Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Now They're Inventing Rules They Won't Follow

My usual personal disclaimer off the top: While I eat meat, I am against animal cruelty. I don't eat veal, for instance, and try to avoid certain companies I have been told use cruel practices to slaughter their animals. While I support the use of animal in medical experiments that serve to develop treatments for serious diseases, I am opposed to their use in other trials.

It is with this in mind that I read that the Conservative movement has once again decided to push forward with its "hechsher tzedek", its ethical hechsher. The idea behind it is simple and sounds great:

to be given to food produced in a manner that meets certain environmental and labor standards, including worker safety and fair wages.

What concerns me is that this will all be turned into politically correct window dressing and that it misses the point of kashrus. Simply put, kashrus is a set of rules telling us what we can eat and what we can't. Period. It has nothing to do with animal treatment. As Rav Menachem Gemack notes later in the article:

concern for the environment, workers’ rights and animal welfare are all part of biblical and rabbinic law, and it is correct for Jews to be concerned about them. But, he added, it’s not something the religious movements should regulate

In other words, there is a Jewish obligation to be kind to animals and raise them without cruelty. There is certainly an obligation to minimize their suffering during shechitah. However, these obligations have nothing to do with whether the food on the table is kosher or not.

What's more, who defined ethical working conditions and fair wages? Will non-unionized plants be turned down? If the company doesn't offer a health plan, will it be rejected?

What really strikes me as funny, though, is that the vast majority of Conservative Jews already do not keep the basic set of mitzvos that define Judaism, such as Shabbos and kashrus. What makes them think that a new standard is going to be any more observed? Will the same Conservative Jew who currently has no problem eating a Big Mac suddenly turn around at the counter and say "Well, hand on, not only isn't it kosher, it doesn't have a Hechsher tzedek!"

Instead of creating new rules that won't be followed, all parts of the Jewish community should join together to ensure that the existing stringent rules against animal cruelty are fully observed by the kosher food industry. That's also a mitzvah: Dina d'malchusa dina.

And Now They're Not Lying

A headline in Ynet today notes that the Arabs now claim that Ehud Olmert has decided to surrender control of the Temple Mount to the them as part of a final peace arrangement. They go on to say that the only reason this hasn't been made public is to keep the coalition in the dark so Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu don't bolt and cause Kadima to lose its majority.

I don't think there's a reason to panic here. First of all, any agreement Olmert signs must go before the Knesset and if that's one of the details, it will certainly come out then. Something as big as a final peace deal betwen Israel and the Arabs will not slip secretly through.

Besides, this has already been tried before. Remember that Ehud Barak also negotiated the surrender of the Temple Mount at Camp David in 2000. He produced a strange agreement that would have seen Jews allowed to use the outer half of the Western Wall while the inner half would belong to Arafat, y"sh.

Just as happened then, I have great hopes that God will harden the hearts of our enemies and, when presented with all their demands, they will still turn them down, demanding more.

May we merit God's protection in this.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Is Bad Evidence Worse than No Evidence

As I mentioned in a recent post, I harbour no animus towards Rav Avi Shafran. Certainly he is an intelligent, educated man and, al pi the Mishnah in Avos, I must judge anything he does favourably but once again I've come across an article of his from Cross-Currents that I feel obliged to comment on, if conly because it really shows how desperate a job as public relations director can be.

The source for his column was a study reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry which concluded that "while observant Jewish women live in a culture defined by a high degree of adherence to specific laws of conduct, including rules designed to regulate sexual contact, sexual abuse of various types still exists among them. " Naturally the article in the Jewish Week News went a little further. The first line of the article pretty much summarizes what the newspaper's interpretation of the study is:

Despite the widespread impression in the Orthodox world that sexual abuse doesn’t happen within its precincts, or happens less than in the “outside world,” a report in the November issue of the journal of the American Psychiatric Association says that Orthodox Jewish women suffer as much of it as other American women do.

The article then goes on to detail the research findings, breaking the numbers down by age and denomination (Modern Orthodox vs. Ultra-Orthodox) and tries to explain how the different numbers might be explained.

There are also the usual disclaimers. For a study of this nature, it is understood there will be limitations and biases within the data. This is a self-reported survey sent to a defined population. People might not answer or they might answer incorrectly to cover up problems. There is no real way to know how much of this happens. So the article includes comments such as:

This was the first study of observant Jewish women’s sexuality, said Friedman. Though face-to-face interviews with randomly selected people on such topics are preferable, even getting Orthodox women to fill out anonymous questionnaires “is a hard thing to do,” she said. “You have to get to the sample, and it requires trust. For them to answer something that’s a study, people have to believe that it’s useful for them, that it’s necessary.”

The study found that the ultra-Orthodox women were more likely to report that their husbands had forced them to have sex — 5 percent compared to 1 percent of the Modern Orthodox women.This could be in part because fervently Orthodox women sometimes view their sexual role differently than Modern Orthodox women do, says Bronya Shaffer. Shaffer teaches marriage education classes to brides, and provides counseling to women about marital and family issues.

In the end, however, there's only so much information one can glean and conclusions one can make from this article. What's the bottom line?

The article hopes to illuminate the need for greater sensitivity to sexual abuse among those who might treat its victims, and also to the reality of its existence in Orthodox Jewish communities.“Religious life is not necessarily protective of the human condition,” said Friedman. “In theory, it’s clearly forbidden. But in practice it happens, and people suffer.”

Naturally, there are those who seem to have a vested interest in not allowing a conclusion like this to pass unchallenged. While it may seem obvious to some that Torah observant Jews are like anywone else with the same virtues and flaws as anyone else. Torah law may demand ethical behaviour but its adherents often fall short. This should not be shocking to anyone. As Chazal say, God wants our best effort and that is the real obligation that is placed upon on. However, for some a commitment to Torah observance and moral perfection seem to be synonymous Thus one cannot accept an accusation that any level of abuse of any kind occurs within the Orthodox community. Hence, Rav Shafran's column. To be fair, some of his points are valid. For example:

Randomized studies, like those that have focused on abuse in the general American population, yield reasonable estimations of the behaviors of their foci. Self-selected surveys of the same populations, however, can easily yield data that diverge substantially from the reality in those groups.

In the medical field, there are different levels of what is called evidence. The best kind is a double-blind randomized control trial, one in which the investigators and the subjects don't know if they're receiving actual treatment or placebo until the end. The least authoritative kinds are ancedotal, self-reports and expert evidence. They are generally only considered in decision making when any other better evidence is lacking. From the description of the study, it would seem that this survey is certainly low-quality evidence at best.

It's where Rav Shafran draws his conclusions that matters get a little tricky:

And so, by comparing the 25%-27% figure for American women claiming (in randomized surveys) to have suffered abuse at some point in their lives with the 26% figure yielded by the recent (self-selected) study of Orthodox women, and concluding that “Orthodox Jewish women suffer as much [abuse] as other American women,” the Jewish Week writer was comparing apples and tractors. If anything, the similar percentages arguably indicate a lower rate of abuse in the Orthodox community. After all, if 26% of a group likely to contain a disproportionate number of abuse victims report they were abused, one would expect a much lower percentage of a randomly selected group from the same population.

No, that's not true. If 26% of such a group was likely to be disproportionate, then the number might actually be higher or lower, or even the same. It is impossible to know but the assumption that the number would be lower isn't tenable. In addition, while the self-selection is a poor feature of the study, the fact that it was sent out to large parts of the Orthodox community does negate that somewhat.

It's its final paragraphs, however, which really set this piece apart in a poor way:

I cannot know that my expectation reflects reality; there are no meaningful statistical data to mine at present. But neither are there any to support the assumptions and speculations of writers like those cited above.

Understand what this means: he's just finished disputing a published study and then admits that in reality he has no more evidence for his own beliefs than the authors of the study! Objectively, that's wrong. The authors have made an effort at gathering data and statistically analyzing it within the limits they specified. Rav Shafran, after trying to dismiss the whole thing as anti-Orthodox media hype then reaches his conclusion:

One thing I do know, though, is that my expectation is based on the quintessential Jewish idea that the study and practice of Torah create more refined human beings. And the others’ assumption is based on their conviction – fueled, perhaps, by wishful thinking – that it does not.
The writers are entitled to their cynicism. But all Jews who respect Torah are entitled – I believe obligated – to expose it, along with offerings of unfounded, bias-born speculations as facts.

It is nice to believe that the study and practice of Torah creates more refine human beings. It is being informed to state that this is more likely in theory than in practice. Not for nothing did our Sages states a person can be a naval b'rshus haTorah, a boor with the permission of Torah. The challenge given to us by God is not only to observe His Torah and mitzvos but to improve ourselves as human beings so that we create an ideal society on Earth.

Too much of maintstream Orthodoxy today seems obsessed with the first part of the challenge while letting the second part fall to the side. As Rav Shafran concludes, "all Jews who respect Torah are entitled to expose it such accusation, along with offerings of unfounded, bias-born speculations as facts." If the Agudah were truly sincere about this, they would immediately sponsor a study that is far more representative of the Torah-observant Jewish community in order to finally create reliable data. If the truth is as Rav Shafran says it is, then the abuse can be seen in its proper context: shameful but rare. If it is as the authors of the study claim it is, then a true Torah-observant organization would spare no effort on correcting it immediately. Lack of interest in that does not speak well of the situation, much to our shame.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Never Leaving on Time

In the 1930's, it was the German Jews who steadfastly remained in "the Fatherland" despite Hitler, y'sh, and his stated intention to wipe them out. Now it's the French Jews (and the British ones, and the German ones, and...) who seem to be missing all the signs on the wall. The future of Europe is clear. Unless something is done by the native population, the continent will have an Muslim majority within fifty years. Any guesses on how sympathetic they'll be to our people?

