Thursday, June 25, 2009

Eternal Revolution
Jacobs' statement in an otherwise insightful quote, that;

"The only reply to [no certainty in any human knowledge, surely no certainty in prescientific traditions] is that traditional knowledge is not human at all but divine and therefore guaranteed to be free from error."

...a 'fundamentalist', absolutist "Maximalist" approach to the Mesorah - is a statement common to other formerly-religious (but far less educated) people who abandoned Torah; to acknowledge history and evolution within the tradition at all (for many) - in any way, to any degree (for most) - wipes away "everything" they ever believed - which is now "all" a lie - despite clearly having not learned everything the Mesorah has had to say about the Mesorah.

It strikes me as tantamount to former "believers" in evolution who become dissenters of it or believers in "Intelligent Design" evolution, who find the slighest fault in their particular approach to the issues of how things occurred, to anomalies in the system, amount to system-wide viruses that cause everything supporting the general theories of evolution to collapse - where, to put it bluntly, evolution AS IT OCCURS has no regard for anyones theories about it. Or physics student in the 80s who comes to find graduate school to be "Iconoclasm 101" subverting much of what they assumed; did the physical universe all of a sudden cease to exist?...Essentially everything must be evolved IN THE WAY THEY BELIEVE IT (or they way they believe they believed it..) or essentially nothing evolves as they see it.

Similarly with the Mesorah, for such a secularized maximalism, everything must in substance and essence be Divine, or in substance and essence, none of it is - no room for "divine sanction" (where God accepts what humans have done or said; HKBH arbited every single step and decision - or none of them), or "Kashering" of previous legalisms or pre-Sinaitic narratives - or arguments in Gemara - even where the Mesorah being defended features these very notions in various "minimalist" perspectives (on aspects ranging from Torah through Gemara).

As deep as the Conservadox Hadar-niks and "Orthoprax" may go in "learning" and behaving in accord with Torah, it is, believed, by most of them, to be in essence thoroughly human - or at best first and foremost human; both the 'tradition' and 'human' being of course understood as materialistically and reductionist as possible so as to uphold one of the essential "modern" bona fides...(where their first allegiance lies). For such reformers, Torah, Revelation, Mesorah, "Jew", Hashem - are mere concepts "boldly and magnificently" (embarrassing chutzpahdik emphasis on "boldly"), redefined anew "every generation" (despite how few of the educated rabbim and the general masses of believing, practicing Jews seem to bother to keep up with the[ir] "corrections" and "''clarifications" of the underpinings...); in this strange, neo-archaic Cosmology, an ever-changing "Creation" of which we are part is the self-evident measure and ruler for determining Change as such;

We may say broadly that free thought is the best of all the safeguards against freedom. Managed in a modern style the emancipation of the slave's mind is the best way of preventing the emancipation of the slave. Teach him to worry about whether he wants to be free, and he will not free himself. Again, it may be said that this instance is remote or extreme. But, again, it is exactly true of the men in the streets around us. It is true that the negro slave, being a debased barbarian, will probably have either a human affection of loyalty, or a human affection for liberty. But the man we see every day--the worker in Mr. Gradgrind's factory, the little clerk in Mr. Gradgrind's office--he is too mentally worried to believe in freedom. He is kept quiet with revolutionary literature. He is calmed and kept in his place by a constant succession of wild philosophies. He is a Marxian one day, a Nietzscheite the next day, a Superman (probably) the next day; and a slave every day. The only thing that remains after all the philosophies is the factory. The only man who gains by all the philosophies is Gradgrind. It would be worth his while to keep his commercial helotry supplied with sceptical literature. And now I come to think of it, of course, Gradgrind is famous for giving libraries. He shows his sense. All modern books are on his side. As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.
Chesterton, Orthodoxy, "the Eternal Revolution"

The whole chapter is much worth reading and quoting. I left a letter out of "slightest fault" above, but many readers (provided I had any), likely read the letter in where it really did belong - for all it's absence. Systems, such as the statement above, are multidimensional, intertextual, multi-cognating (reading and "knowing" the letter is there despite its physical absence), and also abound with contradictions and inconsistancies. "Dispassionate, objective reflection and analysis" a "new revelation" to the Orthoprax and OTD secularists, would indeed "prove" these system-wide problems to be fatal for a claim of Divine engagement - "proofs" of "systemic failure" that similarly abound and flourish in all facets of the abounding, flourishing physical, biological facets of creation and human ventures. One could argue that they would not exist if they were 'perfect' systems - according to notions of perfection formed by imperfect human judgement.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Syrians and Converts
How useful are misinterpretations! From the comments section of this post on a Times article several years ago [my emph];

