web analytics
January 29, 2015 / 9 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Dynamic Orthodoxy

Rabbi Samson Rephael Hirsch

Rabbi Samson Rephael Hirsch

Recently I stumbled on an article written by Professor Mordechai Breuer in an old issue of Hamaayan (Tammuz 1999) about Orthodoxy in the 19th century. Much of what we “know,” in retrospect, turns out to be false, including the provenance of the term Orthodox.

Conventional wisdom teaches that the term was applied to religious Jews by our ideological foes and was meant pejoratively. In fact, Prof. Breuer demonstrates, the term was first used by the German theologian Johann David Michaelis as a friendly reference to Moses Mendelsohn, who then began using the term in his writings about Jewish life. The expression, meaning “correct belief,” has defined Torah Jewry for at least 150 years.

What was especially fascinating about Prof. Breuer’s article was the description of the efforts made by rabbis in the early 19th century to accommodate the nascent Reform movement so as to avert a schism in the Jewish people. Innovations were made and deviations were accepted, all for the greater good, though in fact not in major areas of halacha.

For example, no less an authority than Rav Yaakov Etlinger conducted bat mitzvot in his shul, and Rav Natan Adler of Hanover (later chief rabbi of the British Empire) told anxious questioners to obey a new German edict that prohibited Jews from burying their dead until 48 hours after death. Confirmed Orthodox rabbis – like Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch – wore ceremonial robes and preached in German, certainly to the horror of Eastern European rabbis.

One reason for the openness was that all rabbis (except the Chatam Sofer) supported the Emancipation and knew the fall of the ghetto walls would offer both risks and opportunities. They tried to present a more modern face to Torah and thereby keep less observant but nominally “Orthodox” Jews in the fold as well as those leaning toward Reform. Unfortunately, these efforts were abandoned after Reform leaders held a conference at Braunschweig in 1844 and renounced fundamental principles of Judaism, giving up any pretense of adherence to tradition.

Nonetheless, the innovations in Orthodoxy in the 1800s puts paid to the notion that the Torah world is frozen, frigid, unresponsive and archaic, all criticisms one still hears today from people who find fault with the Torah and desire to conform its laws to the times. Prof. Breuer counts at least eight innovations or movements that transformed Orthodoxy in the 19th century, and most of them are still influential today.

Chassidut, which technically arose in the 18th century, was perfectly placed to retain the allegiance of Jews who were not drawn to the study of Torah and provided a powerful emotional hook to lure Jews who would otherwise stray.

The yeshiva movement, started by Rav Chaim Volozhin in 1804, revolutionized the study of Torah. It was originally a counterforce to chassidut but made Talmud Torah into a national project and desideratum (rather than just a local matter) and inspired many imitators across Europe.

The Mussar movement of Rav Yisrael Salanter endeavored to permeate Jewish life with ethical sensitivity in a systemized way. The study of ethics became a routine feature in many yeshivot.

Torah and Derech Eretz of Rav Hirsch was designed to make the modern world less frightening to the Jew. He taught and inspired generations that one can be a faithful Jew and part of the modern world.

Formal rabbinical training was unknown before the 19th century. Spiritual leaders simply learned Torah and were sent to communities. The German rabbinate – credit here Rav Azriel Hildesheimer – pioneered the rabbinical seminary in which students would learn Torah and general knowledge, and acquire the skills necessary for leadership.

Scientific study of Jewish subjects, a matter fraught with danger, also attracted its share of religious proponents, as Jews for the first time began attending university in large numbers. Additionally, professions historically limited to Jews like law, medicine, and engineering now provided avenues out of the poverty in which most Jews were forced to live.

About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Dynamic Orthodoxy”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Hezbollah rocket headed for Haifa in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Israel Won’t Go to War against Hezbollah because It Can’t Win [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
Prophet Mohammed on Jan. 14, 2015 edition cover of  Charles Hebdo..

Many journalists are covertly blaming the Charlie Hebdo writers themselves through self-censorship.

New York Times

Why does the Times relay different motivations and narratives for jihadists in Europe and Israel?

syria_iran_map

To defeat parasites-the hosts of terrorists-we need to deny them new people, potential terrorists

game-figure-598036_1280-810x540

Combating Amalek doesn’t mean all who disagree with you is evil-rather whom to follow and to oppose

Desperate people take what they can, seizing opportunity to advance their main goal; the Arabs don’t

There was a glaring void in the President’s State of the Union speech: Israel.

Let’s focus not on becoming an ATM for that little bundle of joy, but on what you can save in taxes.

Since the passing of the Governance bill legislation on March 11, 2014, new alignments have become to appear in Israeli politics.

Israel has some wild places left; places to reflect and think, to get lost, to try to find ourselves

The British government assured Anglo-Jewry that it is attacking the rising levels of anti-Semitism.

Obama’s Syrian policy failures created the current situation in the Golan Heights.

Our journey begins by attempting to see things differently, only then can we be open to change.

Despite Western ‘Conventional Wisdom&PC,’ the Arab/Israeli conflict was never about the Palestinians

Confrontation & accountability, proven techniques, might also help dealing with religious terrorists

In fact, wherever you see soldiers in Paris today, you pretty much know you’re near Jewish site

Inspired by the Perek Shira pasuk for “small non-kosher animals” we named the bunny “Rebbetzin Tova”

More Articles from Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Torah-Hakehillah-121914

The travail of Yosef was undoubtedly the greatest trauma of Yaakov’s life, which certainly knew its share of hardships.

Pruzansky-Steven-NEW

The brilliance of Yaakov’s approach – and by extension, any type of individual or group effort – is that it appealed to three different modes of salvation.

There is a certain unwordliness to the pope’s call for a two-state solution, an obliviousness to the reality on the ground.

One can’t only take; one must give as well. Giving – not taking – is the essence of the righteous person.

Much of what we know about 19th century Orthodoxy is false, including the provenance of the term Orthodox.

A president who today used the language of FDR or JFK would be derided. If he were a candidate, the media elites would bury his chances of winning the election. He would be a laughing stock to the aimless young people whose uninformed opinions on public affairs seem to matter more than they should.

With the constant drumbeat of articles about “Orthodox” female rabbis appearing in the media almost weekly – essentially the same articles making the same points to the same eager audience, all to make the phenomenon of such “rabbis” seem commonplace – it is important to take a step back and examine how we arrived at this destination.

The Wall Street Journal last month featured a front-page article titled “After These Jewish Prayer Services, Things Come ‘To Life’ at Open Bar,” with the sub-heading, “To Woo Worshippers, Synagogues Compete with Food and Booze.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/dynamic-orthodoxy/2014/01/16/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: