Whither Modern Orthodoxy?
The Jewish Press has provided a welcome space in recent weeks to debate some of the ills and strengths of Modern Orthodoxy. That this debate can at all take place is a blessing, as many groups lack the introspective capacity to be self-critical. It is important to note that all participants in that debate (at least all the authors of the articles I saw in this probably still ongoing debate) are themselves associated with some part of Modern Orthodoxy.
As a takeaway, I’d want to highlight Rabbi Avi Ciment rightly stressing that a vibrant Modern Orthodoxy would perforce be one that takes the Orthodox commitment very seriously and is infused with passion in the service of G-d, and Ben Shapiro rightly emphasizing that Jewish values are sovereign, particularly emanating from halacha, and that at the core of the Jewish understanding are moral, ethical and philosophical claims which, when clashing with secular values, submit to the will of G-d and not to secular humanism – and also for calling for a courageous leadership (and I dare add, a courageous laity that is willing to nurture such a courageous leadership) that will proudly represent, teach and transmit this moral courage steeped in Torah and halacha.
Of the responses, I particularly find Rabbi Broyde’s critique of Ben Shapiro to be most thoughtful and most convincing. We cannot win every battle, and it may therefore be unwise to fight every battle. I think that on some level we all accept Broyde’s concept of principled accommodation, which, as he ably argues, needs to be based on a strong moral clarity within our community.
Rabbi Tzvi Sinenski is right to call attention to our need for compassion, though this compassion should be guided by and function within the constraints of halachic morality and ethics.
The conclusion to date would thus be that we seek to educate passionately, halachically committed, compassionate students who are prepared to fight for Torah values and who do pick their battles wisely while getting along with society. If this sounds like an oxymoron, well, no one ever claimed it should be easy to be loyal and trustworthy representatives of Torah, but “we are not obligated to complete the work, nor are we free from it.”
On the other hand, the conclusion also follows that where the passion and commitment for halacha is lacking, we are not doing our educational job well enough. As the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi M.M. Schneerson stressed, one of the primary duties of day schools is to imbue students with yirat shamayim.
Rabbi Arie Folger
Member, Rabbinical Court of Austria
and a Vice President, Rabbinical Council of America
(Views do not necessarily reflect the institution’s)
I was going to write a lengthy essay in response to Rabbi Broyde’s very interesting and beautifully written article but, instead, I think I can make my point briefly by simply repeating his own words, but with the subject slightly changed:
“Even more complexly, the simple truth is that even Orthodox Jews who are Public Shabbat Desecrators (PSD) are deserving of support and help, consistent with our principles. The YU Mechalel Shabbat B’farhesia club is such an attempt, and while it was not introduced in a perfect way or time, it is a wonderful idea and worthy of support. Providing religious direction to those Orthodox Jews with PSD is a mitzvah and clubs like the one YU is seeking to form fulfills such obligations, and it will also hopefully lead to harmony . . .”
Unlike Rav Yochanan Ben Zakai, however, we are blessed to live in a free country (although with Leftists assuming power in the United States, that is becoming an increasingly debatable proposition). No equivocation or disingenuous argumentation can change the fact that certain things are simply wrong, and Jews – and particularly Jewish leaders – should not be cowed into being afraid to speak out, even if the position they espouse is contemporarily unpopular. Sad to say, we can learn something from Church leaders in this regard who, unlike many rabbinical leaders, are unafraid to speak truth to the masses.
Saul Jay Singer
Jews Survive Through Accommodation
Kudos to Rabbi Michael Broyde on his fine article, “Give Me Yavneh and Its Sages” (Dec. 23), in which he articulated a more reasonable and accommodating approach to laws that may conflict with our religious outlook, and backed up his argument with several strong examples in our history.
Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly polarized political environment, in which we are often encouraged to choose a more extreme position. However, Rabbi Broyde has provided us with an important reminder: political accommodation has usually been the best strategy for the Jewish community, and that we must pick our battles carefully, lest they come back to haunt us.
A Tough Balance For American Jews
Rabbi Michael J. Broyde argues that compromise is an essential component which enables the survival of Judaism. He cites Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai’s request for the conquering Romans to spare Yavneh and its religious institutions from the destruction planned for Jerusalem.
Accommodation does indeed allow for survival when destruction is the only other viable choice. However, along with accommodation goes the “watering down” of values which by definition must occur when two sides diminish their objectives in order to reach an agreement.
Ben Shapiro’s analysis in the December 16 issue offers a sharp contrast to Rabbi Broyde’s perspective. Shapiro recognizes that Torah true Judaism is eternal and not subject to the cultural whims of secular society.
Both views have credence. Rabbi Broyde supports a more practical strategy to ensure religious toleration while surrendering notions of religious dogma, all under a bubble of realpolitik. Ben Shapiro is steadfast in his conviction that Torah values are Divine and eternal as he asserts that “we answer to G-d, not to man, we cling to his Torah, not to the approval of a set of values that will surely pass away like a breath in the wind.”
