Monthly Archives: December 2012

Conference on Ultra-Orthodoxy:Van Leer Institute

For those in Teaneck who read this in the next two hours, Prof James Kugel will be the scholar in residence this Shabat Dec 28-29 at Davar- 1500 Sussex: Friday night at 4:20pm – talk #1 Regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls; Saturday morning talk #2 Joseph’s Change of Heart in pre-rabbinic midrash; Saturday afternoon at 4:00pm – talk # 3 Modern Biblical Scholarship and Traditional Judaism: a discussion. For those in Jerusalem, these will be a conference on Ultra-Orthodoxy- program below. If anyone want to blog it then let me know.

Conference on Ultra-Orthodoxy: Between Modernity and Post-Modernity
Monday-Tuesday, 31 December 2012-1 January 2013,
The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute– 43 Jabotinky Street, Jerusalem Tel.

Ultra-Orthodoxy emerged in European Jewish society as a reaction to modernity and was an outgrowth of the processes whereby Orthodox communities were consolidating in defense against the challenges of an open society. This led to innumerable struggles and divisiveness, to great successes but also to catastrophic failures bordering on total disintegration. These processes were contradictory and complex and they included intra-Jewish events, among them conflicts with modern Jewish movements, as well as external political events that had a decisive influence on the fate of the Jews. During the second half of the twentieth century these communities took root, enjoying enormous growth; their influence spread over the entire Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.
It is apparent that, contrary to expectations, the postmodernist era gave added impetus to the influence of ultra-Orthodox communities despite the great variety and differences between them.

Monday, December 31, 2012
10:30 – 11:15
Opening Session
Menachem Friedman, The Unclear Distinction between Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy

11:30 – 13:00
Trends and Transformations
Chair: Yosef Salmon

David Sorotzkin, Jewish Orthodoxy in Early Modern Europe and the Formation of 19th-Century Ultra-Orthodoxy

Chaim I. Waxman, The Americanization of Ultra-Orthodox Jewry

Shlomo Tikochinski, The Haredi Community in Israel: Convention, Ethos and Myth

14:15 – 16:15
Theology, Halakhah and Custom
Chair: Arye Edrei

Levi Cooper, Commitment and Creativity: Custom in the Writing of Rabbi Hayim Elazar Shapira of Munkács

Iris Brown, Conservative Rhetoric, Liberal Practice: The Leadership of R. Zalman Leib Halberstam of Sanz-Klausenburg

Harel Gordin, The Shaping of Orthodoxy in Post-World War II America as Reflected in R. Moshe Feinstein’s Responsa

Nicham Ross, The Divine Response to Modernity: Why the Holocaust Occurred Precisely in the 20th Century

16:30 – 17:30
Anti-Zionism in Education and Diplomacy
Chair: Aviad Hacohen

Yair Halevy, The Extreme Section in “Neturei Karta” and its Alternative Diplomacy

Sima Zalcberg Block, Game Theory: Games as Socialization Agents among Youngsters in Groups of Radical Zealots

17:45 – 19:45
Chair: Dafna Schreiber

Uriel Barak, Remarks on the Relationship between Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Harlap and the “Zealots of Jerusalem”

Adam Ferziger, Hungarian Separatist Orthodoxy and its Contested American Legacy

Gershon Greenberg, Alienated Forever: Neturei Karta and Agudat Yisrael Face the Historical Reality of the Holocaust (English)

Ido Harari, Tekhelet in Jerusalem: The Blue Thread in the Tzitzit between R. Akiva Yosef Schlesinger and R. Yeshaya Asher Zelig Margaliot

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

10:15 – 12:15
New Haredism
Chair:Haviva Pedaya
Nissim Leon, Haredi Modernization of the Traditional Prayer Book of Mizrachi Jewry
Shlomi Doron, The Ultra-Orthodox Repentance Movement: Between Modern and Post-Modern
Lee Cahaner & Haim Zicherman, From Individuals to a Group: Modern Ultra-Orthodox Middle Class
Batia Siebzehner, Ultra-Orthodoxy and Ethnicity: Reshaping the Community’s Boundaries in Mexico and Panama

12:30 – 14:00
From Orthodoxy to Ultra-Orthodoxy and Back
Chair: Yoram Bilu

Yaakov Ariel, The Counter-Culture and Ultra-Orthodoxy Unite: The Unexpected Rise of Neo-Hasidism

Samuel Heilman, How Modern Orthodoxy Inevitably Evolved into Haredi Orthodoxy

Gili Zivan, The Disengagement as a Catalyst for Ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist Developments

15:00 – 16:30
The Gender Challenge: Coping with Gender Issues
Chair: Rachel Elior

Nava Vasserman, The Abstinent Society: The Idea and Practice of Sexual
Abstinence in the Gur Hasidic Community

Yoel Finkelman, Men and Masculinity in Contemporary Haredi Media

Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar, Saying without Saying: Ultra-Orthodox Women’s Discourse

16:45 – 18:45
Concluding Session: From Jerusalem to Bnei-Brak
Chair: Menachem Friedman

Marc Shapiro, R. Jacob Israel Kanievsky: The Steipler (English)

Yosef Salmon, The Maharil Diskin: The Beginnings of Ultra-Orthodoxy in the Land of Israel

Benjamin Brown, Bnei Brak and Jerusalem: The Lithuanian Haredi Community’s Leadership in the 1950s: Between the Chazon Ish and the Rabbi of Brisk

Rabbi Soloveitchk on Original Sin

At this point, as I mentioned before, I am more than a year behind in posts. Last September (2011), I gave a talk at another university on how to formulate similarity and difference between Judaism and Christianity as not just same or different. When I got home, the Dvar Toah of the week was from Rav Hershel Schachter on Original Sin. I had payed attention to Rav Soloveitchik’s use of the term before but it seemed stranger in the current context. So I collected some sources and am just getting to it now. In Lonely Man of Faith and From There you Shall Seek he has allusions, however in The Emergence of Ethical Man the topic is presented fully.

Rabbi Soloveitchik has as one of his background premises that “If not for sin then experience of God would be without disappointment. Instead, life after the Fall is one of defeat, resignation, and struggle.

What was wrong with the choice to eat from the tree if it is referred to as good? He suggests that the concept of “good” can mean two very different qualities: good as an ethical quality and good in the esthetic sense. In the Fall, “[t]he ethical motif collided with the orgaistic esthetic one and was defeated.” In other words, to be fully human is to be able to choose between the esthetic and the ethical- and the wrong choice, sensuality “unhallowed by ethical appraisal” constitutes “sin.” While Christianity suggests that man is forever tainted by this sin, Soloveitchik sees them as the beginnings of man’s split personality. Man’s ethical side is his “prosecutor-judge” that seeks to correct his esthetic side.