Oct. 15, 2007
Letters to the Editor, Magazine
The New York Times
620 Eighth Ave. New York, NY 10018
To the Editor,

Jakie Kassin is the son and grandson of rabbis and a dynamic do-gooder, but he is neither a rabbi nor a scholar of Judaic studies. The statements attributed to him in “The SY Empire” (Zev Chafets, Oct. 14, 2007) are a gross distortion of Judaism as well as of the 1935 Edict promulgated in the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn. That Edict was enacted to discourage community members from intermarrying with non-Jews. It acknowledged the reality of the time that conversions were being employed insincerely and superficially. Accordingly, conversion for marriage to a member of the community was automatically rejected.

However, it is important in this regard to clarify the policy of the community rabbinate and particularly that of the long-time former chief rabbi of the community, Jacob S. Kassin (the originator of the Edict), and his son, the present chief rabbi, Saul J. Kassin. I quote from an official formulation of the Sephardic Rabbinical Council of several years ago that reflects their position: “1. A conversion not associated with marriage that was performed by a recognized Orthodox court – such as for adoption of infants or in the case of an individual sincerely choosing to be Jewish – IS accepted in our community. 2. If an individual not born to a member of our community had converted to Judaism under the aegis of an Orthodox court, and was observant of Jewish Law, married a Jew/Jewess who was not and had not been a member of our community, their children are permitted to marry into our community. Based on these standards a goodly number of converts have been accepted into the community. Genetic characteristics play no role whatsoever.

No rabbi considers sincere and proper conversions “fictitious and valueless.” (The comma in the English translation cited in the article that gives that impression was the result of a mistranslation by a layman, a matter I made clear to Mr. Chafets when we spoke.)
In addition, the quote claiming that even other Jews are disqualified from marrying into the community “if someone in their line was married by a Reform or Conservative rabbi” is a totally false portrayal of community rabbinical policy. Many Ashkenazim whose parents were married by such rabbis have married into our community.

Moshe Shamah

Rabbi, Sephardic Synagogue
511 Ave. RBrooklyn, NY 11223

Posted by: Rabbi Moshe Shamah October 17, 2007 at 02:57 PM

The "fact" remains that no laymen or rabbi I have EVER met, Ashki or Sephardi - has ever displayed any knowledge of these distortations as anything but "fact". For them the "ban" would seem to be clear and unambiguous. If these distortions are so obvious and serious as to be called distortions and corrected, by a rabbi of the Syrian Community, via source material from the originator of the edict itself - how is it possible that no one seems aware of them as distortions? An earlier example from R. Shamah I recall was available on his website - I since have not been able to find it there, but even earlier in 1994 he had posted in to a widely-read Jewish listserv [my emph];

Perusing previous m-j postings I noticed there was discussion on the Brooklyn Syrian community's decree not to accept converts. It appears there was a misunderstanding which should be clarified.

The decree focuses on those who convert for the purpose of marrying a Jew or Jewess. A non-Jew who is clearly motivated by marriage but who sincerely and properly converts, should normally be accepted halakhically. However, the Syrian rabbis realized they were being fooled by insincere candidates, etc. and established the 1935 decree not to accept those who were converting in conjunction with a prospective or past marriage. The decree was not addressed to those who converted just for the love of Judaism.

This was vividly brought home to me about 25 years ago by Rabbi Jacob S.Kassin, HKBH send him speedy recovery, the long-time chief rabbi of the Brooklyn Syrian community and one of the 1935 takana signatories. A [SY]community member who was also a member of an Ashkenazi yeshiva married a righteous convert. The marriage was performed by a leading Ashkenazi rosh hayeshiva. The Shabbat morning after the wedding he davened in our [SY] shul. The mesader aliyot (gabbay) rushed to Shaare Zion where Rabbi Kassin davened and asked him what to do. Rabbi Kassin said he's familiar with the case and it doesn't fall into the takana as the bride is a righteous convert who previously converted independently of marriage considerations and we should give the gentleman an aliya. Although the mesader was reliable I wanted to confirm this and several days later personally asked Rabbi Kassin. He got a bit excited and declared, "The takana is not for this woman - she's a REFUGEE who came to Judaism."

