Monday, January 30, 2017

Beyond Sectarianism – The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism

Guest Contribution by Joel Rich

Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG - Lakewood)
My review of Professor Ferziger’s lecture on the sociological history of Orthodoxy generated a response from Joel Rich.  Mr. Rich has read one of Professor Ferziger’s books on the subject entitled Beyond Sectarianism- The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism". Joel provides us with a review/critique which sheds some additional light on the subject.  I present it here as a guest contribution with some minor edits for clarity. It follows.

In his book, Beyond Sectarianism – The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism Dr. Ferziger traces a perceived drift in the U.S. over the last 100 years by Modern Orthodoxy to the "right" and Hareidi Orthodoxy to the "left" (my huge oversimplification).

Yeshiva University (YU-RIETS)
Reviewer's observation
1) It would be worth considering whether the causes of these trends are primarily philosophical or practical/sociological. It would also be worth remembering the words of an old Dane "Prediction is hazardous, especially about the future" and an old actuary "Projecting current trends linearly into the future is always wrong. The challenge is guessing in which direction".
2) Is history the story of great people? Ideas? Demographics? Economics? Why not just lay down and cue the Grass Roots "Let's live for today" (When I think of all the worries, people seem to find and how they're in a hurry to complicate their minds...").

Section I. Division

Chapter 1 - Between Hungarian and American Modern Orthodoxy
This chapter traces the more recent history of Hareidi and Modern Orthodoxy in the U.S. via two rabbinic personalities (both very grounded in their own personal histories).

Chapter 2 - A Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Dynasty
Fascinating history of the Rabbis Joseph and Haskell Lookstein ‘family business’ at KJ (if you read the chapter, you'll see this is not an exaggeration). Viewed as an archtype for inclusionary Orthodoxy and never as a compromise (at least not by the Rabbis).

Reviewer's note 
No mention of Jay Lefkowitz and his Social Orthodoxy (Orthodox Judaism without God - it's all about the kugel) or what percentage of the community that "movement" represents.

Chapter 3 - The Rise and Fall of Orthodox Solidarity

The Free Soviet Jewry movement in the U.S. had a high proportion of Modern Orthodox leadership and involvement and this led to ties with the broader Jewish community grass roots.

Haredi Orthodoxy believed in a behind the scenes approach their the traditional askan [community representative] approach to government affairs.

Eventually Modern Orthodox  engagement declined with other streams and now each group, including Haredi Orthodoxy, has a Washington office.

Section II. Realignment

Chapter 4 - Pilgrimages to Eastern Europe and Haredization

The "March of the Living" holocaust awareness trips started out with broad participation of the MO and non-Hareidi Jewish community and thus led to significant interaction between MO youth (and leaders) and those of other streams. Eventually the Modern Orthodox Yeshivas" trips split off and became much more separate - their goal changing to remembering the holiness of pre-war Europe.

Reviewers note
1) lots to discuss about re imagining history of pre-war Europe; 
2) hope you're seeing the trend-initial MO engagement followed by regression to separatism].

Chapter 5 - Counter - Feminism and Modern Orthodoxy

Right Wing YU (RWMO) is now more Hareidi (read separate and suspicious) in its approach to women's issues and created a new halachic construct to defend its position [focus on Rav Hershel Shachter and his meta approach to Halacha]. Professor Ferziger compares this approach to Hareidi approaches to feminist pressures.

Reviewer's note
The real issue mentioned by Dr. Ferziger needs to be reinforced: Are the pressures coming from advanced religious education or secular feminist sources? What does the aspirational future look like for the aspirants?

Chapter 6 - Reform in the Eyes of Orthodoxy

This chapter focusus on the history of Reform/and Haredi Orthodox relationships from the leadership of Rav Aharon Kotler until today.

Originally there was full throated confrontation, separation and total rejection. Once Reform was no longer viewed as a threat, Haredi Orthodox outreach begins. Dr. Ferziger provides a history of the personalities involved and halachic guidelines. Challenges to Haredi Orthodox outreach include legitimization of other streams and acculturation of outreachers.

Reviewer's note
1) I'd focus more on supply and demand - if you have a surplus of "learners", a franchise system is an obvious economic response;
2) Triumphalism is a bad idea - see earlier comment on projecting current trends].

Discussion of NCSY as well but MO has become concerned with in reach - think about why.

Reviewer's notes
Again, notice the theme. Modern Orthodoxy has less self-esteem and perceives internal weakness.

Chapter 7 - Rabbinical Training and Role Reversal

The history of Orthodox rabbinical training shifting from a focus on law (Halacha) to a teacher/preacher role model. The Hareidi movement also shifts from Rav Aharon Kotler's pure focus on learning to outreach training with all the associated skills (people, fundraising...).

Dr. Ferziger also covers how the 'Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary'(RIETS/YU) and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) differ in their focus (RIETS inreach, YCT in outreach) and role models. Hareidi changes from a position of strength, Modern Orthodox from weakness.

Reviewer's note
There's a complex dance between the Rabbis and the laity. The seminaries may have a vision but I question whether it translates to the rank and file. (See the history of the Conservative movement)].

Chapter 8 - The Chabadization of Haredi Orthodoxy
Dr Ferziger discusses the history of Haredi community kollel development. Originally it was more of a traditional kollel with a number of seed families doing some outreach on the side. But eventually it took on more of a Chabad house look but with fewer locations and still a core focus on learning. He mentions the start of MO inreach Kollels . Still some differences (which he analyzed) but some more coming together.

Reviewer's note
I wonder... Was Rav Chaim Volozhiner was consciously reacting to chassidut in his Nefesh Hachayim writing and Volozhin Yeshiva structure? (Dr. Ferziger's point here is well taken.) Or was it just "in the air"? Was the original Chassidic movement only reacting to the Mitnagdic pressures or was the outside world also a cause?

Chapter 9 - Beyond Outreach: Post-Denominationalism, Open Orthodoxy & Realignment

Haredi women have taken a leadership role in outreach too, not without internal issues (both for some women and for leadership). Will this lead to female spiritual leadership? Perhaps with time the feminist anti-feminist model will lead there. (Note: By  feminist anti-feminist  I mean Haredi women taking role model positions outside the home while rejecting feminism)

Reviewer's note
1) The key in my humble opinion is that change appears organic and home grown;
2) You (yes, you and me as well) can't have it all, life is all about trade-offs.

Conclusion: Dr. Ferziger pulls together the changes in Haredi Orthodoxy, Right Wing Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy. Where will they all go?

Reviewers note: 
1) correct answer is given by either of the following 2:

a) Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan):
…don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

b) Werner Heisenberg (The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle): 
The more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa