Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Synthesis Inheres in the Doing

I quoted this in the comments to the Godol Hador's post "Unhappy with Modern Orthodoxy?" over here, but I like it so much I decided to just put it up here.

It's from the end of a chapter in a Modern Jewish History book that I used in graduate school, but neglected to write down the name of the book or the author of this chapter.
"[the Orthodox], like other German Jews, possessed a 'hyphenated identity'. Yet the reformulation of Jewish tradition they provided reveals that a 'hyphenated identity' or successful synthesis works not because it is logical. It works because one lives it. The synthesis inheres in the doing. It is this which allowed the Geman Orthodox, like other Western Jews, to create a modern Orthodox traditionalism that worked. This may be why, in the end, these people hold up a mirror to other modern Jews who are engaged in the same process of constructing and living within a tradition in a modern, pluralistic world. All Jews who affirm their identity and religion in today's world are ultimately engaged in the same task that they were. All Jews who struggle with the Tradition in the modern West employ, as the German Orthodox did, a new language to awaken and defend an ancient faith and tradition."

In other words, Modern Orthodoxy — the ideals of Tora uMada‘, Tora ‘im Derekh Eretz, Tora va‘Avoda — is not about belief. It's not about dogma. It's about action, and the living practice of being dati ‘olami — religious-and-worldly.

I Am A Member Of A Sanctifying Civilization.

And I Am A Member Of A Human Civilization.

I Am A Member Of A Civilization.

I do believe that there are dogma limits and principles of faith that characterize [Modern] Orthodoxy, just like any other stream of Judaism. I just think this is also an interesting and meaningful way to look at it.


Blogger Phillip Minden said...

This looks like making sense, but Germany's landjudentum didn't need the ideology and worked as well, only more traditional. I'm not sure it was more prone to give up tôre and mitzves in their unique mixture of being integrated into the village, and a separate society. Certainly, general differences between large cities and the country played a rôle.

3/19/2006 6:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

by what criteria do you judge if it is working? at what point does it stop working?
is it a numbers game - coz very few jews manage to live a hirschian modern orthodoxy, relative to the mass who live a UO or a heterodox lifestyle?
or is it that it brings happiness to people? would an aguna consider that the system works?

also, I understood you to mean that because people manage to live their lives in this modern orthodox mileu then that makes it a viable system and a viable synthesis.

but couldn't you apply that to other less pleasant syntheses too?
such as being a white-supremacist American? They sing a song about the land of the free and have the consitution, but still want blacks to get out? that synthesis works.

finally, (coz it's time to live an orthoprax life and go to shul) what are the dogma limits that you think are important for modern orthodoxy. I would love to hear your thoughts.

thanks for the thoughtprovoking post...


3/19/2006 7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The synthesis only exists so long as there is no actual conflict. When Shabbos conflicts with going on that skiing trip with your buddies after work on Friday, you are de facto not in sync.

The appearance of synthesis inheres in the doing. The reality is that you are quite disconnected from the society at large. You allow whatever elements you feel won't actually conflict with your observance or perception of Torah ideals. Reflecting on a society whose practices and ideology seems to have existed in harmony with the general culture at large can lead one to conclude, incorrectly, that there was synthesis.

Modern Orthodoxy is not a compromise. Observant Jews in modern society have to face 2 realities, that they live in the Modern world, and that they are bound to Torah observance. While Modern Orthodoxy ignores neither reality, it can't honestly claim to synthesize both.

3/19/2006 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe we shouldn't have labels. maybe we should just say we are religious and also worldly.

3/20/2006 5:03 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Modern Orthodoxy is not a compromise. Observant Jews in modern society have to face 2 realities, that they live in the Modern world, and that they are bound to Torah observance. While Modern Orthodoxy ignores neither reality, it can't honestly claim to synthesize both.

