Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rabbi Immanuel Jacobovits on The Yeshivah Derech and Gedolim

From Rabbi Immanuel Jacobovits, one of the only Chief Rabbis of the British Commonwealth to be considered respectable in Yeshivishe circles. obviously with my emphasis...but maybe take them as a way to abbreviate reading the whole thing.

“The form of Orthodoxy born in the West is in eclipse [late 1980's] and virtually extinct, and the form of Orthodoxy generated in the East is now flourishing, witnessing a rebirth and proliferation that has perhaps no parallel in the modern Jewish experience, and possibly not even in the middle ages [it seems he believes this particular phenomenon is explicable from another unparalleled occurrence in history]. The reason for this strangely paradoxical development, which apparently defies all logic, can only be found, I believe, in our betrayal by Western civilization, culminating in the events of the Holocaust. The Holocaust destroyed a principal foundation of Hirsch’s religious philosophy, namely the affirmation of galut culture, based on the appreciation of Western values and the assumption that progress of human civilization was irreversible. Living as he did in the days of rising humanism, and at the dawn of emancipation that brought the promise of equality and of participation in Western civilization in its wake, he constructed out of this experience an interpretation of Judaism and its values founded on these assumptions. These assumptions were incinerated in the ovens of Auschwitz, and they were reversed with the rise of the State of Israel [which - granted halachic/hashkafic problems for us - was for the West, perhaps unconsciously, both a denial by Creation of their merely ‘historical’ coopting of Tanakh, of claims of Christian (quasi-universalist){link} supercessionalism, etc, AND a denial of their Modernist denial of these origins in Tanakh, Biblical conceptions of government, etc], created as it was in response to events which were the very negation of human progress, rather than its product [is he stating that general human society, non-jewish world, didn’t lead inherently to the gates of Auschwitz?...]. Once this foundation was removed, the whole edifice of Torah im Derekh Eretz was demolished, and the resulting vacuum was filled by ideologies less dependent on value systems which had failed the Jewish people.

The triumph of Eastern yeshivot and Chasidism over Western Torah im Derech Eretz has had a major impact on the orientation of contemporary Orthodoxy in other spheres as well…not only from secular values which had betrayed us or disenchanted us, but from the universal dimension of Judaism generally. This again had been a fundamental pillar of Hirsch’s religious outlook. He firmly believed in Judaism’s universalism, the responsibility of the Jewish people and the Jewish community to the outside world. Instead, through the ascendancy of the Eastern brand of Orthodoxy, we became introverted and inward-looking, with a disdain for the world outside…The shift towards Eastern-type Orthodoxy has also intensified religious commitment and religious learning…But in turn this swing has accentuated the alienation of the non-committed, those we could not carry with us [even pre-War, this was a very large portion of Klal Israel, now it’s the vast majority of Klal Israel…]. This thrust towards greater intensification by some is obviously largely responsible for the movement of many others in the opposite direction [ it's hasn't been primarily ‘the goyim’ drawing our children away, not merely lackluster jews with strong "yetzer hara's", not now-dead (or at the very least irrelevant) Reform movements...not Bundists or Yiddishists, or socialist ideologies? mean it might been us?...], and this growing division is a sad fact of Jewish life today.

On the one hand, these are features that have contributed to a phenomenal worldwide upsurge of Orthodox intensity both in quantity and in quality on quite a spectacular scale in the past few decades. On the other hand, these very pressures of internal intensification and insulation also create a tendency towards conformity at the expense of originality, and this is the obverse or negative side of the picture I described before [as you will see, lack of creativity is no small thing in his perspective].

Absence of Creativity

I once heard the illustrious Rabbi Menachem Kasher of Torah Shelemah fame explain how it is that today we no longer find Gedolim, spiritual giants of the stature that used to adorn the Jewish religious landscape over the ages. He answered that the reason for this inability to produce Gedolim of that caliber, of that impact on future generations of Jewish life, was because today by and large we mass-produce our Talmudic scholars. Virtually all of them today, whether going to elementary yeshivot or very advanced kollelim, are instructed in the same derech halimud, learn the same massechtot, are trained in the same thinking-processes, molded to conform to more or less identical patterns, in institutions which are meant to adjust the individual to the intellectual thrust of the wider community of b’nei Torah to which he belongs. Geonim like the Chafetz Chaim, or the Chazon Ish, or the Brisker Rav, or Rabbi Aharon Kotler, he explained, were not and could not have been products of such mass-production. They were ‘custom-made’ as he put it, individually fashioned, privately trained, learning with their fathers or with rebbes. The mark of a true Gadol, a real Torah giant, lies in his originality, in innovation, in creativeness, in pioneering something that did not exist before [note end of last paragraph! The current circumstances of his day have only intensified since the essay was published let alone written; this uniformity and industrialization of Torah is in opposition to the actual indications of greatness in Torah!].

Today, such adventures of the mind into uncharted spheres of thought are frowned upon. In fact, any deviation from the accepted patterns of teaching, of learning and of thinking [though 'accepted' may not even mean historical, ancient or even ultimately effective],
even within the norms of halachah, is regarded as heresy [is this to say that anything which stands aside from the monolith, or outside the shadow it casts, is heresy? The many, many pronouncements of charedi leaders would seem to mean little else regarding non Charedi Jewry]. Perhaps there are valid reasons for this. The devastation of Orthodoxy in the Holocaust demanded of the survivors, the survivor generation, to concentrate their energies on rebuilding the past, on preserving the remnant, [though they may have succeeded in building Torah institutions, “the past” has not been rebuilt - but “rebuilding the past” remains as a future aspiration for those who were neither survivors, nor of their generation - nor children of either…] rather than on charting the future or exploring that which is new. This feature is one of the significant results of the conditions under which Orthodoxy re-emerged miraculously from the ruins of its virtual destruction in the war years.

