Three Guideposts on a Thursday

Last Thursday, I received notice about three events that will define modern Orthodoxy more than things that people are shouting about. A Mekhon Hadar lecture on Halakhah, Aliza Hausman on Memoirs of a Jewminicana, and Orthodox outreach as fun.

The first email I received was that Mekhon Hadar was webcasting the shiurim of Rabbi Ethan Tucker on the core issues of Halakhah. According to my reliable inside source, more women from the Stern learning program (GPATS) are attending or involved with Hadar than with Maharat.. Women don’t need to be debated about they can just opt out. Hadar does not worry about the Agudah or about the RCA or the RA nor even about blogs. The question will be how many men, especially graduates of the new hesder programs they will attract. How many gen y’s will find this the answer for our times?

The first lecture was all about the need for commitment to halakhah but without sectarianism. Tucker said regardless of who was appropriate for the nineteenth century, in our age we should choose Rav Bamberger over Rabbi S.R. Hirsch in working with the entire Jewish community instead of creating a sectarian enclave. We already survived the onslaught of modernity, we do not need to be sectarian anymore. He gave three reasons for giving up sectarianism: (1) It creates a distorted halakhah, shielded from the lives of real people. It considers the lives of real people strange and answers questions that fewer and fewer care about. (2) It writes off most Jews. It does not trust their natural intuitions and there is major gap between the people and an idealized halakhah. [This should probably be broken into two reasons- AB]. (3) lt lets secular Jews off the hook. But in real life, even the secular have a stake in the halkhah through marriage, conversion, and fluidity of lives.

Halakhah must be real life not ideal projection or ideal people. The Rabbis of the Talmud recognized the big gap between an ideal and after the fact-bidieved. This is in contrast to the second temple sectarians. We need to avoid constructing a halakhah that can only be followed by a small group. We should not glibly write people out. Short term sectarian success will lead to long term irrelevance
The question is how many will opt out of the modern orthodox debates in order to join this approach.

The second was about the Teaneck performance of Aliza Hausman, Memoirs of a Jewminicana as a women’s only Rosh Hodesh group (I know it was not really Rosh Hodesh) at the local reform Temple. Outside of East Coast enclaves, modern orthodoxy has large numbers of Jews by choice, people who affiliate from diverse ethnic backgrounds, couples where one of the spouses converted, and people who discover their Judaism after long and interesting journeys. The question is how much will these diverse eclectic orthodox communities see themselves as separate from the provincial enclaves and how much will the provincial enclaves reject the actual demographics of the community? As I told someone who is a macher at one of the local orthodox shuls and who agreed with my question because his Midwest hometown has this eclectic demographic- So why did your NJ shul not sponsor the evening? and he said your right we need to start.

The third item that came to my attention on Thursday morning was the WSJ article on the new YU Rabbi doing outreach in the bay area. What stuck out was the emphasis on fun, fun, fun. I have noticed that quite a bit in recent modern orthodox shul and kiruv events, we are fun. They are not promising meaning in life or Torah, but fun. Will modern orthodoxy take on the persona of Southern Methodist University, football, cheerleaders, and tailgate parties, God and beer? I have seen posters that say we not like the others that are no fun, we are the fun group. Will those who want learning seek it elsewhere? Will this approach lead to success of places like Hadar for those who want learning? The article states “there is room for having fun.” The next day, she joined about 50 people who watched the Super Bowl on the synagogue’s 110-inch screen. Super Bowl parties, a Chanukah gathering with a keg for adults

The new rabbi also adopts elements from the Chabad and Aish playbook: “he had put together a beginners’ service for the High Holidays. Last fall, he opened a preschool across the street from the synagogue to help bring in families.” And like Chabad and Aish he envisions our Judaism as practiced today as the same way as Moshe practiced his Judaism.. “It’s an ambitious mission trying to bridge the gaps between the outside world and making the religion—the way it was practiced 3,000 years ago—more relevant.”