Need a Road Map to get to Annapolis?

Where have we heard this all before?

Back in 2000, Bill Clinton was nearing the end of his 2nd term as president. Despite having been in power during a period of unprecedented growth in American prosperity and power while relative international peace was closer than ever, he was in danger of being remembered as the president who spent more time chasing interns than formulating policy. He knew that he would be remembered not as a great leader but as the butt of jokes about sex. He took a giant leap at that point and decided he was going to solve the problem of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Having shephered the Oslo Discords for as far as he did, he seemed confident that some personal negotation, without the bluster and interference of outside parties, would finally settle the last outstanding issues and bring peace to the Middle East, ensuring himself a great reputation for posterity.

He almost succeeded too. He met with Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat for days until finally coming up with an agreement that would give Arafat 95% of his historical demands. It was unprecedented and would have led to Israel's dismemberment had it gone through. No sane leader would have rejected so generous an offer. To his shock and amazement, Arafat turned it down, went back to Israel and started the second Intifada.

Which brings us up to the present day. Another lame-duck president whose reputation will be remembered as a bumbling, scheming clod who led America into a war it couldn't win has now also decided that peace in Israel is close. As a result, he has created another peace summit and this time it's Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas that are coming to America to figure a fair way to end the 60 year old conflict between the Israelis and Arabs.

It doesn't take a genius to realize this conference will fail and that a third intifada will erupt as a result. Consider:

1) Ehud Barak had a measure of popularity as prime minister and his time as a general gave some people the belief that he would not do something that would militarily damage Israel. Ehud Olmert, on the other hand, remains in single digits in popularity polls. He's under investigation for corruption and his coalition only continues to exist because the parties in it know that elections now will lead to their decimation. Any agreement that threatens the integrity of Israel or leads to massive pullouts in return for meaningless Arab promises will bring down his government. He can't agree to what the Arabs demand of him, even if he wants to.
2) Mahmoud Abbas is in even a worse position. Like all the other Arab leaders, he still insists that his demands be accepted by Israel as is and without any modification whatsoever, including the surrender of Yerushalayim and the right of two million Arabs to flood into Israel and end its existence as a Jewish state. If he deviates from this script, he will lose what little support he has left among his people as his organization, Fatah, has been telling them for 40 years that these are the minimum demands the Arabs have of Israel. He therefore must demand of Israel something that Olmert can't give him.

What will happen? The same as always. The Arabs will claim their maximalist demands are "reasonable" and when the Israelis balk, they will scream that it's the Jews, as always, who are obstacles to peace. The Americans, desperate for an agreement they can show to the Arab world so it will support them in their feud with Iran will pressure the Israelis into crippling agreements and the rest of the world will agree with the Arabs. They will then leave and within a few months another intifada, this one possibly joined in by Hezbollah, will begin.

I would think that the best thing Olmert could do for Israel would be to start the conference with a simple statement: "The Jewish nation was born in the land of Israel and has an eternal connection to it. Yerushalayim is our holiest city and just as no Catholic would ever think of giving away the Vatican, or no Muslim would think of allowing an infidel into Mecca or Medina, it is our city now and forever. Until that is recognized, what do we have to talk about?"

But he won't because he still doesn't understand the immesity of the forces arrayed against the continued existence of our State and that our greatest ally now has a bigger concern than Israel's continued safety.

Let us pray to our Father in Heaven that this ill-conceived conference doesn't bring yet another disaster upon our land.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Not Improving With Age

Rabbi Meir says: Don't look at the bottle but what's in it. New bottles can be full of old wine, and old bottles that don't even have new wine in them." (Avos 4:27)

Wisdom is supposed to increase with age. In some, it seems the desire for attention and zeal for a specific world view also increases. How else to explain this beauty from Rav Mordechai Eliyahu about our non-religious brethren? If this quote is accurate:

"I was once invited to a building housing three synagogues on three floors," the rabbi was quoted as saying. "At the entrance I saw a sign indicating that a Reform prayer house is located on the first floor, a Conservative synagogue on the second floor, while the Orthodox place of Torah study is only on third floor. And I wondered: How can I enter and pass by these synagogues which have the fragrance of hell?"

It's one thing to disagree with Reform and Conservatism. Certainly there's a lot to disagree with. However, there's respect and disrespect and in this case it seems the latter is the case. One can disagree but in a polite fashion. One can refuse to cooperate in a civil fashion. It is in this area that some Orthodox leaders seem to constatly stumble, especially when they seem to be former or current Sephardic chief rabbis!

Our Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam and we will not be redeemed until that causeless hatred is ended. Our redemption seems to have been delayed by yet another day.

Were You Wondering If They Cared?

Rav Avi Shafran is the chief public relations officer for the Agudah so naturally, in the course of doing his job, he paints everything he can about the organization and its members in a positive sense.

When I first discovered his columns I quite enjoyed them and even looking back on them now I still recall why. Unfortunately, in recent times I have found him to become more and more narrow in his focus. Whereas he once tried to write about Orthodox Jews in general, it has become clear in recent months that when he uses the word Orthodox he means only those who identify with the Agudah, that is: the Chareidi community, not the rest of us. But again, that's his job so one cannot criticize him for doing that. If the Agudah would like to believe they are the "real" Orthodox Jews and the gold standard to be followed, that's their business.

But sometimes his apologetics go a little too far, like in this column published recently at Cross Currents. The column starts off well enough, dealing with the recent mention by the Israeli government that they are prepared to give up the most important parts of Yerushalayim to our enemies in return for an illusory peace. I thought that this column, from the way it started, would once again emphsize the central place Yerushalayim has in our hearts and religion, as opposed to that of our enemies who only seem to be interested in it when Jews are running the city. Consider:

After a bowl of cereal, the blessing “Al Hamichya” would mention Jerusalem two more times. And for any meals including bread that might have followed, one of the main blessings that comprise the grace after meals would have the Holy City as its subject as well, beginning with a reference to “Jerusalem Your city” and ending “Who in His mercy builds Jerusalem.”
And, then, in each of the day’s two remaining prayer services, as in the morning one, the silent “Amidah” prayer includes a similar blessing.
It is hard to believe that any people, entity or government could arrogate to claim a closer connection than the Jewish one to the city nestled in the Judean hills, the city toward which praying Jews for millennia have faced thrice daily, and face to this day.
And it is even harder to believe that a government of a self-described Jewish State would even consider, much less announce, its contemplation of placing Jerusalem on the cutting block of negotiations with an enemy.
Yet that is what is happening before our incredulous eyes

But after that statement of Jewish patriotism, something changes. As if to remind his readers that while he is opposed in principle to Yerushalayim being given away to our enemies, he is certainly not a sinful Zionist, he rushes to remind us of the lack of sanctity of the State of Israel:

But we know that the true, complete (territorially as well as spiritually) “Jewish State” will arrive only when the Messiah does, and that the Third Holy Temple will be built by the hand of not man but G-d. Thus, the reflexive form in our prayer: “May it be Your will that the Temple be [re]built.”

I certainly say that line when I pray three times a day but I don't recall any part of the petition stating "and until then I can do nothing but wait for You to rescue me from exile". Indeed, nothing about wishing the Temple would be rebuilt precludes building a Jewish state. Indeed, the Bible in various places notes that Jewish rebirth will precede the building of the Third Temple so there is nothing preventing one from ascribing a form of Jewishness to Israel today.

It's this final line that really got my attention:

To be sure, from a haredi perspective, it doesn’t make any inherent difference what temporal flag flies above the hewn stones of Jerusalem’s walls. The city’s holiness is neither heralded nor preserved by such banners.

Get it? According to Rav Shafran, the Chareidi perspective is that one could see Israeli flags, or Arab flags hanging over the walls of the Old City and it's all the same to them.

The implications of this statement are incredible. How can one not see what inherent difference the temporal flag makes? If an Arab flag flew over the Old City, does anyone seriously believe there would be a single yeshivah, Chareidi or otherwise within its walls? And what does this say about Jewish achdus? Sure, you Dati Leumi believe there's holiness in them there walls and see a religious need to continue Jewish sovereignty over the city but for us here Chareidim, well we don't care. Didn't that attitude cause enough of a schism during the withdrawal from 'Aza?

What's more, this sets up a contradiction with the rest of the article, implying that while Yerushalayim is holy and sacred and we dream of returning it to its glory, in the meantime we really dont' see anything special about it that means only we can control it. If there is no inherent difference in what temporal flag flies above, then Yerushalayim is negotiable and that is something no Torah observant Jew should ever suggest.

I trust that Rav Shafran will clarify his remarks in the future.

Taking Care of Our Bodies Is a Torah Obligation

A rabbi I've learned under recently developed some health problems. Fortunately he was diagnosed and treated aggressively, averting some potentially catastrophic problems. Unfortunately, this event was no surprise given his lifestyle, one which is all too common in Western society.

Another rabbi I learned under passed away suddenly a year ago (his 1st yahrzeit is next week, as a matter of fact). He was a wonderful man, a scholar and full of kindness and compassion but he also enjoyed eating and smoking which, in the end, did his heart in. May his soul rest in peace.

