Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ideology and Reality

There are often huge divides between what something is ideally supposed to be and in reality what it ends up being. The divide that I want to discuss is that which exists in modern orthodoxy. How did the ideology depart from reality in such a severe way?

In the ideology behind modern orthodoxy a Jew is supposed to follow their Rabbi's judgement, like Jews have been doing for thousands of years. The greatest source of these halachic dicisions are based on the Rama and Shulchan Orech. However, in reality modern orthodoxy is usually described by people to be a lower level of observancy. The women are described as wearing pants, not covering their hair and just having a lower level of modesty than their ultra orthodox counterparts. The men are considered to be unlearned and less observant.

First off, I think these generalizations are incorrect. There may be people that associate with modern orthodoxy that do not follow strict halachic guidelines, but this is analagous to there being people that associate with Charaidi Judaism that cheat and steal. Do these people take away from the ideology of Charaidi Judaism? Exactly, they do not and neither do the people that are more lax about certain halachas that associate themselves with modern orthodoxy.

Modern orthodoxy is the branch of orthodox Judaism that believes it is possible, because of the changes in the world, to coexist with the outside world. No longer are Jews segregated and confined to the ghetto, but they must adapt to a new world where the Jew and non-Jew are viewed as equals and partners in society. Modern orthodoxy is the religious Jew standing up and saying that I will contribute to society as a whole. This is also why modern orthodoxy recognizes science as valid.

There have been several Jews that have lived in societies that were more integrated than the ghettos of Europe. The Rambam, Ralbag and Meiri are just a few great Torah scholars that lived in countries where Jews and non-Jews lived together and had constant interactions. This is why they embraced science and universal morals that applied to Jews and non-Jews alike. This was in opposition to some of their counterparts that lived in lands where Jews were constantly being killed by their gentile neighbors.

The question remains, are the Jews of this day and age supposed to view their non-Jewish neighbors as nonentities or are we supposed to interact with the societies around us in this day and age? Well, the modern orthodox philosophy says that we must interact and associate ourselves with our gentile neighbors. However, it seems like the Charaidi society believes in the seclusionary method of the European Ghettos.

Obviously, I think the modern orthodox approach makes more sense, but only time will tell us who is truly correct. Should we be like Avraham and show the world the beauty and truth of the Torah or should we be like Yaakov and seclude ourselves in Goshen?

4 comments:

Baruch said...

Great post, man.

Garnel Ironheart said...

In terms of "ideal" ideology, the differences between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidism are three:

1) Deference to authority - while Chareidism nowadays places tremendous authority in the office of the "Gadol", Modern Orthodoxy views its scholars as influential advisors rather than definitive leaders. If Rav Eliashiv says something is important, a card-carrying Chareidi automatically accepts that this something is important. The thought of deciding for himself if that something is important to him is not relevant. Thinking for himself? Chas v'shalom. If Rav Hershel Schechter, on the other hand, opines on the importance of something, then while I will see it as important to him, it might not be as important to me. I might have my own thoughts on the subject and other sources I value more.
2) Focus on externals - clothing, tznius, etc. Current chareidi society is obsessed with this. A person is immediately marked and judged based on the outfit he wears before anyone even cares about noting his personality and actions. For example, all those rioters outside Intel are acting like wild animals and causing a tremendous Chilul HaShem but because they wear the uniform they will be more welcome in a Chareidi shul than a quiet, well-disposed guy in a white shirt and knitted kippah. Modern Orthodoxy lacks a uniform although this has often been a negative. Not dressing like an Oreo cookie doesn't mean a right to dress completely indistiguishably from a gentile. However, that's how many MO's have taken it.
3) The outside world - Chareidi see the outside world as a threat. Modern Orthodoxy officially sees it as something to be confronted and overcome, taking the parts that help us with our observance and rejecting the rest.

E-Man said...

Garnel,

I am going to go ahead and slightly disagree with you on some points. I think the main points of contention between modern orthodoxy and Charaidism are the following. True, the Charaidi has compelte deference for their Rabbi in everything. This goes for halacha, hashgacha, what to think and what to wear. However, the modern orthodox attitude is one, or should be one, of following what the Rabbi says in halachic context. However, for history I will take a historians word over a Rabbi who basaes his knowledge of history on the Gemorah or Torah. Not because it is necessarily wrong, but because the Torah and Gemorah were not written as history books. SO I will take Josephus' word over the Gemorah. However, the Charaidi will say that everything happened as the gemorah states it and how dare you contradict that, you are a kofer. That attitude is not logical and hence not part of modern orthodoxy. Also, if sceince dictates something to be true, like medicine working, but putting a dead chicken on your head not working, then I will follow science and not the Gemorah. Judaism is supposed to be about logic and intelligence. Unfortunately, I feel that the charaidi way of living and thinking turns Judaism into a religion of illogical ideas and unintelligence. That is just how I feel when I look at their overall way of thinking.

The point in case that makes me feel that they are wrong is the state of Israel. The Charaidi mentality is that the Jews would be better off with no state than a state that is not religious. First off, I think if the religious people in Israel ran the state it would be even worse than it is, which is corrupt and ill run. This type of thinking is so flawed and counterintuitive. I could go on, but I do not care to since I think it is beating a dead horse.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

I agree that one should follow what the Rabbi says in halachic context. However, maybe I could phrase it like this.
In the Chareidi world when Rav Eliashiv, for example, announces something then all his followers immediately take that thing upon themselves and start expecting everyone else who is yirei shamayim to do that.
Further, sometimes a psak will appear without anyone ever having asked about it. Despite that, the psak is considered binding.
In the MO world, if someone asks Rav Herschel Schechter a question then of course that person has to abide by the answer. But that answer doesn't necessarily apply to someone who hasn't asked the question or who has a personal rav that he asks questions of. What's more, neither Rav Schechter nor his students would expect that everyone would fall in line with the psak just because he says it.
2) I completely agree that another distinguishing feature between Chareidism and MO is the manner of interpretation of the gemara - literal vs figurative. Certainly there are enough problematic statements in the gemara, such as the world being flat etc., that demand that we understand Chazal in a less than literal way. However, we also recognize there are limits to that. It's one thing when the subject is non-halachic. When it does affect halacha, we must also see it as binding and literal.
So to use your example, whether Josephus or the Gemara have the correct version of history (and don't put all your stock into Josephus, he wasn't above the occasional revision to make himself more acceptable to his Roman audience) is irrelevant to one's halachic practice, hence the MO room for figurative interpretation.
3) Not all Chareidim believe that Jews would be better off with no state than a state that is not religious. Those that do have such a twisted thinking process that we cannot connect with them. Others see the value of the state and what it does for many religious Jews but also the damage it does for many non-religious Jews. They feel that it's worse for these Jews to be assimilated in Israel than in, let's say, America because in America they could say "Well, it's because of all those goyim around" while in Israel that can't.
However, this reasoning is flawed along the line of the old Satmar's thinking: Zionism increases anti-Semitism. It completely ignores the reality that the most assimilated Jew in Israel still speaks Hebrew, which is an incredible connection to Jewish heritage even if it is dormant in such an individual, and because of the hostility from the Arabs he is never allowed to forget he's Jewish. I think they completely underestimate those two things.

> it is beating a dead horse.

You mean: necrobestiality