I acknowledge and celebrate that Syrian Jews have a virtually-non-existant intermarriage rate - with Non-Jews - but I know plenty who are very intermarried with Ashkis and some so accultrated that their mezzuzot are angled, they cut their challah, eat Ashki food on Shabbat, sing "Shir HaMaalot" in birkhat ha Mazon...but that's a different, and often personal matter.

What has helped them maintain this low intermarriage rate IS NOT THE TAKANAH - it is a carefully perpetuated and stringently-"held"-to misunderstanding of the circumstances the ban applied to - thus a "strict obedience" to a misunderstanding of halacha, an error spoken over and repeated and believed sincerely by them; those who perceive the ban in accord with this error may very well be at heart in violation of the spirit of the very halacha behind the ban - and it would seem saved only from trouble by the fact that they say the same Amidah that all observant Jews do (which features a clear recognition of righteous converts), and that they recognize that the takanah applies only to their kehilla. I think there is evidence of this even being known by the rabbis of the community; The marriage in the example above was not performed in the setting of the Chattans community...perhaps due to the socially-useful false perception of the takanah; best not to publicize exceptions, no matter how clear and legitimate and sanctioned by God and halacha. I'm not saying, GOD FORBID that the rabbis of the SY community are doing anything halachically or morally wrong - just deeply political. I question more the pretentions of the many people in the community who so sincerely and "piously" follow what has been detailed above as a violation of halacha. Rest assured, Gerei Tzedek have thusly been alienated in such communities, in violation of an obligation declared some 36 times in Torah - against alienating a Ger.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More on Eating Cakes and Crows, [II]
To quote myself;

You can't always have your "Torah & Science" cake and "what halacha permits" ice cream and eat them too. I can't demand of religious mechanisms that they function in ways that they are not supposed to - whether regarding science or ethics - without being, to some degree 'non'-Halachic or non-scientific. Or non-reactionary halachic.

Science and ethics are not traditions in the way lhvd'l Torah is Tradition. Much of the Charedi defense of Torah as a reasonable, viable and esteemable derech in the modern world revolves around pedestaling it above that which is mere 'speculation', tentative and subject to review. Louis Jacobs presents how such a claim might be made against his philosophy regarding scientific scholarship on Tanakh, and gives a response (my emph);

There are no scientific facts, only scientific hypotheses based on the facts observed. Such hypotheses are, in the nature of the case, only tentative. They are advanced as an attempt to explain the facts observed[in the ways available at the time] and are to be tested through further investigation. The history of science informs us that all scientific progress is made by abandoning hypothesis which no longer explain the facts in favor of those which do, and these are in turn abandoned in favor of more refined hypotheses which explain more than the earlier ones do. It follows that all scientific explanation is tentative...It can be seen, therefore, how precarious it is to reject the certain truth of tradition on favor of what is termed scientific scholarship. Even the most plausible suggestions as to the authorship and date of the biblical books are no more than brilliant guesses, which is sheer folly to prefer to the sure truth of tradition. It is only misguided Jewish theologians, dazzled by the achievements of the physical sciences, in whose methods they have no training and whose nature they do not understand, who swallow biblical criticism whole in the false belief that they are being 'scientific' and up to date.

The fallacy here is so blatant that no response seems to be called for. From Hume and Kant onwards (and reaching back to Greek thought in its late period), subtle theories have been advanced regarding the tentativeness of all human knowledge but these offer cold comfort to the traditionalist. On their own showing these theories themselves are only tentative [for none of them claim revelation-based infallibility for their insights - which are therefore as tentative as any human knowledge]. If, as may well be the case, the most we can hope for from hypotheses based on examination of the observable facts is a very high degree of plausibility, never complete certainty, this would apply a fortiori to theories found in the traditional literature. If, for example, the verdict of modern scholarship is that the book of Ecclesiastes could not possibly have been written in its present form by King Solomon, a verdict based on philological, stylistic, and historical evidence [three facets of the "new Pashtanim" school in Israel; for a later post], it will not do to assert as true the traditional view, that it was written by King Solomon, on the grounds that all the evidence amounts to no more than a hypothesis, which, by definition, is only tentative. For if there is no certainty in any human knowledge, there is surely no certainty in prescientific traditions that are themselves part of human knowledge. The only reply to this is that [all our divergent and contentious...] traditional knowledge is not human at all but divine and therefore guaranteed to be free from error [or contention?...]. Apart from the absurdity and untraditionalism of the view that not only the Pentateuch but everything in the traditional sources is divine and consequently infallible, the human recognition that this is so is surely a part of human knowledge and hence subject to the same objections put forward against the verdict of scholarship.