It's quite obvious that Western society is getting fatter. Take a trip to your local mall and spend a moment looking around. Other than anorexic teenage girls, most people trundling through on the way to the stores are overweight to one degree or more. And in the Jewish community, this epidemic of obesity is all too prevalent as well. Rav Yonasan Rosenblum, in a column for Mishpachah Magazine, noted that amongst religious Jews, there is an almost cavalier dismissal of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. To quote:

I once asked a member of a large charedi community, "Why is everybody here so fat?" My friend, an incisive wit, neatly captured the mindset, "The goy says its not good to be fat. What does the goy know?"

Is there any obligation in Judaism to keep one's body in good shape? There is no verse in the Torah demanding exercise on a daily basis or healthy eating, per se. Because of this, people who will make sure to check their tzitzis down to the last fibre each morning will ignore the need to care for their physical selves. I've even heard people justify smoking as the Torah never said it was forbidden. Never mind that tobacco hadn't been discovered by European and Asian society at that time!

And yes, there are great sages like the Rambam who advocated for healthy eating and drinking but these rulings aren't taken with the same gravity as those, for exampe, dealing with the quality of one's lulav and esrog.

There is some verses in the Torah, however, that I believe could be seen as a demand to keep oneself in good shape. Dr. Fred Rosner, in The Medical Legacy of Moses Maimonides, brings the following:

"And he said: If thou sahtl diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His eyes and will give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the disease upon thee which I have put on the Egyptians for I am the Lord that healeth thee." (Shmos 15:26)

According to Dr. Rosner, the Torah here emphasizes preventative health care. In other verses, we learn that there is an obligation to go to the doctor if one is sick and needs healing. But this verse implies that a Torah-true lifestyle is all one needs to hold back illness. But where does the Torah hint at caring for oneself physically as part of this Torah-true lifestyle?

There is a common misconception, spread by the doctrine of a major world religion, that the First Man's punishment for listening to his wife was to be cursed. Rav S.R. Hirsch, in his commentary to Bereshis 3:17 notes that the Torah clearly states that "cursed is the ground for thy sake". Having been turfed out of Gan Eden, Adam isn't cursed but must work against natural adversity in order to return to his previously level of perfection. Instead of being at the top, he must climb back there slowly using the resources of the natural world. And then comes this verse:

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." (Bereshis 3:19).

Now, if it is true that Adam isn't cursed, then this statement is not a curse either but merely a statement of the new order. In order to eat, Adam must work physically. Amongst the many ways this can be interpreted is the thought that in order to merit taking in calories, one must consume them as well. Diet and exercise are commanded by God as being the ideal lifestyle.

And anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of human physiology cannot argue with this idea. There is no doubt in the scientific literature that moderate levels of physical activity, either through labour or exercise, are essential for maintaining health and prolonging life. The evidence for healthy eating is irrefutable. Only someone with blinkers on could possibly argue these points.

What's more, Torah-observant Jews need to be aware that caring for our bodies is as important as caring for our souls as both are a gift to us from God which require the best care to upkeep. We are obsessed with the idea of ever-increasing stringencies in terms of kashrus lest some impure morsel of food taint our souls but the idea of being just as stringent with our bodies and ingesting only foods which are just as healthy in a physical sense as a spiritual one is never considered.

Consider the words of the Rambam in Hilchos Deos:

Since, when the body is health and sound, one treads in the ways of the Lord, it being impossible to understand or known anything of the knowledge of the Creator when one is sick, it is obligatory upon man to avoid things which are detrimental to the body and to acclimatize himself to things which heal and fortify it.

He then goes on to discuss proper measures of eating, including avoiding gorging oneself, limiting caloric intake to periods of hunger, and when to relieve oneself. More importantly, he notes:

A person should not eat until he has walked prior to the meal so that his body begins to become warmed, or he should perform a physical task or tire himself by some other form of exertion. The rule in this matter is that one should exert one's body and fatigue it every day in the morning until one's body beings to warm."

By putting these rules into his Mishneh Torah, a work on halacha, Rambam shows that there is no difference betweeen caring for one's soul and one's body in the service of God. It is incumbent on all Toah-obsevant Jews to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly for this is part of the service of God. May we all be preserved from disease and live our lives in comfort and health.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Between the Dati Leumi World and Modern Orthodoxy

Yes, I know it's similar to Marc Shapiro's book title but I couldn't resist using it as the title of this post.

Back in the But Will It Accomplish Anything post, Ben-Yehudah made the following comment:

On a deeper topic, you mentioned the datti leumi community. Well, I hate to break this to you, but there are at least two "national camps" as it were:

1) Toranim: those who do their to follow the Torah, even when there is a conflict between Torah and Israeli law, and...(Let us set which rabbis to follow or not to follow aside for now)

2) Mamlakhtim: those who also do their best to follow the Torah, yet sometimes confuse Torah with Israeli law, often showing a bizarre, undying loyalty to the State (not Land, but State).

3) Perhaps there's a third category, call them what you will, who think that western/modern sensibilities cancel out "ancient" and "outdated" customs like men and women not touching, or women covering their hair, etc. Even though these are more than just customs which we "grow out of." I call them either "closeted, orthoprax reconstructionists" or "am ha'artzim."

I was aware of the first two groups and the tension between them. The third group is what I would call the Modern Orthodox living in Israel.

Many people believe that Modern Orthodoxy and Dati Leumi are the same thing, save that the Dati Leumi live in Israel and the Modern Orthodox in the Diaspora. From my studies on the subject, however, I've found some significant differences.

The first is the concept of an underlying vision for the movement. As Michael Schweitzer noted in his article, Modern Orthodoxy currently lacks one and creating such a concept would go a great way towards rejuvenating the movement. On the other hand, the Dati Leumi, with their belief in the role of the State of Israel in our imminent redemption do have common philosophical grounds within their ranks.

Another is that self-same approach to Israel. For Modern Orthodoxy, Israel is a great idea and a nice place to visit but the vast majority would not want to live there. Sorry to be blunt but look at the demographics. Where are the biggest Chareidi communities in the world? In Israel. Where are the biggest Modern Orthodox communities? In New York and elsewhere throughout North America. Why? Once again, Israel is a nice place to visit but there's more political and economic stability, better quality homes for less money and tastier ketchup in North America. Much of Modern Orthodoxy believes in being frum but with limited sacrifice.

On the other hand, the Dati Leumi (both groups mentioned above) are in Israel because despite the hardships of living there, they feel that they are fulfilling their duties as Jews every moment they are breathing in the air of the Land. For them, waking up in the morning and taking the bus to work is a mitzvah in and of itself. That is an idealism that cannot be matched on this side of the Atlantic.

That's not to say that the movement doesn't have problems. I would say that Ben-Yehudah's two groups are a major issue in the Dati Leumi world and its future directions. Historically, Mizrachi/Dati Leumi evolved to bring a religious element to Zionism. Whereas secular Zionists were interested in building a country for Jews to live secular lives in, the Dati Leumi ethos was the building of a state in which Jews could live modern, yet halachic lives to show the world that the law of God is not an archaic piece of literature but something with application in every day and age.

Unfortunately, the rallying cry for the State, "the first flowering of our Redemption" has lost its meaning over time. Instead of being an important part of the process towards returning God's glory to Israel and ending our long exile, many in the Dati Leumi community have come to believe in the State as the end-process, the final flowering of our Redemption, as it were. This is a tremenous error on their parts. Our people did not pray, cry and hope fervently for 1900 years for a State in which non-Jewish values would be flouted on every street corner and non-Jewish enemies would serve as legislators in its government. There is much about the State of Israel that is Jewishly imperfect but the point is that the State is the starting point. It is up to us to improve it through effort and influence so that it slowly evolves into a truly Jewish country.

In this regard, I would have much sympathy for the first group Ben-Yehudah mentioned. Yes, some might see the taint of fanaticism in the idea of rabbonim telling their students to follow Torah law when it conflicts with the law of the State but consider what happens when other groups do the same thing. Were Peres and Beilin ever charged criminally for meeting with Arafat, y"sh and his thugs to negotiate the Oslo Accords at a time when it was against the law to meet with PLO representative? How many building are there in Arab areas throughout Israel that are put up illegally and then ignored by the Israeli government for fear of causing riots through proper enforcement of the law? Even Peace Now isn't against bending the law or ignoring parts of it when its suits their purpose, such as giving aid and succor to our enemies. In that light, what is wrong with the Dati Leumi also looking out for their own interests? It is hypocrisy to criticize them for it.

In the end, the first priority of any Jew should be to ask: What does the halachah expect of me? And an honest answer to that question is what should guide our thoughts.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Reading Between the Lines

At first, this article about unemployed Chareidim in Israel seems to be the same standard fare. The usual impressions are all these: Chareidim, especially the male ones, don't work because their learning takes precedence. The implication is clear either. Here's a big chunk of Israeli society that deliberately chooses to live on welfare, draining the system of valuable resources.

Bu reading further into the article, one finds some interesting comments.

The poll, conducted regularly since 2002, indicated both male and female ultra-Orthodox employees were putting in more hours than previous years.

The study also found that ultra-Orthodox employees were more likely to say they were satisfied with jobs compared to their secular and religious counterparts.

A higher percent of ultra-Orthodox employees also said their line of work was directly related to their field of education compared to other sectors.

Almost half of ultra-Orthodox employees said they were content with their income level and 80% said they
felt fulfilled by their work. Men were more likely to be content with their income compared to women, in both ultra-Orthodox and secular sectors.

What this implies is tremendous. If one can get a Chareidi to work, one will discover that he is a ideal employee, willing to put in long hours with less complaints.

