Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Introduction to Haredi Philosophy Part 2

With the utmost thanks to Jordan, who is my guide and radiates light in every way.
~








What is the proper way in which to approach our texts? How does one serve God, and how does one find Him? Most of those within the Modern Orthodox world would approve of any method being utilized, any method which would seem to bring us closer to God, whether it be historical analysis, psychological readings or any sort of outside tool which will aid us in our understanding of Tanakh and the Torah. Yet it is not necessarily so simple. Our assumption is that those in the Haredi world who do not make use of the most innovative and creative outside tools are doing so out of either ignorance or a stubborn decision to cling to old, outdated and otherwise outmoded methods. Why do they not apply theory to the Torah, read it as literature and extract everything useful from it via that method? Why not read the Torah through using the methods which have become prevalent in our society- why refrain? It can only be out of a stubborn persistence to cling to what they know, to what is unthreatening and otherwise established, a refusal to see anything in a different way. They are afraid; they are foolish; they are blinkered, and this is the reason they do not make use of other methodologies and introduce them as ways in which to study the texts.

And yet this is not so. And what is more surprising, this is not so, not only in the opinion of the Rabbis who openly affiliate themselves with the sector of our society that we might call Haredi, but in the opinion of our very own "father of Modern Orthodoxy," Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Yes, Rabbi Soloveitchik writes in no uncertain terms, in extremely harsh terms, even, of the divide between what is true and what is false, what comes from within and what comes from without. What you see above is an article published in Light Magazine in Kislev 5736-1976 entitled "Surrendering to the Almighty" that includes his consolidated and concentrated remarks on the topic, but I am going to quote from a text which claims to be a transcript of his exact speech:
    What does kabalas ol malchus shamayim require of the lomeid hatorah,person who studies Torah? First, we must pursue the truth, nothing else but the truth; however, the truth in talmud torah can only be achieved through singular halachic Torah thinking, and Torah understanding. The truth is attained from within, in accord with the methodology given to Moses and passed on from generation to generation. The truth can be discovered only by joining the ranks of the chachmei hamesorah [11]. Itis ridiculous to say "I have discovered something of which the Rashba didn't know, the Ktzos didn't know, the Vilna Gaon had no knowledge, Ihave discovered an approach to the interpretation of Torah which iscompletely new." One must join the ranks of the chachmei hamesorah --chazal, rishonim, gedolei achronim -- and must not try to rationalize from without the chukei hatorah [12] and must not judge the chukei mishpatim[13] in terms of the secular system of things. Such an attempt, be it historicism, be it psychologism, be it utilitarianism, undermines the very foundations of torah umesorah, and it leads eventually to the most tragic consequences of assimilationism and nihilism, no matter how good the original intentions.
Read the words and you will see for yourself. These are the Rav's words, and he states in no uncertain terms the exact principles and precepts that you will see embodied in the Haredi movement.

"The truth is attained from within, in accord to the methodology given to Moses and passed from generation to generation."

How does one learn Torah? One learns Torah from those who have been taught Torah, in a chain that began with Moses and has been tempered by tradition, in the way that Torah was always taught, and not through the use of secular methods applied to the text. As the Rav states later on in his speech:
    Kabalas ol malchus shamayim -- which is an identical act withtalmud torah -- requires of us to revere and to love and to admire thewords of the chachmei hamesorah, be they tannaim, be they amoraim, be theyrishonim. This is our prime duty. They are the final authorities, and an irresponsible statement about chazal borders on, I don't like to use theword but according to Maimonides, the heretic.
This is the Rav speaking. The Rav! And yet there are those who will come forward and claim that the Chachmei Chazal were simply 20th century personalities, that they too were mortal men like us, and therefore shared the same flaws in behavior and errors in thought that we share. We would like to identify with them and therefore determine that they must be similar to us, that they must share the errors in judgment that we currently possess, that perhaps they were privy to the pressures and influences that would cause us to fall. Yet the Rav adamantly explains that such thoughts are heretical, that they are absolutely false. The Rav explains:
    Why did he add v'hamach'chish magideha --whoever denies the authority of the scholars, the chachmei hamesorah? Apparently the Rambam says that under the category of kofrim batorah [16]are classified not only those who deny for instance that nisuch hamayim[17] or avodas beis hamikdash [18] is required, or those who deny the torah she b'al peh -- there is no doubt about it in those cases. Butmoreover, even those who admit the truthfulness of the torah she b'al pehbut who are critical of chachmei chazal as personalities, who find fault with chachmei chazal, fault in their character, their behavior, or their conduct, who say that chachmei chazal were prejudiced, which actually has no impact upon the halachah; nevertheless, he is to be considered as a kofer.
So why is it that so many of us do not tremble with fear to make such statements? Why is it considered permissable to explain away Chazal by claiming that they were men of their times, that many of the precepts and laws which they created were simply those that mimicked the social conditions of the time, that the status of the woman in antiquity must be researched in order to determine the way in which they would have ruled about her? Halakha is not influenced by the status of a woman in antiquity! Halakha is divine; halakha comes from God. To suggest that Chazal were prejudiced, that they were merely men of their times, is to border upon something unmentionable, something unpardonable. And who is it who writes this, who defies anyone to think that these men created laws based on anything other than what they saw as the absolute and implacable Truth? Rabbi Soloveitchik himself; Rabbi Soloveitchik, the presumed founder of Modern Orthodoxy.