Very nice. But among several problems with his presentation of the opposition and defense of his approach is the certainty he lends to the opposition - that "The only reply..." is as he says it is. The tradition itself harbors voices of regret that though God may Give us something, such as the Torah, it may indeed fall into maculation by our hands - and us to uncertainty - due to our sins. He dismisses R. Halivni [3."Dismissing Alternatives"] and others whom, though we may be disagreed with them in their particular approaches, do bring such voices from our Mesorah to fore in their own defenses of the applicability of modern scholarship to Torah. The tradition is more diverse than both he and his proposed Traditionalist disputants suppose (this cuts more than 'both ways', the subject of my next post, I"H). In part, I see it in R. Gil's ending comment in the section noted above;

However, outside of certain fundamental beliefs, one must be willing to consider the possibility, no matter how remote, of being mistaken and to listen open-minded, within reason, to alternatives. If we made a mistake, we must be willing to admit it.

There is an enormous difference between admitting our mistakes concerning the Mesorah and admitting such on behalf of Chazzal regarding our Mesorah. Jacobs suggests that there were fundamental mistakes and errors in belief made by Chazzal, particularly regarding the origins of Torah. My next post should be on the "New Pashtanim" and their adoption of academic scholarship in 'continuing' the approach of the Pashtanim of old, and how it may unintentionally share certain ideas with Jacobs.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A.N. Wilson; Believer
For years, many atheists relied on the standing of philosophers such as Antony Flew and noted writer and biographer A.N. Wilson, who frequently and deeply engaged their intellectual peers in the press and academy, to give atheism the spine and spirit it needed raise it from the level of mere conviction it gained in the mid-20th Century. Both are now theist and monotheist respectively. And both are british! I've always said 'God put the British on an island for a reason"...though I never intimated what many reasons could have justified it...Now among the ranks of the very British religious apologists they formerly critiqued - hopefully still doing so - but now as peers. Amazing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How Do You Know Humpty Dumpty Was An Egg?
The story of Humpty Dumpty, upon further chewing, is very revealing as to the insufficiency of many Charedi 'proofs' for Torah - not out of ignorance of Torah.

Humpty Dumpty began as a spoken riddle to children...and children were originally to deduce that Humpty D. is an egg. Only now, b'zman hazeh, is it again oral, but now merely a rhyme because Humpty's eggness is ALREADY common knowledge after almost two centuries of being published in picture books of nursery rhymes for children (first printed in 1810 - much too early for Charedi memory...). It is an assumption, though an understandable one, to first think of it as something one reads and then applies an oral understanding to; but say it to yourself as you say it to a child - as a riddle - and it makes perfect sense that it used to be just that - an oral riddle.

It's actually a potential proof for the critics! Their general position is that Torah laws, narratives and histories were oral and written fragments that co-existed and co-evolved within and between different 'communities', ultimately becoming fossilized in one state or another, in one 'community' or another - and within the regnant (surviving), Jewish community, BOTH torahs are now, due to our sins, written.
Critics claim material (A) became text, material (B) stayed oral and was written later, etc, IOW, material changes form and evolves over time in different contexts, and is interpreted accordingly. And here with Humpty Dumpty you have exactly that; it was an oral 'tradition', a riddle, which then becomes widely known via being printed with images (now no longer a riddle, but a rhyme), and then becomes oral again, repeated without reference to the picture, in our day and setting. Only in the aftermath of this long history can a kiruv rabbi come and ask with astounding sincerity "But how do you know Humpty Dumpty was an egg?"....

