Here is Rabbi Linzer’s YCT graduation speech to the newly minted rabbis arguing that we do not know what and where the promised land is anymore. We live in an age of unstable reality because of Enlightenment and Emancipation, because of modernity, because of the Holocaust, because of post-modernism. The speech argues that we cannot hide and assume that the basic assumptions are still true. Not accepting all these changes is to be considered as running back into a nostalgia for the past. Who are they criticizing as running away?
According to the speech, there is a need to deal with Biblical criticism and the Holocaust. For the latter, you can tell everyone to read Kol Dodi Dofek, Yitz Greenberg, and Eliezer Berkovits but what are they expecting for Biblical criticism? Are they telling graduates to embrace it or just to spend an afternoon reading Mordechai Breuer? An if the goal is to open afresh: Why be Jewish? What answers do they expect?
He said “did we once again say that halakha will answer all religious questions?” Where are the new answers going to come from? How are they expecting the young graduates to grapple with these topics? Read Newsweek and blogs? Are these the topics that they should bring up with their congregations?
And what does any of this have to do with the quest of the actual graduates for social justice, simplicity, dairy weddings, and AJWS trips to third world countries?
Now, it is relatively easy to construct a perfect system, with Torah and mitzvot, with God in the center, as long as one is in the desert.
Since then, we have been encamped in another stable reality – in a pre-Modernity, galut Judaism. When change came this time, when our reality was shaken – were we ready to move forward? When Modernity and the haskalah presented compelling alternate views of the world, when they posited epistemological assumptions and value-systems that were at odds with those of tradition – did we rise to the challenge or did we build our walls higher? When the Holocaust destroyed a third of our people and raised the most profound questions about God as a God of history – did we begin to think theologically or did we once again say that halakha will answer all religious questions? When post-modernism raised questions about any and all truth-claims, and when feminism raised profound questions about power, equality, and morality – did we also struggle with these, or did we continue to live in an imagined, romantic past?
For many the response at this time was obvious. Judaism had lost all relevance, all claims to truth, all claims to morality. The answer was to leave – כתינוק הבורח מבית הספר. And for many others, the only solution was to pretend as if nothing had happened. To shift from the nice stable reality that they had become accustomed to over all these years, was unthinkable. The solution was to remain firmly encamped in the desert. Only a few understood that we had entered a new parsha, that we needed to move, but that we had to discover how to move – על פי ה’ יסעו- how to move forward with the aron at the center. While this new parsha will undoubtedly mean struggles, challenges, and risks, the alternative is unthinkable – to remain encamped in the desert, to relegate ourselves to irrelevance.
But you also know that to do just this is to keep the Torah from moving forward. You know that to truly face the challenges of today, you must be prepared to take on questions of the relevance of Torah Judaism, questions of faith and Biblical criticism, questions of God and the Holocaust, questions of the legitimacy of the State of Israel, questions of the morality of halakha.
You know that perhaps the most pressing question today is not how to get to the Promised Land, but what and where is the Promised Land? Not in the geographic sense, but in the spiritual, religious sense. What is the purpose of being Jewish? What does God want from us? What is our role in the world? You know that to not address these questions is another type of תינוק הבורח, another way of running away from the demands of the Torah, a Torah that must be brought into our world. You know that this is your responsibility, as you know become our rabbis, our religious leaders. You are the ones that will, that must, lead our people forward, to grapple with these challenges openly and honestly, to find their way out of the desert. Read Full Version Here.
Rav Shagar Z”l of Yeshivat Siah Yitzhak used to speak of the lack of clear direction in the post-modern world. We need to do teshuvah- to return- but to where? Rav Shagar’s solution was to look into the self, Neo-Hasidism, and its fragmented perceptions. I am not sure it is the same here.