Rav Lichtenstein's Centrist Orthodoxy, by GAW

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  • #609231

    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    I don’t have time to comment on it now, but I did tell GAW I would summarize his points here. So here they are, heavily reduced. (I had to do this before I made my other thread this morning about “centrism”.)

    He proposes these (first half, the strengths) points as the unique identifiers and definitions of so called “centrist orthodoxy” by which he means his own orthodoxy. (Leaves of Faith volume 2 page 309, originally published in 1990 and updated in 2003.)

    Strengths of Centrist Orthodoxy

    1.

    “whose even-balanc’d soul,

    From first youth tested up to extreme age,

    Business could not make dull, nor Passion wild;

    Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.

    His basic first point is a dynamic of seeing Judaism as not only defining the spiritual epicenter of life, but of the entirety of life. “[W]e cannot be content with ministering to purely “religious” needs, but must see the social, economic, political, and even military spheres as falling within the purview of Torah existence.

    2.

    Being attuned to culture. ???? ????? ?????. “The draw upon a broader range of disciplines, and they seek knowledge from beyond our insular pale.

    3.

    Being part of the “broader human range”…”Given our priorities, we cannot ordinarily emulate their acts, but we can at least share their sensibilities.

    On a second level, feeling a kinship and existential bond with even those segments of jewish society who do not share our traditional faith and values.

    (Popa-query why these two things are in the same category)

    4.

    This one I’ll just quote:

    “Relative to earlier periods, and in comparison with their chareidi peers, centrist women enjoy a greater measure of influence and self-determination. Advocates portray this development as laudable progress within the context of indigenous Jewish tradition; critics regard it as assimilatory capitulation to the culture of sociologically correct feminism. Both may be partially correct, but, in any case, the bare facts are reasonably clear.” Etc.

    (Popa- this is one section where I frowned big time (I’m being respectful, but I’m at the edge of respect.). He cites the gemara that ????? ??? ??? ????? ???? ?????, and says that if torah is the tavlin then how can women not do limud hatorah in a serious fashion? I ask how he thinks the amoraim, rishonim, and acharonim who all lived in societies where they did not encourage women to do limud hatorah understood that line.)

    5.

    The study of tanakh, parshanut, and mahshavah in yeshiva.

    6.

    A keener understanding of history, which manifests in two ways.

    First, “it is informed by a sharper sense of historico-national goals.” “It assigns a higher priority to these goals.”

    “Second, broader historical awareness provides a base for more intelligent and effective action, enabling a clearer definition of what F.H. Bradley called “my station and its duties.”

    Weaknesses associated with Centrist Orthodoxy

    He writes that there are weaknesses which are an inevitable outgrowth of the strengths, and those which are simply weakness.

    Among the first, is that if one focuses on other things besides torah as narrowly defined, one will inevitably be less expert in torah.

    Among the second is “a toll in the passionate quotient of religious experience… captivated by its own moral and educational rhetoric, is often remiss in failing to scrutinize the possible spiritual fallout…There are…situations in which, regardless of ideology, one must simply conclude that the game is not worth the candle and prefer narrowness.”

    Three examples (page 323):

    a. Intensity. Lack of “intellectual intensity” that is “marked by constriction and mediocrity with respect to talmud torah”. And lack of “emotional, and especially religious, intensity”.

    b. The prosaic character. “[Z]estless commitment can be content with approximation. Standards may be middling and their implementation shoddy, so long as ‘more or less’ one is leading a halachic life.”

    c. Failure to “cultivate first-rank talmidei chachomim; and to the extent that its ranks have been blessed with them, it generally has not appreciated them sufficiently, often consulting with them only at its own convenience.”

    #951796

    gavra_at_work
    Participant

    PBA: First and foremost, thank you. I will address the points.

    Point 1: Yiddishkeit is the center of our lives and everything is viewed in the eyes of being a Yid and serving the Ribbono shel Olam: I would hope everyone agrees to that.

    Point 2: Chochma BaGoyim Taamin: I don’t know anyone who does not use the successes to the non-Jews (such as medicine, science, etc.) to their benefit.