In another place, however, Soloveitchik explains that, “The Biblical account of the original sin is the story of a man of faith who realizes suddenly that faith can be utilized for an acquisition of majesty and glory and who, instead of fostering a covenantal community, prefers to organize a political utilitarian community….The history of organized religion is replete with instances of desecration of the covenant.”

The Emergence of Ethical Man

The Emergence of Ethical Man is in many ways it is responding to and building upon the book The Divine Imperative by the Christian neo-orthodox thinker Emil Brunner. (see my Van Leer paper- here)

In this work, Rabbi Soloveitchik has a unique approach to sin, one not commonly seen in Judaism. Soloveitchik acknowledges the doctrine of Original Sin, and incorporates it at length into his philosophy of the nature of man. The Original Sin, is important not because it separates man from God (as it is in Christianity), but because it presents an alternate view of God, a demonic God-a gnostic reality.

Before the serpent, Adam and Eve perceived God correctly as the cosmic Creator, and worked alongside Him in the Garden of Eden with His direction and guidance. With the serpent, doubt is cast upon God’s actions and motives, making God demonic. Rabbi Soloveitchik writes, “The experience of God, according to the serpent, is demonic, uncanny, weird. Man should not fear God but should shudder or feel horror before Him…God is not the friend but the fiend…if man wants to gain freedom, he must rebel against Him and throw off His yoke.”

This mistaken view is an unforgivably primitive view of God. It denies the divine attributes and makes God less than the creator of the universe. This is the importance of Original Sin. (Generally, the Divine attribute for Soloveitchik are taken to be creativity, freedom, and self-transformation.)

For Soloveitchik, this sin did not corrupt man or make him into an unplanned part of creation. Rather, it divided him. “The paradoxical tragedy did not consist in a metaphysical metamorphosis…sin did not corrupt man but split him.”
Therefore, Judaism is not in the business of saving man from sin, but correcting that gap. But there is a continuously present gap to be corrected.

“When man frees himself from such natural [moral] bonds, he loses contact with his God” Citing pre-Vatican II opinion, he writes: “Christianity has been bent upon a transcendental adventure, namely, to free man from his bondage to the flesh and raise him to a spiritual level. Judaism, in contrast, proclaims the goodness of the whole of man, of the natural”. “Christianity viewed instinct as corrupt and sinful; man’s divine essence asserts itself in his spirit, which is always in a state of war with the flesh. Judaism rehabilitates the flesh…attaching the quality of divine image to the biological forces in man”

Emil Brunner in his Divine Imperative describes the distinct separation between man and God brought on by Original Sin. “Sin has caused a cleavage in human life which runs right through all that is human.” Brunner also thinks this sin pits man against God, where “God is only an alien Power, which forces him from the outside.” Soloveitchik and Brunner agree that there was a perversion of God’s divine attributes with Original Sin, and that what is completely holy is now perceived to be unholy by those who rebel against Him.

Even though the ability to be in communion with God as we were created has changed, our nature and desire to do so have not. We are still designed to worship, and will do so, “either God or an idol.” Sin has become a burden for all of mankind, since for Brunner, it is present in our very being, and is perpetuated daily when we create a false God in our lives instead of worshiping Him.

Man was created in the image of God and with the express purpose of being in community with God. “The distinctive character of man, in contrast to the rest of creation, is based upon the fact that he is designed for freedom-in-God, for a personal existence which is distinct from God, and yet dependent upon Him.” Original Sin not only forced us out of this community, but removed the very basis of our existence.

Soloveitchik acknowledges the difference of approach to the nature of man in relation to sin between Christianity and Judaism in his book. He writes:

Historical sin, punishment and reward are original Jewish ideas. Just as the natural individual is responsible for his own deeds, the group bears responsibility for the sins of the past. This is not to be equated with hereditary sin. The latter, as developed by Christian thinkers, is a metaphysical, objective quality, inherent in human natural existence. Historical sin signifies a historical category, which asserts itself in historical continuity. The individual is not guilty of sins perpetuated by past generations. The historical group is responsible for historical errors and sins committed by the fathers, because the latter repeat their existence in their descendants.

Sin still corrupts man’s nature according to Soloveitchik, because the current generation shares the memory and therefore the responsibility of the wrongs from the past generations. In Christianity, sin is a change in human nature, one that is internalized in all of us. In Judaism, it is a repeated action, one in which all man partakes- similar to Buber or Frued.

Sin not only affects the relationship of man to God, but man to the natural world around him. Both Brunner and Soloveitchik see man playing a critical role in God’s created world. Both Brunner and Soloveitchik outright reject the popular thought that man is nothing more than just an animal. Rather, we have a Divine imperative to live a life of dignity and majesty. “God has not created us as angels, but as human beings of flesh and blood, human beings who can only manage to live their life in a human way by means of marriage and the family, civilization and culture, by means of the State and the system of law.”

This is done with more of an eschatological mindset than Judaism professes, as Brunner states this work is to be done to further the New Kingdom that God will bring.

Rabbi Soloveitchik sees man more in continuity with the current natural world around him. Man is a part of creation, and therefore intended to be a part of it. However, man is also separate from the rest of nature, because God specifically charges him to be a co-participant in the world He has created, and imprints Tzelem Elokim, the divine presence on him. As both part of creation but also separate, man is to strive to imitate God, both as a creator and as a participant in creation. Regardless of the sinful situation, this is still the goal of all man.

Brunner and Soloveitchik approach the topic of ethics differently because they see the role of man in creation differently. For Soloveitchik, man is free to do what he wants, and needs to actualize this ability. The Jewish ethical man is one who strives to co-participate with God in the divine. While Original Sin did derail this mandate, there are still mechanisms in place to return man to God, namely the covenant made through Abraham and completed in Moses. In Abraham, God chose one man to be His friend. This relationship involved Abraham leaving his family and society in order for God to create a bond that did not and could not exist in the world. Abraham accepted this friendship with God, because he is then engaging in his own freedom to be a part of the ethical covenant God is creating.

From context, it is clear that in the original lecture, Soloveitchik used the word kerygmatic and not charismatic. Abraham and Moses teaching ethical norms is an act of kerygma not charisma.

This covenant is fulfilled in the work and life of Moses. Moses introduces a new role of agent, representing man to God and God to man. Through Moses, God is able to provide redemption for His people, bringing them out of Egypt and establishing His Law with a people. God provides the ethical norms that He started through creation and provides the means to have man participate once again in this plan.

Brunner’s Christian approach has a much stronger focus on the impact of sin. Man is enslaved to sin, and is in need of a special grace. This grace is offered through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. For Brunner, the completion of God’s plan is not seen in the covenant of Moses, but Christ.

Being “good” means imitating God, a thought both Brunner and Soloveitchik can agree to.