So now you will question. But why? Why can I not question these men, men who lived in certain societies and who were doubtless influenced by their times? Why cannot I believe that they would have been prejudiced to think of women as chattel due to their time period? Because to do so is to limit these men, to limit them to men like ourselves, to the people that we have become. It is the highest form of apologetics, to claim that others must be like ourselves because those are the sort of people whom we are able to understand. And it is also because we do not realize that these men were more than human; they were vessels for the Torah. What we respect in them is not necessarily the man himself, but what he represents, a vessel for the Torah, the man who transmits tradition. It is what the man exists for that we honor, even more than his own personality.

But why cannot we use our modern methods to understand the Torah? Why the strict statement that Torah is to be learned from within, and not from without? Because Torah is a discipline, taught by the masters, and as any discipline, it must be studied in a certain way. Suppose that a certain indecipherable code were in existence, and there was an alphabet which provided the key to that code. This is the alphabet that one would use to study that code, to study everything written in that code, this and no other! It is not a question of excluding other forms of knowledge, of being willfully ignorant, of desiring to blind oneself and close one's eyes to the ideas of others. It is simply a question of how to learn, the correct way to learn. And there is a correct or an incorrect way. For assume that one day a different man, from the outside, suggests attempting to crack this code with a different alphabet, a different language. What, is he mad? the masters will laugh, completely incredulous. It makes no sense! And yet this man will pursue his slow, torturous attempt at cracking the code, and perhaps he will even have some legitimate sentences to string together to show for it. But what of the rest of his code, which will be incredibly garbled? And what use will he make of that?

What people cannot understand, because this has not been taught to them correctly, is that this isn't a question of selectivity, of a people selectively choosing to use these tools and not others when all will yield the same results. On the contrary! The tools used yield different results, and the amount of effort placed into attempting to determine these results is immaterial. The man with the different language may put a tremendous amount of effort into attempting to decipher the code, and yet he will fail! And why? Because he is not using the correct alphabet, the alphabet that has been transmitted since the beginning of time in order to understand how to crack the code, how to decipher the text. In our example, he is not using the Mesorah.

And what of the philosophy that so many dislike, the philosophy of yeridas hadoros? There are so many of us who assume that this was an evil ploy on the part of Chazal to maintain power for themselves, to allow themselves to appear as Masters while all others suffered. We assume that there is some personal grudge or hatred here, that man in his desire to seize power ruled, and that is the reason they have instituted an idea and a philosophy of our knowledge and ability to grasp certain ideas has waned over time. We assume it is a question of blame; we believe it is a question of our own mental prowess and we are offended, incredibly insulted. And yet, this is the furthest thing from the truth! Rather, think of this as a guild, a society. One joined a guild in order to learn a craft. There are those who would join the glasswright's guild, the goldsmith's guild, the blacksmith, the carpenter- whomever it was from whom one desired to learn. So let us consider this the Scholars Guild, if you like. And when one joins a guild, how does that guild operate? There are levels of learning! First one is an Apprentice, a rank novice, learning at the feet of one's betters, trying to grasp every scrap of knowledge. After a time, when one has mastered a certain amount of information and completed certain tasks, one is appointed to Journeyman. Only after a great deal of effort has been expended, can one be awarded the rank of Master. And so each person progresses through the ranks, mastering the lore of others, being taught humbly and guided by them, before he himself can attain the rank of Master.

And let us assume that the lore was lost. For whatever reason, whether it be the fact that these Masters died before having been able to appropriately train their successors, because wisdom departed from the world, because the manuscripts upon which this lore was written were themselves mysteriously stolen or taken away. If the lore is lost, then no matter the efforts of the man who attempts the rank of Master, he will never be as great as the one who came before! Different, yes, he may certain be innovative; he may create; he may certainly create different works. But he will not have the same mastery as the one who knew the lore, the ancient lore which was transmitted from mouth to mouth and person to person in this ongoing process. This new goldsmith would be an inventive goldsmith, a creative goldsmith, but he would not know the ancient patterns and could not master the ancient ways. And even should he one day discover a treasure trove of manuscripts, rediscovering the ancient lore, who is there to interpret for him? Perhaps this lore was transmitted in a foreign language, or perhaps there are indecipherable abbreviations. Is it his fault? No! Can he still be creative, a deeply creative and innovative individual? Yes! But can he compare to the greats, the ancients, the ones who created and mastered their craft in every way, before that knowledge was lost, before that knowledge even had to be written down in order to be transmitted accurately; can he compare to those who were smiths of the sort that knew every material by the eye, by its touch and smell and feel, who lived their craft, artisans of such a rank? Of course he cannot! And it is not a question of blame, of assigning or apportioning blame, or a matter of intelligence, of mental prowess, of feeling offended that we are lesser and others greater. For it is not a matter of greater and lesser. It is a matter of who is the true Master, who knew the ancient lore and ancient secrets. And in this case, it is precisely those men of whom we speak, the Chachmei HaMesorah, who were the true Masters, and we humble pretenders must realize what it is we do, and how small are our efforts in comparison to theirs. Valiant, yes! Intrepid, yes! But nevertheless, the goldsmiths of today do not compare to the goldsmiths of yesteryore...