Time will tell how these elements define the community. But they are some of the current issues.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

7 responses to “Three Guideposts on a Thursday

  1. torahumaddachic

    Re GPATS graduates and the Maharat program: I- and many of my friends, from the informal straw polling I’ve done- would do Hadar if we didn’t have other compelling career goals. There are also many GPATS alumni who are too far to the right to be into egal anything or envelope pushing, and have no interest in Hadar or Maharat.

  2. Michael Balinsky

    A minor correction. The person whom I think really began the Beginners service was Rabbi Effie Buchwald of Lincoln Square. While he adapted and adopted some techniques from Chabad, I think this was his product.

  3. If we are against formalist kantian halacha, then why not go full bore Hegelian and advocate halacha as a notion of sittlichkeit without extraneous statements about ought? There is even a Hazalic concept of going to see what people do. Thats it.

    I do not know how we would be keeping shabbat at that point, but I am not the one advocating the slightly awkward middle position that wants a bit of sittlichkeit and a bit of legislation.

  4. Your synopsis of Ethan Tucker’s comments is interesting. The point/s is one of continuing concern as we worry about the tension between making Torah available and applicable vs. bending it to the unspoken will of the contemporary community. Rav Hirsch’s position was an extreme dictated by the circumstances only. Contrast that to the N’tziv’s position in Meishiv D’var.

    Michael, I don’t think he meant that the rav in SF invented the beginner’s service. I think he was simply noting it’s use.

    Actually, I don’t see that as unusual or an ‘Aish’ thing. The beginner’s service has been around a long time. Is there a reason we shouldn’t hold the door open for people who may be looking for the entrance? I don’t see that as lacking in substance. I see that as maybe leading to greater substance.

    I can’t do Superbowl parties, myself. But maybe that is why I’m not drawing crowds into the beit midrash?

  5. chakira…the big problem MO find in halacha are not the the rules or their endless specification , but in the inablity to find justifications for any values outside of halacha, so that most human cultural activities are then justified by philistine reasons like parnassah.

    I think we can value activities not specified by halacha even within a Kantian framework. Kant allows for imperfect duties and acts of supererogation. But most importantly we have to give up a teleological maximizing ethic where if being frum is good, being even frummer is better. I took a stab at this on XGH (3/11).

    I agree with you once you get past rules defining practises and institutions you leave Orthodoxy.

  6. I was saying that Tucker is really gesturing towards a more Hegelian notion of Sittlichkeit. Great. I am all there. But I do not see how we then preserve the sense that you OUGHT to keep shabbat. Sure, if Seth Schwartz finds me a papyrus saying that the Palestinian folks in Roman times kept shabbat, that was their mode of ethical life. But right now most Jews do not do so, and Tucker wants us to get rid of sectarianism too. This is a great evolution which I believe culminates in Spirit (last I checked). Cannot wait to see the wholly secularized vaguely protestant MO of the future.

    In terms of neo kantian Halacha limiting us to a very cloistered set of reasons I think that this is not a problem. We need only look at Kant’s anthropology where he tells us how to make a meal. Or else at his Third Critique, where the beauty of the arts is affirmed as (as if) teleological. The point is I agree with you. The space of reasons for self determining subjects is as wide as the starry sky above me, and for me more dizzying and awe inspiring. I am sure others can empathize. If MOs chose not to be interested in much beyond the making meals part, it does not speak to a deficiency in Kant as much as in them. What can we say about someone who closes her eyes to the incredible possibilities of human life as a self determining subject in a society? Nebach.

  7. 1) My grandfather, ob”m, grew up in South Germany and graduated from the Wurzberg Teachers’ Seminary founded by R. Bamberger. I’ve recently become very interested in Bavarian Jewish life, especially as a subaltern to the Berlin and Frankfurt schools that get so much attention.

    2) Regarding the “we put the fun in fundamentalism” bit, I wrote about a tailgate party that I hosted here:
    I’m somewhat more ambivalent about the phenomenon than the post may indicate.

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