    Point 2a: Being attuned to culture: I don’t know what is meant by “attuned”, but this would be an obvious difference between Charaidim and “Centrist”.

    Point 3: Being part of the “broader human range”: I’m not sure what this means, but “feeling a kinship and existential bond with even those segments of jewish society who do not share our traditional faith and values” sounds to me like the Kiruv movement.

    Point 4: More influence from women: See Reb. Tarshish, David and even Rebbetzin Kanievsky ZTL.

    Point 5: The study of tanakh, parshanut, and mahshavah in yeshiva. The MO schools that I am aware of don’t do any of these. Perhaps they do in EY. I would give this a neither.

    Point 6: A keener understanding of history: This is really more of a “Zionist” item. Rabbi Rosenbloom recently lamented (on CC) that the Charaidim have no “plan” on how they would like the country to be run, while the Tzionim have put out seforim on top of seforim.

    So I see one point of difference between Charaidim and “centrists”, with a possible additional point for Tzionim.

    #951797

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Regarding women, ans your criticism of his reading of the Gemara, I would ask you this: what would generations of Amoraim, rishonim, and many acharonim say about the beis yaakov system? I know girls that are the products of that system that are proficient in Chumash with meforshim, and basic Halacha. Is this not just as bad to you?

    #951798

    charliehall
    Participant

    “The MO schools that I am aware of don’t do any of these.”

    YU and YCT both teach Tanach and Machshava.

    #951799

    akuperma
    Participant

    It is always to be a centrist. The problem is that there is some moral dubiousness between being a centrist between good and evil, or right and wrong. Germans who avoided killing Jews, but made a point not to get involved with the extremists who tried to overthrow Hitler, were centrists – and are still apologizing for it.

    Would you want a doctor who considered an effective treatment and doing nothing, and being a centrist decided on a somewhat effective treatment? Doing a little bit of the right thing is very centrist, and very hypocritical.

    #951800

    gavra_at_work
    Participant

    YU and YCT both teach Tanach and Machshava.

    Dr. Hall: WADR, Colleges are supposed to teach philosophy and “Bible studies”. IIRC, CUNY schools teach Tanach & “Machshava” as well.

    The question is if it is taught in high school/college as a Limud, or as a subject. It is certainly more common to learn Nach as a “history” subject.

    I can’t speak for YCT, as I know nothing about it. I would think though that they are an exception, rather than the rule, to “Modern” or “centrist” Yiddishkeit.

    #951801

    benignuman
    Participant

    Popa,

    In regards to point 4, I suspect that what R’Lichtenstein would tell you is that the Yetzer Hara today, through media and secular education, is much more prevalent and powerful and therefore a greater level of Torah is necessary for women to withstand it.

    In this vain, I once heard argument made by a woman who was bothered by the materialism and shallowness of the girls in a local Modern Orthodox school and thought that making Gemara and more intensive halacha mandatory for girls would help solve the problem.

    #951802

    charliehall
    Participant

    “The question is if it is taught in high school/college as a Limud, or as a subject.”

    Most modern orthodox high schools do not make such a distinction, in part because philosophically we object to compartmenting Torah.

    #951803

    charliehall
    Participant

    “Germans who avoided killing Jews, but made a point not to get involved with the extremists who tried to overthrow Hitler, were centrists – and are still apologizing for it.”

    Germans who avoided killing Jews, but made a point not to get involved with the extremists who tried to overthrow Hitler, mostly spend the 12 1/3 years of the Nazi era in hiding or in jail. It is a miracle that anyone like Konrad Adenauer survived the war. Those who did get involved with the extremists who tried to overthrow Hitler did not live to tell about their experiences.

    #951804

    charliehall
    Participant

    “Would you want a doctor who considered an effective treatment and doing nothing, and being a centrist decided on a somewhat effective treatment? “

    In many cases, yes. The “somewhat effective treatment” may carry less risk than a very effective but highly risky treatment. And doing nothing if often the best treatment.

    #951805

    charliehall
    Participant

    Following the middle path — being a centrist — is brought down by Rambam as binding halachah in Hilchot Deot.

