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Finding Your Mendelssohn

 

Few people in history have legacies as flexible and useful for contemporary typologies as Moses Mendelssohn. In a prior post (link) we used his and R. Ya’akov Emden’s approaches toward halakhic innovation to describe two approaches in our community today. His approach to philosophy and religious tradition, as debated recently by historians, can describe three attitudes toward religion and secularism in Modern Orthodoxy.

A recent book by Prof. Michah Gottlieb, Faith and Freedom: Moses Mendelssohn’s Theological-Political Thought, charts a new path in Mendelssohn studies. Two previous studies of the groundbreaking eighteenth century Jewish philosophers described him in opposite terms. Allan Arkush sees Mendelssohn as a closet atheist (link). Starting as a devout Jew, his philosophical studies disabused him of those beliefs but his attachment to Jewish community and culture forced him to conceal his new attitudes. David Sorkin sees Mendelssohn as the devout Jew who never fully realized his philosophical studies (link). He instead remained satisfied to merely translate his traditional views, faithfully transmitted from Medieval Jewish philosophers, into eighteenth century language.

Gottlieb sees a middle Mendelssohn. Fully accepting his Torah training and his philosophical studies, Mendelssohn was committed to reconciling the two sources of truth. In doing so, he adapted both his Torah and philosophical sources — remaining completely within traditional bounds but innovating a new approach that synthesized the two. Mendlessohn was not just balancing on two pillars but merging them into one, new creation.

We see these three attitudes within contemporary Modern Orthodoxy among scholars accomplished in both Torah and secular studies. Some have substantially modified their religious beliefs well beyond traditional standards but hide them from the general public, preferring to remain in the community for personal reasons. Others read the secular studies through Torah eyes, refusing to budge from their tradition and merely translating it into academic terminology. And then there are the synthesizers, who blaze new trails in multidisciplinary ways, believing they can not only dance at both weddings but even fashion their own, unique step.

A fourth character emerges from Gottlieb’s study. He devotes half his book to the debate between Mendelssohn and Freidrich Jacobi. Aside from the new insights Gottlieb offers into the highly technical dialogue, he also attempts to prove Mendelssohn’s sincerity in his beliefs against Jacobi’s accusations of inconsistency. Jacobi is a disillusioned Christian philosopher, convinced that modern philosophy must lead to heresy. Therefore, he argues, we must reject philosophy for faith, abandon the poisons of enlightenment because they bear no fruit for our souls.

Jacobi reminds me of the disillusioned Modern Orthodox scholar. I know more than one well-trained Modern Orthodox scholar, highly accomplished in both Torah and secular studies, who struggles in early adulthood to find a balance between the two and then retreats into the Charedi world. Disillusioned by the failure to find balance and the perceived lack of religious fidelity among his colleagues, this type of scholar chooses faith over philosophy and often becomes the most bitter, and most eloquent, foe of Modern Orthodoxy.

Gottlieb sees his middle Mendelssohn as a role model for Modern Orthodoxy in the twenty-first century. Not just balance but synthesis, faithful multidisciplinary innovation that is true to both Torah and Mada, is the lesson we can learn from the eighteenth century philosopher. However, we engage in this task with great risk. Should we fail, we risk creating closet heretics of the Arkush-type and defectors of the Jacobi-type. As for me, I truck with the Sorkin-types, remaining irritated by the Arkush- and Jacobi-types, and at times impressed with, at times wary of Gottlieb-type trailblazers.

There is perhaps a sad irony in our look back to Moses Mendelssohn’s life while trying to find our place in the religious world of the twenty-first century. After a quarter of a millennium, after generations of debate and experimentation, we still have not found the right balance between religion and secularism. Perhaps this means that the pursuit is impossible. Our consistent failure to square this circle shows that our obstinate idealism will not face the reality of contradiction. Or maybe it means that there is no single answer, that in this complex and indeterminate matter everyone has to find their own personal resolution, that subjective factors play a role in deciding which type of Mendelssohn we will be.

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

93 Responses

  1. aiwac says:

    There was an interesting discussion on this very question over here:

    http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/yct-graduation-speech-where-is-the-promised-land/

    http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/synthesis-vs-irreconcilable-modern-orthodox-vs-modern-and-orthodox/

    The vehemence with which most of the discussants rejected the possibility of synthesis surprised me…

  2. Jon Baker says:

    In a prior post (link) we used his and R. Ya’akov Emden’s approaches toward halakhic innovation to describe two approaches in our community today.

    Funny, I’m reading books about both of them now – Edward Breuer’s book about the Biur, and RD JJ Schachter’s dissertation biography of RYEmden, which I just found online. From the little I’ve read so far, both seem to have synthesized religious and secular knowledge – Mendelssohn as a working philosopher, RYEmden as a widely-read autodidact and posek, who was not above quoting Aristotle, debating science/Torah, etc.

  3. GG says:

    There was an interview with Michah Gottlieb on Mendelssohn and Modern Orthodoxy here.

    http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/an-interview-with-michah-gottlieb-moses-mendelssohn-as-a-guide-for-orthodoxy/

    Here is Professor Gottlieb’s own thoughts on your question.

    2. Why should Mendelssohn be important for Modern Orthodoxy?

    Modern Orthodoxy typically seeks models to legitimate its project. It has frequently looked to the Maimonides because of his vast Talmudic and halakhic expertise, his synthesizing Judaism with science and philosophy, and his active career as a physician. However, in my view the central dilemmas facing modern Orthodoxy are not whether having a career is legitimate or how to reconcile the Torah with science, but rather with how to square commitment to Torah and halakha with democratic principles such as tolerance, diversity, and individual rights. Maimonides has no concept of human rights and he does not deem tolerance a value. Thus he rules that one who does not perfect his intellect is not truly a human being; that a Jew without proper belief is not an Israelite, but a heretic whom one is commanded to hate and kill; and that one is not permitted to save a dying Gentile.

    In contrast, Mendelssohn seeks to show that religious diversity, tolerance, and respect for human rights are Jewish values. For this reason, the slogan “From Moses to Moses there never arose one as great as Moses” was applied to him even in his own life. Mendelssohn addressed perplexities that Maimonides could not even conceive.

    Simon Rawidowicz once said that Mendelssohn was unique among German Jewish thinkers. On the one hand, he was widely hailed as one of the greatest philosophers of the German Enlightenment in his lifetime. At the same time, he was a talmid hakham who conducted a high-level halakhic correspondence with Rabbi Ya’akov Emden. To put it in perspective, this would be as if Karl Marx had debated Tosafot with the Netziv or as if Rav Soloveitchik were a phenomenologist philosopher on par with Husserl or Heidegger.

  4. yitznewton says:

    Nice piece – best in a while to my taste. A quarter of a century though? This debate goes way, way back into the middle ages. After struggling for years now, I “must” conclude that this struggle has to be part of the life of the Jew in galus. At least, that’s the only perspective that allows me to feel honest about my Jewish life. I think I am forced into that position to some extent because I left the Christianity of my childhood because I found it irrational!

  5. yitznewton says:

    Quote should’ve been “quarter of a millennium”

  6. Joseph Kaplan says:

    Jon, could you post the link to RDJJS’s dissertation? Thanks.

  7. Moshe Shoshan says:

    This a nice post. in part because it demonstrates how Modern Orthodoxy in its most prominent forms still has not advanced much past the enlightenment.

    The Rav on the other hand did not fit into any of the paradigms that Gil presented.

  8. moshe hacohen says:

    Joseph Kaplan:
    Jon, could you post the link to RDJJS’s dissertation? Thanks.

    DITTO

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Some have substantially modified their religious beliefs well beyond traditional standards but hide them from the general public, preferring to remain in the community for personal reasons.”

    It is best not to speculate as to the motives that an individual other than oneself may have for failing to publicly disclose his (or her) religious beliefs. It’s also best not to use pejorative words such as “hiding.”

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    “this would be as if Karl Marx had debated Tosafot with the Netziv or as if Rav Soloveitchik were a phenomenologist philosopher on par with Husserl or Heidegger.”

    Would that Marx had been an observant Jew and Heidegger not been a Nazi!

  11. Anon says:

    “Would that Marx had been an observant Jew”

    … and not a Marxist …

    “and Heidegger not been a Nazi!”

    !

  12. aiwac says:

    Anon,

    What’s pejorative about “hiding”?

  13. aiwac says:

    R. Gil,

    With all due respect, how many educated/intelligent people do you know have not gone the Arkush or Jacobi route? At most, we have the “post-modern” thought of R. Shagar, or the de facto post-modern thought of Leibowitz (which argues that strict observance of halacha is entirely independent of whatever sciences, including humanities, say). But genuine synthesizers? Come now.

    If over a century of synthesis efforts still primarily result in compartmentalizers, fundamentalists who deny that science has truth, ‘closet unbelievers’ and post-modernists, maybe those who advocate Torah U-Madda need to consider conceding defeat and removing the connecting vav.

  14. IH says:

    Perhaps synthesis is in the eye of the beholder…

  15. aiwac says:

    IH,

    Could you elaborate?

  16. IH says:

    Nothing profound, just the observation that one person’s synthesis is another’s “beyond the pale”, or Conservative or “closet unbeliever” or “post-modernist” etc.

    Is it really possible to have a clearly & honestly stated synthesis position that normative Orthodoxy will generally agree remains Orthodox? I see precious little evidence to think it can.

  17. aiwac says:

    IH,

    These were statements about people who do not synthesize, in other words they believe they cannot be reconciled. I said nothing about “beyond the pale”, merely that most people compartmentalize to one extent or another. “Post-modern”, “closet atheism” &c are different forms of compartmentalization.

    It’s a lot of things, but it is not a synthesis, at least according to the plain meaning of the world. Whether this is “beyond the pale” Orthodox-wise is an entirely different issue.

  18. IH says:

    aiwac — I was making the broader point that I don’t think a simply & honestly stated synthesis position is possible within normative Orthodoxy today. One person’s synthsis is another’s kefira in the contemporary heresy-hunting environment.

    As a litmus test: would Gil allow them to guest blog here; or, would YU invite (and allow) them to speak.