Much of the problem lies in our inability to see a man as a whole person, to see him altogether and not to see him as a mere part of what lies within him, a portion of his knowledge. It is our wont to try to classify people and tear them down, to find whatever it is in the man of which we know more or an area in which we have more experience. We look at the scholar and claim that we have come further than him, we have intuited more, we live in a more progressive society and therefore our thought has advanced; our ideas are more charming. Yet this is not so. Our ideas are important, and they are creative and could very well be true, but that does not negate the greatness of the man of the past, nor of the incredibly impressive status he had, as a Vessel of God. He was the Mage, commander of all magics, and his students gleaned what they could from him, but are merely poor imitations, magicians who cannot command the winds and the sky as he could. It is not their fault. It is simply what has occurred.

And so, to open our mouths and to dare to critique they whom we cannot even understand, they whose power is impossible for us to fathom, whose very position sets them apart as members of the elect, of a society which is currently no longer in existence because it disbanded, and there are none who currently qualify to be part of it- pity us, and pity what has become of our nation! Look with joy to the future and to the creativity that resides in our hearts but pity us for the lore that was lost, the men who carried that lore inscribed upon their hearts who have perished. And look with love on those who were Masters, to learn from them and to glean from them, and not with the desire to disprove or deride them.

There are those who learn in order to discover the truth, to engage in a romance with the Creator and to meet Him fully, to determine what it is He desires of them and to offer themselves to Him as a sacrifice unto God. And there are those who fall into traps of pettiness, where their own stature matters more than what He desires, until they twist His will so that they assume he wishes them to attempt the impossible, to attempt to be men whom they cannot be. In the same way that God did not desire the Congregation of Korach, for men to serve as Priests who were not called to that duty, so does he not desire men to pretend to be Masters when they are not. He merely wishes each man to fulfill his function, each man to do his duty as best he knows how. And there is no need to tear down the other in order to fulfill my own duty, no need to claim that the former Masters were flawed so that I can go about my inventive or creative process. The two ought to work in tandem with each other; they need not be at odds with one another. We follow in the tradition of these masters; we work from within the tradition, not from outside of it. We try to recover the lost lore, where we can, to rediscover it or perhaps to come up with new and inventive ideas within the confines of that tradition. But to look from the outside in, to introduce a new language in order to break the code, to deride vessels of God in order to justify our own self-worth; no, this is something that we have only created today, out of our own misguided understanding. For no man desires to feel that he is small in the eyes of God, and no man wishes to be told that he is less than those who came before him. It requires proper understanding to realize that this is not his fault and it is not a question of lesser in worth; it is only that we have lost the lore we once possessed, and therefore we cannot use the secrets and mysteries that were once ours.

It is in this way that we learn to understand that one must learn from within, and not from without, that one must reverence and respect the words of the Chachmei HaMesorah, and may not look at these men as mere people of their times. For these men went beyond their times, for they were vessels for the truth, vessels of God, to whom God imparted his word and his desire. To deride such men or to mock their words is to demonstrate a lack of understanding and of comprehension in oneself, for who these men were and the power they possessed, power with which they were entrusted by God. Even today, to deride such a man is to demonstrate that one does not understand; it is embarrassing for he who mocks, but not for he who is insulted. For the man who mocks such a person, in doing so demonstrates that he does not understand who the person was, how he lived, the way in which he dedicated his life and the relationship he had with God. If he understood these things, he would not dare to mock. He would tremble in fear and awe before such a person, tremble before God, as the very word haredi means, to tremble with that understanding. To realize that simply because one desires the ability to voice an opinion does not mean one has that right, has earned that right, has understood enough of this world or of the times that came before to have such a right. One has the right to speak only when he realizes whom he is speaking to, and whom he is speaking of, and this is something that alas very few within the Modern Orthodox world understand- because it is not something they have been taught. The idea that everyone is subject to censure is rooted in our modern understanding, and it is wrong. For there are men who are more than merely men; there are men who are men of God, devoted to Him entirely and everlastingly. And to censure such men is to set oneself above them- and that is a very arrogant endeavor indeed.

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chana,
WADR you've taken the same approach you did in the first post - set up a strawman and then knock it down. Please reread your first paragraph (and the rest of the essay) and consider whether it is objective or advocacy based writing.