By the same token, our generation today is singularly uncreative in the wider sphere, not just in the production of individuals who pioneer new approaches, new methods and insights, but also in terms of creating new responses to existing challenges, new philosophies and new movements [not just failing to “create” within the Dalet Amot of Torah…horrific unto itself, considering creativity is the mark of Torah greatness!!!...what standards of greatness have been exchange for them?...but also of failing in relevance to creation itself, reality?... It’s maybe more clear as he continues].

In the past, as a rule, cataclysmic events or encounters with new conditions of life used to spark major new Jewish movements within Orthodoxy…In each of those encounters with new conditions…something out of the anguish of suffering or challenge gave birth to new forces, forged major movements that enriched the traditional Jewish experience within our religious heritage.

Nothing like this has occurred in our time, although we have passed through the most cataclysmic of all events and the most drastic changes in the whole of our galut existence - first the Holocaust and then, a few years later, the rise of the State of Israel. There has been no religious response which is in any way comparable to the radical innovations of earlier ages under the pressure of contemporary events or dissident schisms.

R. Dr. Immanuel Jacobovits, “Modern Trends in Orthodoxy”, in Encounter; Essays on Torah and Modern life. Feldheim, 1989 pp.225-29

[Oddly enough, I can't find that this volume, which is a companion volume to “Challenge; Torah Views on Science and Its Problems”, was ever republished. By its very title, it implies some sort of engagement with modern concerns - which may be why only “Challenge” has been republished].

He later ends on a positive not though, suggesting that as previous generations and the “transitional stage” of survivor consciousness pass on, new responses will occur and the actually addressing modernity will commence. I don’t know. I think so many of the fears, apprehensions and response mechanisms of certain of the survivors (whom we must remind ourselves were among other “Torah Survivors” who did not respond these ways), have been throughly entrenched in their disciples (remember - neither survivors nor children of survivors...), in Judaism itself through the vary accomodation to 'scientific management' and monolith-izing, industrialisation of religious life (technopoly, etc). Building up a human world on certain selected Torah norms standards, but so manufactured as to only answer back it's human origins - instead of living in HKBHs world, building a Judaism to hide with 'our' Torah away from His world (me elsewhere on this condition).

I think this factor is just as strong with the "I-grew-up-Modern" ‘converts’ to Charedi Judaism, or BTs who are even more removed from the “Old World” (even further from any claim of survivor-status or lineage...) a world ever subject to revision to ensure it’s distance in time and place and cosmos from ‘here & now’..., recounting the destruction of 'it' (how much of it even existed as we recite it?), and the sensucht to “rebuilt” what was in many ways an earlier stage of Galut (?) - when we have never even really left the 1st Century crisis mode. I think here, R. Jacobovits has described one of several additional States of Emergency that have been humanly-legislated “over all Israel”[Yuter link], based on the precedent one that is two millennia old. Not so unlike the united states since 1933…[link]

Those of the Eastern-source Orthodox camp might respond that this incongruity with previous eras of revivification is a positive thing; a clear indication of 'now' being nothing but the end of days, indicated by the "indeed unprecedented…but not un-prophesized”…nature of the Holocaust/Israel/Yeshivish-Chassidishe rebirth. For them, it must be merely accepted that the seemingly-uncreative, counter-innovative nature of much of Orthodoxy of our day, the “archiving”, the entrenchment and monocultural Kiruv responses to assimilation, the conscious lack of Gedolim of the caliber of previous generations, all can be taken as “clear” proof that HKBH has sanctioned these specific (“survivalist”) rabbonim (who are either from previous generations or genetically-ideologically-related to those times and places; even then, only amendable aspects of these rabbonim/times/places are to be recalled, archived, taught, etc - even though all survivors are complex). These responses and these alone (or at least what we allow of them) are the ways, means and ends of religious life sanctioned by HKBH in what is clearly Hevlei Moshiach. I can hear them saying to me now ", you would think to do something else, at a time like this?...".

A time and condition of travail that their approach may seemingly have contributed to?


At 4/22/2007 7:24 PM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

I believe that you are looking at a very short period in terms of jewish history. The retrenchment we are experiencing is temporary and it will change before long. cretaivity will return. See the meshech chochma on Ve'af gam zot be'eretz oyvehem at the end of the tochecha in bekhukotai.

At 4/23/2007 8:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope I'm wrong. PS

At 4/27/2007 8:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From another direction; civilisation has not been on the earth (at least by popular consensus), more than 10,000 years. But the last 500 years of that time has seen an incredible shift in the amount of affect man has had on his environment, and while it may very well be that a significant percentage of Global Warming, for example, is cyclical or 'natural' in origin - the factor of mankind is utterly new to it. and changes we have administered are vastly different 'in nature' than what nature produced. If there is such a gulf between previous eras in Jewish history and this last period (that it is a kind of hegemony that is unprecidented, etc) - how can we know of the future consequences?

At 6/07/2007 1:25 PM, Blogger Isaac Davidson said...

"The reason for this inability to produce Gedolim of that caliber, of that impact on future generations of Jewish life, was because today by and large we mass-produce our Talmudic scholars."

- I have never heard anyone actually articulate this in these exact words. Wow, scary.


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