  19. aiwac says:

    IH,

    I think first better for you to give examples of what you consider to be a “simply & honestly stated synthesis position” and if this really rises to the level of synthesis, or merely compartmentalization (ie Liebowitzian style attitudes that these are two separate fields that have nothing to do with one another &c).

  20. IH says:

    Oops. Doesn’t fit your mental map and labeling schema, therefore one must adopt to your map and schema. Another time…

  21. aiwac says:

    IH,

    You seem to be under the delusion that I must accept your terms of discussion at all times. Sorry to disabuse you…

  22. IH says:

    aiwac — no, it meaningful discussion both parties work to understand each other and not dictate their terms on the other. I keep trying with you, but fail. In the new year we can try again…

  23. aiwac says:

    IH,

    You are no less guilty of argument picadillos. You often shadowbox and attack other’s positions while being very cagey and non-specific about your own positions. “Moving the goal posts” is another issue I have with you. So we both have what to work on…

  24. IH says:

    Incidentally, at the Strand this afternoon I noticed/bought a Reviewer’s Copy of this beautiful new monograph on the Haskalah: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/C/bo12167145.html. Stacked for Succot (I hope)…

  25. aiwac says:

    Sounds interesting, but what does Feiner add in this monograph that he didn’t already say in his other 4-5 books on the subject?

  26. IH says:

    מה-שהיה, הוא שיהיה, ומה-שנעשה, הוא שיעשה; ואין כל-חדש, תחת השמש

  27. aiwac says:

    So does he add anything or no?

  28. Hirhurim says:

    There is a lot of synthesis action going on in the Israeli Tanakh scene that is not heresy (along with some heresy, but not by the vast majority of the thinkers and teachers). And there is also synthesis among modern and medieval historians and the few philosophers we have. And there are small pockets of synthesizers in other fields, as well.

  29. chardal says:

    >(along with some heresy, but not by the vast majority of the thinkers and teachers).

    Thank God we have the heresy police to tell us who is over the red line!! (Too bad many rishonim and achronim whom we revere don’t make their cut)

    If there is one thing we should take from Mendelssohn, it is his aversion to dogma and required beliefs. We would all be better off if we would have taken his advice and abolished the institution of Herem and the thought police. We would also be better off if we stop drawing lines in the sand and allow people to argue their beliefs and either convince or be convinced.

  30. Hirhurim says:

    I thank God every week for differentiating between the sacred and the mundane.

  31. chardal says:

    >I thank God every week for differentiating between the sacred and the mundane.

    Yes, so do the chareidim down the street in beit shemesh. Of course, they will throw rotten eggs at your little girls and chase them around the streets because they, like all heresy hunters, appropriate for themselves the right to condemn others for not having the same opinions as they do. From your soft heresy hunting, it is simply a small slippery slope towards their monstrous behavior, all done in the name of separating the sacred and the mundane.

    Appropriating for humans the power to police thoughts in the name of God will almost always lead to excess and evil – that is the lesson of the enlightenment and one of the main lessons of Mendelssohn. The progress, both technological and ethical, of the past 250 years is a direct result of the delegitimization of heresy hunting.

  32. Jon Baker says:

    there are small pockets of synthesizers in other fields, as well.

    I recently picked up a small pocket synthesizer.

  33. Hirhurim says:

    chardal: Yes, so do the chareidim down the street in beit shemesh.

    You believe in the sanctity of Torah. So do the chareidim down the street in Beit Shemesh.

    You believe in separating men and women in the synagogue. So do the chareidim down the street in Beit Shemesh.

    You believe in defending yourself militarily against aggressors. So do the chareidim down the street in Beit Shemesh.

    Appropriating for humans the power to police thoughts in the name of God will almost always lead to excess and evil

    We aren’t discussing policing thoughts. We are talking about stating what is right and what is not.

  34. aiwac says:

    chardal,

    To add to your point, may I recommend a fascinating (and counter-intuitive) article by Dr. Benny Brown which argues that debates, even pervasive debates, about what Jews should believe and how they should behave is actually BENEFICIAL for the strengthening of Jewish identity:

    http://www.bmj.org.il/files/121294176618.pdf

    To digress from your point, there are positions that are unpalatable to the Jewish religion lechol hade’ot (atheism, for instance) and certainly to Orthodoxy (such as the idea that halacha is not binding).

    Really, there has to be some way to balance between the right of free discourse and understanding that certain opinions are not part of the “opinion bank” of one camp and belong in another. Call it heresy, call it what you will.

    To take an example from politics – a conservative may become utterly convinced that a massive welfare state with heavy government involvement is the way to go. I think we can both agree that he ceases to be a conservative.

    Also, by your own methods, what justification is there for separate Orthodox day/high schools, if all the options should be on the table and discussed among all?

    Shana Tova

  35. chardal says:

    >You believe in the sanctity of Torah. So do the chareidim down the street in Beit Shemesh.

    You believe in separating men and women in the synagogue. So do the chareidim down the street in Beit Shemesh.

    You believe in defending yourself militarily against aggressors. So do the chareidim down the street in Beit Shemesh.To add to your point, may I recommend a fascinating (and counter-intuitive) article by Dr. Benny Brown which argues that debates, even pervasive debates, about what Jews should believe and how they should behave is actually BENEFICIAL for the strengthening of Jewish identity<

    I do not disagree with this and I am not against debate, I am against heresy hunting, which only serves to render some topics beyond the very pale of debate.