The Christian ethical man is therefore concerned with his conduct here in the world, because they are the physical actions of God. For him, the whole of ethics is concerned with God’s action in and through man. The Jewish ethical man is concerned with his conduct here in the world, because they are autonomous application of the ethical norms know through the actions of God


Both faiths share the Biblical language of missing the mark (het), transgression (averah), guilt (asham), and debt (hove). Both religions have all four but Judaism emphasizes the former two over the latter. Judaism also use rebellion (mered) in its narrative and liturgy. And Jews use direct courtroom imagery. In almost all cases, Jews avoided the language of Original Sin.

Linward Urban in his History of Christian Theology lists several components of a Western doctrine of sin.

1. God’s Creation is perfect but humans in that they are not perfect have imperfections
2. Adam sinned for all humanity.
3. After the sin human nature could no longer see the truth.
4. Therefore we have bruised and damaged nature- we are perverted and distorted.
5. All humans have guilt that has to be removed.

In general, traditional Jewish thought accepted 1-3 but rejected 4-5. Thinkers as diverse as Hasdai Crescas, Eliezer Berkovits, Leo Baeck and Paul Ricouer repeat the truism that Judaism does not have original sin.
Many Kabbalists also accept #4.
The midrash that we all have guilt from the Original Sin and Mt. Sinai removes our lustful fallen nature is a lone Rabbbinic opinion that works with #5.
Rabbi Solovetichik makes a point of accepting #4 and has an interesting version of #5 where the human condition repeats itself and has a covenantal method of removing the sin. Historical repetition replaces heredity.

Rav Schachter’s version

I was taken that Rav Schachter maintains the language of original sin used by his teacher. Yet, he says it does not play a major role. The function of discussing sin is to teach us that we make mistakes through desire or social pressure. The opening also seems to imply we make mistakes because we are not truly conversant with Torah. Gone is the human struggle with defeat, resignation, and futility before the cosmos.

This version lack the fallen nature of humanity taught by Rabbi Soloveitchik. More importantly, Rabbi Schachter advocates illumination through laws of the Torah in place of Rav Soloveitchik’s philosophic Imitatio Dei (On this point, see the classic but still timely article of Lawrence Kaplan, “Revisionism and the Rav”)This version has no mistaken views of God, no dichotomy in human nature, and no unredeemed human anthropology. This version also lack Rav Soloveitchik’s condemnation of the utilitarian and social approach to life.

Many issues in this world are very unclear just like in the middle of dark night; there are mitzvos that people think are really aveiros and there are aveiros that people consider to be mitzvos (see the hakdama of Mesilas Yesharim). Without illumination granted by Hashem through the laws of the Torah, we will remain “in the dark”. Rosh Hashonah for Adam ha’rishon was his day of kabbolas haTorah.

According to the tradition recorded in the midrash, Adam ha’rishon sinned on that very same first day that he was created. He was judged and punished on the same day and Hashem notified him that just as I have judged you on this day, so too will I judge your descendants in all future generations on this day.

The story of the “original sin” does not really play a significant role in Jewish theology. It was recorded in the Torah, however, to teach us certain aspects about sin that are relevant to all of us today.

The reason Adam and Chava could not control themselves and sinned by eating from the eitz ha’daas is because the fruit seemed so delicious and appealing..

When Hashem confronted Adam ha’rishon and told him that he would be punished for having sinned, He says… Chava coaxed her husband to eat along with her from the forbidden fruit by crying in front of him. Very often we sin because we give in to social pressure.

On Rosh Ha’shonah and all year long we should take to heart the details of the original sin and realize that it simply does not make sense to violate the mitzvot of the Torah.
Read the Rest Here

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch as champion of Conservative Judaism

Zev Elelf published a fine article in the recent issue of Tradition (available at JID- here) AMERICAN ORTHODOXY’S LUKEWARM EMBRACE OF THE HIRSCHIAN LEGACY, 1850-1939. The article shows that American Orthodoxy did not see their linage as traceable to Rabbi Hirsch. I have been telling my classes that for years. Rather, we find they trace themselves to Maimonides, Spanish-Portuguese and Italian Jewry, later they traced themselves to Rabbi Reines. The article did a great job of showing that they did not look to Hirsch, but did not actively engage the multitude of authors. Specifically, the article had a presentism about who was Orthodox. Therefore it mentioned only briefly, Eminent Israelites of the nineteenth century : a series of biographical sketches (c1879). by Henry Morais.


Sabato Morais was one of the founders of JTSA of Italian birth and rabbi at the Spanish-Portuguese Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia. His son Henry wrote the treatise on eminent Israelites. Half a century ago, there was a debate in the scholarly literature about whether the early figures involved int he foundation of the OU was proto-Conservative or proto-modern Orthodox, as well as a debate what the word Conservative – capital C, meant in 1898. Moshe Davis treated Sabato Morais as proto-Conservative and Charles Liebman treated him as proto-Modern orthodox. Kohut may have used the word the way we use it today to refer to something between Reform and Orthodoxy, but Henry Morais (Sabato’s son) use the word to refer to Hirsch.
Neither of the scholars looked at his Eminent Israelites of the Nineteenth Century.In Morais’ volume Zechariah Frankel is called the Hakham, the author, and scholar, but the only person called Conservative in the entire volume is Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, who is given a more heroic image than the others. So it seems that is what he meant by the term and it shows what he aspired to do in the US. The entire book is free for download, below is from page 138.

Conspicuous, not solely as one of the acknowledged champions of Conservative Judaism, but as a profound theologian, and an active worker in Hebrew literature, is the venerable Rabbi, Samson Raphael Hirsch. Many years have seen this divine faithfully labor in the sacred trust confided to his guardianship. The lasting services he has rendered the Jewish community are significantly illustrated by schools and educational institutions that foster and disseminate religious knowledge. But an honest and uncompromising adherence to the principles of Judaism he believes in, and a dauntless defense thereof, entitle the Rabbi to the highest commendation.


On Dec. 4th, Jewish Ideas Daily ran an article with the thesis that there has been a turning of the tide in which “Torah Judaism today retains more of its youth than at any time since the Haskalah.” In principle, that is true, it is a good thing, and it made the headlines in 1990. However, the article got me seriously upset. The article stressed that we, the younger generation, are now self-conscious of being more committed than our parents. But who are the members of the younger generation in today’s society? When one is already a grandmother, then one needs to write from the perspective of the parent, not as the child. Having taught the author’s children and knowing their classmates, writing about the baby-boomers as today’s children rang hollow, sanctimonious, and hiding one’s head in the sand. Many of the Millenials are now self-conscious of being less committed than their parents. I cranked out the letter below in an hour the evening of the article. JID declined to run an edited response, so here it is.

The letter is a summary of my post-orthodoxy thinking on this blog from three years ago. The observation rings true more today when even pulpit rabbis have acknowledged the problem, kiruv workers acknowledge their decline in numbers, youth organizations are acknowledging that they are not connecting and the daily scandals in the community are driving people from Orthodoxy.
The solutions will not come from assigning blame. The question: is what does the younger leadership need to do to change things?
The letter is only referring to the United States and to those raised in the modern Orthodox world. It is not referring to Israel and it is not referring to the attrition rate among Yeshivish and Haredi.

