Rabbi Avi Weinstein

The Losing Battles of the Halachademics of Seforim.blogspot.com

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm

One of the great websites for Jewish legal arcana is seforim.blogspot.com.  This is primarily a place for observant academic types to bemoan the perceived dishonesty of their very right-wing confreres. The latest missive from Marc Shapiro regales us of tales of Brandeis where reconciling the ethos of the university with halachic Judaism can be a challenge. I love this website, and I admire the energy people put into the articles that appear there.

I read these engaging tidbits with mild interest since I was an Orthodox Rabbinic Advisor (not even a Rabbi does more than advise at the big H) at Havard Hillel many years ago. Orthodox communities at universities might have been a testing ground for halachic innovation for adult communities in the future, but it was not to be.  Not only because of the mindless, fascistic musings of the “right-wing”, but primarily it is the so-called enlightened Orthodox who are to blame. When congregations that have hundreds of members struggle to have a daily minyan, why would the cogent arguments of  perceived marginally committed Orthodox Jews be taken seriously?

One of the major disappointments for adherents to Jewish egalitarianism is that there has not been a great proliferation of shomer shabbos egal. communities.  If there had been, this would have presented a formidable challenge to the Modern Orthodox community, but, in fact, there aren’t, and it hasn’t.  Beyond the “sins” of inequality, and perceived discrimination, there seems to be a disquieting and unavoidable conclusion.  Most liberal temperaments find it very difficult to submit themselves to the dictates of a Book.  The synthesis of taking the Law and western culture equally seriously is an eccentricity from which a serious movement has not truly emerged.

To a lesser degree this is also true regarding Modern Orthodox as well. There is a reason that its thinkers and leaders are self-perceived outsiders bemoaning their lack of influence, and mollifying themselves with critical, self-congratulatory insights. Taking its cue from its right shoulder, one Modern Orthodox University looks askance at its upstart rival on “principle” inhibiting “true followers” from hiring rabbis from said institution.

I am certain that one can find much diversity within the community of the hirsute/chapeau crowd–even if it is muted. Certainly, there would be those who would vilify regardless, but it would be different. I remember being a witness at a wedding in Jerusalem where Prof. Shaul Lieberman, the rector of JTS was the m’sader Kiddushin.  At that time Rabbi Jolte z”l was Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and had cracked down on who was allowed to perform weddings in Jerusalem. Many a YU Rabbi was denied because Rabbi Jolte had a low opinion of the American rabbinate.  Somehow, Rabbi Jolte’s opinion of the Conservative movement didn’t influence his decision whether to allow Professor Lieberman to perform the ceremony. After all, he was footnoted in Lieberman’s monumental work, Tosefta KiPeshuta.

If we had a vibrant learning community that could engage with others and where our commitments to both learning and practice were similar, we might bridge the credibility gap, but until that time, it’s the same old whine.

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