  36. chardal says:

    >You believe in the sanctity of Torah. So do the chareidim down the street in Beit Shemesh.

    BTW, they do not. They believe only in the sanctity of their own egos. They will show no respect to people who are great Torah scholars if they don’t dress like them. They are at the end of the road of heresy hunting – they are its final destination.

  37. IH says:

    The problem is that most people think the red-line of inclusion/exclusion is just to their left. And when one tries to set an objective metric, we’re back to arguing about what Rambam actually meant in the 13 Ikarim.

    The alternative is a fuzzier form of drawing boundaries — e.g. fealty to Am Yisrael; and for Orthodoxy, fealty to the halachic system.

  38. Hirhurim says:

    IH: The problem is that most people think the red-line of inclusion/exclusion is just to their left.

    That has not been my experience. I’ve felt accepted by people far to my right who would not include YCT-types. Just look at last week’s Ami magazine. They published a piece by me and an anti-YCT piece, despite being Chassidish with a few levels of separation to me.

  39. aiwac says:

    IH,

    But what is fealty to Orthodoxy if not fealty to some grouping of belief claims/truths? Yes, you can expand it a la Marc Shapiro, but it is not all-inclusive. If it was, it would be meaningless.

  40. aiwac says:

    “I do not disagree with this and I am not against debate, I am against heresy hunting, which only serves to render some topics beyond the very pale of debate.”

    Things can be within the pale of debate but beyond the pale of Orthodoxy. It’s not a תרתי דסתרי.

  41. IH says:

    aiwac — so define the boundary you think can be generally agreed within Orthodoxy. E.g. Gil says Prof. Schiffman is in; but, Prof. Kugel is out. Is Prof. Halbertal in or out? Prof. Shapiro? Rabbi Sperber? Rabbi Yitz Greenberg?

    All of them consider themselves Orthodox.

  42. aiwac says:

    IH,

    That too can, and is, be debated :-P. But why don’t you help. You know my opinions, in general. Why don’t you explain what positions would place one outside ‘fealty to Orthodoxy’, or do you perceive it as mainly a social association (ie it’s enough to “consider oneself Orthodox”, belong to an Orthodox community etc)?

  43. Hirhurim says:

    Aiwac is too smart to fall for that trap. The issues of whether there are lines and what are those lines are two different discussions. You’re trying to mix them.

  44. IH says:

    Bollocks. If you can’t define a boundary, it is an illusion.

  45. Hirhurim says:

    No, it’s a red herring. You just want to argue the details and make it as uncomfortable as possible to define the boundary. It’s fairly easy but I won’t play that game and frankly have no interest in serving as the heresy police.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Why can’t there be an actual boundary, but instead of a very defined one, a meandering, porous one?

  47. IH says:

    “do you perceive it as mainly a social association (ie it’s enough to “consider oneself Orthodox”, belong to an Orthodox community etc)?”

    Yes. I have said this before and I believe it is historically authentic. אנו מתירין להתפלל עם העברינים

    Now your turn: where is the boundary for inclusion/exclusion as you believe it to be? Either in principle or by examples, but crisp.

  48. aiwac says:

    IH,

    I think we need to separate, as per chardal, the difference between unacceptable positions to Orthodoxy, and the question of how, and when, it is enforced by the community/school &c.

    In other words – fight the position, not the person.

    As an example – I think that Prof. Kugel’s position on the Bible is not Orthodox by any stretch of the imagination. However, I think that attempts at excommunication of the PERSON (as opposed to objection to the position) is stupid and pointless.

    If I may give an example I’ve heard many times – there were many frum Jews, holocaust survivors, who stopped believing in God, or at least that God had anything to do with history. Yet they kept the Mitzvot and sent their children to religious schools because they genuinely believed that it had value. The position is obviously unacceptable, the person who decided to stay the course of Mitzvot should be embraced.

    Hate the sin, love the sinner, as it were :).

  49. Shlomo says:

    IH, for the millionth time: Just because it is hard for us, as individuals and as a community, to determine the boundaries of acceptable belief, does not mean that no boundaries exist.

  50. chardal says:

    >As an example – I think that Prof. Kugel’s position on the Bible is not Orthodox by any stretch of the imagination. However, I think that attempts at excommunication of the PERSON (as opposed to objection to the position) is stupid and pointless.

    You do realize, of course, that this position itself puts YOU out of the pale for many many people on your right. The fact that you would tolerate Kugel getting aliyot, davening for the amud, etc, means you are soft on heresy and therefore suspect yourself. It is a VERY dangerous game. I am all for discussions of what Judaism has to say or what Jews should stand for and believe in the world, but the institution of Herem as well as any well defined red lines for discussion put an artificial barrier that constricts the mind.

    Red lines only serve to create a comfort zone for people to the right of the line. But they do not serve the quest for truth or make our society more holy and ethical. We suffered for centuries under christian heresy police, let us not tolerate it among our bretheren as well.

  51. aiwac says:

    chardal,

    I think you’re being too extreme here. I said nothing whatsoever about herem, and what the right thinks of me does not interest me. If they can’t handle different, religiously legitimate views, this is a mark on them, not me.

