Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Challenge

A challenge was issued by a poster in the previous thread. He raises important Hashkafic questions about the differences between Charedim (Group A) and Modern Orthodox Jews (Group B). I will be referring to the latter as Centrists because Modern Orthodoxy is a broad sociological term. His post strongly implies that Charedim tend to be more God fearing than Centrists. This is false. Hopefully my answers will show why.

He begins by identifying the groups and then issues a series of questions:

There are two groups.

Group A has a broad approach to the differences between a Jew v Gentile and

Group B has a more narrow approach; it claims that Group A-exaggerates the differences- overemphasis the advantage of a Yid and doesn’t give the Goy the respect that he deserves.

I will now list his questions (in italics) followed by my answers to each.

Exposure to the gentile culture: should it be limited or encouraged?

The answer is both. It should be both limited and encouraged. It should encouraged because there is wisdom among the nations. That wisdom does not begin and end in the university, which can be both enlightening and destructive. It includes all areas of western civilization. The key - as the Tanna Rebbe Meir said about his mentor - the apostate Elisha ben Avuya - is to know what to take, and what to throw out. That’s where a good Torah education comes in. One must at the earliest stages be taught when and how to do this. Without such preparation much of general culture can lead one away from Torah. Is there a foolproof way of assuring that only the good will be extracted and the bad discarded? No. But it is better than trying to live one's life in a protective cocoon - which is virtually impossible anyway.

The study of secular studies: valued or abhorred?

Again, this is not an either/or issue for a Centrist. As a rule Limudei Chol -secular studies - should be highly valued. No less a Charedi than Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller, Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe once complained against the negative connotations given by some Rabbis to secular studies. Limudei Chol, he indictaed has great value and should not be denigrated. There are some areas of secular study that are quite dangerous and not for everyone. One must be fully prepared and strong in his Judaism in order to study those areas which can lead one astray. But abhorred?! No. No one should ‘abhor’ Limudei Chol. Although it often is treated that way by Charedi rabbinic leaders in Israel when anyone suggests that it should be instituted even slightly in their Yeshivos.

A conflict with a Torah source and a secular source. Which one should prevail?

This is a ‘curve ball’ question implying that a Centrist will give more credence to a secular source than a Torah source. Let me be clear about this. There is no difference between Charedim and Centrists on this issue. Torah comes first. That said, it doesn’t mean we don’t give secular sources any credence. Of course we do. In an irresolvable conflict the Torah of course wins. The question arises when there is a resolvable conflict when those sources seem to be in conflict. We should then try and resolve it so that neither the Torah nor the secular source is rejected.

The Charedi would just as soon ignore all secular sources especially if there is even a hint that it conflicts with a Torah source. This is unfortunately a 20th and 21st century phenomenon which prior generations of Gedolim such as the Tifferes Yisroel rejected out of hand. One need only look at his commentary which features a discussion about reconciling Torah with scientific discoveries of his era.

Do we interpret the sins mentioned in Tanach literally or with caution?

We rely on Masoretic interpretations just like Charedim do.

How strongly should intense Torah study be pursued in comparison with other pursuits?

Torah study should be pursued as intensely as one’s abilities allow. If one is suited mostly towards Torah study that should be the primary area of study. But if not, one should still pursue it as intensely as possible, but should more intensly pursue those areas of study that are best suited for him. Doing so will enable one serve both God and Klal Yisroel better. If someone weak in his Torah study but strong in studies of another discipline sticks only with Torah study, he will not be fulfilling his God given potential.

How much respect should be given to the Torah greats?

They deserve our utmost respect. What does this poster think a Centrist would say?

How important is mesorah?

One need only read the essay Rupture and Reconstruction by Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik to know that Mesorah is far more important to the Centrist than the Charedi. Dr. Soloveitchik cites the lack of reliance on Mesorah as a prime cause for the ‘slide to the right’ of Klal Yosroel . Many Charedim have abdicated much of their own family Mesorah in favor of the printed word. They have thereby joined ‘the Chumra of the Week Club’ following every Chumra they find as a better way of living their Judaism. Baal Nefesh Yachmir is their clarion call - one must always be Choshesh for the Daas HaMachmir.

Should the opinion of a Torah great be limited or expanded? Should it only govern Halachah or should it govern Torah values, Torah sensitivities, interpersonal relationships and Torah education?

The opinion of Torah greats are of very high value whenever they are expressed. When it comes Psak Halacha, they are the ultimate authorities. And I use the plural to point out that there is not always agreement among them. However on issues where there is complete agreement, their views are to be followed.

Torah values are not a new area of study. Ethics pre-date Sinai and are recorded in the Torah itself. Ethics have been specifcally spelled out since Tannaic times and have been expanded upon over the millennia by many great rabbinic figures. 21st century questions can often be resolved by simply checking the wide variety of sources available to us. One may discuss an issue with many differing rabbis of varying Hashkafos to get their personal perspectives.

Torah Education is based on Torah values. But not on only one defined set of them. Torah Only, TIDE, and Torah U’Mada among others are all legitimate paths with different Gedolei Torah advocating each. The implication of this poster is that only Charedi Gedolim know what Torah education should be like. Not true.

As for interpersonal relationships, a Gadol’s advice should be treated as just that. Advice. Yes, a Gadol may have much wisdom on any subject from a Torah perspective but it is not necessarily Psak Halacha and should not be treated that way. A Gadol’s advice should be considered along with that of others such as professionals that deal in a matter under consideration, parents, other family members, and good friends. And not least of all - one’s own Daas.

Which group strongly advocates finding favor in the eyes of the Goyim?

That would be those who follow the the Universal Torah Hashkafa of being an Or LaGoyim – a light unto the nations. One should follow the example of the Tanna Shimon Ben Shetach.

These are the answers of a Centrist. And any attempt to denigrate us is nothing less than a complete misunderstanding of what Centrism is.