    #951806

    yytz
    Participant

    Benignuman: As for the greater need for women’s Torah study in our times, the Lubavitcher Rebbe had similar thoughts. Here are selections from his statements on the subject:

    “For Torah to be perpetuated among the Jewish people, precedence must be given to Jewish women. Giving such prominence to women may appear questionable in view of several traditional attitudes. Those attitudes, however, are narrow and restrictive when judged by the objective standard of Torah law and certainly may be considered so within the context of the application of these standards to contemporary society.

    Torah law requires a woman to study all the laws and concepts necessary to observe the mitzvos which she is obligated to fulfill. This encompasses a vast scope of knowledge, including the laws of Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas Hamishpachah, and many other areas of Jewish law. Indeed, many men would be happy if their Torah knowledge would be as complete.

    A similar concept applies regarding the subject matter studied by women. Initially, on the whole, women were not exposed to those aspects of Torah study which were not related to their actual performance of the mitzvos. At present, however, the sphere of subjects women study has been expanded and includes even abstract concepts that have no immediate application.

    This is also a result of sociological influences. Within the context of our society, women are required to function on a more sophisticated level than ever before, occupying professional positions that require higher knowledge. To prepare themselves for such activities, they should develop their thinking processes in Torah, training themselves to think on an advanced level within the framework of Torah. This will set the tone for their behavior in the world at large.

    The Rabbis explain that just as it is a mitzvah to taste the food to be served on Shabbos on Friday, at present, in the era directly before the coming of the Mashiach, it is a mitzvah to enjoy a foretaste of the revelations of that age. The Messianic age will be characterized by an abundance of knowledge, ‘The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d. The Jews will be great sages and know hidden matters.’ Therefore, the present age should also be characterized by increased knowledge.

    #951807

    nishtdayngesheft
    Participant

    “Most modern orthodox high schools do not make such a distinction, in part because philosophically we object to compartmenting Torah”

    This would seem to be a problem, not an answer. That they do not distinguish.

    This is probably one of the biggest differences between Torah im derech eretz and Tora umadaa. Distiguishing between lemudei Kodesh and chol.

    Or the general distinction between kodesh & chol.

    #951808

    nishtdayngesheft
    Participant

    Charles,

    The centrist position of the Ramabam is on a totally different highway than the path taken by YCT. Do not try to support their position by quoting the Rambam.

    #951809

    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    Following the middle path — being a centrist — is brought down by Rambam as binding halachah in Hilchot Deot.

    1) As popa demonstrated, the modern orthodox are not following the middle path.

    2) The Ramba”m is referring to middos, not hashkafos or intensity.

    #951810

    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    benign:

    Of course, you can make rational arguments in that vein. I’m commenting on the fact that he seems to attempt to prove it from the gemara, which is just astounding.

    GAW: Yes, it is a bit hard to understand much of it. I try to interpret it by assuming that he must be adding some point over what is obviously part of any Judaism.

    So for example in the first point, I am curious what he is adding–everyone thinks that halacha dictates our actions in every facet of life. It’s a bit unclear where he’s going.

    Re number 2. Yes, I also agree that there is chochma b’amim, but I don’t agree on the need to seek it out, especially given the additional risks inherent in doing so.

    Re number 3. So again, you need to define what he is adding. Everyone knows that lev l’achim is a chareidi enterprise, as is I think most of all kiruv work in America. Many if not most MO friends of mine think kiruv work is inherently arrogant since you purport to speak the one truth. So it sounds like he is adding an appreciation of their society itself.

    Re number 5. I haven’t a clue what he means by that. Mussar and machshava are certainly mainstream in the chareidi world. I suppose tanakh as an independent study is not, but any serious talmid chochom has learned plenty of tanach.

    Re number 6. I’m not convinced the zionist differences have as much to do with an understanding of history, as much to an ideological difference. It’s a bit insulting to say that if the chazon ish, or the Brisker Rav, or the Satmar Rav had understood history they’d have been zionists.

    #951812

    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    Following the middle path — being a centrist — is brought down by Rambam as binding halachah in Hilchot Deot.

