Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On the one hand, I’ve been saying this for years

Veteran readers of my blog may recollect my previously-stated contention that the reason why Orthodox Judaism has become increasingly right-wing in its interpretation of halachah/Jewish religious law is that the rabbis are afraid that, if they don’t rule in the most machmir (strictest) way possible, they’ll be “accused” of being Conservative. Here’s confirmation from a scholarly source (see the comments to this post):

Professor Marc Shapiro, "The Uses of Tradition" (book review), Tradition 28:2, 1994:

"One point left unmentioned by Goldberg is that, not having to face the threat of Reform, North African halakha was able to develop in different ways from what is found in Europe. This is particularly true with regard to Morocco. Here one finds many seemingly radical decisions by eminent figures (in particular R. Joseph Messas), such as are generally not found in Europe, at least not in the writings of mainstream halakhists. For example, not only did Moroccan rabbis generally have a lenient atttude towards conversion, but rulings were given that the hazzan need not repeat the shemoneh esreh, married women need not cover their hair, the law of eruvei hatzerot is no longer applicable, non-Jewish milk is permissible, wine handled by a Muslim can be consumed, Jews can be buried in the same cemetery as Gentiles (with a separation of four cubits), and flowers may be placed on the coffin. Morocco is also the only modern Diaspora country in which the Bet Din was still a moving force behind halakhic development. Takkanot were issued on a wide range of issues, and unlike what occurred when the Chief Rabbinate of Israel issued takkanot, there was no right wing opposition. In general, the Ashkenazic trends of separatism and extremism found no echo in North Africa, or among Sephardim ingeneral, and incidentally, this is one of the reasons why the Sephardic Chief Rabbis in Israel have not had to confront a significant right wing challenge to their legitimacy from within their own communities.

Professor Marc Shapiro, "The Moroccan Rabbinic Conferences", http://www.jewishideas.org/artic...nic-%20conferences

It is a truism that with the Emancipation and the rise of Reform and, later, Conservative Judaism, options for halakhic flexibility became much more limited. In the midst of a battle against the non-Orthodox movements, traditional Judaism retreated into a conservative mold both as a means of distinguishing itself from the non-Orthodox and out of a fear that in an era of halakhic crisis, any liberality in halakhic decision-making could encourage non-Orthodox trends. This latter sentiment was always on the minds of halakhists, even those who did not adopt lock, stock, and barrel R. Moses Sofer's famous bon mot, "Anything new is forbidden by the Torah." The above description is accurate, however, only with regard to the Ashkenazic world. The Sephardic world never had to contend with non-Orthodox religious movements, and thus it was able to develop in a much more natural-one might say organic-fashion. In particular, this was the case in Morocco, a community that had a very old halakhic tradition and whose scholars produced numerous works of responsa.
Michael Makovi Homepage 07.27.09 - 2:50 pm #


Anonymous jdub said...

I think that these comments ignore many other issues that come into play, including the repression from the christian countries, followed by Emancipation and the Haskalah. Moving from an enforced kehillah structure into an "anything goes" structure post-emancipation plays at least as large a role as Reform.

Note that there were non-hidebound vibrant Orthodox communities even where there was Reform (e.g., Frankfurt am Main under R. SR Hirsch). What I think these points largely miss is that there was a major disruption in the Orthodox world caused by the Holocaust. Otherwise you would have had a more organic growth, perhaps with America providing a model for post-shtetl Orthodoxy. (Note also that following the Soviet invasion of Hungary, America was flooded with Hungarian chareidim which changed the nature of American Orthodoxy).

I'm not making my points well, but mainly, there's more to this story than either Shapiro or Makovi point out. Query why the Morroccan experience wasn't replicated among Syrians, Egyptians, or other Mizrahi Jews?

Wed Jul 29, 01:55:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Moving from an enforced kehillah structure into an "anything goes" structure post-emancipation plays at least as large a role as Reform." I hadn't thought of that.

"What I think these points largely miss is that there was a major disruption in the Orthodox world caused by the Holocaust. Otherwise you would have had a more organic growth, perhaps with America providing a model for post-shtetl Orthodoxy." That's an interesting "what if."

"Note also that following the Soviet invasion of Hungary, America was flooded with Hungarian chareidim which changed the nature of American Orthodoxy." I had heard previously that Hungarian chareidi immigration created a slow but radical shift to the right in American Orthodox religious attitudes and practice. I've heard this described as a Yekke (German Jew) vs. Hungarian conflict (going back to your point re Hirsch's community).