    I see nothing wrong with believing that certain positions do not fall under the rubric of what can be called Orthodox. A person may indeed by intellectually convinced of such positions, but outside they remain.

    I refer once again to my political example of a conservative being intellectually convinced that the liberal position is correct (or vice versa). He or she indeed came to that position and can justify it, but his world-view ceases to be conservative.

    Lehavdil, if someone becomes convinced that Spinoza or Dawkins is correct, that is certainly a defendable position. Orthodox (or even religious in the latter case) it most certainly is not.

  52. chardal says:

    >Lehavdil, if someone becomes convinced that Spinoza or Dawkins is correct, that is certainly a defendable position. Orthodox (or even religious in the latter case) it most certainly is not.

    It seems to me that you are arguing for a descriptive, non-proscriptive red line. I can live with that but then you must give sociology the reigns of this debate. When a large group of people who consider themselves orthodox fully accept people who are pushing a boundary, then the boundary gets pushed. In your model, there is no central thought police or textual methodology to give the red line a reality that transcends societal standards. I doubt, however, that your model would serve to exclude the kind of academic that Gil would like to exclude.

  53. aiwac says:

    chardal,

    “When a large group of people who consider themselves orthodox fully accept people who are pushing a boundary, then the boundary gets pushed.”

    I disagree. I don’t think the fact that the frum Holocaust survivors I mentioned were atheists means the boundary of belief in God was allowed to move an inch.

    “I doubt, however, that your model would serve to exclude the kind of academic that Gil would like to exclude.”

    You’ll have to ask R. Gil what “excluding” means – whether it means social shunning or simply that so-and-so is not part of the regular Orthodox discourse, but rather part of the corpus of worthy challengers to it.

    Put differently, what gets allowed in the Orthodox Jewish bookstore? That kind of exclusion is different than the ‘heresy police’ of whom you speak. All communities, whether religious, political or cultural, have their corpus of people inside the discourse which can be discussed freely and the people outside the discourse which should be addressed but are not part of the regular milieu.

  54. chardal says:

    >I disagree. I don’t think the fact that the frum Holocaust survivors I mentioned were atheists means the boundary of belief in God was allowed to move an inch.

    I think that they just qualified for a special asterisk. non-survivors would not have been given such deference.

    I hear the rest of what you write – however, you would be very surprized what you can sometimes find in orthodox bookstores.

  55. S. says:

    I think the real question is, how much freedom of expression is there? There is maximal free speech granted to all Jews, so long as they stay out of certain communities. Can I come into a Satmar beis midrash with a Ritva published by Mossad Horav Kook? How about with Krochmal’s Moreh Nevuchei Hazman? How about into a Beis Midrash in my own community? What can I say if I am giving a speech at a sheva brachos? Am I allowed to express controversial views espoused by only recognized authorities? Am I not even allowed to do that (“they could say it, we can’t”)?

    All these are relevant questions for Orthodox Jews who live in communities where they intuit or know that they must self-censor, even without being James Kugel.

  56. S. says:

    “I hear the rest of what you write – however, you would be very surprized what you can sometimes find in orthodox bookstores.”

    That’s due to the amharatzus of the public, sometimes the owners, and sometimes simply to the allure of money. Of course sometimes it is because the owners, or whomever stocks such stores, actually respect intellectual openness too.

  57. aiwac says:

    I think we also need to realize that there are communities and there are communities. Some are more open and some less so. If someone feels that the community in which they live is too restricting, they can try and move to another community (at least here in Israel). I realize this is not an option for some, I don’t think it fair to paint all Orthodox communities with the same brush. We are not all Satmar.

  58. S. says:

    I know we are not all Satmar. I made that distinction in my comment. But it is not so simple to change communities, even assuming that there are other communities to join. As you probably realize, the more restrictive a community one belongs to, the more one might alienate their family and friends by leaving and joining another community. It’s not so simple, and especially so the older and more rooted one gets.

  59. S. says:

    And how could I forget? These are not the only important things in life (unless it is consuming you and you can get no rest). There may be many reasons to be a part of a community in which you feel that you cannot express yourself freely, and many positives may outweigh this one negative. That doesn’t mean one has to like it, or that one shouldn’t try to change people’s minds about the issue of expression.

  60. aiwac says:

    S.,

    Fair enough. I understand that there are many who choose to do so (or who cannot get out for various reasons). I spent not a few months following an Israeli forum of closet Charedi intellectuals who won’t even refer to each other privately by first name (ie in private correspondence).

    However, if I may play Devil’s advocate for a moment – what’s so wrong with paying public homage to the values and ideas of a community? Let’s assume that (somehow) we eliminate the ‘heresy-hunting’ aspect and people are free to do what they wish in their own home, including owning Krochmal’s book (which in its latest edition, is friggin huge) or others.

    What’s wrong with the idea that there are certain things which are discussed in private or round the family Shabbos table that you don’t get up and endorse at a Dvar Torah in shul? Or that not every book needs to be forced into yeshivot (as opposed to the library) to the objections of the majority involved?