Dear Diana (if I may),

It has been almost twenty years since we last met, when I was your sons’ Jewish studies day school teacher. Since then, I have kept up with many of their classmates, both in person and online and I have come to cherish these relationships because they are with many of the best and the brightest that the community has produced. Because of this long standing relationship, many of my former students have kept me abreast of their treif banquets, of their non-Jewish significant others, of their finding that their creative work is more interesting than keeping the Sabbath, and of their publishing parties held on Jewish holidays. Many of them are self-conscious that they are less committed than their parents; this is not a rare occurrence but it is, however, part of a widespread trend that I had labeled on my blog three years ago as “post-Orthodoxy.” I have been meaning to write about this phenomenon in a public venue for some time but I have never gotten around to actually doing it. However, your post today struck a chord worthy of response based on its blindness to the classmates of your own children.

Diana, you are correct that people started returning to religion in the late 1970’s, creating a triumphalist bubble shared by the Christian Religious Right and Orthodox Jews, but historians are now busy documenting a religious recession. Those who reached college as the millennium approached found themselves less committed than those before them. There is a post-Orthodox moment similar to the post-Evangelical moment in that younger Centrist Jews are leaving the community.

In terms of their public writings, they state that they are leaving because they find the religious community anti-intellectualism, narrow or excessively partisan political views, lack of theological depth or even any credible apologetics, almost no engagement in art, media, and society, slavery to materialism and consumerism, provincialism, insensitivity toward women and homosexuals, and the moral failure of prominent leaders.

The members of Generation Y, the Millennials, are the most liberal generation alive and their immediate seniors, those from Generation X, are the most conservative. More importantly, since the 1730s, every thirty to thirty-five years, American culture has dramatically shifted from liberal to conservative and back again. Paradoxically, the deep acculturation of American Orthodoxy into the American religious landscape has allowed the restoration of its plausibility structure for the baby boomers.

The Great Return to religion is winding down. For example, many of those who were raised as Evangelical in the recent Great Awakening of Religion are not returning to the Evangelical Faith of their parents. Statistics of those leaving Evangelicals vary in the press from 25%-75%. Those who were raised in an intense Evangelical faith don’t naturally blend back into the more mainline, liberal Churches. They are specifically former-Evangelicals who have adapted liberal position. Jewish Orthodoxy is also witnessing similar phenomena. We also have a large number of people who are former Orthodox, who do not believe in what they were taught and are adopting more liberal positions. This doesn’t mean, however, that they are comfortable with liberal Judaism.

Consider the education that your children received at one of the most open and intellectual day schools. They were presented with the educational lessons of the validity of all cultures and the necessity for a pluralistic world-view. Yet, they found that view clashes with an increasingly parochial Modern Orthodoxy. They were taught to value intellectualism, yet they observe that the community triumphs sentimentality and emotionalism. They attended a school with one of the highest acceptance rates to the Ivys of any prep-school in the nation, and then had to integrate in a community fearful of any knowledge beyond mid-brow.

It is hard to get statistics of a live phenomenon with no external signs. We know that after the 1960s and 1970s, there were 45 % less Orthodox Jews. Even now, it is hard to tell when someone is out of the community–some declare they are out at 22, others at 32, and others at 42. We will look back in 2025 and not only see the losses but also how many of those who leave orthodoxy join mainline forms of liberal Judaism and how many create some new limbo approach. Think of it in the same way as the decline of the Northeast Conservative congregations was only shown in 2000, even though one sensed it already in 1985. One local rabbi known for freely speaking his mind regardless of reality claimed that in 2010, the attrition rate was only 15% and then, in 2012 spuriously intimated that it was 50%. Every local rabbi has addressed from the pulpit this changing reality as of vital concern. But we will only know the numbers in hindsight.

As a side point, I must address those ideologues who observe the phenomena and think that these younger graduates are a new liberal part of Orthodoxy. Rather, many of them are simply eroding; some of them eat swine on Shabbos, others intermarry, some preserved their mizvot in a renewal setting. Many have just given up and do not care. They are those that are open about their lack of observance and there are many others who like Torah and observance but do not like the community’s provincialism.

Some have given up religion entirely and want to be left alone from it all. Others are sowing wild oats while some have become renewal or liberal. There are groups who practice egalitarian halakhic and some are just feeling boxed in. And yet, despite the various approaches, others still choose to return to more of a 1950’s Orthodox approach. Much of this is non-ideological, having more to do with carving out a space different than their parents. Much of it can be attributed to new careers, taking up new places of residence, staying single longer, texting or bicycling on Shabbat, or discovering the wider world.

For some, it is just a matter of being tone deaf to religion. I know one family where the eldest son is a rabbi and the younger sons are committed science minded engineers. Their observance level and affiliation will be more subject to where their careers take them than any ideology. Personally, I have attended weddings of several children from the same family in which older siblings had a mechitza on the dance floor and then attended their younger siblings’ weddings in which there was mixed dancing.

For those who stay observant, there is even a new sociological term, “deconversion,” for those who sense this loss of their childhood faith or for those who find their religious lives wanting. This group has hope for a solution, for a new plausibility structure, or at least a new community. If I wanted, I could collect the Facebook answers to “Religious Views” to show that something is amiss. I now of plenty of examples of those who were raised Orthodox who now define themselves in all sorts of convoluted ways such as: “Observant,” “post-modern orthodox”, “It’s complicated”, “halakhic freethinker”, “alternafrum” “at home in the halakhic discourse”, “there is no place devoid of Him eyn od milvao” “of orthodox culture” and even there has been the return of “Conservadox.” Many of those raised Orthodox who are still observant are not comfortable with the label.

To return to the classmates of your children, as they are self-conscious of their de-conversion, One of them wrote me that she perceived that she and her peers to be living in an era of new globalization and that their generation would “clash with traditional institutions in a way that was more vibrant and also destructive.” She saw the placid suburban community of the day-school and home as restrictive and an unsafe place of abuse. “There were few people who saw that a transition period was coming up for Modern Orthodoxy and with that a big identity crisis for all of us. I guess that our generation happened to come into adulthood just as these old definitions were dying out, or at least I would hope so.” Diana, The pain in this letter contrasts with the safety you felt in Orthodoxy.

I personally do not have solutions; I am more of a Facebook friend.

Yes, “Torah Judaism today retains more of its youth than at any time since the Haskalah.” American Orthodoxy is no longer the province of immigrants and the elderly. The State of Israel played a role as did the rebuilding of a Torah Jewry after the War combined with the post-1967 turn to Jewish pride. But now, it is the more prosaic ups and downs of religious recession and revival, generational conflicts, plausibility structures broken and repaired. For Baby Boomers, “in America after 1966, Jewish tradition has felt like something worth their commitment.” But for those who came of age at the millennium there are still many reasons to drift away.

