Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"A Non-Orthodox Traditional Approach:
Reflections on the Authority of the Moroccan Rabbinate."

[a misleading title, as the Rabbonim he speaks of were stringently Orthodox in faith and observance; however, the disposition of the Hachamim of Morocco, under the present yoke of predominating Ashkenazi Charedi darchei Torah - would likely be considered "non-Orthodox" - much like a great number of current Charedi rabbonim deny the standing of even observant Modern Orthodoxy].

Prof. Marc Shapiro in the above audio link gives amazing examples of a different attitude toward halacha, as it manifested itself in the decisions of the Moroccan Rabbinate. A critic of the alleged contribution of the Moroccan Sages could easily point out the distinct time and place from which Dr. Shapiro implies we learn out a potential new direction in Halakha ("that was then, this is now"). But what differences exactly do the differences make? What if we ask the same questions of other Darkhei Torah? Time and place are obviously different between us in “The West” (remembering that kehillot in Europe -sometimes even Canada - are literally and conceptually miles from America…), and that of the Sages of Morocco - but by the same comparison, how similar is 'our' situation to that of The Pale in Tsarist Russia, Pre-War Poland or other historical contexts of psak (both being "in the past"; I'm not saying ashkis follow sages only from that era/location), esteemed by many Ashkenazi Orthodox?...

Here and now I will state that I AM NOT recoursing (or "discoursing", H'V...), to some claim of innate bias on the part of Sages based on their time, place, class, etc; I am saying that in addition to the potential of innovative, reactionary presuppositions in pasak - poskim also most wrestle with environmental contexts in which pasak is made; but there is vote and there is veto; the Divinely-Given Mesorah has the veto (and some of these environmental contexts have negligible right to even 'vote'...).

One of the main contexts of Yahadut in the West over the first part of the 19th Century has been having to face challenges by powerful, dynamic, new and open ideologies...

No such ideological challengers exist now.

Great numbers of Jews were tempted to leave then; the Great Great grandchildren of these assimilated millions are now long gone.

What are the current communal responses? In terms of competition with the contemporary world, what is dynamic, world-relevant and pertinent about the vantage point the now-dominant Yeshivishe world? I’m being serious in asking, not sarcastic in asking! Many things exposited among those who identify as "Yeshivishe" are beautiful. I’m obviously not criticizing limmud ha Torah (i.e., Gemara), which is incumbent on all who would call themselves observant - and which obviously does have its aspects that are intellectual ‘challenging’ (albeit ideologically-driven religious contexts are on occasion intellectually ‘challenging’ unintentionally…). Learning is only one facet of what is “yeshivishe” ideology - and is hardly exclusive to them; theirs is a range of ideologies that include ‘Torah only’, Kollel, "Daas Torah", ‘anti-college’, societal norms in dress, speech, etc.

Sure, there are kiruv yeshivas and Aish and all that, places that on the surface are indeed quite ‘modern’ and accessible. but those are Kiruv yeshivas...And someone in the aftermath of recent acceptance of general observance and yeshiva-time at such a place might say in response that "all the greatest minds are coming to Torah!...scientists, artists, etc, etc..".

Sit them down with someone on the front lines in Galut (of course, even in Israel), and see what happens. We are indeed in the throws of a spiritual Holocaust, where the likely numbers of those affected, by count, exceed those lost in the Shoah (this is Aish; not me). Such institutions will likely acknowledge that this young persons impressions are a response to the surface panache, as a response to the marketing; that the response is from engagement of Torah itself. Aish, Ohr, etc, also don’t consider themselves the end of the road - a life-way unto themselves. They will likely even say they’re “just the beginning” - and admittedly for many such as the young man, “just a taste”.

But for those who stay, they openly propound, and are transitional towards, a “Yeshivishe” lifestyle much like I ask on above - a lifestyle that is cultivated and thoroughly fine-tuned in its ideologically-based disinterest for the world and its wisdom (no matter how real or true or amendable to a Torah Derech), and the ways of life - no matter how halakhically adaptable they may actually already be - of the millions of potentially-observant.

"Back" to Morocco; Sages were given Community-wide authority (granted, it was 'given' by the Islamic government...but I hope to show later the clear differences between how certain Sephardim used secularly-granted authority and the manner that certain Ashkenazi Sages - with ideological descendants today - used them). There were no other means through which those who chose to “be Jewish” could address their issues “Jewishly”. But that was no license for the Sages of Morocco to be either tyrannical despots or 'monastics' cloistered away, defining themselves by their incongruity with the masses of Jews, or celebrated for their seeming lack of knowledge of the factors of life in the modern world (let us admit it - there is even today a certain amount pride in provincialism - even projected on those whose authority is sought at times on life-and-death issues!!). They had to be relevant if they were to be regarded by all in the community, to be a factor in the lives of the community (a community that in word and deed was comprised of the observant and non-Observant - instead of the subtle insinuation that "jewish community" is really meaningless if the non-Frum are actually included....)In such a context, they had to be considered reliable and capable regarding all facets of a diversely-observant community; and as they were willing themselves to be informed by the people, they were often considered legitimate informers to the people. Hardly exclusive to Morocco, this was a common approach in much of the Sephardic world - and taken as the proper form of Rabbinic authority throughout the ages.