What does this suggest? Could one imagine what the contribution of this community could be if the majority of Chareidim who are currently "learning" full-time were to complete an educational goal and enter the workforce? The potential for enriching that community and relieving much of the poverty within it would be tremendous and the example of Chareidim shoulder the burdens of Israeli society next to the non-religious brethren could bring a great amount of kiddush Hashem about.

Maybe one day...

A Bad Way To Represent Your People

One thing I've noticed secular Israelis often have problems understanding is how the Jewish side of their identity is noticed by the rest of the world. Perhaps it's a result of the rampant secularism in Chiloni culture, or perhaps it's because in a country where Jews are the majority it lacks the special nature that it goes out here in the Diaspora, but many of my non-religious Israeli friends have no clue that when they travel abroad they're seen as anything other than Israelis. It is impossible to convince them that, to the world at large, there is no such thing as an Israeli. In Canada, the U.S. and Europe they are seen as Jews. Period.

That's why stories of Israelis behaving badly bother me so much. This isn't the first time an incident like this has happened either. What these kids don't, and possibly cannot realize, is that the local news media will not report this story as a bunch of foreign kids who went wild at their hotel. It's be "Jews misbehave and cause problems for locals".

Why does this matter so much? Because whether they want to be or not, Israelis are ambassadors for the Jewish people whenever they travel abroad and that's a great responsibility. We are involved in an existential struggle with our enemies for our right to have a land of our own in which we can live in peace. We are at war with both Holocaust deniers and those who say it was justified (sometime, that might even be the same person). To give ammunition to these villians is simply not acceptable.

Hopefully this incident will finally tip over something in the Israeli educational system and Israeli students will be taught this important fact. Unfortunately, I'm not hopeful.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

On Science and Halachah

Further to a previous post on the age of the universe, I would like to explore the reason for the tension between Halachah and science that has been brought to the fore as a result of recent arguments on the subject.

There is a fundamental difference between how the two systems work. Consider how science develops and evolves over time. Theories are adopted, tested and either accepted or rejected. An accepted theory can remain in vogue for a very long time only to then be discarded when new facts come to light. For example, time was always held to be absolute in terms of how it passed in the universe. Albert Einstein was the first to discover that time is, in fact, relative depending on how fast an object is moving through space. Another example is the electron, once held to be the smallest particle in the universe. Now there are a whole series of subatomic particles that have been proven to exist.

Halachah, on the other hand, works in an opposite fashion. Because all Jewish law is based on the original revelation at Sinai, all subsequent laws that develop over time and circumstances must be consistent with previous legal standards and precedents. One never finds a situation in halachah where a posek disposes of a major halachic principle because he's figured out a different one to replace it. New ways of approaching a subject may be suggested, new understandings of a phenomenon may change the way it's dealt with but the original laws maintain their position in the canon. We accept this as part of the evolution of our Divine revelation and the underlying infallibility of Torah.

From the above, it is easy to see where the tension between science and halachah comes from. Essential to the halachic system is the concept of kavod haTorah and one honours Torah by honouring our sages throughout the centuries. Honouring the sages means accepting their legal pronouncements and not suggesting, Heaven forbid, that anything they believed was irrelevant or must be changed to suit "modern times". Again, this is a non-negotiable part of Jewish belief.

However, in science, a different system of historic honouring is in place. There is a split between the scientist and his science. Thus, to use medicine as an example, most medical knowledge espoused by Galen, Hippocrates, even recent luminaries like William Osler, is not considered obsolete. The treatment of heart attacks and heart failure has changed radically over the last twenty years, let alone the last century sothat if anyone were to try and approach such an event with the theories and treatments espoused by the leading minds of medicine from 100 years ago, he would be laughed out of the hospital.

Yet this does not diminish the respect a physician should feel for past leaders in the field of medicine. Yes, their understanding of science was dated by today's standards but recognition remains that in their day and age their brilliance and knowledge was important for medicine to develop.

The problem is that within the halachic system, this split does not seem to exist. Within the halachic system, this is understandable. Ours sages were knowledgeable on a level we cannot comprehend. Their understanding cannot be questioned simply because we cannot first reach their level of Torah knowledge in order to raise that doubt. On the other hand, questioning whether a tanna or amora was right about a non-halachic issue such as science and the age of the world, is taken as a similar affront even though the matter at hand does not have anything to do with the legal structure of Judaism.

(Quick example - the sages postulated about the spontaneous generation of life, the most germaine example being their belief that lice come from sweat, something no one believes nowadays)

And again, saying that our holy sages' comprehension of science is outdated does not diminish their holiness or the respect we must pay them. In their day their understanding of science and natural history was certainly what was deemed to be accurate at the time, just as today's scientists describe natural phenomenon according to the knowledge of our time. No rational person holds that we have learned all we can about God's universe and that "inviolable rules" will not be changed in the coming decades or centuries. That doesn't diminish from the importance of these scientists and it certainly doesn't diminish the importance, holiness and intelligence of our sages.

One might go even further and suggest that the same sages who held that the sun revolved around the Earth, were they to come back to life today, would quickly absorb current astronomical knowledge and decide that, indeed, it's the Earth that revolves around the sun instead of vice versa. That is not a criticism of what they said but an acknowledgement that they sought truth in halachah and science, the former in their knowledge of the Oral Torah, and the latter through the theories and understandings of their times. And while the Torah has not, does not, and will not change and thus their positions in that area remain absolute, the theories and understandings of our times have changes over the last 2000 years requiring us to adjust what we think of science and similar matters.

In conclusion, we honour our Sages not by ignoring the reality around us but by trying to understand it the best we can and with the same sense of honest inquiry that our Sages used in their day.

A New Approach to Modern Orthodoxy

A good friend of mine, Michael Schweitzer, has just published an article in the Nishma Introspection journal out of Toronto. At the moment, he's having problems accessing his website to put a copy of the article on line so I've graciously agreed to post it here. We look forward to your comments as much of what he concludes is central to Navonim philosophy. Also, take a moment to browse the Nishma website and peruse its many interesting and intelligent articles.

R’ Dr. Michael J. Schweitzer

For some, Modern Orthodoxy is a movement with a problem. It lacks a definitive identity which has caused many of its facets to suffer. Many of its schools are populated with Torah teachers that do not reflect its specific values because the movement does not seem to produce a sufficient body of educators for its institutions. Its adherents are dwindling in numbers as its children and young adults migrate to the left and, even more so, to the right. Its influence in the general Jewish community and in the general Orthodox community is waning; its voice is not heard. The intent of this article is to approach the subject of Modern Orthodoxy and its difficulties from a point of view different than that found in the mainstream literature. I will examine the various definitions of Modern Orthodoxy, summarize what distinguishes it from Chareidi Orthodoxy, note the concerns with its viability and suggest solutions to help the movement continue forward until such time as Hashem sees fit to reveal his Moshiach and return us to our homeland in Israel.

It is with great caution and trepidation that I express my views in this article for I am not an expert or even well-read, and am not fit to even be in the presence of many of the great rabbonim of the Torah world whose opinion on this subject is far more authoritative than mine. The Mishnah in Avos tells us that a wise man does not speak in the presence of those who are greater than he in wisdom[1] but it also notes that “where there are no men, strive to be a man”[2]. It is with this intent, with the help of Hashem that I try to add my voice to the discussion in the hopes of adding something constructive to it.

Please note that this article will specifically limit its discussion to the situation regarding Modern Orthodoxy in North America. The status of the movement in Israel and its relationship with Religious Zionism (Mizrachi), although connected and of significance within this discussion, will not be fully explored due to the extended complexity of the issue.


In order to address any questions about Modern Orthodoxy, it is important to first define it. The main problem with that undertaking is the variety of levels of belief and observance found within the movement. Chaim Waxman maintains that the Modern Orthodox can be roughly divided into two groups: “behaviourally modern” and “ideologically modern.”[3] The former are those who lead their lives as they wish when it comes to work, family, and social interaction. They do this “by ignoring those aspects of halachah which they find most cumbersome or onerous and/or by a process of compartmentalization in which they apply Jewish law to some but not to other aspects of their lives.” The latter, a much smaller group, tries to reconcile strict adherence to halachah with the standards of Western culture.[4]

The approach of the behavioural group poses some great difficulties in assessing the movement as a whole. The nigh-irresistible pressures placed on the Jew choosing to lead such a lifestyle can lead to compromises that might not be sound from a halachic point of view. One author has called this an approach which is “half pagan, half halachic”.[5] Chaim Waxman notes that “the behaviourally Modern Orthodox…are not deeply concerned with philosophical ideas about either modernity or religious Zionism. By and large, they define themselves as Modern Orthodox in the sense that they are not meticulously observant.”

There are still statements found within Modern Orthodox literature that attempt to give some sense of value to the behavioural group. For example, R’ Avi Weiss notes regarding halachah that “while bordered by a system that is external to humankind – the G-d-given law, Torah miSinai, to which Jews are subservient – it also includes laws derived by the Rabbis, concerning which there may be more than one view. It therefore follows that halachah is a living structure that operates within absolute guidelines, yet one which is broad enough to allow significant latitude for the posek to take into account the individual and his or her circumstances.”[6] In truth, this definition does not actually apply to the behavioural group which isn’t particularly interested in the flexibility of halachah, especially when faced with situations where no interest in observing it actually exists. What this statement, though, does still present is a value in the personal drives and desires of the individual. If Halacha is flexible, the result is that it can be seen as possibly giving value to one’s personal interests. The oft-quoted remark that “if there is a Halachic will, there is a Halachic way” offers the behavioural Orthodox the defence that the only reason that their desired action is not yet permitted is because the rabbis haven’t figured out the solution, yet – with fault being placed on the rabbis for not embracing this new perspective and the necessary work to define the theoretical Halachic allowance.