You write of an idealized charedi approach with no practical applications (e.g. do you learn medicine from the chachmei hamesora? If not, why not?) and an MO which is cynical (see your 1st paragraph) and mocking (see your last). Unfortunately I don't have the typing skills to go through your essay word by word but you know you can reach me off-line if you really want to discuss.

KT
Joel Rich

Ezzie said...

I'm going to somewhat agree with Joel Rich. Why was the assumption that MO 'applies theory to the Torah, reads it as literature and extracts everything useful from it via that method, and reads the Torah through using the methods which have become prevalent in our society'?

The issues MO have with the Charedi philosophy toward gedolim is not mockery; it has to do with how far this respect for gedolim is to be taken - particularly in regard to present day decisions that have to do with the community. The MO have issue with what they perceive to be blind allegiance to modern day gedolim in the face of logic and common sense.

Overall, a decent piece, but it takes away from it when you start on the extremes which aren't really true for almost anyone in those communities. You can praise the Charedi approach without knocking MO in the process - they're not mutually exclusive.

Chana said...

Hey Joel and Ezzie,

1. You're right that I didn't bring in practical examples, because it would take more time to figure out exactly what practically would be considered learning from "without" rather than "within," however that is the reason I provided the PDF, which does contain those examples. As for why I introduced an MO that uses outside methods to analyze the texts, why, because that is something that is prevalent within our circles that you would not find in Haredi ones.

2. You are bringing up a different issue. I did not discuss Da'as Torah and modern-day Gedolim and allegiance to their opinions or bans; I am referring only and specifically to respect for Chachmei HaMesorah (Chazal), and yes, there are many who believe they can be taken to task and made to be wholly human.

Ezzie said...

As for why I introduced an MO that uses outside methods to analyze the texts, why, because that is something that is prevalent within our circles that you would not find in Haredi ones.

It is not prevalent in MO circles. MO schools and yeshivos use very similar methods to Charedi ones in learning. RYBS is showing exactly that - you noted that he is often called the father of MO, and he himself is noting that this is how learning is done. You perhaps see this among a few scattered people on the fringes, but it is not the approach of mainstream MO.

I am referring only and specifically to respect for Chachmei HaMesorah (Chazal), and yes, there are many who believe they can be taken to task and made to be wholly human.

Who/where? Again, I do not think this is standard Modern Orthodox thought or approach. One need only to look at the Roshei Yeshiva in YU to see this.

I'm not arguing that there aren't such people, but it's picking at the extremes to set up a strawman; it's no different than how people set up strawmen based on the extremes within the Charedi world. It does a service to nobody and only further separates the two camps.

Anonymous said...

>Chachmei HaMesorah (Chazal)

I assume you are including Rishonim and "Gedolei" Achronim, not just Chazal?

Anonymous said...

Our assumption is that those in the Haredi world who do not make use of the most innovative and creative outside tools are doing so out of either ignorance or a stubborn decision to cling to old, outdated and otherwise outmoded methods. Why do they not apply theory to the Torah, read it as literature and extract everything useful from it via that method? Why not read the Torah through using the methods which have become prevalent in our society- why refrain? It can only be out of a stubborn persistence to cling to what they know, to what is unthreatening and otherwise established, a refusal to see anything in a different way. They are afraid; they are foolish; they are blinkered, and this is the reason they do not make use of other methodologies and introduce them as ways in which to study the texts.
-----------------
Examples please, from where do you get this impression?

While it is easy to discredit your assumptions here as Mr. JR is trying, providing examples will show how deeply rooted this philosophy is.

David said...

As I understand it, your quote from R' Soleveitchik shows that his approach to learning is identical to that of the charedi world. So what's the chiddush with this piece? It seems that you're really pointing out that in practice the MO hamon am don't regard learning with the same exalted status as the Rav, but how the true MO mahalech is no different than the harerdi approach. So ultimately, I think this means that the average MO jew doesn't fully subscribe to the Rav's philosophy. Unless I'm missing something...please elaborate.

Elster said...

I'm really struggling with your series on Chareidim. Everything within your Parts I and II are extreme sides with no sense of middle. The problem is most people fall somewhere in the middle - and all those people are lost in this writing.

Anonymous said...

>The problem is most people fall somewhere in the middle

Is that a strength or a weakness?

Anonymous said...

Joel, can you post a short list of areas where MO disagrees Haredism. In the past to posts you basically, agreed that in the presented areas MO and Haredism are on the same page. So what is the difference?

Anonymous said...

Chana instead of talking about the abstract, why don't you do a post on the apparent laxity in shemirat hamitzvot in Modern Orthodox circles, and it's root causes. Is there a hashkafik disagreement, or a different style of education. At the end of the day, shemirat hamotzvot is most important aspect judaism.

Anonymous said...

Chana, in your opinion, is the "broadness" exhibited by us MO, driven by our nefesh habehamiot, or our nefesh haelokot (to use the words of the tanya)?

Anonymous said...


Joel, can you post a short list of areas where MO disagrees Haredism. In the past to posts you basically, agreed that in the presented areas MO and Haredism are on the same page. So what is the difference?