  61. IH says:

    aiwac/shlomo – you’re both ducking the issue. Where are these boundaries that you insist exist? Just saying they exist, without establishing specifics – either in principle or by example – is cant. Funny thing is that aiwac keeps accusing me of being evasive and moving goal posts.

    You asked the question, aiwac, answer it crisply.

  62. aiwac says:

    IH,

    I already did. Read my reference to the Kugel issue.

  63. chardal says:

    >I think the real question is, how much freedom of expression is there?

    To me, the question is broader, are we an Am Chacham veNavon which does not hide from any area of intelectual investigation or are we a nation of obstructionist ignoramuses who are afraid of our own intellectual shodows.

    >How about with Krochmal’s Moreh Nevuchei Hazman?

    If you live in a community that knows who R’ Krochmal was, you have already achieved a small victory over obstructionism and ignorance! :)

  64. chardal says:

    >What’s wrong with the idea that there are certain things which are discussed in private or round the family Shabbos table that you don’t get up and endorse at a Dvar Torah in shul?

    The crypto-Jew is now gone. The crypto-intelectual has now arrived. No one should be made to live like that or have to choose between burning their entire family and being intelectually honest. Why do we have to survive the church’s inquisition only to live under an internal Jewish one????

  65. Hirhurim says:

    chardal: To me, the question is broader, are we an Am Chacham veNavon which does not hide from any area of intelectual investigation or are we a nation of obstructionist ignoramuses who are afraid of our own intellectual shodows.

    To me it’s whether we are a nation with more faith in its traditions or passing intellectual fads. Something rock-solid proven today may seem quite shaky tomorrow.

  66. chardal says:

    >To me it’s whether we are a nation with more faith in its traditions or passing intellectual fads. Something rock-solid proven today may seem quite shaky tomorrow.

    That is a false choice, you can have faith and loyalty to your traditions while being intelectually open. No one says one has to accept every intelectual fad, but in a world where people are censured for owning books that are not approved by the inquisition, one can not expect us to be percieved as a wise nation.

    You can be loyal while not constantly exhibiting fear of every new idea and you can even be critical of received wisdom and reevaluate it without fearing that you are destroying everything. The chachamim of the past constantly studied general wisdom and also adjusted common beliefs based on general wisdom, it is just a modern phenomenon which forbids engagement with the outside world.

  67. IH says:

    aiwac — I don’t see any difference between your position and mine. Yet, you insist there is one. Please clarify.

  68. aiwac says:

    chardal,

    “The crypto-Jew is now gone. The crypto-intelectual has now arrived.”

    I didn’t say that. Please don’t twist my words. I refer to people whom EVERYONE knows holds different intellectual opinions, and have no problem with it, as long as they don’t shove it down other’s throats.

    “To me, the question is broader, are we an Am Chacham veNavon which does not hide from any area of intelectual investigation or are we a nation of obstructionist ignoramuses who are afraid of our own intellectual shadows.”

    Is “we” the whole Jewish people or just religious people?

    More to the point, there is a difference between being open to intellectual challenges and/or investigation, and understanding that if one arrives at certain positions through such investigation (again, I refer to the extreme example of atheism), then that puts one outside the pale of the values and beliefs of religious Judaism (however defined).

    I also don’t think that Judaism should be a 365-day a year constant re-debating of first principles. There is a time and a place for it, and I don’t know of many with an emotional constitution capable of such constant self-investigation.

  69. Hirhurim says:

    chardal: No one says one has to accept every intelectual fad, but in a world where people are censured for owning books that are not approved by the inquisition, one can not expect us to be percieved as a wise nation.

    That is a false choice. I’m not talking about forbidding owning books or even reading them.

    You can be loyal while not constantly exhibiting fear of every new idea and you can even be critical of received wisdom and reevaluate it without fearing that you are destroying everything.

    Agreed. That’s why you’re OK with atheism, right? Because we shouldn’t fear the new ideas that debunk the old fashioned belief in a deity.

  70. chardal says:

    >Is “we” the whole Jewish people or just religious people?

    I think that it is important to have religious people, loyal to tradition and to classic Jewish thought and texts who are not afraid of new ideas – the only candidates I know of are in the religious community. The heterodox and secular communities are too disconnected from classic Jewish texts to fulfil this function – for this and many other reasons (mainly that I am religious myself), I am discussing religious people.

  71. chardal says:

    >Agreed. That’s why you’re OK with atheism, right? Because we shouldn’t fear the new ideas that debunk the old fashioned belief in a deity.

    I don’t think atheists are necessarily evil people and I have no problem with people investigating the arguments of atheists. I agree with aiwac’s model above of a descriptive boundary that would obviously make it impossible for atheists to function very well in a religious society. That being said, you are right that intelectual investigations may lead some people to positions that would make life in a particular society absurd. For example, if a resident of harlem becomes convinced of the racial superiority of white people, he may want to move to a different community. There are obviously ideas that, if one becomes convinced of them, require that person to change their lifestyle, and accepting atheism in a tradtional community may be one of them.

    So no, I would not hold it against someone if he investigates disbelief, even if this investigation may lead him to leave the community. Such risks are necessary for the larger picutre of an intelectually healthy community, and I would rather live in a community that does not limit intelectual investigation than one which fears it.