The result is that, far from standing for something, this defines the group in the negative. It is not unusual to hear Modern Orthodox Jews, specifically of the behavioural group, define their level of observance as “Of course I won’t do that. I’m not Reform, you know!” When confronted with practices that contravene halachah, the standard answer given is “I’m not like that. I’m not chareidi!” This lack of positive ideology excludes them from discussions regarding the essential religious and philosophical nature of Modern Orthodoxy.

Helmreich and Shinnar define the ideological group as “a movement that seeks to harmonize the secular and the religious in ways that are compatible with both.”[7] They posit that what defines Modern Orthodoxy as a movement is that it tries to respond to the challenge of living in the modern world within the guidelines set by Torah. How is this to be done? They contend that Modern Orthodoxy’s approach is “a belief that one can and should be a full member of modern society, accepting the risk to remaining observant, because the benefits outweigh those risks. What it means is that a Jew can study the writings of Christian philosophy, learn any scientific therapy he or she wants to, attend a concert at which women sing (accepting the view of some halachic authorities that this is permitted), interact with non-Jews on multiple levels, and do pretty much what others do in their own societies, even while leading a fully observant life.” To fully understand the depth and challenge inherent in this statement, it is necessary, though, to consider the roots of the movement.


In order to better analyze Modern Orthodoxy, it is important to briefly review its historical development. The movement can trace its existence to two schools of thought that developed in Germany approximately 100-150 years ago. The current forms of Modern Orthodoxy developed from these two schools, the Frankfurt School and the Berlin School.

The Frankfurt School was created by R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, zt”l (5568-5648) around the year 5611 (1851 AD) when he became the head rav of the Israelite Religious Society, a group of Orthodox Jews opposed to the spread of Reform Judaism in Germany. He organized the local teaching institutions as well as writing copious materials to support his view of Torah and refute Reform’s heretical opinions.

The main theme of his writings was Torah Im Derech Eretz, Torah with secular knowledge. As opposed to classical Chareidi teaching which disdained any learning of non-religious (i.e. non-Torah) subjects and minimized the importance of gainful employment in order to better focus on the intense study of Torah, the Torah Im Derech Eretz approach developed by R’ Hirsch proposed that working for a living, the learning of secular subjects and the embracing of certain aspects of general culture, could be used to develop one’s understanding of Torah and enhance one’s Orthodox lifestyle. However, R’ Hirsch’s approach was still to affirm the primacy of Torah over the study of secular subjects and working for a living. Secular knowledge was important for a better understanding of Torah concepts and working served the function of allowing people to be able to afford the costs of education and living a Jewish lifestyle but they were seen as fully subservient to the role of Torah in the Jew’s life, never to be allowed to challenge the centrality of the Holy Writ or influence its practical observance.[8] Furthermore, R’ Hirsch was selective in choosing his sources. He strongly felt that all things in the world were the creation of G-d and therefore had a promise of eventual benefit in them.[9] Secular knowledge, behaviour and appreciation of the natural world was useless, though, unless it inspired religiously; but if it did, it was obligatory to use it to enhance one’s practice and understanding of Torah. Of importance to note is that, even and especially when analyzing Torah subjects, he and his followers generally ignored non-traditional scholars and the scholarly techniques in use at German universities of the day.[10]

Although Rav Hirsch was not the first Jewish authority to propose the concept of Torah Im Derech Eretz (the concept is specifically mentioned in Avos 2:2 and again in a different fashion in 3:20), he was the first to create a formal structure for it that would allow for a response to the challenges of modernity and Reform. In other words, R’ Hirsch developed Torah Im Derech Eretz into a philosophy that would encompass a Jew’s entire worldview, allowing him to move comfortably as a Torah-observant Jew throughout the surrounding society without giving up his level of observance.

While Rav Hirsch’s Frankfurt School of thought did produce Jews who were strictly observant and able to move within secular society without compromising on their Torah beliefs, it failed to produce, in any significant number, Gedolim like the Litvish yeshivah world with its exclusive focus on Torah study. On the other hand, Rav Hirsch’s approach conferred a tremendous advantage to its students in their day-to-day lives. Many Litvish scholars who came in contact with the secular world were often overwhelmed by it and were unable to respond to its challenges[11] while those schooled in Torah Im Derech Eretz were able to overcome the challenges.

The Berlin School was founded by R’ Azriel Hildesheimer (5580-5659). R’ Hildesheimer was extensively educated not only in Torah subjects but in classical secular studies as well. His Berlin Rabbinical Seminary was unique in that it demanded that its students have a high level of achievement in secular studies to be admitted to its program. They were also expected to continue with a concurrent university program during their time in the Seminary. His goal was to create a centre for Jewish intelligentsia, not merely a school for producing rabbis.

Given this objective, it should not be surprising to hear that the Berlin school’s approach towards secular knowledge was even more welcoming than the Frankfort’s school’s approach. In contrast to R’ Hirsch’s limitation on the interaction with secular studies when there was a deep contrast with Torah-observant sources, the Berlin school approached Torah with the scholarly approach commonly used in non-Jewish universities of the time. R’ Hildesheimer’s successor, R’ David Tzi Hoffman and one of his prominent lecturers, Samuel Grünberg, encouraged an approach that would produce students who would be able to confront the intellectual attacks on Judaism that were coming from the schools of Biblical Criticism and the Reform movement. Indeed, the Reform Movement saw the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary as a tremendous threat specifically because its students could refute its heretical assertions on scholarly grounds.

The major disadvantage of this approach was that the study of Judaism by the Berlin school became more scholarly and scientific, and less passionate. R’ Hirsch’s critical response to the approach seems particularly apt: “Has the ‘Science of Judaism’ interested our contemporary generations in drinking deeply, and on their own, from the wellsprings of Judaism in order to enlighten their minds, warm their hearts, and gain sufficient energy and courage for vital, active, personal involvement in the pulsating life of our present day?”[12]

Another difference between the Frankfurt and Berlin schools was the level of interaction between the students of each school and the surrounding Jewish community. R’ Hirsch’s school avoided any attempts at cooperation with those elements of the community that did not adhere to Orthodoxy, even in matters important to the Jewish population in general. In contrast, the Berlin school initially chose to allow a degree of cooperation with non-religious scholars, albeit not in sacred matters. Because of their emphasis on an academic, scholarly technique in Torah study, it was logical that they should hold discussions with other people who shared a similar approach. However, this eventually expanded so that after a generation, the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary was conversing with the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, both non-Torah-observant institutions. This is something that R’ Hirsch’s school would never have done. It is even questionable whether or not the Berlin school’s founder, R’ Hildesheimer, would have approved of such a high level of interaction.[13]

Modern Orthodoxy, to a large extent, in its current form seems to owe more to the Berlin school than the Frankfurt school, even though many people who identify themselves as Modern Orthodox often point to R’ Hirsch as the first rav of their movement. Clearly the current emphasis within the Modern Orthodox movement of Torah U’Maddah is a direct successor to R’ Hildesheimer’s philosophy and less an inheritor of R’ Hirsch’s Torah Im Derech Eretz which helped to found the Agudat Yisrael organization and to this day sees itself as a part of it. In actuality, the Frankfurt school, to a certain extent, eventually connected with the Charedi world which yields some of the problems in attempting to understand Modern Orthodoxy.


Given the above realization, the very name of the movement presents a problem. Modern Orthodoxy is, as defined above, a philosophy that halachic living can and should be reconciled with the demands of the modern world. However, if one looks at the Chareidi world, one can find a great deal of appreciation of modernity within it. Whether it is engaging in professions such as medicine and accounting, or accessing current technology such as the Internet, Chareidi Jews are as much a part of the surrounding world as Modern Orthodox Jews. Even the ultimate stereotype of the Chareidi rejection of the outside world, the Neturei Karta, have a website! Thus, the concept of reconciling halachah and modern society is not a problem unique to the Modern Orthodox, nor are they the only Torah-observant group trying to solve the dilemma such juxtaposition causes. This is actually the legacy of the Frankfurt school which effectively integrated into the Charedi world. (A discussion of how the Charedi world, in turn, may have affected Rabbi Hirsch’s original concept and the Frankfurt school over time, while of interest, is beyond the parameters of this article.)

In terms of education, as such, many Chareidi Jews are also quite knowledgeable about various secular fields. One can find Chareidi physicians and surgeons, scientists, mathematicians and physicists. Rav Adin Steinsaltz is renowned not just for his encyclopaedic knowledge of Torah but also for his expertise in physics, history and philosophy. Rav Yonasan Rosenblem, a personal acquaintance and the director of Am Echad, a Chareidi media resource centre in Israel, is knowledgeable about numerous classic and contemporary literary works and has extensive legal training as well. Rav Dovid Gottleib of Ohr Someach in Jerusalem has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is a recognized expert in the field. To therefore state that a difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidi Orthodoxy is simply the level of interaction with the secular world, would be a fallacy. Beyond an analysis of the distinction between the Berlin School and the Frankfurt School, what is demanded is a more thorough investigation into the essence of this distinction.