Everything is a continuum but as a quick response I would include
1. open to value of secular studies as part of their avodat hashem
2. seeing shivat tzion as a blessing from HKB"H
3.more emphasis on the universalistic mesora


Chana instead of talking about the abstract, why don't you do a post on the apparent laxity in shemirat hamitzvot in Modern Orthodox circles, and it's root causes. Is there a hashkafik disagreement, or a different style of education. At the end of the day, shemirat hamotzvot is most important aspect judaism.


I wouldn't go that route, it quickly becomes a "your lack of shmirat mitzvot in area X is worse than mine in Y."

KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

universalistic mesora

???

Anonymous said...

universalistic mesora

???
=======================
role/responsibilities/concern w/r/t the non-Jewish world.

KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Chana, it seems as though your approach itself may have shifted recently...

YU graduate student said...

Chana,thank you so much for writing part two of the series.RYBS's speech is such an eye- opener to me(I learned lots). I didn't get the feeling that you were praising the Hareidi approach while knocking the MO(like other of your readers did).The examples in the PDF are sufficient and support the content of the essay .The assumption that average MO jew doesn't subscribe to
the Rav's philosophy is probably a corect one.Unfortunately, there are enough students @YU who are arrogant and knock Chazal if they don't like the ideas discussed. Then again,students like these probably exist in other Yeshivas/institutions for higher studies as well.
Well done!

Anonymous said...

YU graduate student,
OK - since you and Chana are still in school, perhaps one of you will take up my request to give this piece to a trusted secular studies teacher to give to a colleague with no background in the issue and ask them to evaluate its use of language and style towards MO and Charedi. I'm happy to be proved wrong (adam karev etezl atzmo / all men are geniuses at rationalization etc.)
KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, there are enough students @YU who are arrogant and knock Chazal if they don't like the ideas discussed. Then again,students like these probably exist in other Yeshivas/institutions for higher studies as well.

I've learned in a "Major" yeshiva here in the Usa, then Brisk (a.y.) in Israel, and now currently learning in Lakewood, and I am yet to see ANYONE knock Chazal.

YU graduate student said...

Joel Rich,

Chana writes about issues that either interest her or topics she happens to be exploring at the moment. Her posts generate discussions. She doesn't extend her beliefs to her readership. She simply presents her thoughts/findings in the format that works best for her. Why is there a need to"take up my request to give this piece to a trusted secular studies teacher to give to a colleague with no background in the issue and ask them to evaluate its use of language and style towards MO and Charedi." You are entitled to your opinion and the rest of the readers of Chana's blog are entitled to their own. It's not like Chana is submitting a graduate level thesis here. Please do lighten up and thank you.

Anonymous said...

YU graduate student said...
" I didn't get the feeling that you were praising the Hareidi approach while knocking the MO(like other of your readers did)."

I suggested a simple test to see what the text itself expressed.

I appreciate your concern with my taking Chana and her ideas and those who read them seriously, but this is an area that I choose not to take lightly. I assume Chana posts in public exactly as you suggest because she believes she has something to say of importance. So do I.


BTW I'm curious why you choose not to reveal your name (really).

KT
Joel Rich

YU graduate student said...

Joel Rich,I'm working on my semicha @ YU and have the guidance(thank G-d) of some wonderful Rabbis here. I see no need to post my real name,but I do see the need to speak the truth.
No,I'm no coward. So ..please don't go there.

Anonymous said...

"but this is an area that I choose not to take lightly. "

So pen a post express your ideas, I'm sure your views will be a great addition to the debate, we're all anxiously waiting.

Anonymous said...

"No,I'm no coward. So ..please don't go there."


Didn't say that, but you didn't explain why not other than "you see no need to", so it seems to imply that all other things being equal the torah hashkafa (have you discussed it with your Rabbeim?)is that the default position is that ideas should be articulated anonymously? If I misinterpreted, please feel free to correct me.

As to longer posts, my poor typing skills make it too time consuming, but anyone is free to google (or ask chana for my email) and contact me and I'd be glad to expand real time.

KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

As to longer posts, my poor typing skills make it too time consuming, but anyone is free to google (or ask chana for my email) and contact me and I'd be glad to expand real time.

Why do I suspect it's that you don't like to debate in public???

Anonymous said...

Why do I suspect it's that you don't like to debate in public???
=======================
I don't know, you'd have to ask yourself (or an outside 3rd party trained or intuitive in such matters) as to what in any previous interactions with me, or with others, makes you suspect something like that.

Again feel free to contact me off-line - we can record the discussion.

KT
Joel Rich

BTW same question as to the yustudent - why do you post anonymously?

AK said...

Joel Rich,you seem to be obsessing quite a bit over" why do you post anonymously?" Peple have different comfort levels-that's why. As long as the comments are respectful and shed light on the issue at stake,there is no reason to force the readers to sign their real names.

Chana, I enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

ak,
not obsessing, just trying to gather data on a phenomena I'd like to better understand.
KT
Joel Rich

another rabbinical student said...

