some family connection or have the courage and determination to do the unthinkable and go to college late in their lives, most of these people are qualified to do little else than go into Chinuch. And most of those are not properly trained to do so.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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2 Responses to “Merging the Orthodox Streams”

  1. This writer refuses to accept that both sides are serious in their beliefs. Lakewood really believes that long-term study is the moet important ideal. YU really believes in Torah umada. How can we make one method of education that teaches both; Torah Umada is acceptable and totally wrong and long-term learning is ideal and also wrong!

  2. Rafi Hecht says:

    The truth is, until situations change, everyone is “on the same page.” For example, Avraham Avinu had in his household Yitzchak a forefather of Am Yisrael, Yishmael, the forefather of Arabs/Muslims, and Lot, the grandfather of the nation of Moav.

    Once time passes people and groups branch off in different directions based on their beliefs. It’s completely natural.

    That said, YU and BMG shared common beliefs when a) times were simpler, b) Many Jews had to go to work or starve to death, and c) just being Shomer Shabbos was a miracle. Today, none of that applies so the situation has changed. Now both Yeshivos focus on different strains. YU still emphasizes too much on Madda and less on Torah, and BMG sees the “frummization” of Americal Jewish society as an opportunity to “amp up” the learning.

    Just my thoughts.

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