As I see it, accommodation with values which defy Torah cannot be the Jewish mission. How can I refuse to state my pronouns, based upon my religious conviction, if Orthodox institutions acknowledge violations of Biblical teachings? This predicament highlights the fact that Jews desecrate G-d’s name when we succumb to temptations of alien cultures, even if the overall result is survival. We have broadcast to the world that Jews are okay with immoral behavior. This cannot be.
Missing from both arguments are the words of the prophet: “From Zion shall go forth Torah and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem.” We understand that diaspora is a dangerous neighborhood. Am Yisrael is exposed to cultural and religious values which do not resonate with Torah truth. One danger is assimilation as we may be influenced by these foreign concepts. The other danger is when we stubbornly refuse, and invite the wrath of the Hamans of every generation who hate those who don’t live by the practices of the majority. Whether one validates immoral behavior or whether one flees from the fear of the gentile, either choice results in chillul Hashem. One can appreciate the significance of Balaam’s blessing: “The nation shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9).
Ultimately, only when living alone in our own Holy Land can Jews effectively and safely model Biblical values, as our light unto the nations glows from within our own protected borders.
Great Neck, N.Y.
Within weeks of Donald Trump breaking bread with two avowed antisemites and Holocaust deniers, and then refusing to apologize and repudiate them, The Jewish Press has chosen to print a page-long column praising Trump and the dinner at which he was recently honored (“The Amazing World of Mimi – The ZOA Dinner and Donald Trump, Dec. 12).
The column shamefully repeats conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of the last presidential election, all of which have been refuted by Trump-appointed judges. Enough already. Donald Trump was a misogynist whose true colors were well known long before he was elected to the presidency. It’s time to condemn him.
Better Blatant Than Corrupt
Writer Phil Kouse’s letter (Dec. 23) was well written; however, he lost me at the end.
He posits that the primary consideration when voting should be how well the candidate fears and serves G-d. I agree that this would definitely be a big plus. Central to his essay, however, was how former president Trump failed miserably on that account.
That may very well be true, but he was inarguably the best president for the Jews and Israel since Truman voted for the formation of the State of Israel.
Furthermore, Kouse conveniently omitted the readily evident corrupt nature of our current president Joe Biden and many of his predecessors, focusing primarily on Trump.
That’s where his objectivity and adherence to the matter at hand veered off the rails.
It is vital that our elected officials always first always keep the well-being of their constituency and country in mind when crafting and enacting legislation. Sadly, that appears not to not be the case for politicians for a long time now. Government for the people, of the people and by the people seems to have been lost on the leaders of today.
I would much rather have forthright and straightforward (Kouse refers to Trump as blatant) elected officials who actually do what they promise, rather than smiling, hand shaking, baby kissing politicians who go back on their word when rubber meets the road. We unfortunately have a long way to go before we can relish the satisfaction of G-d-fearing and -serving politicians. At this point, having those that serve the people instead of themselves will have to suffice.
Don’t Throw Trump Under the Bus
The harsh criticism of Donald Trump for meeting Kanye West is, I believe, over the top and counter-productive. Although some of Trump’s actions as president, as The Jewish Press points out – relocating the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, etc. – were also in the interest of the U.S., there’s little doubt that his sensitivity to Jewish interests was instrumental in his actions. Even Moshe Rabbeinu refrained from hitting the water for the plague of blood as a Makir Tov for the water – an inanimate object – being instrumental in saving his life. We certainly need to have this kind of respect for a human being after all he’s done for the Jews and, frankly, for this country. To completely destroy someone because of one thoughtless act is cancel-culture mentality. In addition, another leader may think twice about being a friend to the Jews, knowing that one wrong move and he’s under the bus.
That said, knowing Trump (not personally, but through his public persona), his meeting West may even have been with good intentions. If you’ll recall, when Trump took office, he did not fire everyone from the previous administration, apparently believing he could work with them harmoniously. Of course, he turned out to be very wrong, but that’s another story. The point is, is it really out of the question that Trump might have thought he could bring West around and have West reverse some of his antisemitic views? I don’t think so. And I absolutely believe Trump did not know who Nick Fuentes was; Fuentes is not that famous. Personally, I never heard of him either.
In any case, I’m sure Trump has gotten the message. There’s little point in continuing to tear him down.
An Emma Wolf Resource
Regarding my article “The Forgotten Great Jewish American Novels Of Emma Wolf” (December 7), I was pleased to receive a letter from Professor Barbara Cantalupo who, along with Lori Harrison-Kahan, are the undisputed authorities on the life and times of Emma Wolf. They have re-issued their seminal work, “Heirs of Yesterday,” which readers interested in learning more about Wolf may wish to read.
Saul Jay Singer