Chana wrote:" To realize that simply because one desires the ability to voice an opinion does not mean one has that right, has earned that right, has understood enough of this world or of the times that came before to have such a right. One has the right to speak only when he realizes whom he is speaking to, and whom he is speaking of, and this is something that alas very few within the Modern Orthodox world understand- because it is not something they have been taught. The idea that everyone is subject to censure is rooted in our modern understanding, and it is wrong"

I agree with this statement. I studied in the Yeshiva in Boston,and now I'm studying in Monsey/NY.I made some friends among the talmidim who represent MO and some that are Haredi. The difference in the approach to stydying Torah is incredible. The MO talmidim try to fit the cultural aspects of today's worldview with what's being taught in the shiur and if the content of the shiur doesn't address those aspects-there seems to be anger and statements such as:"it's outdated!". The Haredim simply believe that halakha doesn't change.I find the interaction between the representatives of the two movements interesting.

Josh said...

Chana,
You are mixing up parshanut with the halachic processs.
And when CAhazal discuss areas outside of Torah-like astronomy,medicine they can only present information available in their time.The Rav is referring to halacha.

Josh M. said...

I think that David (7/24, 12p) hit the nail on the head. Where I come from, RYBS is considered to have been more aligned with the charedi world than to have been "one of us". I understand why RJR and Ezzie feel the need to (rightfully) defend their (and my?) derech, but I can't help but feel that any discussions on this topic are impeded by the hashkafic continuum that (still, BH) exists within klal Yisroel and the necessary realization that MO and Charedi are terms that each describe too broad (and overlapping!) sections of the (multidimensional) spectrum to be useful in any sort of rigorous analysis.

JImmy the mamzer said...

the real difference between Charedim and MO can be summed up by a brilliant insight by R' Yaakov Weinberg ZTL. (note he didn't use the terms Charedi and MO but in our vernacular that's what he was refering to). He said the MO is like a citizin in a country who loyally follows the rules of the King and pays his taxes to fulful his duty as a member of the kingdom while otherwise pursuing his own interests. On the other hand The Chareidi identifies his interests with the interests of the king. He also loyally pays taxes and follows the rule of the kingdom but not to be Yotze his obligation and then pursue his own interests but because the interests of the KING are his interests. All the other differences are just commentary on this real underlying difference

YoelB said...

To me the mashal of the goldsmith is weak. In fact, processes are reinvented and rediscovered. The new process may at times -- by direct analysis of the new and old objects-- be proven to produce the identical results as the old.

Is the new process truly new? Maybe. Can it be proved that the new process is identical to the old? Probably not, though in the light of the new practical knowledge the old, previously inapplicable hints or manuscripts may now be understood.

Is there a halachic significance to the difference? Except if fraud or misrepresentation is involved, generally not. Yet as Chana is stating, we are taught that there is a qualitative difference between an unbroken mesorah and innovation, no matter how brilliant.

Another way to look at it is that Chazal tell us (look at the first mishnas of, I think, the 5th through 7th chapters of Chullin: the realms in which the dinim apply are "when the Beit Hamikdash exists" (time + kedusha,) in Eretz Yisrael or outside Eretz Yisrael (space + kedusha) and finally Kodshim/chullin as the sole parameter.
The problem is that science needs must be understandable without the dimension of kedusha and Torah obviously cannot.

There were indeed Rishonim who held that Chazal on science is not the same as Chazal on Torah. The Charedi stance today is to say that that was then, this is now, and now we can't go there. Others differ.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy,
Perhaps you could supply a link to the original quote. IMHO R"YW sounds like he was discussing the difference between people who think about their avodat hashem seriously and those who don't, I would posit that unfortunately all manner of "subgroups" fit into both categories.

KT
Joel Rich

Erachet said...

the MO is like a citizin in a country who loyally follows the rules of the King and pays his taxes to fulful his duty as a member of the kingdom while otherwise pursuing his own interests. On the other hand The Chareidi identifies his interests with the interests of the king. He also loyally pays taxes and follows the rule of the kingdom but not to be Yotze his obligation and then pursue his own interests but because the interests of the KING are his interests. All the other differences are just commentary on this real underlying difference

Um, I don't think I agree with this at all. I know many, many, many MO people who serve G-d because it is their interest and they identify with being ovdei Hashem, not because they feel like they have to and then they can do their own thing.

HAGTBG said...

I find this post very hard to read. I see you start out by calling Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik the "father of Modern Orthodoxy." Later you call him the "presumed founder of Modern Orthodoxy".

What is this? Are you the Artscroll of the Modern Orthodox? RJBS was the rabbinic leader of MO in his generation for most of the time he was at YU - decades - but he was by no means the founder (and he wasn't the only source in his own generation; was he the only rabbi at YU in his own time? No!). There was a YU waiting for him when he came to the US and a laity. There was a MO he himself was familiar with in Berlin earlier in his life. There was a Modern Orthodoxy 100 years before that and earlier (!) which raised R' Samson Raphael Hirsch.

