A Continuous Judaism Between Halakhah and Hiloni by Elchanan Shilo

Here is an article By Elchanan Shilo, “A Continuous Judaism between halakhah and Hiloni” that appeared in the Shabbat Supplement of Mekor Rishon on May 7 2010 and it has been posted on Tzav Pius (One of the many inscrutable projects of the Avi Chai Foundation.)
It is an interesting article and brings together many ideas currently floating around. Yet, I am not sure if he is not just recreating 1920’s Conservative Judaism or a European Geminde system. Nor am I sure that all the parts of his argument work together. Shilo, who teaches Jewish thought, wants to undo the division between those who keep halakhah and those who pick and choose. He brings together those who are halakhic, with those who pick and choose, and he includes in his expanded approach both those who only occasionally find something that speaks to them in Judaism and those leaving halakhic oservance. Here is a freehand summary and paraphrase of selected lines and an even more freehand translation of key lines.

A Continuous Judaism Between Halakhah and Hiloni by Elchanan Shilo

“The time has come to stop building bridges between the religious and the secular and instead to create a new wider existence. The religious Zionist community, whose strength is enough for both sides, is capable of building this expanse in order to break the divisions of the past.”

Modernity brought (1)education (2)a bourgeois life (3) a halakhicification of Judaism.The first two are good. But the later creates a division between religious and secular. The division was originally encouraged for the pride of building an educated community who knew and kept halakhah. Now we need to erase the divide by mixed schools and individualized patterns of observance.

We already have many people who have individualized approaches. Some people find halakhah and the religious life stifling and not life enhancing , others find it fits perfectly and enhances their lives. Generally we are happy when people discover observance but we should understand that it does not fit everyone and we should accept that people regularly give up observance. People go back and forth. His solution is to prevent absolute secularization- and see the community as a very wide range of observances with people going both directions at all times. In this approach, the formerly frum (Datla”sh) who don’t fit into the secular world would remain comfortably part of religious world. (Datla”sh is at least 25 % of the religious Zionist community)

Shilo argues that his approach should not be confused with the liberalism of Reform and Conservative. The later movements judged Orthodoxy as primitive and that they are progressive. They created a new ideology with justifications for none observance. Shilo wants a broad tent without any judgment or ideology.

He accepts the older American model of having a men’s section, a women’s section, and mixed section. No judging and no definite answer. Some people follow the halakhah and some people follow their need not to have a mehitza. {He emailed me to tell me that he thought these mixed pulpits still existed in the US. His American father remembers them. He did not know that they dont exist anymore.}

Liberal religious Zionist weddings have mixed dancing after the officials leave combining both halkhah and actual practice. But he asks why not has both separate and mixed dancing right from the start? Halakhah without ideology or non-observance of Halakhah without ideology wont topple the edifice.

There are no hard definitions of God’s will only soft ones that vary with the individual. Shilo advocates that we should turn to the writings of Rabbi Mordechai Leiner of Izbitz, the Mei Hashiloah. People can have different callings from God, some in the halakhah and some not in the halkhah. How do we know that God wants everyone to keep halakhah, maybe sometimes there is intentional sin for the sake of heaven or different paths for different people.

We don’t want to delegitimize Jews or close options. He advocates a practical Judaism or an actual Judaism or a realistic Judaism. Many people want to keep Shabbat and even love Shabbat but are not interested in the details of squeezing, mixing, or smoothing on the Sabbath Many just want to keep up the tradition or the family values.

A different case is that people can like Shabbat but also have normal sexual needs . They do not want to be told that it is the evil inclination, rather they want to enjoy sexuality and the Sabbath. They don’t want a dichotomy of either being part of the frum world or the secular world.
Not keeping hair covering, going mixed swimming, and mixed dancing can be done without any ideology of either rejecting Orthodoxy or forcing people into a social ghetto.

The beit midrash should be open to all. And the criteria for how to study and what to study is not determined by halakhah but by relevance, interest, meaning and poetics.

People don’t want a Reform Shabbat in the synagogue they want a traditional Shabbat that they can mold to their own meaning.
Halakhah has to stop fighting a radical secularism and secularist have got to stop fighting the halkahic world. A wide practical Jewish life can bring people together.

OK, so is this new or old? Feasible or not? Are all details worked out or are their dangling elements. Read the full Hebrew article and let me know if there is something that will catch on here or is it just a idea.

Update with a response by Rabbi David Bigman.

3 responses to “A Continuous Judaism Between Halakhah and Hiloni by Elchanan Shilo

  1. Shilo seems to be saying that we ought to see halakhic praxis in functional terms where actual content is subsidiary to a grander idea of commitment to sets of norms that remedy the malaise of the modern identity and promote social cohesion.

    Does he realize that this orientation is antithetical to the overarching ideology of orthodoxy where practice, belief, and intention are cognitively intertwined? This goes beyond some mutual construction by exclusion of religious and secular.

    So who has this kind of functionalist orientation now? Apparently only “intellectual elites.” (people affiliated with Hartman?)

    האופציות החדשות יכולות להתחיל מאליטה אינטלקטואלית, וייתכן שזו תתפשט בשלב מאוחר יותר גם לתוך שכבות עממיות שיזעזעו את המבצרים האידיאולוגיים הדתיים-הלכתיים והחילוניים כאחד, יפרקו את הדיכוטומיה הדתית-חילונית, ויהוו פרק חדש בתולדות העם היהודי.

    If that is the case then I don’t see this taking off anytime soon – unless post-orthodoxy itself gains significantly more momentum.

  2. I also don’t think this will work, but for different reasons.

    If we advocate a return to the American model of mixed seating between the segregated seating (and the like), we need to understand what brought it about, and why it fell into disuse. I suspect that it came about because a small number of institutions needed to serve a large number of people with a range of different preferences.

    Network television served the same purpose for many years. There were three major television networks, and they had to satisfy a wide range of TV-viewing preferences. As cable TV and other media options became viable, though, viewers migrated to the niches that serve their individual preferences more precisely than the big networks. As a result, the big networks have been losing market dominance.

    Similarly, as the number of Jewish institutions have grown, they have tended to focus on a more precise niche, lest they lose members who could go elsewhere for a more exact match to their needs. Most people don’t want diversity — it’s hard work. They gravitate to mirrors.

    So I doubt there will be much demand in the religious marketplace for institutions in this model.

  3. Personally, I am bothered by the use of Izbitz.
    The school of Kotzk- Izbitz is more elitist, existential decision, individualism. Market forces and functionality does not fit with such individuality.

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