  72. S. says:

    “However, if I may play Devil’s advocate for a moment – what’s so wrong with paying public homage to the values and ideas of a community? Let’s assume that (somehow) we eliminate the ‘heresy-hunting’ aspect and people are free to do what they wish in their own home, including owning Krochmal’s book (which in its latest edition, is friggin huge) or others.

    What’s wrong with the idea that there are certain things which are discussed in private or round the family Shabbos table that you don’t get up and endorse at a Dvar Torah in shul? Or that not every book needs to be forced into yeshivot (as opposed to the library) to the objections of the majority involved?”

    You’re assuming that people are always free to do what they want in their own home. I purposely mentioned a sheva brachos, which usually involves family and friends, as opposed to a shalosh seudot, which is less intimate. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity of being able to say what’s on their mind even in their own home. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to read what they want to, even in their own home. Yes, these are all symptoms of larger issues (at least sometimes).

    Secondly, some may feel that it’s obnoxious that seemingly most others in their community get to voice their views without repercusssion, without considering what you are thinking – while not having the same opportunity themselves. This goes for political opinions as well as religious ones.

    Thirdly, or perhaps this is part B of my second point: don’t people often want to make a difference and shape opinions and discourse? Especially if they are thinking people. So why should someone feel satisfied having to maintain a secret doctrine? This is fine if you are a Maimonidean: “Really, I’m enlightened and every one else is a mule.” But what if this doesn’t work for you? What if you think more highly of your fellow man? What if you are bursting with Torah and you want to teach it?

    It isn’t so simple.

  73. aiwac says:

    “You’re assuming that people are always free to do what they want in their own home. I purposely mentioned a sheva brachos, which usually involves family and friends, as opposed to a shalosh seudot, which is less intimate. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity of being able to say what’s on their mind even in their own home. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to read what they want to, even in their own home. Yes, these are all symptoms of larger issues (at least sometimes).”

    My argument had assumed a priori (hypothetically) that communities had implicitly given people the right to read and say what they want in their home.

    “Secondly, some may feel that it’s obnoxious that seemingly most others in their community get to voice their views without repercusssion, without considering what you are thinking – while not having the same opportunity themselves. This goes for political opinions as well as religious ones.”

    OK, fair enough.

    “This is fine if you are a Maimonidean: “Really, I’m enlightened and every one else is a mule.””

    S.,

    I say this with a heavy heart, but my general impression of many (not all) internet ‘closet thinkers’ is that they have just such an opinion of their fellow Orthodox Jews and surrounding communities. It’s one thing to differ intellectually, even stridently, but the degree of cynicism and sometimes outright contempt on display makes it hard for me to swallow the idea that there is any altruism or positive intentions involved in the desire to spread the ‘contrary’ or ‘alternate’ word. I really wish I was wrong on this, but I doubt it.

  74. S. says:

    “My argument had assumed a priori (hypothetically) that communities had implicitly given people the right to read and say what they want in their home.”

    Too bad that in the real world this doesn’t actually work like that.

    “I say this with a heavy heart, but my general impression of many (not all) internet ‘closet thinkers’ is that they have just such an opinion of their fellow Orthodox Jews and surrounding communities.”

    Some of this, to the extent that it is true, might be fed precisely by this ridiculous state of affairs. After all, most “internet ‘closet thinkers'” are actual people. So who are those people if everyone else is an idiot? The answer is that they are the guy sitting next to you too, and just like you feel like you can’t speak your mind in an Orthodox society which stifles free expression, he can’t either. I suppose the real question is, is it 2% of 60%? In other words, is it a few people afraid of their own shadow or a significant amount?

    Secondly, a real Maimonidean is *happy* with the “knowledge” that he is enlightened but the masses are asses. I’m talking about the sort of person who would rather be a part of society than aloof from it. After all, a lot of people want to play a positive role in bettering their own society, not just materially, but also spiritually and intellectually.

  75. aiwac says:

    “The answer is that they are the guy sitting next to you too, and just like you feel like you can’t speak your mind in an Orthodox society which stifles free expression, he can’t either.”

    I wouldn’t know. I’m fortunate to live in a very tolerant community.

    “After all, a lot of people want to play a positive role in bettering their own society, not just materially, but also spiritually and intellectually.”

    I’d like it if you presented some evidence for this assertion, even if anecdotal (ie internet discussions and what not).

  76. I’m dying of curiosity to know how much of what S. has been describing is auto-biographical, how much is observational/anecdotal and how much is projection.
    But I don’t expect to have this curiosity satisfied in this lifetime.

  77. S. says:

    “I wouldn’t know. I’m fortunate to live in a very tolerant community.”

    you expect it to be satisfied in the next?

  78. aiwac says:

    “you expect it to be satisfied in the next?”

    What does that mean?

  79. aiwac says:

    BTW,

    I didn’t mean to crow. Just that while I sympathize, I’m not personally familiar with this sort of reality. If I created that impression, I apologize.

  80. S. says:

    “What does that mean?”

    Sorry. Bad cut and paste. Let me try again:

    “But I don’t expect to have this curiosity satisfied in this lifetime.”

    you expect it to be satisfied in the next?

