Thursday, November 24, 2011

Acceptance of Modern Orthodoxy by the Right

I look with bemusement at all of the discussion from right wing outlets like Cross-Currents about the current state of Modern Orthodoxy. The specific debate there now is about what to do with the ‘far left’. The debate seems to be about whether they should be ‘thrown out’ of Orthodoxy. In fact they have just done it again in a recent post. It is as though Modern Orthodoxy is only valid if it has the right wing seal of approval. An approval that can only happen if far left is thrown overboard.

And yet even though all this bothers me, I can’t deny that I do in fact seek right wing approval. It is indespensible to Orthodox unity.

The debate began when Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein advocating expulsion of the far left if Modern Orthodoxy wants to retain its credentials with the right. Rabbi Michael Broyde is of a different view and responded with a lenghty argument of his own. Modern Orthodoxy should not expel anyone who follows Halacha. But he is nonetheless similarly troubled by the excesses of the far left. Both Rabbis see a problem with the far left. They just differ in how to treat it. I tend to agree with Rabbi Broyde. I too am troubled by their excesses but do not think they should be expelled from Orthodoxy as long as they follow Halacha.

All this was addressed recently in an earlier post. However there is a very important underlying issue here: the acceptance of Modern Orthodoxy in any incarnation by the right. It is no secret that in some Charedi circles Modern Orthodxy and its flagship institution, Yeshiva University, is seen as completely unacceptable. One need not go too far to see this attitude. ‘Frumteens’ is but one website dedicated in part to this premise.

On the other hand Rabbi Adlerstein, a Musmach of Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim, feels that we are accepted and he cares enough about it to see to it that we stay that way. Although he has made clear that he and Rabbi Broyde have many differences in Hashkafa, I’m sure he unequivocally accepts him as a member in good standing of Orthodoxy. I am fairly certain that he accepts YU Rosh Yeshiva and Chancellor, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm in that category too.

But is Rabbi Adlerstein alone? How do the members of the Agudah Moetzes feel about it? Do they see Modern Orthodoxy in the same light? Or is Rav Elya Svei their prototype? He tried to boycott any event attended by then YU Predsident Norman Lamm - calling him a Sonei HaShem! And do they still feel about Rav Soloveitchik the way they did in their derogatory obituary of him - published in the now defunct ‘Jewish Observer’?

There is evidence that in some ways there is more acceptance in right wing circles now than there was before. Witness the recent articles in the Charedi magazines Mishpacha and Ami about a Yeshiva University icon, Rav Hershel Shachter. They were as respectful of him as they would be of any right wing Rosh Yeshiva. Is the Agudah Moetzes on the same page? Will Agudah give Rav Shachter a place on the dais at their DafYomi Siyum HaShas this coming summer? Perhaps even inviting him to speak? We shall see.

What about Charedi students? I am unfortunately all too familiar with horror stories of rejection of YU and anyone who has anything to do with it. I know of at least 2 separate cases like that. In one case a young man in Lakewood refused to be set up with Rav Shachter’s daughter because of his connection to YU. In another case - a father forbade his daughter to be set up with Rav Shachter’s son for the same reason.

But I also know the following. When Rav Shachter’s son was in the Mir he had indicated to the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel that he wanted to go to Lakewood when he was done at the Mir. Rav Nosson Tzvi admonished him not to do that. He instead urged him go to YU so that he could benefit from his father’s Torah and be a positive influence on the students there.

I have long maintained that Yeshiva University is a Makom Torah no less than Lakewood. Yes, there are problems there. But there are problems in Lakewood too. And yet to my chagrin any positive expression about YU is often ridiculed by the right.

So where does the truth lie? Is Yeshiva University no longer the ‘enemy territory’ that the Charedi world considered it to be? As was the case when Rav Elchanan Wasserman absolutely refused to give a guest Shiur there?

My hope is that it is Rabbi Alderstein’s attitude has taken hold – where we can accept each other as fully Orthodox Jews while respectfully differing in Hashkafa.

I have said many times that the two worlds are uniting culturally. The right wing of Modern Orthodoxy and moderate Charedim are becoming one social unit that I call the new centrists. I hope that Charedi leaders of the type that are on the Agudah Moetzes will follow suit. They can make a big statement at the next Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas.

One more thing. I know many people think acceptance by the right is unimportant. I disagree. We cannot have any kind of Orthodox unity without them.