I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 213-5.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

"...When There is Need to Transgress...";
Possible "Applications" b'Zman HaZeh

"At times, when there is need to transgress the way of the Torah, and there is no one in the generation who can show the way, the thing comes about through breaching. Nevertheless, it is better for the world that such a matter come about unintentionally. Only when prophecy rests on Israel is it possible to innovate such a matter as a "temporary measure". Then it is done with express permission. With the damming of the light of prophecy, the innovation comes about through a long-lasting breach, which saddens the heart with its externals, but gladdens it with its inner content."

Rav Kook, Arpelei Tohar 1914 ed; Trans. by Bezalel Naor (see footnote 3

I find several applications of this notion in the modern Jewish crises - most immediately in the many entities reforming, even reformulating from differing and diverging approaches to Jewish law (Conservative and Orthodox and "Independent"), at times seemingly reconstituting long-divided aspects of Torah - in seeking to addressing actual communal participation in religious services - I specifically am not speaking of "women's davening" or "Rosh Chodesh services" - but of Partnership Minyanim and independent "Egal Minyanim", which though there may be sound basis for certain of them, there is vehement opposition to any of them on the part of the mainstream leadership.

In these Orthodox, "Independent" and Conservative spheres where 'ideologies' interpenetrate, overlap and are ignored, there exist settings where parts of the services are led or administrated by women and those where men and women may perform any aspect of the service they are capable of. But the end result, amidst actual observance and transgression - is they are thick with people who seek a fuller engagement with Judaism than their communities (either Orthodox or Conservative, etc), had offered them - either (for ex) as religiously-educated, Orthodox-identifying women, or as Traditionally-oriented Conservative. They are not necessarily intentionally engaging in 'transgression' - some of them for the first time learning about 'transgression' as such - of engaging even the idea of integrated, halachic ways of life - however ultimately faulty numbers of them may be. I see gladness in the fact that many are brought much closer to an inner engagement with Torah and the lifeways of Israel then - as I said - they had been or possibly would ever be - even in Observant circles. In the interaction of ideological externals, ideological bodies - I am convinced there is an internal interaction that even participants may not be immediately aware of - faces of Torah see each other for the first time, in many generations - darchei in Torah that have lived only in books are being reanimated, valid but minority views breathed and spoken in a new conversation - not merely blurted out in the amidst sanctioned discourse, condemnation, or private conversation, isolated from the rabbim.

Among these participants may be those who weather the previously-blogged-on coming tribulations of "rote Orthodox belief/practice" and the dis-integration of the other movements. I see this in that many Observant Conservatives and "Ramah" kids find in potential Observant communities host communities an exclusion of women from participation - where Orthodox settings have dabbled and are even halachically-employing on occasion, actions unthinkable to institutional Traditional Conservatives - based in the nature of the communities themselves. I think "Traditional" Conservative Judaism is indeed as rigid and inflexible as mainline Conservative Judaism claims it is - in good part because it lacks to rubric LWMOs have to work with the acquire the flexibility that has emerged partnership minyanim, women's learning, etc!

For example, Conservative rabbis often act in a broader variety of roles than do Orthodox rabbis - as witnesses, as authors of documents, etc, many functions that traditionally-minded Conservatives congregations do not rule women may engage in. But in Orthodox communities, those functions are easily distributed among an observant laity; as a result, segments of Orthodoxy may now condone women rabbis, because the have this observant laity - where traditional-minded Conservative settings will still oppose it because historically they are "Observant - but abound with non-observance, requiring that a communal rabbi fulfill roles that women, as such, may not.

But something hits me in the language Rav Kook begins with; "At times, when there is need to transgress the way of the Torah.." - juxtaposed with an halachic mechanism for transgression that no longer applies in the Post-Prophetic era. A drive to transgress that indicates a desire to self-define within Jewish practice in general? Elsewhere in his works, Rav Kook describes that certain things must not be based on legislation, they must be based on wider, natural moral considerations, etc. Perhaps here he alludes to historical changes that serve a greater purpose or condition that could not be legislated into reality, due to the lapse of prophecy - but also in expectation, perhaps preparation of its return.

