Sunday, June 01, 2008

Open Mindedness as the Key to Truth

One of the primary points of Achdus I have insisted upon is the idea that Orthodox Jews can be united and yet retain their differences of Hashkafa. To that end I’ve been an advocate of trying to learn the truth of the Hashkafos of others. Ideas should be shared, explored, and understood by each segment of Orthodoxy.

As it stands now the two worlds of Charedim and modern Orthodox Jewry are far apart. I believe that is in large part due to the kind of misunderstanding displayed by three prominent Charedi Rabbanim in a recent Mishpacha Magazine article. Views that I commented on. I said then and I still believe that their beliefs are based on a misunderstanding of what modern Orthodoxy is – at least in its Centrist incarnation.

Because of this lack of true understanding many Charedim have become vigorous opponents of modern Orthodoxy. Some of that opposition is so strong – the vehemence so strident - that it borders and rabid hatred.

But it is mostly due to the kind of misunderstanding expressed by those three Rabbanim. Some of the more extreme Charedim look to statements like the ones made in that Mishpacha article as the basis of their hatred. They believe the views of those three Rabbanim are legitimate.

There is also that segment of Charedi Rabbanim that are extreme in their views of modern Orthodoxy too. Their misunderstanding is even greater than that of the rabbinim in the Mishpacha Magazine interview. Hence the vehemence and vitriol.

I am not commenting whether the most left wing of modern Orthodoxy should be accepted. I’m not sure at this point. I certainly have my own problems with some of the things that have resulted from it. On the other hand there is a positive side to it as it provides a home for those on the fringes of Orthodoxy and prevents them from leaving the fold altogether. So, I am not prepared to accept or reject them. Perhaps time will tell.

One of the main problems of even moderate Charedi Rabbanim is that they base their views on how they see what I call MO-Lite behavior - behavior that is not really ideologically modern Orthodox but more culturally or socially modern Orthodox.

It is therefore understandable that Charedi Rabbanim have such great misgivings about modern Orthodoxy. They see a large percentage of its practitioners that are very light on observance.

But the battlefield should not be in the social arena. There is much in both Charedi and modern Orthodox society that could use improvement. The battlefield should be on the ideological plain - a battle of ideas - a Milchemes HaShem in the tradition of Elu V’Elu, where ideas can compete on their own merit.

It is this battlefield where one can cite the views of giants like Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch to argue the merits Torah Im Derech Eretz - without resort to a revisionist history. Or where the ideas of Torah U’Mada can be explained via classic sources and debated on that level. And where the Torah Only philosophy can be seen in it the context of classic sources. Each Hashkafa can then be compared and contrasted.

As I’ve said, I think that ultimately this will happen as the two worlds continue to meld. The Torah world will continue to evolve. At some point in the (hopefully) not too distant future there will be cross fertilization of ideas leading to synthesis of the two worlds.

But there are always naysayers - those in both worlds who insist that this cannot happen. Some Centrists see the rejectionist rhetoric by some on the right and are discouraged. Some of those on the right fear hearing ideas that are not identical to their own. So they will impede any chance for those ideas to be heard by de-legitimizing any and all non Charedi Hashkafos. Or they will re-interpret accepted ideas like Torah Im Derech Eretz into a version of Charedism – saying that Rav Hirsch meant it as a B’Dieved.

In the end we will have the debate - as we continue to evolve and meld into a cultural unit. And in the arena of competing ideas the truth will always emerge a winner. But first we have to allow it to happen. There must be a real debate of ideas without preconditions. There ought not to be any fear of exposure.

To those who fear ideology other than their own I would echo the following words quoted on Neil Harris’s blog:

He who is strong in his conviction is even strengthened by the clear exposition of the opposite viewpoint. He who is strong in his conviction will welcome an open discussion based on mutual respect for the opponent's opinion. Mutual intolerance betrays mutual weakness. Only he who is fully convinced can afford to be fully tolerant towards his opponent and yet remain adamant and stand his ground.