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The Soncino Bible editor Abraham Cohen “The Message of the Bible”

Before Artscroll, the major producer of Judaica in English was from very British Soncino Press and their offshoots. I just read an essay by the editor of the Soncino Bible Abraham Cohen, “The Message of the Bible.” It give us a nice contrast to both the recent more historical-critical volumes as well as to the less urbane Orthodox Judaica.

David Ruderman, the historian of Early Modern Jewry, states that British Jews had as “their unarticulated ideal was that of upper class gentility.” British Jewry did not retain the study of Hebrew unlike elsewhere. They undertook massive translation projects. Most British Jews knew their Judaism only through English translations- and it was couched in English non-Hebraic terms- hence their religious attitudes and behaviors came to resemble their English Protestants and their language sounded like the King James Bible. When discussing Jewish theology, Jews drew on Christian arguments for answering atheists and deists; They used Locke, and Newton, not Mendelssohn or Hirsch.

Abraham Cohen (1887-1957) was the editor of the Soncino Books of the Bible and participated in the Soncino translation of the Talmud and Midrash. He attended Cambridge and Manchester then earned a Ph.D. from the University of London. His Sieff Lectures on Preaching at Jews’ College were published as a wonderful handbook of guidance in preparing and delivering a sermon. He wrote popular scholarly works as Everyman’s Talmud and The Soncino Chumash. He was the rabbi of the Minhag Anglia Birmingham Hebrew congregation, an Orthodox synagogue. The essay is wonderful for showing how he understood the Bible, how he responded to Biblical criticism, and how he accepted Edwardian natural theology. Marc Saperstein has a nice article available online on WWI sermons contrasting Cohen’s Anglican Orthodoxy, which stressed God’s sovereignty and mastery over human history with the Liberal Rabbi Israel Mattuck who was agnostic and more Unitarian in his call to look to man for salvation and how modern people do not look to God.

Notice his serious clerical collar.

The essay is part of an anthology called The Jewish Heritage Ephraim Levine (1955) The volume is a home companion to introduce Judaism with chapters on the Bible, Jewish ceremony, Rabbinics, Philosophy, Ethics, Codes, and the Land of Israel.

The essay opens with a broad introduction that the Bible is a library of books, heterogeneous, and not speaking one word. The Biblical authors wrote based on their expectations for the times and current events, as well as based on their personal circumstances. What holds all these books together is their “unity of principle” in teaching “the revelation of God’s will as the controlling force in the life of man and laws for the government of the Israelite community.” The Bible provides individual and collective testimonies to the saving power of God. The book blends religion and morality with history

Cohen compares the Bible to a symphony in that simple melodies recur with variations and expositions. The simple message is the relationship of God and man, the purpose of the book is to reveal God to man, which is the meaning of the phrase that man is made in the likeness of God. The existence of God and his revelation are an axiom. Genesis teaches an “exulted view of man” in which in each man there is a spirit which is divine in origin and subject to the will of God.” Cohen writes of the Garden of Eden that “this allegory framed in language understandable by the primitive mind” Ultimately, the book teaches that “God’s desire is that man should be happy”

The Bible shows in many places the need for revelation, for example in the book of Job it says “can thou find out the deep things of God.” The Bible teaches a limitation of human intellect and inadequacy of reason for understanding the mysteries of the universe and human living.

Cohen follows the natural theology of the early twentieth century. The message of scripture does not depend for its vitality” on belief in doctrines but “upon its claim to be the communication of God to man.” This revelation was made through four media, nature, direct utterance, indirect intimation, and human experience.”

The first category: From the natural phenomena who know of God’s eternity, wisdom, infinite power, and mercy.
The second category: “To Moses, as well as to Israel, revelation assumed this direct form and in this respect he was an exception…the corpus of religious and ethical teaching and social legislation which he was instrumental in delivering to Israel from God is known as Torah…” Prophets were not just preachers rather “they had consciousness that they were the spokesmen of God.”
The third category, God was deduced from contemporary events. The Biblical figures saw their destiny.
The forth category is direct human experience where we sense God.

Cohen rejects the nineteenth century Protestant Biblical criticism which denigrated Judaism as a tribal legalistic, and priestly religion that was rejected by the prophets. He rejects the critics who claim that there was evolution from the primitive Judaism to the developed prophets.

Cohen shows that the Bible has both tribalism and universalism without an evolution from the former to the latter. Al the world blessed and Israel as Gods firstborn. The Bible was produced by one people but speaks to all men. He shows that one cannot use the divine name to separate the Pentateuch into authors. Cohen also shows that there are not two voices in the Bible one in favor of priest cult and one against.

Cohen concludes that the Bible is formulated in ethical and not doctrinal terms, It teaches ethical monotheism, and to do the right and just. Does it have any message for today? To teach: Dignity and value of every human being, overcome wealth inequality, enduring peace.

This theological view of the Bible does not fit any of our contemporary Jewish denominations. Cohen’s Jewish statement that “the revelation of God’s will as the controlling force in the life of man… The Bible provides individual and collective testimonies to the saving power of God.” is not far from the Anglican-Catholic definition that “the authentic record of God’s revelation to man and is a revelation valid for all men and all time. In the Bible we have God’s revelation of Himself, His saving activity, and moral demands.”

Cohen’s theological vision is not much different from that of Christina Hayes of Yale in her new introduction to the Hebrew Bible, see here for summary

Louis Jacobs published his critical questioning of the Bible, his questioning of Biblical morals, and questioning of revelation just two years later. Any thoughts on how far Cohen’s natural theology was from Jacobs’s analytic criticism?


Starting in 1969, Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg produced the Judaica Press Hebrew-English Prophets and Holy Writings which mainly replaced the Soncino series. The Soncino edition itself was redone by Rosenberg who removed the References to non-Jewish authors.

As a side point, Cohen was active in interfaith work and in 1933 gave the first speech from a Church pulpit in Birmingham.

“Rev Abraham Cohen gave many memorable and powerful speeches on behalf of the Jewish community. His arguments were remarkable not just for their passionate defiance of Hitler’s Nazi regime, but also for their critique of the roots of prejudice, which he attacked as the universal enemy of the ‘oneness of the human family’.
The setting on this occasion, Carr’s Lane Church, was highly symbolic. It was the first time that a Jewish preacher had been allowed to talk at the Christian pulpit. The crisis in Germany had re-opened the dialogue between Jewish and Christian faiths to establish a socially progressive message of mutual religious support.
Meanwhile, the significance of Cohen’s appearence at Carr’s Lane is further heightened when we remember that the same church was at the forefront of Birmingham’s nineteenth century campaigns against slavery, when J.A. James, a close friend of Joseph Sturge, was minister of Carr’s Lane.