Why wasn't the Morrocan experience duplicated among other B'nei Edot haMizrach communities? Good question.

It may well be that my perspective is too simplistic. Thanks for pointing that out.

Wed Jul 29, 02:43:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

of course, to double the point back to your original one; query why were Hungarians so ultra-orthodox? Reaction to the Reform . . .

I think it's not a Yekke vs Hungarian perspective, because as of the early 20th Century, New York (as a proxy for all American Orthodoxy) was primarily Eastern European. The "Academy" was also primarily EE at that point (the generations of Soloveichiks, Rav Kutler, Rav Moshe, Rav Henkin). It was a struggle between a nice blending of America incrementalism and rational Eastern European Orthodoxy. In 1956, that all changed.

There's a reason why people like me (i.e., part Galitzianer, part ukrainian) can only access "Glatt" kosher meat. What do I know or care from glatt? That's a Hungarian stringency that's rejected by the ReMA. They came "undiluted" straight from Hungary, and changed American Jewish history. (Thank God they did come and avoided the worst of Soviet repression, but it was a massive change).

Thu Jul 30, 08:05:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Shira / Ms. Salamone (I don't know your age, so I'm hedging my bets!),
Thank you for this honor!

See further an essay I wrote on this, here. I'm no expert, however, so take my words with a grain of salt. I've provided full bibliographic references, and for those interested, it may be worthwhile to first read everything in the bibliography by Professors Marc Shapiro, Menachem Friedman, and Haym Soloveitchik, before reading anything I myself have to say.

Now then...

You make a good observation. I don't think it is accurate to say that the Orthodox are afraid of Conservative per se; rather, they are afraid of anything heterodox. Now, today, this may chiefly manifest in a fear of the Conservative, but this is only because the gap between Orthodoxy and Reformism is so great today, and the lines of conflict so sealed and clear, that no one will confuse them. But when otherwise-observant Conservative Jews ordain female rabbis, there is definite cause for concern among the Orthodox, leading to kneejerk polemic.

to be cont.

Tue Sep 29, 07:51:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

cont. from above

In "Review Essay: Sociology and Halakha", the same Professor Marc Shapiro (yet again!) notes that in their polemics and opposition to the Reform movement, "the poskim saw themselves forced to take extraordinary measures in order to combat the widening threat. These measures varied from country to country, yet the principle that a posek may attempt to secure Orthodoxy by unprecedented stringencies was accepted by all and could be supported by Talmudic citation.” Regarding such German Neo-Orthodox rabbis as Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (1808-1888), Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer (1820-1899), Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann (1843-1921) and Rabbi Yehiel Ya'akov Weinberg (1884-1966), Shapiro notes,
[I]t is worthwhile to analyze a few responsa of R. Yehiel Ya'akov Weinberg (1884-1966), the leading posek of the final generation of German Jewry, on some of the very same issues dealt with by...earlier German respondents. Of course in most matters of Jewish law, and this includes matters relating to Reform, Weinberg was in agreement with his predecessors [emphasis added]. It is in those areas in which he disagrees where we can learn a great deal.
{{End quote}}
Shapiro explains how the passage of time changed the German Neo-Orthodox authorities' approach towards non-Orthodox movements:
… [Rabbi Esriel] Hildesheimer...was still in a generation that had not resigned itself to the continued existence of either the Reform movement or to the so-called Positive-Historical school of Zechariah Frankel. In such an environment, one in which heresy hunting was the rule and not the exception, it is understandable that Hildesheimer should have adopted a very uncompromising position regarding both of these developments. Indeed, the heat of the moment was such that even had Hildesheimer wanted to, he probably would not have been able to step back and look at things in a broader spectrum.

{{Quote continues}} We see this particularly in the way he reacted to Frankel and his seminary in Breslau. In Hildesheimer's day, it was no secret that the Breslau school did not represent the same type of Judaism commonly identified with Orthodoxy. Frankel himself was also suspect and had to fend off attacks on his religiosity by Samson Raphael Hirsch, who viewed his works as heretical. The air was very heated and people were being forced to declare their position on various issues of belief. Hildesheimer came down firmly on the side of Orthodoxy. In his mind, Frankel, Graetz, and other professors at Breslau were heretics. Not only was Frankel a meshumad - which made him even worse than an apikores - but it was perhaps even a mitzva to burn his book Darkhe haMishna. Hildesheimer had the same view regarding the graduates of Frankel's seminary. This harsh view was broadly shared among the German Orthodox.

