Monday, May 05, 2008

The Distorted Realities of Three Rabbis

One of the more depressing articles I have read in recent days is the one in Mishpacha Magazine. Three great rabbinic figures in Torah Judaism seem to be living in a world distorted perceptions. Their views of masses of Orthodox Jewry are dismissive and divisive. They do not see a ‘we’. They see an ‘us and them’.

The Torah world is fairly large and growing. And that is true of every segment, whether it is extreme Charedi to very left wing modern Orthodox. We are in a state of flux. As Orthodox Jews we should see ourselves as one people - observant of Mitzvos. I do not mean to exclude our secular or heterodox brothers and sisters. They too are a part of Klal Yisroel. But our differences are definitive. We are either observant or non observant by Orthodox standards.

Orthodox Jews should be one united group. This does not mean to say that there aren’t different levels of observance among subgroups or even individuals of a single subgroup. There are. Charedi, Chasidic, Torah Im Derch Eretz, Torah U’Mada, and yes, even the ‘open Orthodoxy’ of the extreme left and the anti-Zionist rejectionist Neturei Karta of the extreme right all have individual Hashkafos that differ. But we should all come under one umbrella - united as Orthodox Jews.

But this is not how three great Charedi Rabbinic figures see it. To them, there is one group of Orthodox Jews that are dismissed as ‘outsiders’ – the modern Orthodox.

I do believe (or at least I hope) there is nothing nefarious in their views. I just think these three figures represent the common and current misperceptions in the Charedi world. This seems evident in this Mishpacha article. I believe that this is due in large part to the fact that they have little actual contact with the rabbinic leaders of modern Orthodoxy.

So their impression is skewed. They pay attention only to the most left wing among them. It is almost as if they see modern Orthodoxy as a step toward yet another version of Conservative or Reform Judaism. It gives me tremendous grief that they view sincere modern Orthodox rabbinic leaders in this erroneous way. Here is what they said in the article.

Rav Shlomo Miller, a Rosh Kollel in Toronto has as a main problem what he calls unspeakable Psakim - Halachic decisions of the modern Orthoodox. He does not say a few or even most. He just lumps them all together.

Nor does he say with any specificity what those Psakim are. He cites two general examples. One of which is that of Matring Agunos – permitting women who do not have a ‘Get’- a Halachic divorce - to marry. They base their permit on faulty Halachic reasoning.

I know of only one Modern Orthodox Rabbi, Emanuel Rackman who is involved in this controversy. His partner, Rabbi Moshe Morgenstern - the one who is the most active in this venture – is (or was) a Charedi Rav claiming Smicha from Rav Moshe Feinstein. There may be others who have used questionable means to Matir Agunos. But in every case they do so out of depth of concern for their plight and not any nefarious means to undermine Halacha. And though they may err, their hearts are in the right place.

But it is certainly not most modern Orthodox Rabbis. But to Rav Miller, modern Orthodox rabbis – as a group – do that. He must actually believe this or he wouldn’t say so. And this is a distorted view of reality. I wonder how the leadership of the primary modern Orthodox rabbinic association, the Rabbinical Council of America, views such a statement. I would hope they are outraged at this gross mischaracterization.

And then there is the view of Rav Moshe Heineman. He just makes a blanket statement saying that although modern Orthodoxy has Torah values it is not a Torah movement. What in Heaven’s name does he mean by that? Is Torah U’Mada or Torah Im Derech Eretz not a Torah movement? I can’t think of a more devise statement than that. Indeed he laments there will never be mingling between the two. I take from this that he would prefer Achdus – unity – at least in theory but he does not see it as our future. But I have to wonder… does he respect these ‘non Torah’ movements or not? Does he see them as a slippery slope out of observance?

And finally, there is Rav Yisroel Belsky. His views were the most hopeful of the three. He said many of the same things I have said about the Bnei Torah in modern Orhtodox Yeshivos. That they are the same as Charedim – learning the same Torah with the same Hasmada as those in the Charedi camp. He virtually condemns those who would criticize them because they might wear a knitted Kipa. ‘They’re part of our camp’ and that ‘there is nothing to be gained by fighting modern Orthodoxy’. These are truly welcome and hopeful words.

But even he had to ruin a beautiful compliment by prefacing those remarks with a slam against Centrist Hashkafos - calling it Haskala. And that modern Orthodxy is trying to 'foist' it upon the Torah world. He then identifies what he says are the three main ideas that are central to modern Orhtodxy which bhe heard from an unidentified but leading modern Orthodox Spokesman: 1) secular education 2) unabashed Zionism and 3) complete equality of women. And he calls them all nonsense!

The fact is that of the three only secular education is truly a central idea. Classic Religious Zionism is so fragmented that it is almost hard to define anymore. The only thing they have in common is support of Israel. Does Rav Belsky think we ought not support Israel? The concept of complete equality of women is only a tenet of the left wing of modern Orthodoxy - and even they will admit that it is impossible to make women equals in their Halachic practices to men. Spiritual equals - yes. Moral equals - yes. Treated with equal respect - yes. Equals in Halachic practice - no.

Though men and women share most Halachos there are specific Mitzvos that belong to men and specific Mitzvos that belong to women. And though women may engage in many Mitzvos belonging to men, engagement in those Mitzvos does not have the same Halachic status. Does Rav Belsky disagree?

So there you have it… three prominent rabbinic leaders each of which has in this article contributed to the divisiveness in Klal Yisroel. Only because of what I believe are erroneous perceptions and generalizations.

I call upon these rabbinic leaders to invite some of the Roshei Yeshiva at Yeshiva University to address members of their world and see for themselves just how inaccurate their perceptions of reality are.

Let Rav Mordechai Willig address the Beis HaMedrash of Torah VoDaath. Let Rav Yosef Blau address the Beis Hamedrash at Ner Israel. Let Rav Hershel Shachter address the Beis Hamedrash of the Toronto Kollel.

And I call upon Yeshiva University to do the same. Let them invite these three Rabbanim to address their students. Let them cross fertilize their Hashkafos and ideas with open minds, tolerance and respect and see what happens. It can only lead to good.