Historically, Judaism has been a religion/nationality in which personal behaviours and observance link the individual to the surrounding community. As a result, the religious leadership of the Jewish nation and sense of community have always been important. “All Jews are responsible for each other” goes the popular saying from the Talmud. Classical Judaism demands a loyalty to Torah and the community that upholds it, with those demands very thoroughly defined. The downside of this concept is that when the individual’s needs are not addressed by the community, this can lead to a tension between the collective and that individual.

In addressing this tension, the Chareidi community has chosen to emphasize the collective over the individual. As a rule, Chareidim are very much subordinate to their communities, affording tremendous power to their rabbinical leaders and enforcing standards on all their members, hence the strong role the Gadol plays in their circles. It is not a mere coincidence that members of a particular Chasidic clan will all wear identical suits and speak in similar ways, or that students of a particular yeshivah will all hold the same opinions as their Rosh Yeshivah. Within the current chareidi community there is a great consensus on what chumros are considered mandatory and what standards people should uphold if they wish to join the group. Much of this is due to a sense of central authority, be it through the various Councils of Sages in Israel or the Agudas Yisrael in the United States and Israel.

On the other hand, within the Modern Orthodox world there is no real functioning central authority. There is Yeshiva University which is the leading centre of Modern Orthodox learning, but unlike Ponevezh or Gur, there are few leaders within that institution who either have the authority or the inclination to issue decrees on the entire Modern Orthodox world and expect that people will follow their instructions obediently.[14]

Instead of conformity, ideological Modern Orthodoxy has chosen to emphasize the individual through the exercise of personal autonomy. Rather than accept the group-think mentality that dominates the Chareidi world, Modern Orthodox Jews demand their independence in thought and action. A rabbi in a Modern Orthodox community is expected to pasken with far more authority than a Chareidi one who might more commonly seek out the opinion of his Gedolei HaDor and defer to that. The tremendous advantage of this approach is that the local rabbi often understands the unique composition and needs of his community and can therefore handle halachic inquiries with a greater sense of relevancy to the questioner.

However, there is a significant negative to this emphasis of the individual over the collective. A Modern Orthodox Jew often keeps those minhagim he or she relates to or can rationalize, dresses as he or she wants to, and interacts with modern society to the degree that he or she thinks best. The result makes it quite problematic to actually describe what a Modern Orthodox Jew is. When a person describes himself as Chareidi, many assumptions in terms of level of observance, standards of kashrus, etc. are automatically defined. This is not the case when a person describes himself as Modern Orthodox. One Modern Orthodox Jew’s definition of kosher may be far too lenient for another Modern Orthodox Jew to rely on. Spending Shabbos together may be difficult. Due to the conflict between the concept of personal autonomy and the need to conform to the greater collective, even important philosophical beliefs may be completely different until the only thing the two individuals have in common is their not belonging either to the secular or very religious segments of the Jewish people.

This lack of uniformity and passion is also robbing Modern Orthodoxy of much of its next generation. Most people are familiar with the concept of students spending a year in Israel following the completion of their high school studies and before beginning university. What is becoming more noticeable is the number of Modern Orthodox youth who return from the year (assuming they don’t succumb to the temptation to stay “a little longer”) looking for a more intense and passionate way to practice their Judaism while eschewing their Modern Orthodox background and its traditions to which they feel little connection. This happens for the most obvious of reasons. At that stage in their lives, children are becoming young adults and their sense of identity is still in flux. They naturally seek out groups to belong to and ideologies to adopt so they can feel that they are part of a greater whole. A Modern Orthodox setting will give them choices. A Chareidi setting will provide opinions, make their choices for them and give them a uniform so they can become part of a group.


Our Sages tell us that the Torah is as endless as the waters of the ocean. No one person can learn all that is incumbent upon him and yet we are not allowed to desist from the effort.[15] If one compares the Chareidi and the Modern Orthodox approach to learning, a few differences immediately present themselves as well.

a) Importance of ongoing Torah study – The concept of Torah Lishmah and ongoing intensive Torah study defines Chareidi learning circles. It is not uncommon to walk into a Litvish yeshivah and see two masmidim arguing over whose ox gored whose first and is therefore responsible for the damages even though neither person has probably ever seen an ox or would recognize one if it attacked him in the street. In addition, within the Chareidi world only Torah-based information is generally permitted in a discussion. One may wish to argue over an event that occurred in the history of the Babylonian Jewish community but bringing in archaeological or non-Orthodox sources to bolster one’s proof would generally be avoided. The words of Chazal are supreme and not to be contradicted. In the Modern Orthodox world, by contrast, the importance of Torah scholarship has a less exclusive prominence and as a result, a certain amount of external knowledge is generally encouraged. As a result, when an average[16] chareidi and certain types of Modern Orthodox Jews debate a position, the chareidi is far more likely to justify his position in purely Jewish terms because of his total reliance on his learning, while the Modern Orthodox Jew may bring in “outside” references to bolster his position. Additionally, in Chareidi yeshivos and learning groups, it is generally the rav who teaches the shiur or leads the discussion and has the final word in disputes. In Modern Orthodox circles, it is not unusual to find Ph.D’s or other “qualified” individuals teaching shiurim to others and in topics that, strictly speaking, aren’t Torah study such as Biblical criticism or archaeological discoveries. This is not to disparage the level of knowledge the individual may have but it does diminish the leading role of the Rav found in more traditional groups, reducing him to the level of one expert among many while giving the outside subjects the same perceived value as true limud Torah.
b) Approach to halachah – amongst the chareidim, there is a controversial concept of daas Torah, loosely defined as “the views of their rabbinic leaders must be followed without question even in non-halachic areas.”[17] Daas Torah nowadays seems to function as a trump card in halachic matters, ending the discussion with a decision even though the “losing” side might have definite opinions to back it up.[18] Within Modern Orthodoxy, there is a much more scientific approach to halachah where variant positions are judged based on the evidence that supports them within Jewish legal literature. “Halachah is a rational discipline operating in the empirical world, open to argument and counter-argument and the development of consensus.”[19] This approach often leads to a more intelligent approach to the subject in question but yields far less definitive answers as, almost by definition, any approach which has support in the literature retains its legitimacy.
c) Passion - When a chareidi Jew prays or learns, he sways back and forth. He may be reading t’hillim, or he may be slogging through a particularly dry sugya in gemara, but he does it with a tune and with emphasis. There is a love and liveliness to his practice. In the Modern Orthodox world, things are much more emotionally sterile. As noted above, the Modern Orthodox community can be divided into the behavioural and ideological. The behaviourally Modern Orthodox community does not seek too much depth in Torah and generally looks for its excitement out in the secular world. They may enjoy their Purim parties but an inspirational drasha doesn’t terribly excite them. On the other hand, the ideological Modern Orthodox approach Torah and halachah from a very intellectual point of view. As a result, halachic dispute and discussion contain all the excitement of a debate on the physics of quantum mechanics. For those intelligent enough to understand the varying positions it can be enthralling and involving but only a very few can function at this level. Furthermore, the emphasis on empiricism precludes strong emotional attachment to one’s view and eliminates true passion from the debate. As a result, “the ability of Modern Orthodoxy to attract a large following and become a movement is inherently inhibited by the fact that it is highly rational and intellectual. This alone would limit its attraction since it has built-in tensions and frequently requires consciously living with inconsistency.”[20]

It is for these two reasons that it can be argued that Modern Orthodoxy falls short in its dispute with the Chareidi world. First, in not emphasizing and grounding itself firmly and positively in Torah and halachah in the broadest sense, and, second, in not offering a sense of unity in approach, is there any wonder that it is losing ground in influence throughout the Jewish world?


Some articles on Modern Orthodoxy do attempt to expound some positions the movement maintains from a positive perspective. Rav Avi Weiss’ well-known article “Open Orthodoxy! A Modern Orthodox Rabbi’s Creed” he lists several items, including the use of secular knowledge to better understand Torah, a feeling of community with non-religious Jewish groups, a support of the State of Israel and the equality of women in Jewish ritual observance. Other writers go further, adding such matters such as participating in civil society, valuing secular knowledge for its own sake and making the helping of the non-Jewish disadvantaged a priority.[21] The following questions must be asked: Is this a proper expression of what Modern Orthodoxy stands for? what core beliefs lead them to these conclusions? Why do they believe what they do?

Rav David Hartmann, speaking in Toronto in the fall of 1991 on the subject of interactions and dialogue between different religious groups, made a simple but memorable point: “A single question cannot have two contradictory answers which are both correct.” For example, if Muhammed, y”sh is indeed the last prophet and Hashem, going by the name Allah, did instruct him in the principles of the new “true” religion, Islam, Judaism and Christianity are false faiths and it is wrong to observe them. If Muhammed made the whole story up, then Islam is based on a falsehood despite having a billion adherents. It is intellectually dishonest to justify both Judaism and Islam by the pathetic phrase “Well, that may be what you believe and I guess we’ll just have to disagree while respecting each other’s opinion.”

