Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Smugly Modern Orthodox and Proudly Talmudically Illiterate

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 1:50 pm

One of the great divides between Haredi and so-called Modern Orthodox Jews is a steady commitment to the study of Gemara.  In fact, put in a clothing neutral circumstance, one would find the “learners” living in a dramatically different world than their non-learning counterparts.  A good Pshat said by one donning a knit kippah would certainly bring a response of mutuality and respect from the learner wearing the latest Borsellino chapeau.  Part of the ‘modern’ sensibility is a growing disaffection with engaging in the arcane minutiae of Nashim, Nezikin, and Mo’ed.  Really, they say, what is the point?

This divide is most obvious when one looks at Modern Orthodox day schools as compared with yeshiva. The dual curriculum of one guarantees that Talmud will be more of an adjective than a noun, while the other impresses upon the student that Torah study is the most important subject to master, and that their best energies would be well placed in doing so. Secular studies suffer as a result, but there is a statement being made that “Talmud Torah K’neged Kulam“, is not a mere platitude, but a mission statement.

Instead of taking potshots at how mindlessly frum those anemic armadas seem to be, maybe, one should take hold of the real difference between the two communities.  One sees Torah study as even more important than making a living, while the other advocates learning in one’s spare time–after the MBA, the law degree, or the medical degree.  In yeshiva communities students struggle with going to college or kollel, but part of the definition of being modern is that there is no value in sacrificing professional goals in favor of Torah study. This more than anything else distinguishes the two communities.

The antidote of course was to study a year or two in Israel.  Much could be done, and two years at Gush, Shalavim, KBY, or Brovenders could certainly make up for lost time. Now, however, these undiluted yeshiva programs are competing with a diluted experience of which Torah learning is a minor component. The goal of training someone for the avocation of being a lifelong learner has been abandoned in favor of a variegated “meaningful Israel experience” where attachment to God, the land and people eclipse any real connection to Torah.

There will be little opportunity for those who are diffident, but intrigued  about day and night immersion into Torah study to risk doing something that seems so hard.  The more pareve option is certainly less threatening, and therefore, more attractive.  Why risk ones precious year for an experience so foreign? When there was only one option, the risk seemed worth taking. For most, they not only learned Torah, but they were often transformed into learners themselves or ones who saw the value of learning from the inside. These people wished to be connected to the enterprise of learning, and they knew that without that year, they never would have understood its importance. They established lifelong relationships with Rabbaim in ways that rarely would happen with a Madrich.

People should know that it is more important to lead a “market” than it is to pander to it.


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