    Read the essay. He explains what he thinks the value of centrism is, and IIRC he says that cannot be it because it makes no sense to always be between whatever the extremes of the day happen to be. It would imply that if some sect arose which was even more extreme (let’s say the RBS taliban women) that you should adjust to still be in the center.

    He really does present his ideas very intelligently and impressively. (Even if sometimes over my head.)

    #951813

    charliehall
    Participant

    Rav Soloveitchik z’tz’l went further than the Lubavicher Rebbe, insisting that communities need to teach not just aggadata but gemara to women.

    #951814

    charliehall
    Participant

    “As popa demonstrated, the modern orthodox are not following the middle path.”

    He found one big difference between modern orthodox and charedim: being attuned to culture. I don’t think that the university-educated Rambam would have objected.

    #951815

    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    “As popa demonstrated, the modern orthodox are not following the middle path.”

    I did not claim that. I might, but I didn’t.

    Ok, I’ll claim it now. MO are the left; I am the center. If they want to be the center, they need to tell me who is on their left.

    #951816

    gavra_at_work
    Participant

    Re number 6. I’m not convinced the zionist differences have as much to do with an understanding of history, as much to an ideological difference. It’s a bit insulting to say that if the chazon ish, or the Brisker Rav, or the Satmar Rav had understood history they’d have been zionists.

    Each of your examples HAD a derech (at least for 2/3, the CI & Satmer Rov, I can’t speak for Brisker Rov) due to their understanding of history. Satmer Rov was an isolationist, and the CI came to a compromise with Ben Gurion.

    #951817

    You’re not the center to the MO. To them anyone to the right of YU is right wing.

    #951818

    rationalfrummie, if mo is really “centrist”, who among orthodox is on the left of mo.

    (regarding yct, firstly yct considers themselves mo and secondly the mo have been calling themselves centrist long before yct ever existed.)

    #951819

    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    You’re not the center to the MO. To them anyone to the right of YU is right wing.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind being at the very right, or, for that matter, on the very left. The Ramba”m wasn’t referring to hashkafos. If I have disagreements with NK or Satmar, it’s not because the’re too extreme, it’s because I don’t agree with them. If the MO were correct, their being at the left wouldn’t be a problem.

    The irony is that the MO place value on being in the center, when they’re not.

    #951820

    Wrong on both accounts. YCT calls themselves “open orthodox”. And MO is MO. the only people called centrists are YU.

    #951821

    benignuman
    Participant

    Popa,

    I have not read R’ Lichtenstein’s work. However, it seems to me that this might be a valid basis for requiring stronger more universal Torah learning for women. As an analogy, in the past Torah education wasn’t common among the masses for older teenagers and 20somethings. Today it is sacrosanct. I wonder if the reason is the sense that the outside world is ever more tempting and to combat the modern Yetzer Horah ever more Torah is needed.

    Maybe it was the lack of advanced Torah institutions that allowed for the spiritual devastation wrought be Haskalah/Communism/ Zionism.

    I can hear a strong argument that the more involved in the secular world Jews are, the more intense their Torah learning must be. Because the “Centrist Orthodox” as a matter of principle want great involvement in the outside world, correspondingly, their girls must learn Torah in greater depth, including learning Gemara.

    #951822

    benignuman
    Participant

    I recall reading an interview with R’ Herschel Shachter many years ago, where he said there were 3 principled differences between Modern Orthodoxy and the rest of the Yeshiva World. Paraphrasing, they were:

    1) Whether secular learning is a value in and of itself (not just to earn a living);

    2) Whether there is such a thing, or whether one must listen to, Daas Torah; and

    3) Whether the State of Israel is Reishis Smichas Geuloseinu (aka Zionism).

    #951823

    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    benign: on the women point, we aren’t disagreeing (nor agreeing). The argument you are making is not what he says.

    I don’t care what Rav Shachter says about daas torah, because l’shitaso I don’t have to care what he says. lol

    #951824

    HaLeiVi
    Participant

    There are two extremes: to eat all my waking hours or to fast. I can go with the Derech Hamemutze and eat only eight hours.

