Question: What is unique about Modern Orthodoxy?
Answer: Last week we established that Torah is the distinctive characteristic of the Jewish people. Not, prayer, not chessed, but Torah. This suggests that the uniqueness of Modern Orthodoxy must lie in the character of its Torah. Somehow it is different from the Torah of the yeshiva or chassidic world. How so?
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Several years ago, Rabbi Shalom Klass, z”l, publisher of The Jewish Press, sent me a copy of a ruling of Rav Henkin, z”l, a major posek for American Jewry. Rav Henkin ruled that whenever the Mishnah Berurah and Aruch HaShulchan differ with one another, one should follow the Aruch HaShulchan. Why? Because the Mishnah Berurah, better known as the Chofetz Chaim, was the tzaddik of his generation and the tzaddik of a generation should not be the decider of halacha since such a person will have a proclivity to be stringent.
So true! In Europe, the rav who decided halacha for the community at large was generally lenient while people in chassidic and yeshiva spheres were generally stringent.
Anyone learning the Mishnah Berurah will note how he generally suggests a compromise solution that favors stringency. His argument generally is: Why involve oneself in a doubtful situation? Be stringent and act in accordance with all (the major) halachic opinions.
The Aruch HaShulchan, in contrast, deals with questions on the basis of what is realistic. He generally does not suggest compromises just to be safe.
Being lenient does not mean violating halachic standards. It’s rather a matter of orientation when dealing with the community at large. Halachic decision-making should not entail a Pavlovian urge to be strict.
(To be continued)
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has authored eight books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.