You treat him as a father figure of the entire movement. His affect was profound and I have no idea why you way inflate yet.

Yechezkel said...

Chana,

I liked your posts. I made some comments on them in my own blog, Achas L'Maala .

Hatzlacha Rabba,

Y. Hirshman

me said...

you are dealing with what the charidim say they believe.The amazing thing is that they dont believe it.I know first hand.
I am one of those BTs that actually believed and still do.But when I needed a word of support from any of the Kollel Leit, the Head of the Multi community shitebelich, or the Chabad rabbis, they all denied to my wife that there is any mitzvah to sit and learn Torah without payment. Each andf every group denied their very reason for their existance.. Now I know the Truth--the charadim dont belive in Torah at all. It is all a sinister plot.

manny said...

Joel, I showed a number of your comments to an "outside expert" and guesss what, he said you have an inferiority clomplex. My question to you is, why do you feel inferior about your haskafot?

Anonymous said...

manny said...
Joel, I showed a number of your comments to an "outside expert" and guesss what, he said you have an inferiority clomplex. My question to you is, why do you feel inferior about your haskafot?
==========================

I'd be pleased to talk to your outside expert or you directly as I would be interested in understanding how they came to that conclusion based on the evidence at hand. Please feel free to contact me directly.

KT
Joel Rich

Miri said...

I didn't have time to read the comments, I apologize if I'm repeating something someone else has already said.

"Halakha is divine; halakha comes from God. To suggest that Chazal were prejudiced, that they were merely men of their times, is to border upon something unmentionable, something unpardonable"

K, so that whole story in the gemarrah of "Lo bishamayim hee?" with the wall falling down and the river running backwards? (I really ought to remember the exact source by now, sorry for my ignorance.)I kind of always thought that the point was that yes, halacha is divine; yes it came from G-d; but it CAME FROM G-d. And now it lives here. I know we're always supposed to be striving towards perfection, but I can't help feeling that there's something about the errors and fallacies and imperfections of humanity that is itself in some way crucial, to the extent that G-d wanted that tendency to error incorporated into the halachik system. It makes sense to me; I mean, it's not like G-d didn't know we're not perfect. He created us that way deliberately. And He also deliberately gave the Torah to us, to be formed in our blundering fashion as we saw fit. Which is exactly what we did.

I don't disagree with the concept that to understand a system, you need to go according to the laws of that system. I also happen to think that there is also what to be gained by reading the Torah from a literary perspective, and according to all the other new-fangled methods to which you were referring. Torah is a many layered thing,(like an onion!) and can be understood on a myriad of levels in a myriad of ways. I'm just saying, there's room to say that we need to respect the Mages and also to admit that they were fallible human beings just like the rest of us. (I don't think anyone means that as a put-down of Chazal either; I think people are trying to be realistic. Cuz if you take a look at history, the sad truth of the matter is that really, humanity in the aggregate doesn't change all that much over time.)

Miri said...

"he MO is like a citizin in a country who loyally follows the rules of the King and pays his taxes to fulful his duty as a member of the kingdom while otherwise pursuing his own interests. On the other hand The Chareidi identifies his interests with the interests of the king. He also loyally pays taxes and follows the rule of the kingdom but not to be Yotze his obligation and then pursue his own interests but because the interests of the KING are his interests. All the other differences are just commentary on this real underlying difference"

This kind of offends me a lot. I'm sorry, but it really bothers me when anyone looks at an approach to Judaism as being inferior to another approach. Shivim Panim laTorah people! Isn't it even remotely possible that maybe someone is following the MO as opposed to the Chareidi derech bc they feel not only that it is JUST AS LEGITIMATE as the chareidi derech but possibly even more so? Is it not even remotely possible that some people connect to G-d in ways that do not include wearing a black hat? (I am such a one; my hat is pink. True story.)Seriously though - I think people who deny the inherent legitimacy and spirituality of any halachikally sanctioned approach to observant Torah Judaism is being a malshin and an am haaretz. I sincerely hope that you bastardized that quote, and it wasn't actually said by a respected Rav.

Chana-
Various things you said made me think of a very long quote from a Tom Stoppard play:
"We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be re-written in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more.Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again....."

Arcadia. You should check it out, you'd really enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Miri,
The gemara is found in Bava Metziah 59b
KT
Joel Rich

Erachet said...

I agree with Miri and all of her points. I think there's a crucial aspect of Judaism missing from this discussion - the aspect of debate. Torah is built upon discussion and debate (just look in the gemara!) and we can only have such things if we allow ourselves to question. We have to accept Chazal, obviously, but to take the approach of, "everyone who lived before me knew more than me and therefore I cannot question them" seems like the wrong attitude.

ClooJew said...

It is for this reason, lulei demistafina, that the Rav, zt"l, famously, did not utilize the Beis Habechirah of the Me'iri - which had disappeared from view for several centuries - though he was an oft-quoted Rishon. The Rav believed that once the mesorah had skipped over it, it could not be re-introduced. Harsh, indeed!

anonymous said...