Rav S. R. Hirsch, zt”l, phrased this idea similarly. PROBLEM WITH QUOTE – CHECK IT OVER “Let us not deceive ourselves. The whole question is simply this. Is the statement And G-d spoke to Moses saying with which all the laws of the Jewish Bible commence, true or not true? Do we truly believe that G-d, the Omnipotent and Holy, spoke thus to Moses? Do we speak the truth when in front of our brethren we lay our hand on the scroll containing these words and say that G-d has given us this Torah, the Torah of truth and with it of eternal life, is planted in our midst? Is this is to be no mere lip service, no mere rhetorical flourish, then we must keep and carry out this Torah without omission and without carping, in all circumstances and at all times. This word of G-d must be our eternal rule superior to all human judgement, the rule to which all our actions must at all times conform; and instead of complaining that it is no longer suitable to the times, our only complaint must be that times are no longer suitable to it. And if, again, in carrying out this word of G-d we choose to follow the teachings and instructions that have come down to us from the Rabbis, we can and must do only if and because we recognize in them the same divine origin as the written word of G-d.”[22]

This approach can therefore be used to determine which beliefs are authoritatively Jewish or not. Either Matan Torah happened as described in the book of Sh’mos and as elucidated by our Sages, or it didn’t. Either the Torah Shel Ba’al Peh is an authentic and inseparable part of our law given by Hashem to Moshe Rabeinu a”h or it isn’t. Either the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries are the most current authoritative source of Jewish law and practice or they aren’t. The answers to these questions and many more decide whether a person is faithful to Toras Moshe or not. What are the answers given by the Modern Orthodox community and why do they choose them?

Additionally, one must examine the influence of the surrounding culture on a Modern Orthodoxy which is not insulated from its effects. One factor affecting Modern Orthodox perceptions is that of the dominant Christian culture around us with its emphasis on public worship and relative lack of rituals for observance in the home. Another corrupting factor has been Secular Liberalism’s presumption that inequality between two groups (for example, men and women) must render one superior and one inferior, hence propagating unfairness. Finally there is the philosophy of the feminist movement in which any task traditionally thought of as “women’s work” has been denigrated and disregarded. Thus the emphasis on communal worship, the perception of inequality and the diminishment of the importance of the role of the women in maintaining the home have seeped into Modern Orthodox thought. The same writers who insist that Modern Orthodoxy is all about giving women equal rights to participate in shul and have their own Megillah readings come Purim give minimal mention to the challenge of the source and heredity of these values. If they have emerged from our interaction with the secular world, the first issue that must be addressed is how this interaction is to be understood within the Torah perspective.

Having stated all this, we return to the question of why Modern Orthodox Jews believe what they do. An example should suffice: A Chareidi family will not own a television for halachic reasons. Their Gedolim have forbidden the device because of the perceived spiritual damages it can cause. They will therefore avoid television and everything to do with it as a positive expression of their beliefs. In contrast, the answer for a Modern Orthodox person owning a television might be “I don’t think G-d has a problem with it.” That is the true problem with this group; even the ideological adherents often do not perform activities with the positive intent of worshiping God. They argue that a practice is permitted but the ideal is not considered. A corresponding Modern Orthodox answer to the question of the acceptability of modern media in the home should be: “I think the positives of television outweigh the negatives and possessing one helps enhance my Judaism. God wants me to enhance my Judaism so I own a 45” plasma just to be machmir” but how often does one hear that stated?

At the root of Orthodoxy, a Jew does not perform activities because they’re “nice” or “the right thing to do”. The guiding point of every action should be that these actions are a Jew’s fulfillment of ratzon Hashem, God’s Will. It’s one thing to echo secular concerns and say that this is what defines Modern Orthodoxy. Without first declaring, though, that the fundamental assumption behind adopting these concerns is a desire to fulfill ratzon Hashem, these activities lack legitimacy from a Jewish standpoint and cannot define Orthodoxy.


There is a common failing amongst struggling groups. They continue to implement ideas and plans that, until now, have failed miserably in the hope that they will soon become successful. As Modern Orthodoxy has faced its difficulties over the last few decades, there has been a tendency to emphasize the “Modern” as a way to redeem the movement. Thus the Edah organization used “The Courage to be Modern and Orthodox” as its slogan, as if there was some important Jewish expectation that one must be modern to be a good Jew and that this is courageous in some sense. This approach has never shown much success. Modern Orthodoxy has done a poor job over the last few decades when it comes to producing Torah scholars, defining the image of a Jew in the public arena and the greater Jewish community, interesting people through outreach and attracting other Orthodox Jews while holding on to their own young.

The response from many Modern Orthodox authorities has therefore been to increase the “Modern” yet further. We are now told women’s prayer groups, mixed learning and social events and an appreciation of secular knowledge will strengthen the movement and lead it back to greatness although these very attempts have had the opposite result until now. As a reaction to the increasing power of the Chareidi community in defining what a Torah-observant Jew should look and act like, Modern Orthodoxy has come to emphasize matters that are only remotely connected with Torah, like showing concern for world affairs and engaging the general community in feel-good endeavours. The final result is that while the mother might express her modernity at an all-women’s prayer service, her children will do it at the movies.

It might be posited that much of what Modern Orthodoxy posits as its defining characteristics are, in fact, qualities of Secular Liberalism that have snuck into the mindset of Jews who have become immersed in Western culture and have blurred the line between halachic positions and politically correct ones. This must be recognized and countered by accurate understanding of Torah sources and a desire for the Jew to seek out a true manner of service of Hashem not based on self-interest or “what I think is right.”


At the root of this matter is the question of legitimacy. Simply put, is the concept of Modern Orthodoxy, with its combining of the sacred word of Hashem and human sources of knowledge, one that is consistent with Torah and halachah?

There are those in the Chareidi world who would answer that question in the negative. Certainly their viewpoint has its sources. For example, Moshe Rabeinu tells us that the Torah is “your life and the length of your days.”[23] Further, at the beginning of his career as leader, Yehoshua is told by Hashem that “this book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth but you should contemplate it day and night in order that you observe it to do according to all that is written in it, for then you will be successful in your way and you will act wisely.”[24] As a final example, we have the words of the mishnah in Avos: “Turn it over and turn it over for everything is in it, and in it shall you gaze.”[25] From these sources, it would seem that a life dedicated exclusively to the study of Torah would be the standard by which an observant Jew would have to live his life.

However, even a superficial knowledge of Jewish history is enough to indicate that this interpretation is not correct. Throughout the Talmud we are told of what work our Sages of blessed memory engaged in. Indeed, the concept of paying a rabbi to teach Torah only came about, according to some opinions, when that teaching began taking up so much time that the rabbis in question could no longer find time to both practise a trade and teach. As is well known, both the Rambam and Ramban were physicians while Yitzchak Abarbanel was a minister of finance in medieval Spain. If exclusive Torah learning is a requirement, how did these giants of our people justify their career choices?

Furthermore, the technology that permeates modern society affects all of us. Unless we wish to return to an existence that excludes such basic utilities as running water, electricity and toilet paper, or we wish to be parasites living off the hard work of the secular world around us without participating in it, we must engage in some level of secular education in order to better our own circumstances and through that, our ability to observe and learn Torah. Therefore, Modern Orthodoxy must declare that, al pi haTorah, it is not just desirable but necessary for an observant Jew to engage in secular education – even if only in order to learn a profession or trade - something the Talmud had already recommended 1500 years ago. But again, can this define Modern Orthodoxy? Are there not elements within the Charedi world, perhaps connected to the Frankfurt School, which would maintain the same position?

The movement must do something more than announce that going to university or working for a living are permitted. Right at the beginning of the story of Creation we are told that Adam HaRishon was commanded to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”[26] Yishiahu 45:18 states: “He is God, the One who fashioned the Earth and its Maker; He established it’ He did not create it to be empty; He fashioned it to be inhabited.” Building a civil society with all its physical and cultural appurtenances is, therefore, not against the Torah or even only a simple utilitarian necessity. It is a positive Torah value for Jews to become educated and cultured so that they can, al pi haTorah contribute to the world around them and help bring God’s morality to it. This must be the guiding motivation of Modern Orthodox. It must not be a religious position of exclusion but rather an expression of the highest aims of Torah and Judaism. It is not merely permitted to be modern. In many ways, it is obligatory!


In order to become a viable alternative to Chareidi Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy must undergo profound changes. While deciding the specifics of this is beyond the scope of this article, it can be proposed here that Modern Orthodoxy’s intellectual group should lead the way in this endeavour. If the movement is to change from its current status as a loose association of “not Chareidi, not non-observant” members, any definitions decided on should be done so from the rigorous standpoint of halachah as interpreted through traditional yet scholarly methods. It might be noted that the behaviourally Orthodox group may be slighted by this approach. It is important, however, that the Modern Orthodox movement move beyond vague definitions and into more concrete territory even though it will compromise some of the autonomy which has defined it until now.

In this regard, the leading luminaries and religious authorities of the Modern Orthodox world must work together to develop such meaningful definitions for the movement. Any characteristics that are negative (“we’re not ultra-Orthodox”) or emphasize an attachment to secular liberal priorities (“we’re all about helping the world through Tikun Olam”) cannot be fundamental parts of this definition. As mentioned at the end of the previous section, Modern Orthodoxy must define itself as an approach to Torah and the understanding of the Will of God for us in this World.

This must be an authoritative description. It must include uncompromising loyalty to Torah and mitzvos with the emphasis on developing a system of halachic observance based on rational analysis of the traditional sources. The first and only fealty of the Modern Orthodox Jew must be to Hashem and His expectations for us. “Turn the Torah over again and again, for everything is contained within it.” [27] Any definition so vague as to not exclude anyone who currently considers himself/herself Modern Orthodox, no matter how limited his/her practice of halachah would be meaningless; only in the authority granted to these definitions will there be the capability of encouraging behavioural and philosophical change amongst those on both sides of the movement. Like the Chareidi world, it will be important to define what is “right” and “wrong” within the scope of Jewish practice based more on centrally derived values than on reactions to the non-religious and ultra-Orthodox communities.