{{Quote continues}} Yet as time went on, some elements of German Orthodoxy were able to take a more balanced look at both Frankel and his work. With this change, certain segments of Orthodoxy, especially the Berlin variety, began to adopt a more sympathetic approach to Frankel and the sort of scholarship he represented. … With Weinberg,... not only was Frankel not a heretic, he was actually a good Jew. Weinberg calls him Rabbi and on occasion affixes the phrase zikhrono livrakha after his name; a sure sign of respect, and one that is notably missing when Weinberg mentions Geiger. He cites the Darkhe haMishna throughout his works and considers this book to be a basic text and a forerunner for Hoffmann's later studies of the Mishna. He also defends Frankel against Isaac Halevy's harsh attacks throughout the latter's Dorot haRishonim attacks in the spirit of Hildesheimer.
{{End quote}}

to be cont.

Tue Sep 29, 07:54:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

cont. from above

Having thus shown the contrast between Rabbis Hildesheimer and Weinberg in responding to Frankel, Shapiro explains the cause for this contrast:
In general, Weinberg and Hildesheimer had very similar views and certainly had the same ideas regarding what constituted the fundamentals of faith. Still, the two came to different opinions regarding Frankel. Since both of them had examined Frankel's writings and both of them had the same notions regarding Orthodoxy [emphasis added], how then to explain the difference? I would venture to say that the different eras were responsible for the change in perspective. In Hildesheimer's day the issues raised by Frankel and the Breslau seminary went to the heart of the definition of Orthodoxy. Hildesheimer felt threatened and therefore it was natural for him to stress the differences he had with Frankel. The atmosphere was such that it was very easy to call him a heretic. (Weinberg actually suggests this reason with regard to Halevy's attitude to Frankel; see Seride Esh, vol. 4, p. 228.)

{{Quote continues}} In Weinberg's day, the atmosphere had calmed. The different segments of German Judaism were each secure in their place. There was no apparent threat to Orthodoxy from the Left. Only at this later date was it possible to take a close and impartial look at Frankel. This Weinberg did, and what he discovered to his satisfaction was that Frankel was not a heretic.
{{End quote}}

Shapiro proceeds to cite many other halakhic discussions in which later German Neo-Orthodox authorities disagreed with their predecessors based on the contemporary sociological conditions in general, and the need to distance oneself from Reform in particular. In general, the later authorities were more tolerant and lenient, as they were able to take a calmer and more dispassionate view of the issues, studying them more objectively and less polemically.

See also Daniel Elazar The Special Character of Sephardi Tolerance and Can Sephardic Judaism be Reconstructed?. The first essay deals with the most salient ideological aspects of Turkish/Balkan Judeo-Spanish tolerance, leniency, and flexibility. The second essay is more historical, dealing with where that community came from, and why we don't hear from it today anymore, and how its resurrection is a desideratum for Judaism today.

I'm not learned in the communities of Egypt, Syria, etc., so I don't yet know enough to make any conclusions based on them, one way or the other. My reading so far is based on Professors Marc Shapiro, Haym Soloveitchik, and Menachem Friedman regarding Haredism; Rabbi Marc Angel and others regarding Turkish/Balkan Judeo-Spanish Sephardism; the writings of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch in general. So suffice it to say, I still have a lot more to learn.

to be cont.

Tue Sep 29, 07:54:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

cont. from above

You're certainly correct that the shock of Emancipation and the sudden disintegration and destruction of the traditional Jewish community is much to blame for contemporary Haredism. Professor Menachem Friedman notes several factors in the rise of Haredism:
(1) The loss of the traditional community - following both the Emancipation and the Holocaust - disrupted traditional mimetic transmission, causing it to be replaced by inflexible and maximalist textualism;
(2) The loss of the traditional Jewish community concomitantly lead to a shift from traditional geographic communities to newer voluntary ones. That is, whereas traditional Jewish communities encompassed everyone within a particular geographic area, newer communities are voluntary and capitalistic. Therefore, the Haredim can reject anyone not conforming to their standards, and they no longer feel any need to be solicitous for the welfare of the non-Haredi. This only reinforces their own strictness and insularness.
(3) The rise of the higher Volozhin-style yeshivot, disconnected from the surrounding city and its rabbi and populace, lead to an emphasis in ivory-tower textualism, with a lack of concern for what actual concrete Jewish life entailed and what material needs and life demanded. In Eastern Europe, only a handful of students ever learned in these yeshivot - contrary to Haredi myth - and so their effect was negligible. But once the yeshivot moved to Western welfare states following the Holocaust, a mass proliferation of yeshivot was enabled, and today, it is the norm for Haredim to learn all their lives in yeshiva, thus destroying the traditional mimetic Jewish way of education and life.