  81. S. says:

    Getting back to your point, it’s irrelevant if I am describing my position or not. If I am not, it is someone else’s position, so it’s not sufficient for me that no one decides what books I may openly read and so on. It’s the opposite of schadenfreude.

  82. You’re right. Its totally irrelevant. I was just curious to know how much is real and how much is good fiction writing “based on true events”.

  83. chardal says:

    tachlis, it does not honor a community to limit what its members can think and read. It betrays an inability to deal with what is out there and projects insecurity about the legitimacy and truth of the community’s collective wisdom. Yes, not every position will be compatible with religious society, but the price of banning such position is much higher than the price of letting them be openly investigated by your population.

  84. Yes, not every position will be compatible with religious society, but the price of banning such position is much higher than the price of letting them be openly investigated by your population.

    I don’t see how you can be so confident about your opinion about which price is higher.
    Can’t you at least see that there are two sides to this question of the price of openness vs. the price of insularity?
    Don’t you realize that you are sacrificing Jewish souls for some intangible “Kiddush Hashem” value?
    I thought we only sacrifice Jewish bodies for Kiddush Hashem–not Jewish souls.

  85. chardal says:

    >I don’t see how you can be so confident about your opinion about which price is higher. Can’t you at least see that there are two sides to this question of the price of openness vs. the price of insularity?

    The question does not hinge around which road will “preserve” more Jewish souls. The question hinges around what is the very function of Jewish souls in the world. I don’t care if you showed me that Satmar has a 99.9% retention of its children in the fold, their lifestyle and values are so repugnant to me that I would still fight against them will all my might. The primary question is what is the function of Jews in the world and anyone for whom truth is high up on the list of answers to that question will not advocate intellectual insularity for the price of “saving souls.”

    >Don’t you realize that you are sacrificing Jewish souls for some intangible “Kiddush Hashem” value?

    Intangible?? the intellectual oppression that is rampant in the chareidi world is very tangible for someone with a working mind.

    >I thought we only sacrifice Jewish bodies for Kiddush Hashem–not Jewish souls.

    This is not fathomable to me. Are you truly so scared of reason and truth that you consider open intellectual debate to be the sacrifice of Jewish souls??? This just reinforces my suspicion that chareidi Judaism is a grave reactionary reform of traditional Judaism. A world where the leaders not only have no answers, but condemn people for even asking questions.

  86. S. says:

    All I will add is that not so long ago math books (plural) and science books (plural) and history books (and not just Jewish history books) began with pages of haskamos of gedolim. There are countless examples on hebrewbooks.org. There was a curiosity and appreciation and a thirst for knowledge among the people we lionize and idolize today. What happened? Reform? So what?

  87. CW says:

    This is not fathomable to me. Are you truly so scared of reason and truth that you consider open intellectual debate to be the sacrifice of Jewish souls??? This just reinforces my suspicion that chareidi Judaism is a grave reactionary reform of traditional Judaism. A world where the leaders not only have no answers, but condemn people for even asking questions (chardal on September 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm).

    Dovid Kornreich didn’t say it, you did:
    “So no, I would not hold it against someone if he investigates disbelief, even if this investigation may lead him to leave the community. Such risks are necessary for the larger picutre of an intelectually healthy community, and I would rather live in a community that does not limit intelectual investigation than one which fears it” chardal on September 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm).

  88. chardal says:

    >Dovid Kornreich didn’t say it, you did:

    He equates the allowing open debate with sacrificing souls.

    I only admit that open debate may possibly lead some souls to be lost, I do not see it as a necessary result nor do I equate it with the destruction of souls. More over, I have no doubt that chareidi obstructionism has itself caused many many souls to be “lost.” Heck, R’ Dessler practically admits it in his critique of TIDE.

  89. Jon Baker says:

    I’ll go look for my Mendelssohn, then maybe take out my clarinet and try to noodle through it…

    Gut voch, gut un gebenchit yor.

  90. I only admit that open debate may possibly lead some souls to be lost, I do not see it as a necessary result nor do I equate it with the destruction of souls.

    Glad to see that we agree on principle that if it would be the necessary result, you would soften your stance.
    But now I realize that we are not living on the same planet. Your view is valid only in your fantasy universe where serious reading of kefirah by young, impressionable minds only “may possibly” lead some souls to be lost.
    In my real world, that “may possibly” becomes “more often than not”. (But I guess this will depend on how we are defining kefirah.)

    And you are definitively stereotyping us here. I certainly do not consider open intellectual debate to be the sacrifice of Jewish souls. I’ve engaged in it myself. It depends on who and when and where. I think Reb Gil is discussing a matter of public policy and educational values for an entire community. There are certainly individuals in every camp who have a strong enough foundation of Jewish belief to not be afraid of rational inquiry.

  91. Intangible?? the intellectual oppression that is rampant in the chareidi world is very tangible for someone with a working mind.

    Intellectual oppression is only one out of many relevant factors in evaluating the worthiness of a society.
    There is: preservation of an ancient heritage, belonging, identity, spiritual values, and genuine caring that goes on in these communities in large quantities as well as the downsides.
    Who says your single factor wins out over all others to prevent a Kiddush Hashem?

 
 

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