Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 23 September 2013

Beyond Synthesis

A Guest Post From Rav Ben Hecht
When Garnel put up his post entitled The Necessary Synthesis (at, I mentioned to him that while I thought there was value in his overall objective, I also felt that there was a critical problem in his approach. While his argument is most true that Modern Orthodoxy needs a fundamental Torah construct that can encompass the differing outlooks found within its purview, I felt that the attempt at synthesis which he offered was not going to be the method of achieving this objective. What is really necessary is a further recognition of the basic principle that distinguished the Rav and Rav Kuk from others – and the need to articulate and express this principle as the true basis of this perspective in Torah. It is this basic principle that both these great Sages uniquely shared which distinguished them – albeit the vast differences that would still emerge from their thoughts – and it is this that must be articulated and celebrated as the essence of this derech in Torah. Garnel graciously offer to write a piece on this thought.   
On the surface, the answer would seem to be obvious. Both of these individuals had a sensitivity for collective Israel beyond its halachic boundaries. Stated in a different manner, both the Rav and Rav Kuk related to Jewish communal entities even as these entities may not have reflected an allegiance to Torah. This was clearly a shared uniqueness that they both had. To clarify, there is no doubt that many, if not the vast majority of, gedolim, throughout the centuries, have advocated for the caring of all members of Klal Yisrael even as these individuals may not observe the directives of Torah. The uniqueness of the Rav and Rav Kuk, however, was that, while they also obviously shared this love of all Jews, they were unique in their willingness to relate to non-Halachic communal entities. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch was an adamant lover of all Jews – he was the essential pioneer of all kiruv – but he would have nothing to do with Jewish communal entities that operated outside the boundaries of Halacha. Similarly, the modern Chabad movement is constantly noted for its love of every single Jew regardless of his/her level of observance – yet they also will have nothing to do with structured Jewish entities that function outside of Torah. So we have an obvious point of connected uniqueness between Rav Kuk and the Rav – but what effect does this have on our quest? Is this shared uniqueness enough upon which to develop and promote a different derech in Torah? I would say the real question is: why? Why did the Rav and Rav Kuk develop this position? It is the motivation that led the Rav and Rav Kuk to take such a stand that I believe is the uniqueness that needs to be articulated as the vary basis of this derech in Torah.
It is my belief that the distinguishing mark of these two gedolim was their perception of the dynamic nature of life and Torah. What I believe they both acknowledged – and it marked their complete approach to Torah – was a recognition that humanity – and, as such, the Jewish People – are constantly in a dynamic flux. By extension, this would also mean that Torah, in its relationship to the Jewish People, is also in a resultant constant dynamic movement. This is all, of course, within the parameters of Halacha – in fact, these very parameters of Torah actually further add to the dynamic nature of this process. Albeit that they responded to this inherent dynamic nature of life differently, this is what I believe marked the Rav and Rav Kuk as unique. They both dealt with life -- in itself and in its relationship with Torah -- in movement.
This dynamic perception is actually what is at the basis of chiddush and intellectual aspirations. It is the question that breeds further understanding. It is the challenge that demands new perspectives. On a certain level, in that chiddush is inherent to Torah, what I am proposing as unique to the Rav and Rav Kuk actually must be inherent in any thinker within Orthodox thought. Part of the very nature of Torah study is that we always find something new. Rav Kuk and the Rav, however, expanded this concept. In seeing life in dynamic flux, they inherently recognized that Torah must, in parallel symbiosis, also be in such dynamic flux. And then, from this recognition that Torah must also demand of us to see things anew, they looked again at life anew. This dynamism permeated their entire Torah thought.
Let’s look at Rav Kuk’s view of the early settlers in Israel. Here were individuals not generally following halachic practices who were devoting themselves, absolutely selflessly, to building up the Land of Israel. How can one view, from a Torah perspective, such contradictory behaviour? The uniqueness of Rav Kuk was that he saw this question.
Let us look at the Rav’s break with Agudah. Klal Yisrael went through the Holocaust and now was re-establishing itself in Eretz Yisrael. Something was happening albeit not in any manner that was previously predicted (which, I should mention, Rambam states, is all speculation anyways). How, though, is one to view what is happening – such dynamic movement in life -- and understand it from a Torah perspective? The uniqueness of the Rav, again, was that he saw this question.
I heard that it was once said about Rav Kuk that when he was asked what he thought about Darwin, he said that he appreciated Darwin’s works for it further explained Ma’aseh Bereishit. Not a challenge but seeing anew. It is said in the name of the Vilna Gaon that for every measure of secular knowledge that one is missing, a person is missing manifold measures of Torah knowledge. Secular knowledge is constantly expanding. Life is essentially, as such, dynamic. Torah, in the true process of Torah study and not with apologetics or compromise, is to parallel this process of new insight as we relate to the body of Divine Wisdom. The Rav and Rav Kuk’s conclusions were vastly different in the process. That is Eilu v’Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim. Both, however, shared this vision of the process – of how we are to interact with Torah. It is this dynamic nature of this interaction that should really be marking Modern Orthodoxy.