    The middle of the road is quite dangerous. That is where the yellow lines are. To use the Rambam’s example, one extreme is complete laziness and the other is hurried and harried and being a nervous wreck. The middle way is tempered. The middle way is actually called a ‘way’, it is measured and decision based.

    #951825

    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    benign:

    Also, the reason he wouldn’t say what you are saying is that I don’t think it makes any sense.

    Women always had a yetzer hara, and always were given the tools by Hashem to deal with it, and that never included the mitzva of limud hatorah.

    It makes some sense to claim that the yetzer hara is now stronger. But it doesn’t make sense to say that it is now the mens’ yetzer hara. It doesn’t make sense to say that the stronger yetzer hara now needs an entirely different thing to address it, and that coincidentally happens to be the thing that addresses a man’s yetzer hara.

    But in any event, as I note above, that isn’t the argument he is making. The argument he is making is that they always needed limud hatorah. And it is mufrach as I note.

    #951826

    writersoul
    Member

    PBA: “Re number 5. I haven’t a clue what he means by that. Mussar and machshava are certainly mainstream in the chareidi world. I suppose tanakh as an independent study is not, but any serious talmid chochom has learned plenty of tanach.”

    Who says that R’ Lichtenstein is talking about centrist Orthodoxy in exclusion to any other form of Orthodoxy? He seems more to be laying out his guidelines rather than saying what’s NEW and DIFFERENT about centrist Orthodoxy.

    As far as women’s learning is concerned, I agree with the poster above who mentioned the current Bais Yaakov system as opposed to what the tannaim, amoraim, rishonim, and acharonim would have thought. While Judaism doesn’t consciously evolve, except for in the case of events like the churban, I think it evolves subconsciously, as we can see by comparing the current norm of Bais Yaakov education with the old-time norm of, well, no female education.

    It’s funny how nobody’s been gloating about the weaknesses mentioned at the end. I think that that is really where the crux of the difference lies.

    And you point me out one MO school that doesn’t teach some form of Tanach and machshava, and I’ll….

    …………

    …………

    …think of something extreme to do later.

    #951827

    popa_bar_abba
    Participant

    writersoul: You may read the article if you wish. But as long as you don’t, you’ll have to trust me that I’m representing it accurately.

    #951828

    benignuman
    Participant

    “Women always had a yetzer hara, and always were given the tools by Hashem to deal with it, and that never included the mitzva of limud hatorah.”

    Popa, women have always had a more limited mitza of limud hatorah, in the form of limmud al m’nas laasos and hakhel. In previous times that was sufficient to combat their yetzer hara, which was (and still is) weaker than that of men (especially because they spent most of their time in the home). Additionally a particular woman who faced a stronger yetzer hara, could always supplement as an ayno m’tvuva v’oseh.

    #951829

    TIDE
    Member

    Seems to me that there are two focuses in Torah study: (1) Study in order to know how to relate and respond to your circumstances (i.e., practical study of both halacha and hashkafa in order to act properly in a God-focused, God-like manner in all situations); and (2) Purely theoretical study.

    It seems that while men have a duty to engage in both kinds of study (though theoretical study can never replace or make up for a lack of practical study, since without practical Torah knowledge you won’t be able to act as you should), women are obligated only to engage in practical study (limud al minas laasos), in order for them to know how to act in every situation in which they find themselves.

    In times past, the very limited role of women meant that they were unlikely to encounter any great variety or complexity of situations to which they would have to respond in a way informed by knowledge of Torah. They had to know how to keep a kosher home, keep shabbos and yom tov, daven, ect. This could be accomplished with rudimentary halachic instruction, mostly obtained without book learning by watching their own family while growing up. Of course, as the world became more complex, and a woman’s role became more varied and public, women became more likely to find themselves in real-life situations similar or equivalent to those face by men. Women thus needed to have a borader and deeper Torah-knowledge base on which to draw in order to know how to deal halachicly and hashkaficlly with all the circumstances that they would encounter. This cannot be accomplished by learning a little kitzur shulchan aruch, chumash with ramban, and some mesilas yesharim. It requires serious study of a broad range of text in order to inculcate the rules, principles, and methods of halacha, as well as the Torah values, ideals, and objectives worked out in hashkafa.