I'm ready for part III. What's in it? Thank you.

Miri said...

Joel-
Thanks for the source. I'll try to remember that one for next time. :)

Josh said...

MANNY 11:42
Your comment of an 'outside expert' is just plain lashon hara.
Joel Roth is highly Torah-educated but at the same time open-minded to other points of view.

Josh said...

ClooJew'
You are misquoting the Rav.
Please present your sources.

curious said...

Who is Jordan?

curious said...

Who is Jordan?

AK said...

Chana,I'm ready for part III, too.
Thank you.

ClooJew said...

Josh,

The main source is my father who grew up in Boston, attended Maimonides, and learned under the Rav in Yeshiva.

But I also read this recently in print. I believe, lulei demistafina, it was in "Mentor of Generations" (Ktav 2008). I will try to find the page.

You say I am misquoting. What is your take?

Tobie said...

I think that I'm going to be that strawman that Chana has attacked so forcefully. I firmly and honestly believe that in order to have real appreciation of and participation in the halachic process (aggadic stuff, frankly, interests me far less), one must steep oneself in that system and embrace it from within, understanding how it works and working within those guidelines, in fact loving it not only insofar as its conclusions suit you, but loving the system and process itself.

So far, so good. But I also believe that such immersion must necessarily lead to certain conclusions:

Chazal were people. Unbelievably cool, holy, dedicated people, but yeah, people. People who struggled with moral and legal issues on a profound and intellectually honest level. People who struggled with each other in ways that would shock the heck out of our polite and tolerant times. People who struggled with God. And most certainly people who struggled within the tradition, forcing it in directions they wanted it to go, chained by it when they could not support its conclusions, changing it, molding it. They were daring and innovative and radical and the mesorah that you present of placid, mechanical acceptance never existed and never could exist.

I never saw room to doubt that chazal were affected by their times, in that they were humans, working within a human context and tailoring the law to the humans whom it had to serve. They themselves are pretty aware of their surroundings and community, as well as their humanity in relation to past and future generations- to transform them into angels or robots denies not only their greatness, but their own sensibilities. This has nothing to do with rejecting the halachic system: a legal system ruled by precedent does not really care why decisions were made, it cares how practice must now be affected by them.

Law is by its nature a fluid process, and while I believe that such changes should be made only by those within the system, I also believe that those people can (and inevitably will, even in the charedi system) make such changes, whether they do so consciously or not.

Anonymous said...

Tobie,
I think you hit on 2 interesting points in your closing paragraph:

"Law is by its nature a fluid process, and while I believe that such changes should be made only by those within the system,"

IMHO this is crucial to understand - it explains at least partially why prenups were delayed (conservative version came 1st) and other examples as well
(e.g degree of focus on tikkun olam)

"I also believe that those people can (and inevitably will, even in the charedi system) make such changes, whether they do so consciously or not."

I wonder whether it is still possible, with all the debate, for a posek of any stripe not to be self-aware of the nature of change (i.e. "outside" focus on the nature of law/halacha and debate on such). would this awareness change the system by its very existence?
fortunately such questions are above my pay grade.
KT

AK said...

Tobie, you are off on one important thing. Chana wrote:" For the man who mocks such a person, in doing so demonstrates that he does not understand who the person was, how he lived, the way in which he dedicated his life and the relationship he had with God. If he understood these things, he would not dare to mock"
Key/operational word here is MOCK. One can accept/reject Chazal in an acceptable way,but MOCKING is just WRONG.

Tobie said...

ak: okay, who the heck that you know of any stripe of Orthodoxy wanders around pointing and laughing at chazal? I mean, it's a heck of a hobby.

AK said...

Tobie,
did you read the post and all the comments carefully? I'm surprised at your question.

Tobie said...

ak: As I confessed in my first comment, I did not take the time to read all of the comments. If Chana's point was, in fact, that it is preferable not to sit around and laugh at Chazal, then I withdraw any objections to it. Since, however, this practice is not really common in any segment of Orthodoxy, I assumed that Chana was referring to the practice of assuming that Chazal were fully human and criticizing their outside influences (as she explains in the third comment, which I did get to).

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Chana. This was an important post for the Three Weeks because I started it with Diner's The Jews of the United States like an idiot.
TPMCafe is having a discussion on Joseph O'Neill's Netherland and novels of the American dream, of which American Jewish literature is of course such a big part. Part of what Diner emphasizes is that the opportunity to have any sort of normal life means that the Jewish community chose great cohesiveness and caring about their coreligionists abroad until very recently. (Not that we don't care about our coreligionists abroad...)But it is a cohesiveness based
in American civil society and being intertwined with Americanness. MO is important because it uses the American opportunity of being able to distinguish between "the mesorah" and "the way they did it in Europe".

So in any event, part of the mourning for the Beis Hamikdash has to be that the tradition of Chazal had to be written down and fixed lest it be lost. Not having an oral tradition means that even the greatest people are at one remove from some of the spirituality in the
tradition.