Thursday, August 17, 2006

Oh to be MO

This may come as a surprise to the Satmar Hasidim in my audience, but your humble narrator is not MO. At least not according to Rabbi Norman Lamm, the college president and seminary head who is widly thought to be the movement's high priest.

[Digression: Is is appropriate to call Rabbi Lamm the RaNal, or do we reserve acronym-based appelations exclusivly for rishonim? Perhaps, I should refer to him by the name of his most famous book, following the naming convention used for achronim. If so, is he the "Faith and Doubt" or the "Torah Umadda?" End Digression]

In a famous essay, Rabbi Lamm reminded us that Modern Orthodoxy was more or less exactly like other types of Jewish Orthodoxy, Like the Haredim and the Hasidim, Modern Orthodoxy worships the One God, and considers His commandments, as put forth in the written and Oral Torah, to be binding. Prayers must be said, female hair, knees and elbows must be coverned, and kashrus and shabbas must be observed. The claim, popular among insecure Haredim, that Modern Orthodoxy came into the world only to lessen the yoke of heaven is altogether untenable.

If there is a difference between the types of Orthodoxy, continues Rabbi Lamm, it is only because Modern Orthodoxy places an additional emphasis on certain ideas and ideals, in particular, those dealing with general areas of education, moderation, and Zionism.

For Haredim and Hasidim the study of wordly wisdom is a concession to economic necessarity. Otherwise ignorance of the world is held up as a value, and secular learning is proscribed.[*] Modern Orthodoxy, ont he other hand, pursues secular education for its own sake.

Modern Orthodoxy eschews extremism on religious and political questions. Though it looks weak to insecure Haredim, this MO's moderation comes not from a lack of commitment, but from a willingness to consider the totality of a situation without yeilding to simplistic or single minded solutions.

And of course, Haredim and Hasidim are notoriously less interested in the health and well-being of the Jewish state.

Can you guess where Modern Orthodoxy and I part company? Over Zionism, of course.

But let's be clear: I'm as committed as anyone to the permanence of the Jewish state. I want my kids to learn Hebrew, and I want them to grow up knowing that every Jewish life, indeed every life, is precious before God. I worry about my brothers and sisters in Israel, and I support policies which I believe will make them safe and prosperous. But I am not a Zionist, in the way that other American Jews are Zionists. I'm missing the intangible passion, the bit of madness that makes people want to rally and march and dance on Yom Haatzmaut. I put Jerusalem before my greatest joy, but not Israel.

When I was a kid, I desribed this perceived flaw in my Jewish character with a joke: I said that I didn't have blue and white underwear. Later, as an older cynic, I explained my indifference by saying that I didn't hate ordinary Arabs enough to qualify as an American Zionist. But the truth is simpler: I'm just an American, and in my mind 21st century Zionism is nothing but Israeli nationalism. Nowadays, my new of explaining myself is to say that I am a non-Zionist, pleased to pray for our brothers the children of Israel, desirous of their safety and prosperity, and eager to visit and soak up the culture and atmosphere of the Jewish state, but at the end of the day, an American.

According to Norman Lamm, this attitude bars me from the church of Modern Orthdoxy, and I can't say that I disagree.


[*Explanation: In Pirkei Avos [5:26] Ben Bag Bag said, "Turn it over, turn it over, for everything is within it [Torah]" and Haredim take this literaly, beleiving that everythign worth knowing can be found in the Torah. Modern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, follows the Meiri who saw the passage as teaching only that any problem within the Torah itself can be solved without going outside of the Torah, and not that the Torah is the sole repository of divine and human wisdom. End explanation.]

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