    #951830

    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    regards to point 4, I suspect that what R’Lichtenstein would tell you is that the Yetzer Hara today, through media and secular education, is much more prevalent and powerful and therefore a greater level of Torah is necessary for women to withstand it.

    You’re being very kind. However, the Gemara he quotes clearly says that without Talmud Torah, the yetzer hora’s victory is inevitable ?? ???”? ??? ??? ?????? ??? ????? ??? ??? ?????? ?? ???? ????? ??? ??? ?????? ????? ??? ??? ?????? ???? ????? ??? ?? ???? ??? ??? ??? ??? ?????? ????? ??? ?????? ???? ???’ ???? ???? ????.

    According to his understanding, that this presumably affects both, until recently, women have been left defenseless (or at least weren’t mandated to take the only effective measures against the yetzer hora).

    That’s an untenable position.

    #951831

    writersoul
    Member

    PBA: “writersoul: You may read the article if you wish. But as long as you don’t, you’ll have to trust me that I’m representing it accurately.”

    I’m not so much doubting you as noting that your version doesn’t clarify which is the case.

    If not for AP Bio I would probably go check out the original- maybe I still will at some point. Until then, PBA, yes, I trust you. I’m just curious.

    #951833

    Popa: You don’t have to care what rav Shachter says. It’s rude and disrespectful to a first-rate Talmid Chacham and posek, but you don’t HAVE to. Similarly, I guess I don’t have to care what rav Moshe zt”l, elyashiv zt”l, shteinman, or kanievsky say or said.

    #951834

    Toi
    Participant

    rational- the vort was the R Shachters shittah says theres no such thing as the less leaned listening to the rabbis in matters not directly pertaining to halacha, what we chareidim call daas torah. the rabbis you so bakovodikly mentioned by their last names, (ahem…hypocrite) do hold of such an idea, and opa was simply stating that lishitaso of R Shachter he neednt listen to what he thinks on the matter.

    #951835

    benignuman
    Participant

    “According to his understanding, that this presumably affects both, until recently, women have been left defenseless (or at least weren’t mandated to take the only effective measures against the yetzer hora).”

    The Gemara doesn’t say that the mitzvah of “talmud Torah” is the tavlin, it is says that “Torah” is the tavlin. As I explained above, although women don’t have the the mitzvah of “talmud Torah” they do have a mitzvos of lilmod al m’nas laasos and hakhel. Those alone, in a more perfect world, would be sufficient to combat the lower level yetzer harah possessed by women.

    #951836

    Toi- I just didn’t want to write rav after all their names so I made it one lost. No disrespect meant, and just because you disagree with a psak doesn’t mean you “don’t care” about it, or just dismiss it out of hand.

    #951837

    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    Ben,

    To say that the minimal limud of “al m’nas la’asos” and Hakhel is sufficient, and the equivalent of a man’s “v’higisa bo yomom volayla” makes no sense, nor the whole “moshcheihu l’beis medrash” in his context.

    #951838

    Olam Haba is a gutte zach, Lernen Torah is a besser zach. If only all women could have as much hana’ah learning Torah as I do, not as a mere intellectual exercise or simply, practically ‘al m’nas la’asos’, but for the connection it gives you to klal yisroel, and the living breathing mesorah embodied through Torah. I wouldn’t want to deny that to anyone. We are only a united people because of Torah- that was said by Saadya Gaon 1100 years ago- mah kol shekein today!!

    #951839

    benignuman
    Participant

    DY,

    Why does it not make sense? A woman’s yetzer horah, in the ideal world, was far weaker than that of a man. In such a world her minimum connection to limmud haTorah was sufficient.

    #951840

    ☕ DaasYochid ☕
    Participant

    Well, for one thing, that minimal connection is not ongoing, or daily.

    #951841

    Toi
    Participant

    rational- the vort was the irony.

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