Interview with Eliyahu Stern author of The Genius: Elijah of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism

This month Eliyahu Stern published his book The Genius: Elijah of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism (Yale University Press). Stern has an appointment at Yale. Stern received his Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley in 2008. From 2009-2010 he was a fellow at University of Oxford. He may be first YU graduate in Jewish Studies to break the glass ceiling of the ivys for his first position. (Yerushalmi was long gone from his YU upbringing by the time he was appointed.)

Stern’s emphasis on religion as an operative factor in socio- intellectual history was already shown in his op-ed on Jewish peoplehood.

What is needed instead is a return to the original Jewish model, where peoplehood was embraced as an outcome of a shared destiny and values, where group attachment was the powerful end result of an engagement with a compelling tradition and spiritual practice. As the past fifty years have demonstrated, peoplehood without the spiritual, ethical, or religious infrastructure of Judaism will not survive.

For those who do not know very much about the Vilna Gaon, here are the basics on the GRA at My Jewish Learning. The wiki is unfortunately filled with folktales and misinformation. A decade ago Immanuel Etkes wrote The Gaon of Vilna: The Man and His Image (University of California Press, 2002), which spends much of its time evaluating who the Gaon was as a person and to refuting many of the folktales and false images of the popular press. For example, Etkes rejects the claim by modern historians that Eliyahu was a harbinger of the Haskalah which become axiomatic among modern historians. As a third book on the Gaon, you shoudd look at Arie Morgenstern, The Gaon of Vilna and His Messianic Vision (August, 2012)on the messianism of the Gaon and his students.

Stern approach is to ask the big question of where the Gaon fits into the broader narrative of history. He shows why the Gaon’s approach to text creates a certain type of society; one turned to book knowledge over community. Stern also wants to show why that is modern in its breakdown of the community and rejection of prior understandings. To understand Stern argument, the reader may need to catch up on the last 90 years of social theory and reach the writings of Ulrich Beck. (This blog dealt with one of his books here and here; also see our discussion of Oliver Roy.) Older Jewish Studies followed Karl Manheim’s 1929 discussion of ideology as the force that holds society together and Max Weber’s assumption that tradition breaks down into rationality, liberalism and routine. If it did not, then it was a throwback to the pre-modern. For Ulrich Beck, the breakdown led to a negotiation of how the individual accepts the new institutions. For those who want to catch up, see this great short summary of Beck.

Finally, I get the pleasure that this book started as a seminar paper for my graduate class on the Vilna Gaon.

Vilna Gaon

1) What’s your theory of modernity and how does it relate to Elijah of Vilna?

When I first started writing I thought about modernity as a movement, as something based on ideas such as individualism, democracy, and civil rights. Most Jewish histories have been written from the perspective of seeing modernity as one movement that started with Mendelssohn and ended with Reform, Emancipation and Acculturation. The problem with that perspective is that it ultimately ends up excluding, opposing or misinterpreting large swaths of western life and contemporary Jewry. American Jews never went through a process of emancipation, and ultra-Orthodoxy has remerged as force in Jewish life.

In my book I argue that it is more productive to see modernity as a condition that transformed all groups and institutions in Europe from the mid eighteenth century onward. My theory of modernity is based on the rise of the State, the division of public and private spheres, and the privatization of religion.

Elijah is often depicted as an anti-modernist, yet he remains one of the most celebrated figures in the modern Jewish experience.

Most scholars who write about Elijah usually focus on the few words he wrote in his lifetime about the Hasidic movement. His position vis-à-vis the Hasidim is radically anti-democratic, anti-individual, and anti-modern in both senses of the term (modernity as a movement or as a condition). Elijah failed to stem the tide of Hasidism because he thought he could use pre-modern structures (the coercive mechanism afforded by the kehilah) to prevent the growth of the movement. As I argue at-length in my book there is nothing remotely democratic or modern about Elijah’s excommunications of Vilna Hasidim.

However, I also found that Elijah was wildly successful in promoting the ritualization of study as the locus of religious life. The reason why his legacy of study succeeded but his opposition to Hasidism failed was precisely because of the rise of the State and the privatization of religious expressions. The privatization of religion allowed for the emergence of Hasidism, Reform Judaism and the Yeshiva movement. All these movements were created out of the breakdown of corporate structures and the privatization of religion. Its not that one group is “modern” and the other is “anti-modern” all of them exist in the rubric of privatization and have been shaped and crafted by the management and boundaries separating public and private spheres.
(AB- I find many of the undereducated hockers force everything into modern or anti modern rather than understanding how both sides are mediating a contemporary situation.)

I am indebted to ideas put forth by social theorists Urlich Beck, Jose Casanova and Jürgen Habermas. Specifically, Beck reveals that Western liberal life is threatened not by from outside groups or remnants of pre-modern belief systems, but rather from internal structural risks that are built into the Secular-liberal State. I argue that instead of seeing religious radicalism as standing in opposition to modern western life or a throw back to a different age, it is in large measure the result of the privatization of religion built into the liberal State. Casanova has shown it is a fallacy that religious privatization necessarily creates a liberal society. In fact, often times the more private faith is the more segregated it remains and the more anti-pluralistic and dogmatic it becomes. On the other hand, sometimes the more engagement with a broader public it has, the more it adopts universal ideals to promote its message.

2) How did the Gaon rupture the traditional canons of Jewish learning?

Elijah’s glosses (Biur) to Joseph Karo’s definitive code of Jewish law, Shulchan Arukh, encouraged nineteenth-century Jews to move away from a code-based learning culture. Elijah’s Biur brought Yeshiva students to focus their studies on the Talmud—a text known for being open-ended and not directly giving legal conclusions. The Talmud replaced legal code as the central text studied in the nineteenth-century modern Yeshiva founded in Volozhin. This paradigm shift—from code to commentary came alongside a lager social shift in Jewish life from kehilah to yeshiva (from a corporate governing structure to an educational and persuasive institution as the center of religious life). These shifts restructured the hierarchy of authority in rabbinic Judaism.

3) What is unique in his approach to Talmud and halakhah?

To understand the significance of Elijah’s approach to the Talmud it is productive to remember that late medieval and early modern eastern European Jewish identity was in large measure shaped by local customs and practices. Though early modern Jews were literate, texts played a very minor role in the way they understood their lives and even in the adjudication of law -custom reigned supreme.

Elijah emphasized the importance of Talmudic texts over codes or responsa. In so doing he undermined the lynchpin keeping legal rulings in line with folk and popular behavior, namely the notion that legal rulings should build on the positions articulated by the last interpreter (hilchata ke-batrai). This legal principle ensured that rulings issued by rabbinic authorities always favored the last adjudicator thereby creating a parallel legal track that matched the organic transformation of customs. Elijah’s commentary to Karo’s code (where his legal writings appear) overrode medieval authorities and nearly totally disregarded rabbinic rulings issued after the mid-seventeenth century. Elijah himself stated that he did not want to practically apply his approach because “the Heavens were not prepared.”