A division between Prophetic, Biblical era Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism is popularly discussed in Conservative circles in justifying their various approaches - but again, with the passage of time, conversations possible 100 years ago are divided among Klal Israel and may in a future time be reacquainted with each other - based on these independent interactions. Pending thinking more about this, I can refer specifically to Elliot Dorff's "The Unfolding Tradition", chapter 2, and Gordon Tucker's "A Principled Defense of the Current Structure and Status of the CJLS", available here. I hope to match them with contrary perspectives and maybe eek something practical out of their particular characterizations of historical Judaism.

But I do see, in the growth of these independent minyanim, grassroots attempts at halachic modalities that aren't in clear continuity from existing ideologies, that make appeals to 'pre-schism' halacha - and just such events may not be portent solely of more shecher to come. "Some questions can only be asked by some people", in a sense, and some solutions may come from conversations not everyone wants to have.

Monday, June 01, 2009

More on Having Cakes

From R. Yoel Finkelman's review of Tamar Ross' "Expanding the Palace of Torah"; [my emph]

Ross's notion of "cumulative revelation"—which claims that novel ideas rooted outside of the Jewish tradition are gradually incorporated into Jewish revelation, [similar to what I've suggested at many points in this blog regarding Tradition and compatible cognates found outside of it - though not by a "Ross-ian" mechanism nor regarding the Canon after the lapse of Revelation] even at the expense of older revelations [which I specifically do not countenance; BTW, this is the only way she can countenance Biblical Criticism - which she does; one does wonder about the potential of HKBH Cultivating an historical, communal interpretive framework from which contesting views, as with combatants who agree on rules of war, would emerge as a historical-systematic Judaism post-Yavneh]—opens the door for feminist consciousness to slowly penetrate the inner sanctum of Jewish tradition. This can lead to wide-ranging changes not only in the legal status of women, but in the very language and categories in which the halakhah speaks to and about women.
But this approach could open the door equally wide for any change in Orthodox belief, practice, or language that anybody at all could find compelling. While I, for one, find feminist concerns to be morally more convincing, Ross's arguments could be used equally effectively to alter Judaism in the most fundamental ways to make it more compatible with, say, racism, fascism, or sexism (and echoes of these dangerous ideas can be heard in at least some Orthodox circles). Other than my own conscience, what tools do I have to determine which new ideas are revelations to be embraced and which are heresies to be fought? A theology that is incapable of saying "no!" to anything is equally incapable of saying "yes!"to anything. If everything is potentially revelation, than nothing at all is really revelation.

Furthermore, Ross's notion of the authority of the community [the Proletariat?...] leads to a reductio ad absurdum. There is a phenomenon which has allowed outside influences to mix with aspects of Jewish tradition, thereby altering the social structure, philosophy, hermeneutics, laws, and very sense of self of a large portion of Orthodoxy's "interpretive community." That phenomenon is not feminism, but fundamentalism. Secularization and modernity brought about movements in numerous religions which call for dogmatic stringency, intellectual and social isolationism, radical traditionalism, vigorous opposition to outsiders, world-transformative political radicalism, and activist messianism. These trends, in various different versions, have had vast influence on halakhic Jews, altering the very texture of Orthodox religious life. Certainly, these trends have been much more successful than feminist philosophy and post-modern hermeneutics in capturing the collective attention of observant Jews. It would seem that we should conclude, particularly if these trends continue, that fundamentalism is God's new revelation [a new evolutionary 'interpretive framework' from which Judaism emerges", some Charedi Orthoprax intellectuals might contend]. Jewish sources that might counter fundamentalism could be understood as appropriate for a previous era. We should thank God for providing us with this new, closed-minded revelation.

It should be obvious that accepting fundamentalism on these grounds is self contradictory and absurd. After all, one of basic tenets of fundamentalism is that revelation is permanent and unchanging. Still, are we to accept both feminism and fundamentalism as divine revelation, even though they are mutually exclusive? [no, since one will clearly be the "Judaism of the Ages", supported by "The" Gedolim, the other will be nambypamby Partnership Minyanim and "Open Conservadoxy"...] If fundamentalism becomes the exclusive narrative by which Orthodoxy defines itself, would we be forced to declare that communal consensus has sided with a position that we find morally and religiously objectionable? If yes, are we willing to sacrifice our moral and religious conscience on the altar of communal consensus? If not, what force is there to the claims that the communal narrative forms binding revelation? If post-modernism has taught us anything of value, it is that modernistic confidence in the morality of consensual human values is unfounded, to say the least [to which I would question confidence in many spheres which moderns feel 'certain' about]. If the prophets have anything to teach us, it is that communal religious consensus may not be revelation but idolatry.