A prime example of the result of all this is the kiddush cup: within one generation, under the aegis of the Hazon Ish, the kiddush cup some doubled or triped in size. How? Well, for centuries, there had been a suggestion on the part of the Noda biYehuda that one ought to so increase the size of his kiddush cup, but everyone, faced with their physical cups every Shabbat passed down from their ancestors, ignored the Noda biYehuda. But once the traditional communities were destroyed, yeshiva hypertextualism spread, and people physically lost their kiddush cups after the Holocaust, it was simple for the Hazon Ish and his school to succeed in replacing the kiddush cup. Thus, Haredi stricture is most un-traditional, "reform"-ish, we might say.

Witness also the following passage from the writings of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, “The Relation of General to Specially Jewish Education”:
"It was at the beginning of this century that the Jewish people, after centuries of enforced seclusion and estrangement, came once more into contact with non-Jewish culture. We say advisedly “once more” because this estrangement was not inherent in the original nature of Judaism and did not result necessarily from it, as is amply shown by the brilliant literary productions from more fortunate times. [Presumably, Hirsch intends pre-Expulsion Spain.] ... We have to lament that the great Jewish scholars, in whom that age [of religious upheaval in the wake of the Enlightenment and Emancipation] was by no means poor, were prevented by seclusion to which the political situation of their people had condemned them from themselves making a firsthand acquaintance with the general cultural strivings of of the age. With their keen insight they would quickly have greeted what was true and good in general culture as something closely akin to the Jewish outlook, and they would have been the first to prepare a home for it in their own circle. We have to lament that an opposition which might find some justification in other denominations [viz. Christianity] was carried over without more ado into the field of Judaism, without anyone asking whether owing to the peculiar nature of the Jewish religion it did not here lose much of its acuteness."

Yes, Rav Hirsch is declaring the Haredi "Torah-only" model to be a result of syncretism with Christianity.

Conclusion of my comments

Tue Sep 29, 07:55:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mikewind Dale, thanks for providing a historical perspective. I'll take a look at your essay and the other links that you provided when I have a decent amount of time to read them.

Wed Sep 30, 06:21:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mikewind Dale, thanks for the links to Daniel Elazar's essay on the Sefardi way. Unfortunately, access to your essay is blocked at my office, so I'll have to read it on my home computer.

For the record, I'm 60, but I've never been one to stand on ceremony, so do call me Shira.

Wed Sep 30, 12:38:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

One of Daniel Elazar's essays mentioned an attempt to found/revive a Sefardi rabbinical school in Yerushalayim/Jerusalem. Did the Israeli Sefardi Community have any luck getting that school off the ground? I appreciate the open-minded attitude of the Sefardi tradition, and wish my own Ashkenazi tradition were more tolerant. It would be great to see a more open-minded approach to the education and training of Orthodox rabbis. Among rabbinical schools in the US, I think that Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is probably closest to the Sefardi open-minded approach.

Wed Sep 30, 12:50:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

I haven't heard anything about a real authentic Sephardi yeshiva, so my assumption is, no. After all, the Sephardi world today is controlled by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and of course, he's Haredi. Moreover, he's not Sephardi (i.e. Judeo-Spanish) in the sense that Elazar is using the term.

YCT is among the few good ones, you're right. Israel has a few good think tanks, such as Beit Morasha and Hartman Institute; and a few good lower-level yeshivot, such as Maale Gilboa and Petah Tiqwa; and Bar Ilan's beit midrash program (led by Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber) is a good equivalent to YU, but I don't know of any good Modern-Orthodox higher-yeshivot in Israel. That is, I don't know of any good Modern Orthodox "rabbi factory" schools in Israel, which is a serious problem. That sector is controlled by the Haredim and by the Haredi-Leumim.

Wed Sep 30, 12:56:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

In Israel, there are plenty of places to get a good PhD in Jewish philosophy and history, and as Professor Menachem Kellner points out, today, academics are supplanting rabbis in Modern Orthodox thought and its representation in the public sphere. But while I see no problem with this, we also need Modern Orthdox talmudists and posqim, and for this, I don't see any good Modern Orthodox higher yeshivot; only lower yeshivot do I see.

Wed Sep 30, 12:57:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mikewind Dale, thanks for responding to my question. I wish the news on the Israeli Sefardi and/or Modern Orthodox rabbinical-school front were better.

Moed Tov!

Mon Oct 05, 06:41:00 PM 2009  

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