The truth of the matter was that neither were eastern European Jews prepared to adopt his rulings. While the masses celebrated his genius and intellectuals adopted his ethos of study, it would only be in the United States and in the Holy Land that Elijah’s positions would ever be legally implemented among the Ultra-Orthodox.

4) Is it legitimate to situate the Gaon with modernist protestant theologians as you do in your book?

What I try to show in my book is that Elijah, Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, and G.W Leibniz were working with an overlapping set of kabbalistic and philosophical texts, ideas, and questions that pervaded eighteenth-century European intellectual life. Still, there is no point in comparisons without some payoff. I argue that Elijah’s emendation project answers some very important questions regarding the relationship between critique and philosophical Idealism. Yet, it is doubtful that Elijah read Leibniz’s work. He also never cites any non-Jewish philosophical text.

5) What was his relationship to Mendelssohn’s Torah Commentary, the Biur?

Directly? None. But it seems his student Zalman (Hayyim of Volozhin’s brother) found parts of it to be compelling. Also his son Abraham was in touch with Shlomo Dubno Mendelssohn’s co-editor of the Biur. More interesting is comparing Mendelssohn’s Biur and Elijah’s commentary to Aderet Eliyahu. It seems that in many respects Elijah exegetical approach was far more radical than Mendelssohn’s.

6) If kabbalah is so important for his thought then how come you did not give it more emphasis?

As you (Alan Brill) have shown the Gaon used both kabbalah and philosophy interchangeably, mixing Aristotelian concepts with mystical and kabbalistic terms and structures. In general, I try to write in a way that is accessible for those untrained in mystical and even philosophic literature. I think its important that scholars do the dirty work in the footnotes and present a clean and accessible book that can be read by people from multiple fields and with various levels of knowledge.

7) If he was not read, then aren’t you overstating his influence?

He was read in different ways by all elites in nineteenth-century eastern European Jewry.
Shmuel Verses’ work on the 19th century maskilic reception of Elijah highlights the extent to which every major debate in maskilic circles involved Elijah’s legacy. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the third Lubavitch rebbe, cites him dozens of times in his responsa “Tzemach Tzedek.” Every major student of Hayyim of Volozhin’s claims that their learning method was based on what they gleaned from Elijah’s critique of Karo’s code.

But my argument goes well beyond the elites who read his works. It’s also about pictures and middle-brow hagiographies that circulated throughout eastern Europe. The Gaon is well known because his face decorated Jewish homes across Lita. The Gaon was the most popular picture in 19th century eastern European Jewish life. The original picture (from which most others were copied) has him writing in one hand and holding a book in the other, with a caption that claims him to be a master of the seven sciences. Simply put, it was the image of his “genius” and the idea of intellectual achievement as a means toward upward social mobility that has made him so revered among the masses.
One of the most popular nineteenth-century Yiddish sayings that parents would tell their children was “Vil-nor Goen” (playing on the Yiddish vocalization of the Gaon’s name); “if you will it, you too can become a Gaon [genius]” like Elijah.

8) When a reviewer ignorant of the topic such as on JID reviews the book, what are some of the mistakes he makes?

I wrote my book for both professional scholars (Academics and Rabbis) as well as, what we might today call, Amacha, the “every day Joe,” who is interested in Jewish history. We need to encourage more “every day joe’s” to take Judaism intellectually seriously. It’s a credit to people like Lawrence Grossman that they are passionate about Jewish learning and that they are interested in Jewish subjects. In his leisure reading he seems to have come to the strange conclusion that Elijah did not influence Lithuanian Jewry. While I don’t expect him to read in the original Hayyim of Volozhin, David Tevle, Ya’akov of Karlin, Moshe Katzenlenbogen, Yehuda Epstein, all of whom quote Gra extensively and talk about how influential the Biur was in Volozhin itself, still he should have read my footnotes, or at-least Chapter Five before writing a review.

I am sure he tried his best, but he probably was on unfamiliar terrain and just got terribly lost. The book is still nearly a month away from its official publication date and serious scholars, academics, and rabbis have yet to read it (those who have read it have given it very positive reviews). I am greatly looking forward to a large-scale serious conversation about the place of the Gaon in our understanding of contemporary Jewry and modern western life and thought. When that begins I will be glad to respond.

9) What is the topic of your next book?

My next work will elucidate the lively religious landscape of Russian Jewry in the nineteenth-century. Specifically, it explores the relationship between Jewish Nationalism and Hasidism, Mitnagdim and the Enlightenment. I hope to explore the way Jewish Nationalism emerged not simply as a response to anti-Semitism but on the Achilles heel of these various nineteenth-century eastern European Jewish religious movements.

10) Where do you see American modern Orthodoxy today?

As I see it the issues and challenges in front of the community have radically shifted from confronting the intellectual challenges to economic challenges. Economic sustainability has become incredibly pressing. Simply put, one rarely meets poor Modern Orthodox Jews. Living a Modern Orthodox life (private schools, Shabbat, sushi, stylish clothing, shul membership and camps, homes in costly Tri-state suburbs) requires a family to earn over 200,000 per year. You cant run a religious movement that requires everyone to be rich. The Haredim have a slightly different relationship to materiality, allowing the movement to grow even with serious economic hardships. Modern Orthodoxy needs to rethink its lifestyle model and material values so that it can appeal to all economic sectors of Jewish society.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Morgenstern on Vayishlach: Meditation, Fiery Prayer, Divine in the Material World—Also Some Possible RIETS news.

I have not posted on the weekly parasha sheets of Rabbi Morgenstern for two years already. The older posts are here on Rabbbi Morgenstein and meditation and here on his view of Komarno.  I was motivated this week by something that was quoted from the Hebrew version. Rabbi Morgenstern has been producing almost 40-60 pages a week of Chasidus and sending them out each week by email.  At the end of every 800-1000 pages he hits print and offers the book for sale.

(To subscribe- write here to his assistant, don’t write to me to sign you up).

This week we once againsee a little new age, a little modern meditation, and some Buddhism-lite language to transform Chasidus into Haredi Neo-Hasidism. In this version, submission to higher wellsprings becomes cultivation of the self. We have a [mis]use of the 1991 book The Holographic Universe. We have one of his recurring themes of fiery prayer as the religious goal. We have weekly meditations  this week a Sabbath meditation and the start of next week’s  Hanukah mediation on the infinite light. He reiterates that zaddikim are the infinite light of God. Hokhmah here is a loss of self and to be nullified before all Jewish souls. Finally, we have an Izbitz, seeing everything as God’s will and that we should strive to be like Shimon who can see God’s will in all materialism. The Hebrew has some stories on the importance of drinking and on the process of reading kvitlach.

Each of the worlds exists in a kind of holographic state, where each level encompasses a unified sub-set of all of the worlds. [This is also true of the sefiros.] It is precisely through contemplating the downward-motion of the formation of the worlds at each level that the tzaddikim rise from level to level, from below to above, along the “ladder” that rises at Beis El, Hashem’s house of prayer.