Eating Cake, Eating Crow

What has been described as “Yeshivishe-Modern” or “Modern Ultra-Orthodox” is widely predicted to dominate the Jewish religious world in the next few years. It can definitely be argued to be the current majority, considering the leadership of most orthodox synagogues and day schools and outreach efforts - the future is my main concern here.

I believe that a significant number of people will leave Orthodoxy, over various aspects of the transition (intellectual dishonesty, economic fallout, etc), mostly as vaguely-observant Conservative-affiliaters, a good number of agnostics, but also as lackadaisical Pop-atheists (which I think will be largely among the Charedi dissenters). There will remain many sincerely "charedi moderns", but quite a few closet Modern Orthodox and Charedi Orthoprax - but the dissenters will be replaced by the remaining adherents having many children - but many will leave the lifestyle currently 'settling' like so much concrete.

I also think the place of the current far-fringe of the Charedim will simply become one end of a new continuum - an end that will increasingly be considered simply "strict" and "stalwart" and "uncompromising" - while their lessers will feel themselves less "worthy" of such "refined", isolationist monastic lifestyles and extremist behaviors. This is already very much the case, with how people regard the extremist communities that TOLERATE these fringes; once those communities are mainlined, so will be those they harbor.

It was enough in the past that different approaches in Torah were in REALITY different Torah spheres - perhaps considering each other kosher, but not sharing in 'hashGACHa' or hashGAFah. In the Charedi-Modern future, it will be simply all on one imposed continuum, where those who are "Orthodox" will have to simply tolerate the "excesses" of 'our' more "fervent" brethren. What is most important to note is that their ideological views will be considered on a spectrum - simply on the fringe-Right of it.

With the above in mind, what follows below may seem less of a digression - but I think what I describe will play into the future above described, one already in formation.
Many are already willing to defend philosophically the matter of halacha not necessarily representing actual, empirical claims on reality. The examples abound, and are often small and of philosophical interest (birkhat haChamah, killing lice on Shabbat, etc) - but the deliverances of empirical knowledge and science are regarded enough - in most of current mainline Orthodoxy - that possible excesses of obligatory or permitted, normative behavior are preempted.
But think what would happen if this "halacha-does-not-necessarily-express-empirical claims"outlook, at present only widely-held amongst relatively few halachic intellectuals, particularly the Modern Orthodox - were widely-held by and comingled with - a hashgafah that, in ideological purity - disdains non-Torah, empirically-based, empirically-compatible knowledge - an hashgafa that condemns as heretical mamash basic principles of the sciences, considers non-Jewish legal ethics and just about any human knowledge on which "the" Gedolim and Non-Jews could reach a consensus - to be shtus.

This is of course a view very evident among otherwise-diverse Charedim - even if it is held more in principle than practice; that is a situation that think will change, due to fading political diversity in the Orthodox world. Or consider other spheres of the human endeavor, like the legal professions. There are Charedi, Ivy-league-educated lawyers who can afford to send their kids to elite yeshivot/seminaries. Great! And just like there are very 'frum' kids who score high on tests of science subjects that they consider complete shtuyot if not sheker...there are Charedi lawyers navigating legal careers with little to no regard for non-Torah law as such. Think about a "Torah Derech" where this is the attitude of the MAJORITY instead of the minority...a majority that esteems the aformentioned fringe extremists ("purists"...).

Welcome to the desert of the real.

Now for some stomach-wrenching application of the respected incongruity between empirical reality and the determinations of halacha - coupled with another celebrated concept celebrated among the Modern Orthodox;

"What halacha permits, it permits; what it forbids, it forbids" .

It would seem that as far as halachic halacha is concerned, if something is 'permitted', it is 'permitted', if it is forbidden - forbidden. This sounds all well and good from a "Modern Orthodox", positivist "rationalist" perspective - but such an outlook, with all it's checks and balances presuming a regard for contemporary ethics in complex relationship to halacha - is not the only possible "valid" path in halacha - and frankly, is not the path of the future. "If something is permitted it is permitted" - can have horrific consequences - well within a halachic rubric.

R. Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg, a virtually-universally renowned halachic decisor, responded to the parents of victims of sexual abuse...that unless there was actual penetration of their children by the molester, there was no abuse.

Granted -in a life under the rule of law instead of whim, or tyrants - the reality is that indeed, definitions must be made and distinctions drawn in as 'objective' a manner as possible. That is allegedly the case in Halacha as well as contemporary secular law – but in secular law, there is no ‘awe’ at the potentially incongruity with empirical reality in the decision making process, no celebration of disregard for moral structures outside the legal rubric.
Moral outrage at child sexual abuse - as easily as it may be mustered - isn't supposed to be a factor in halachic decision making by this positivist, rationalist model. In "the" Orthodox world, we claim the irrelevance of societal-conditioned moral outrage regarding changing women's roles, in calls for "ethical kashrut", in worker's rights in workplaces run by Orthodox Jews, in all manner of settings where Conservative Jews acknowledge moral factors in their 'halachic' rulings.

Yes, voices such as Rav Kook among (a few) others call on "natural morality" as something that we must not let be trumped by legalism. And couldn't some relevance be claimed for psak be based on the empirical, psychologically-determined claims of it's affects on victims? Modern Orthodox R. David Dratch very famously has issued Halachic rulings regarding the clear mandates of intervention and prosecution regarding child sexual abuse, etc....

The American Psychological Association got in huge trouble for publishing research suggesting that relations between adults and children were not harmful. Similarly, the well-known, sheer historical ubiquity of sexual relations with no regard for age disparity or gender, is well-evidenced in animal species, and has been rallied against claims of human homosexuality’s 'unnaturalness'. For the American Psychological Assocation and these researchers in animal was simply scientific research they were publishing, basic, objective empirical research and accounting they were engaged in...all which is so championed among the Modern Orthodox - except on philology and Biblical Criticism, archaeology that contradicts Tanach, neuropsychology when it challenges personhood or freewill, the widespread normativity of all manner of animal behaviors, condemned as 'un-natural' arayot, etc (etc, etc).

Even several halachic responses (not responses, per se), have been made regarding the arayah of homosexuality stating that it can legitimately be looked at as being “that which is forbidden” - not 'un-natural' (it simply cannot be, if all kinds of animals do it and humans are fundamentally animals, as science 'attests'), not immoral, though one must still martyr oneself before committing the act willingly – but still foremost, simply “that which is forbidden” – as with the laws of kashrut or shatnez.

This sounds all well and 'ethical' regarding people who engage in homosexual acts, who have lost much of the stigma that has historically been displayed in the Christian West - but what if “what is permitted/what is forbidden” is applied to all halachic situations? What happens to claims for the "naturalness" of sexual predation, of Social Judeo-Darwinian economics, or eugenics based on the Kuzari? I mean, our social norms change with time where halacha is eternally untainted by natural, external-to-Revelation morality…
If throughout human history - as science attests - different societies paid no heed to age disparity, how is pederasty supposed to be treated differently from homosexuality by the "it's just forbidden" stance? Or bestiality, incest, etc? The statistics, even the definitions of predation, even the "post traumatic stress disorders" resulting from sexual abuse, etc, have also been "scientifically" challenged as socio-culturally conditioned.

But what does this sort of scholarly, peer-reviewed scientific (albeit swiftly challenged), research do to the "blanket-acceptance" approach in science and Torah issues - so typical of Modern Orthodoxy? Would external, “natural morality” – contrary to “what halacha permits” and most normative Orthodox theologians – come along to help us decide which scientific evidence we will consider acceptable as well? Shouldn't Modern Orthodox Jews who claim to esteem "science" treat it no less dispassionately, no less "scientifically"?...and such an approach could just as calculatingly be used (or should I say has been used, considering the basis of even some current halachic decisions in Charedi circles), to integrated ‘dated’ science or pseudo science to defend their positions.

You can't always have your "Torah & Science" cake and "what halacha permits" ice cream and eat them too. I can't demand of religious mechanisms that they function in ways that they are not supposed to - whether regarding science or ethics - without being, to some degree 'non'-Halachic or non-scientific. Or non-reactionary halachic. Hey, no innovating darchei in Torah allowed...

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