Thursday, March 06, 2008

The War against Moderation

There is yet another article - this time in the Jewish Week - about the seemingly never ending story of the Lipa Shmeltzer concert ban. And it got me to thinking. There truly is a cultural war in the Torah world. It isn’t a war of right versus wrong… although that is how some wish to frame it. It is a war over Charedi Hashkafos.

One faction believes that cultural events that are derived from non Torah sources are inherently evil and ought to be banned in every way. The other faction believes that non Torah sources are acceptable as long as Halacha is not violated and proper Hashkafos and behavior are maintained.

There is a gray area where one might use the slippery slope argument that is fair game for discussion. But clearly there are secular cultural ideas that are not slippery slope and on the other side there is definitely a slippery slope. As a Centrist I am on the side of participating in western culture that is not Halachicly problematic. I do not believe that external cultural ideas that filter into the Torah world will prove to be a doorway out of observance. That, however, is the view of Charedi extremists.

This in one of the underlying issues in all of the various bans including the most recent concert ban. This is not to say that that there aren’t Charedi Gedolim who would allow some form of concert or some form of those other things which are banned such as the internet. There are Gedolim who allow them even though the ideas are derived from non Torah sources. Let us call them the moderates.

On the other side there are Charedi Gedolim who feel that even the slightest concession to modernity will be a slippery slope ‘out the door’ of Torah observance. Let us call them the rejectionists.

So you have this war. And its leaders are Charedi Gedolim. The rejectionist faction has as its soldiers Kaanoim… zelaots who will use any means necessary to ‘win a battle’. The moderates have no soldiers. That is the nature of moderation. And that is how the latest concert ban happened.

Rabbi Avrohom Shorr is one of the leaders looked to by the zealots. He is of the rejectionist ideology - a Kannoi. When he was in Chicago a couple of months ago, I overheard him saying that he is loathe to even utter the word ‘internet’. He is a Rav that the zealots turn to for endorsement for their zealotry and it seems he was behind the Lipa Schmeltzer concert ban.

Then there are those like Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky who, like his father, R. Yaakov, are moderates. They are more inclined to evaluate each event individually and advise accordingly. He does not reject all things secular. Concerts are fine with him and even a necessary outlet for many people. Concerts should be permitted as long as there is no untoward behavior by the performers that will lead to untoward behavior by the concert goers. Though he is clearly a Charedi Gadol, his open mindedness is closer to the Centrist views about western culture than it is to the those of the Charedi rejectionists.

This is not how it used to be. There was no cultural war in the previous generation of Gedolim like Rav Moshe Feinstein. I don’t recall any bans. I am certain that Rav Moshe Feinstein was every bit as Charedi as those who want to ban everything are now. Yet we did not see anything like the kinds of bans increasingly coming out.

This is causing an unprecedented disconnect between Gedolim and the Charedi masses. Of course not all are Charedim disconnected. There are those who will automatically take the side of ‘The Gedolim’ and no matter what they do, they salute and attack people who dare to ask questions. But I think the vast majority of Charedim remain with those questions unanswered - at least privately. In my view this is the cause of the deterioration of Kavod HaTorah today even in the Charedi world.

Many Charedim have been disillusioned by these kinds of bans and are beginning to question not only a specific ban but whether they even have true leaders any more. When they see something like the last concert ban and the revelation of how it came about, they are ever so slightly pushed one step away from their Emunas Chachamim.

Modern Orthodoxy does not have this problem. At least not to the extent that the Charedi world does. No modern Orthodox Gadol would ban a concert like this or be involved in any other ban. That is because Modern Orthodoxy values that within western culture which does not conflict with Halacha. We actively encourage it in certain cases. As is demonstrated by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein who as I’ve often noted has said that he could have never appreciated certain portions of Tanach without his having studied English literature.

So the cultural war that is taking place is not between Charedim and Modern Orhtodoxy. It is between Charedim and Charedim . And the latest battle took place a couple of weeks ago when the rejectionists won a ban. So certain are they of their rejectionist views that they were even willing to sacrifice the welfare of the poor recipients of that concert’s proceeds.

In my view this war ought to end right here, right now.

But how?

In my view the Agudah Moetzes ought to disband as an organization. There should never be a situation where Gedolim sign onto anything as a group that is not 100 percent in accord with their views. When asked to sign anything, no other signatories should be identified. Each issue should be studied and treated by individual Gedolim based on their own evaluation and conviction. Each Gadol should be independent and not swayed by others to compromise his beliefs in order to achieve unity.

I’m told that whenever the Agudah Moetzes comes out with any joint statement there is often disagreement among them. That is only natural. In some cases they are minor differences. In other cases the differences are major and in diametric opposition to the views of other members. They hash it out and come up with a unified statement based on compromise and the will of the majority or perhaps they simply bow to the wishes of a senior member.

This is wrong and ought to stop in my view. There should never be a signature affixed to a document one is not comfortable in signing just for the sake of unity. Poskim can disagree. There are legitimate differences between them and those differences ought not be buried. They ought to in fact be expressed in the spirit of Emes.

If that were to happen I truly believe that respect for Gedolei Yisroel would be restored. Because as it stands now it’s going the other way. And if things keep going this way the battles may be won by the zealous factions but they will have only a few zealots left as members and ultimately lose the war. Because the rest of Charedi portion of Klal Yisroel will become so disillusioned that they will one way or another stop listening to these Gedolim permanently.