Rebbe Nachman taught that the light of hisbodedus—fiery personal prayer before Hashem—is the highest of all forms of Divine service. In the earlier works, its light is knows as the light of yechidah, which is [the uppermost soul-element that experiences] true attachment with its Creator. In order to draw down this great light, one must meditate upon the fact that everything in the universe is a manifestation of G-dliness.

the tzaddikim made a practice of doing hisbodedus just before Shabbos in an effort to grasp the incoming light of the Shabbos, which is an aspect of Hashem’s infinite light. This is why those who do not develop the proper spiritual vessels prior to Shabbos fail to feel the light of Shabbos. Instead of experiencing the delight of Shabbos, they enter Shabbos in a state of attachment to Shabbtai [the influence of the planet Saturn]—a state characterized by anxiety and melancholy.

In order to connect with the infinite light, one must first contemplate the blackness of the [burning] wick, which symbolizes the tzimtzum. This means that he must first lead his mind through a series of successive constrictions [in order to focus on a particular point]. The light of the menorah that symbolizes the infinite light that existed before creation and the process of its spiraling down into and through the evolving vessels of creation is associated with Yosef. The verse says, “I am Yosef…”

The tzaddik [symbolized by Yosef, the paradigm of the tzaddik] contemplates on the fact that he is a part of the infinite “I” of Hashem. Although this contemplation occasionally manifests itself in what appear to be grandiose statements on the part of the tzaddik, one must understand that there is no personal vanity in what the tzaddikim say.

When a person approaches the state of selflessness, he prepares the “airspace” that will be able to receive the light that has until then merely encircled him from without.

The level of Chochmah, which is the avodah of self-nullification attained by contemplating Hashem’s greatness. Chochmah is “the force of nothing,” of losing the sense of self. Although many people can speak beautifully on the subject of bitul, few are those who actually live in such a state, who know it experientially. A person who is truly nullified before Hashem can be recognized by the extent of bitul he evidences before his fellow Jews. Every single Jew is a “piece of G-d from above,” and if a person cannot submit before another Jew it is a sure sign that he is not nullified before Hashem either.

The Rebbe of Ishbitz that Levi’s refusal was a sign that he only wanted to make unifications at a simple and straightforward level; Shimon, on the other hand, sought to uplift all of the places that exist in a state of the obscuring of Hashem’s presence and rectify them. For this reason, Shimon will be revealed at the highest level in the ultimate future—in the aspect of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, on whose teachings the entire redemption depends. The name Shimon is a conjunction of the words —iniquity is eradicated.” In truth, it is not enough for a person to attach himself to the yichudim at the higher levels; he must be able to do so even when he feels that he has fallen into materialism.

The other reason that I decided to dedicate a post this week to Rabbi Morgenstern was because rumor has it that Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere is in negotiation to be the new mashgiah ruhani of YU. It may or may not come to fruition, but if it does it will give the guys the Neo-Hasidic emotionalism of their gap year programs. YU will then embody as its haskafa Rav Itamar Schwartz’ Belvavi Mishkan Evneh, kiruv Torah, Rav Moshe Wolfson, and Rabbi Morgenstern’s approach. Gone will be the intellectualism  of Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.

Chaim Brovender- Petach 1975

Once upon a time, many years ago there was an era when a Israel yeshiva experience for those without day school background was unknown. It was the euphoria after the Six Day war and young Jews flocked into the city with backpacks and indeterminate plans. Rabbi Elephant of ITRI together with Rabbi David Hartman ran a program called Shapells College (its original name was the Shalom Hartman Institute) for such students. Rabbi Hartman broke off, even though he raised the money, because the program was too yeshivish. On the other hand, Rabbi Brovender left taking with him eight students to found Yeshivat Hamivtar after a kerfuffle from an article in the Shapells College Journal-Petach.

I looked at the article recently in the process of researching a different topic. Once I had a copy, I figured it might be an interesting post. The purpose of the article was to show that the concept of daas Torah is limited by looking to the lack of certainty even in prophecy. The article is framed about the quest for certainty in non-halakhic matters. If one is labeled a gadol, then can his opinions transform the uncertainty of philosophical speculation into quasi-halakhic categories? The article’ basic answer was that if we could not tell if a prophecy in the Bible was true, then we certainly accept the charismatic leaders of our time as certain.  The article in general has a rationalist tone, including referencing Eliezer Goldman’s article on prophecy as naturalistic. Below are a few selected paragraphs> Here is the entire article — Chaim Brovender_On the Determination of Non-Halakhic Reality (A Model from the Prophets)_Petach2_9-17


An involvement with Torah reflects the attempt of a human being to live with truth. The recognition that man can act in accordance with God’s will and the desire to live accordingly is, in fact, man’s attempt to cleave to absolute truth. However, any attempt to maximalize one’s living in accordance with God’s will, must of necessity recognize and come to grips with an overwhelming contradiction. Torah does not seem to give man a method by which to recognize the “truth” in every case.

Even if we were to accept that all people who have “ideas of the Holy” also recognize that it must be a reality in some context, is it also true that the recognition of this reality implies a reduction of uncertainty in the mind of the beholder? If I recognize spirituality in a fellow human being, can I reduce my doubt about the determination of a non-halakhic question by simply accepting his determination? Does philosophical speculation, for example, become transformed into quasi-halakhic categories when that speculation is done by the spiritual personality?

Certainty is man’s quest but not his lot. Other than those matters where the Torah has determined a method for achieving a formal decision (halakha). any decision rests on man’s capacity to evaluate a particular situation. That man, as an individual, must enter into the decision making process is apparently a basic part of the notion of free choice. Not even God’s spiritual representative, the prophet, was able to effectively remove uncertainty.

A question of some significance arises as a result of our discussion. How is it that the spiritual person (prophet) can mislead. Clearly Hanania possesses spiritual credentials:·Otherwise, would Yirmiyahu heed his words?

In other words, prophetic achievement is not sufficient to guarantee that a person will be able to pass on the prophecy as received to the people of Israel. Since these qualities are variables in the particular prophet, they must be personal, and not prophetic qualities. A person who has greater amounts of these human qualities is the greater prophet. The false prophets were prophets. Their ability to relate to the spiritual directive was unique. However, their personal might was a variable, and at times determinedwhether they would be able to speak prophecy truthfully.

It is not my intention to prejudice the question of whether Maimonides felt that becoming a prophet was entirely in the hands of man or not. On this question refer to A. Goldman, “Prophecy & Choice” (Nevua U’bhirah)

It is possible to claim that there are no non-halakhic problems within Judaism. It is not my intention to debate this position but only to declare that I disagree. It is hard to imagine that Maimonides’ Pardes or that Nahmanides’ dictum, naval b’reshut ha’Tora are Halakhic categories.