The next step would be to begin a centralized coordination of all those institutions in North America that claim to be Modern Orthodox in ideology to ensure that a common message, based on these standards is being transmitted to their memberships about the movement and its expectations of members. Again, these expectations would have to be decided by the leading figures of the movement. It would necessitate bringing a Chareidi concept, that of the Gadol, or authoritative halachic leader, into the Modern Orthodox world albeit with amendments reflecting the distinctive nature of Modern Orthodoxy. On the surface, this may be seen as an assault on one of the most precious features in the current dogma of Modern Orthodoxy -- the aforementioned personal autonomy over the values of the greater community -- but it is the extreme statement of this value that is exactly one of the main features that keeps Modern Orthodoxy from advancing as a movement and realizing any potential. Does this mean a total restriction on autonomy? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that there will be the articulation of the parameters that maintains the necessary vision of the movement. An old Jewish curse goes “May you have many leaders”. With Modern Orthodox gedolim defining the movement and setting down standards, the form of the movement would become far more cohesive.

There must also be a philosophical shift within the world of Modern Orthodoxy. Charedi Judaism keeps its adherents loyal and dedicated through its use of emotion. Oftentimes, Modern Orthodoxy attempts to bring forth this emotion through its nationalistic fervour specifically in its commitment to Israel. This is not enough, especially outside of the Land. The passion for Torah must be paramount.

Within the Charedi world, there is a concept of kavod haTorah which animates its members. Charedi Jews are, often, not as strong in terms of honestly approaching halachah from an impassioned position of scrutiny. This does not hinder them because of the strength of the emotions they feel for their system of Judaism, their leaders, their perception of Torah and Hashem.

If Modern Orthodoxy wishes to evolve into a strong, relevant movement, then this passion must be brought into it. For the intellectual group within the Modern Orthodox world, Judaism has become, in a sense, the equivalent of scientific study. Rare, gifted individuals can be excited by new dimensions in quantum physics. The masses would just yawn at such a thing. It is the same within the Torah world. While the intellectual group within Modern Orthodoxy is certainly no less knowledgeable (some might say even more so) of the intricacies of Torah than their chareidi counterparts, the average Modern Orthodox Jew is not given anything to feel excited over. What’s more, the egalitarian structure that most Modern Orthodox institutions adopt takes away from the concept of kavod haTorah that encourages this missing passion. Rabbonim within the movement must regain the sense of being leaders through the respect inherent in their positions. The rav shouldn’t just be an employee. He is a teacher in the subject most important to the soul of a Jew. A hierarchy, as distasteful as that might be to the autonomous standard currently in place, is necessary to restore that respect and the passion that would come with it.

Another philosophical shift must occur in the perception of what is considered “Torah-true” behaviour. Through diligent public relations work and subtle propaganda, the Chareidi community has positioned itself as the authentic version of Judaism. Anything which fails to meet its minimum standard or deviates from it is automatically considered “less Jewish”. Along with this has come the attitude that s when there are two competing opinions in an area of halachah, the more stringent one is automatically the more legitimate one. This must be challenged by the Modern Orthodox community. In pure halachah, it is the opinion that one feels is most in consonance with what Hashem wishes that is the most correct opinion for that person, not whichever is stricter. This must be emphasized in Modern Orthodox education.

Following this, two final initiatives must be considered. One is the establishment of a common curriculum in all Modern Orthodox educational institutions demanding excellence in both secular and Torah based studies. The movement must produce students capable of navigating themselves competently through general society while educating them to understand the depth and excitement of true Torah study. Modern Orthodoxy must not be apologetic about embracing this approach which will lead to its students fulfilling the words of the Shulchan Aruch (O.Ch 156): “After a session of Torah study, go to work. This is because all Torah which is not combined with a job will eventually come to nothing and will lead to sin. One should not make his work the chief focus of his life but rather secondary to his Torah and in this manner both will flourish.”[28]

The additional advantage of this initiative will be to produce Modern Orthodox educators so that the movement’s current institutions can reduce their reliance on teachers of Judaism that are not always reflective of the studies or the students they teach. Modern Orthodox teachers, rigorously trained in both secular and Jewish subjects and approaching their students with enthusiasm, will have a self-perpetuating effect on the movement that is incalculable.

Also, just as the Agudas Yisroel distributes books and materials emphasizing their points of views and insights through major publishers such as Artscroll and Feldheim, Modern Orthodoxy must retain a publisher and begin spreading books and materials relevant to its philosophy. Why is it that the current Orthodox Union siddur is published by Artscroll and not by a Modern Orthodox publisher? When searching the shelves of the local Jewish book stores, one can justifiably ask: where are the biographies of the Rav and other luminaries from the Modern Orthodox world? The importance of this aspect of the movement cannot be over-emphasized.

In the end, Modern Orthodoxy must not only be about statements of position and practice. It must also be about belief. We should define our practises according to halachah and, after proper introspection, drop those changes that have entered the movement because of a desire to be more like Secular Liberalism even though we may have fooled ourselves into thinking that we are fulfilling our halachic commitments by doing them. We should develop the passion for our style of Jewishness that the Chareidim have for theirs that will enhance our faith in Hashem and His Torah. “A person, who believes with his whole heart in God’s help, will always be happy and be able to endure everything.”[29] We should teach our children that Orthodoxy isn’t just the default lifestyle they were born into but a growing, active framework around which to develop and grow. And we should reach out to our non-religious brethren and show them that a Modern Orthodox lifestyle is a viable, superior form of Jewish life that can only benefit them and give them true spiritual satisfaction.

The author wishes to express hakaras hatov to Rav Ben Hecht for his assistance and editing work on this article.

R’ Dr. Michael Schweitzer is a Family Physician in Hamilton, Ontario and is an associate clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University. He is also the author of three really good fantasy novels: The Curse of Garnel Ironheart, The Ashes of Alladag and We, the Living which you should go out and buy right away.

[1] Avos 5:7
[2] Avos 2:5
[3] Waxman, C.I. “Dilemmas of Modern Orthodoxy: Sociological and Philosophical” p.1
[4] Leibman, C.S. “Modern Orthodoxy in Israel” p.1
[5] Liebamn, C.S. “Orthodoxy in American Jewish Life”, p. 91
[6] Weiss, A “Open Orthodoxy! A Modern Orthodox Rabbi’s Creed” p. 1
[7] Helmreich, W.B. and Shinnar, R. “Modern Orthodoxy in America: Possibilities for a Movement Under Seige” Jerusalem Letters 383 (1-Jun-1998)
[8] “In my humble opinion the first principle for understanding the words of our Sages is that they were experts in the law of G-d. They received, transmitted and taught His Torah, commandments, laws and statutes but they were not necessarily experts in science, mathematics, astronomy or medicine – except when it was relevant to knowing and observing the commandments of the Torah. We do not find that secular knowledge was transmitted at Mt. Sinai. The greatest of our Sages know the wisdom and the science according to what was accepted as true by the leading secular scientists of the day.” Shapiro, Marc B. “Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy” The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization CHECK NUMBERING
[8] Grayel, S. “A History of the Jews” Meridian equals of these scholars but did not transcend the secular knowledge of their day.” (Letter on Agada, p 9-10) CHECK QUOTE
[9] For example, he was well known to admire the Alps as an example of the grandeur of G-d’s creation. He also favoured the use of choirs during prayers because of the enhancement to the beauty of the service that they offered.
[10] Shapiro, Marc B. “Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy” The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization
[11] Hence the Haskalah was tremendously successful in damaging the religious population of Eastern Europe while in Germany, R. Hirsch’s approach kept the Reform Movement from wreaking similar harm.
[12] “Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch” vii 39-40 (New York, 1992)
[13] See 11.
[14] Don’t you just hate people who put lots of endnotes into an essay which means you have to flick the pages back and forth to keep up with whatever they’re trying to tell you? Yeah, me too.
[15] Cf. Avos 2:16
[16] And that description is important because, of course, there are many scholars and fools on both sides of the fence
[17] Weiss, A “Open Orthodoxy! A Modern Orthodox Rabbi’s Creed” p. 3
[18] For example, the recent controversy over whether Metzitzah B’Peh, the sucking of the blood from the wound caused by ritual circumcision, must be done by the mohel putting his mouth directly on the infant’s organ. Within the response literature, based on the relevant discussion in B. Shabbos, there are positions both demanding it and being lenient by allowing a pipe to interpose between the mouth and the organ. After a number of newborns circumcised by a particular mohel in the New York area developed neonatal herpes, Rav Moshe D. Tendler attempted to rein in the practice for health reasons. The controversy made its way to the highest chareidi circles in Israel where the final daas Torah pronouncement was made banning any form of metzitah b’peh other than the traditional direct one and declaring this to be the only acceptable form.
[19] Sacks, J. “Traditional Alternatives: Orthodoxy and the Future of the Jewish People” p.136
[20] Waxman, C.I. “Dilemmas of Modern Orthodoxy: Sociological and Philosophical” p.6
[21] Lockshin, M. “A Modern Orthodox Manifesto” Canadian Jewish News March 1, 2007
[22] Hirsch, R.S.R. “Judaism Eternal” Vol II, P. 26
[23] Devarim 30:20
[24] Yehoshua 1:8
[25] Avos 5:28
[26] Bereishis 1:28
[27] Avos 5:22
[28] Translation from Eidensohn, D. “Daas Torah” Emunah Press, Jerusalem 2005
[29] Orchos Tzadikim, 9th Gate – The Gate of Happiness