A main end result of this factor (granted, one factor among many), is that the great numbers of Sephardic Jews are not utterly alienated from Torah - Torah has a very powerful seat in the “life parliament” of the great number of Sephardim (and a good number would likely fall under the definition of "Traditional Religious Jew" given here by R. Joshua L. Golding).

In the Ashkenazic Jewish world, the factor of prevailing communal factionalism has fostered irrelevance (relative to the greatest number of Jews, who are utterly assimilated), on the part of those groups strongest in Torah. This (oft times prefered) isolation from the real, entire Klal Israel (all Jews collectively), effectively ensures only the given factions “Choir” is to even be addressed. To the degree that one defines oneself by certain life ways, I would not be surprised to find that many self-identifying Charedim, for example, feel a certain pride in being considered irrelevant and esoteric to the world - even, to a degree, towards non-observant Jews and their life-ways (again, no matter how kosher-compatible they may be). “Joy in Factionalism” effectively ensures the perpetuation of competing factions; when you disenfranchise others - it invigorates their factional identity...and create new franchises - something Moroccan Sages undermined rather than underlined (don't worry, I'm saying this across ideologies - all over the Western Jewish world this is the case; but many of the non-observant factions emphasize their openness, their relevance to the world - and many observant groups do not). This is factionalism that, in good part, resulted in reactionary responses to modernism in many different directions; oft times the response was indeed to “cut off” limbs considered incurable.* Rav Kook;

"[to] The great majority of [Torah] scholars in our times it is fitting to abandon those children who have been turned from Torah ways and the faith by the raging current of the time. I say emphatically, that this is not God's way...! R. A. Y. Kook; Selected Letters, Tzvi Feldman, 1986 pp.51-4

But all these factions - including much of the ‘spectrum’ of Ashkenazi “Orthodoxy” are increasingly irrelevant to a long-ago assimilated Jewish world (and as we all know - there are some rabbis still fighting any non-halachic modifications in their war with 'the Reformers'....). I use 'spectrum' specifically, since many in the "Yeshivishe" realm do conceive of it as a “spectrum”...where others are consider to occupy "less sound" (from Haredi ideology), gradational deviations from their ideology...which would be tantamount to halachic deviance!

The end result is that the great numbers of Ashkenazic Jews are utterly alienated from Torah. As before, this factor is not solely responsible for the situation - but I think the internal response to power and the implementation of practical halakha is a tremendous part of it.

With the power vested in our hands, instead of taking on the millennia-old responsibility of creating relevant, engaged Torah ways of life - life lived in HKBH's world (albeit less daunting, costume-conscious and provincial than we are used to – but also more accessible, livable and fleshed-out), deriving from an ever-relevant and multifaceted Torah[ r. Hazzan quote] - ways of life which have at the very least the respect of the masses of Jews (and not in that condescending way people respect the Amish), if not grudging public observance - there has been brought about the utter incomprehension of the great number of fellow Jews towards observant life-ways and those who strive to live them.

If we cannot live out, together (‘together’ meaning within inter-marriageable parameters of observance and belief), the multidimensional Torah that God Gave us to live out in the real, multidimensional world, in which God Gave us Torah to live out in - where are we to live?...and how? and why?...

Without the interaction of both Torah and the world that Torah grants us access to (i.e., engaging the world through the many possible ways of Torah is to engage the world not on the worlds many possible terms) - we are forced to ask those questions. In answer to those questions, others (lacking Torah), have created things called religions - with varying degrees of success in their relevancy to the God-Given Torah and the God-Given world.

There are those over the millenia who, given the choice, have sought to live Torah without the world and others who have sought to live in the world without Torah. These are part of what, over history, has made for the religions of others - sometimes out from us. And I think in part this is a problem with Torah Judaism; we have indeed generated other religions among us by using either HKBHs Torah or HKBH's world...as a means to escape the other. We have a God-Given responsibility of transforming the world by our observance - not responsibility of transforming observance into a means of escaping the responsibilities of God's world.

*There will invariably be those self-identifying haredim (certain non-observant factions could be similarly charged for different claims) who would claim that if all those [millions] of Jews (adding on the children born from the generations effectively ousted), were not effectively - as an outcome of Rabbinic decisions (however unintended) - severed from “The Congregation of Israel”…they would have made it a mess for those who stayed in their seats in the yeshivas or in the place in the shtetl, etc (remember; this was before the Shoah where everyone and their children were lost). “And besides - look at the glorious world born from the few individuals [that are acknowledged…] that survived - to then survive the Holocaust?...Lakewood, Ponevezh, Bnai Brak…Could there possibly be greater proof that it’s ‘the Yeshivah way or the highway!’”?...could this have happened if more than those few survived?...perhaps there could have been no other way - since what happened...happened - and as history shows us, the only way to 'now' was 'then'" [a seeming deterministic, "Anthropic Argument" for the Yeshivishe World; "if more survived, those few Gedolim might not have been more effective, etc"..."HKBH did it this way - therefore that's the only way this could have happened, etc" which, THANK GOD I have never heard articulated] I can’t help but think of the Hungarian minhag of cutting the end off of the Challah on Shabbat because of some notion that the “end-bread” has some innate aspect that will make you stupid or something. There is the joke that, when challenged that the great numbers of others do not cut the ends off their Challot, they would respond “imagine how much smarter they’d be if they did…”


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