Oooh, that was a great way of putting it. The issue many have with MO is that some *do* synthesize it, and call it living both; but that's not true. They're sacrificing one to do the other. OTOH, UO, in its quest to keep them seperate, keeps a large gap between the two: To the point that they're truly missing out on a lot. Instead of figuring out where the lines are in the gray overlapping area, the MO just take the whole gray; the UO just leave out the whole gray.

3/20/2006 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to jakob farkas:

I've never felt MO to be two realities. Two communities - yes, often so, but not two realities.

I don't think your example of the ski trip is a good one - that's a practical dilemma, and I think the conflict here is more a philosophical one. The ski trip example isn't deep enough to bring that out.
I consider myself deeply MO, and the ski trip/Shabbos question would not even occur to me. Skiing on shabbos is a yetzer hora; unless you're going through a debate as to whether skiing is actually halachically permissible on shabbos, it doesn't reflect any deep MO conflict.

"Involving yourself in the modern world" does not mean going on ski trips. It doesn't really have to do with action at all. Again, it's more philosophical. The "worldly" part of MO is a love of the secular, and a sense that secular pursuits are not b'dieved but l'chatchila. And the conflict is to deal with people who don't believe that (or, on the other side, to deal with people who believe religion is b'dieved, so to speak.)

3/20/2006 7:41 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Sorry i've been an 'absentee landlord' on this thread, been a bit busy lately...


I'm unclear what you mean... and it's not an orthography problem :-P . What's the difference between cityfied and rural Jews?


Hmm... I consider it working if it is self-perpetuating; a lifestyle too compartmentalized or self-contradictory would fall apart eventually. It's not a numbers game because the fact that it works isn't a group fact — although maybe 'working' necessitates a community of like-minded/acting individuals — but a fact of each individual.
In relation to the white supremacists, i'm not saying that Synthesis is the ideal in all cases; after all, racism is bad. However, when you have two positive values — Judaism and Human Society — synthesis is the only way to eat your cake and have it too.
The dogma limits i have in mind are, for example, worshipping a dead messiah is non-Jewish; putting contemporary mores ahead of the halakhic system is non-Orthodox; and a "the world is evil i must stay away" attitude is non-MO.

Jacob Farkas:

AB pretty much expressed what my response would be, too.


So then what happens when religious and also worldly *becomes* your label?


How do those who claim to synthesize actually sacrifice one to do the other?


Thanks for the comment!

3/20/2006 11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My ski trip example was to illustrate that no matter how philosophically one is in tune with the secular and religious world, in practice there are clear lines in the sand. So there is no actual synthesis, particularly NOT in "The doing."

3/21/2006 1:13 AM  
Blogger Phillip Minden said...

What's the difference between cityfied and rural Jews?

Usually, Germany's landjudentum, or, country Jewry, is forgotten. People know about Reform, and that "the" Orthodox nearly vanished, only to be saved through Neo-Orthodoxy, or even more simply put, "by Hirsch".

What tends to be overlooked is that in large and densely populated parts of Western and Southern Germany (as well as Alsace, which was administered by Germany between 1871 and 1918), Jews stayed Orthodox in most cases, except for the cities, where the community in some cases stayed O, and in others went R, in which case usually a separate Orthodox austrittsgemeinde formed. Those latter were certainly influenced by Neo-Orthodoxy, but the villages much less so. There, in spite of assimilation in (rural) cultural and often in linguistic terms, the danger to be absorbed without traces or to run over to Reform was much smaller, and so was the need for a religious [sic] ideology that proves one can live in two worlds, or that there isn't a contradiction anyway.

People might go to the pub, confine themselves to kosher food like beer, and play cards with Christians. There was not much of a spiritual danger in that, because all of them were standing firmly in their traditions.

I find this type of German Jew to be much more typical than the Hirschian, and aggev orche, I also see parallels to the Oriental and Sefardic type both in their relation to co-territorial goyyim and because the concept of Orthodoxy hasn't really got a grip there, let alone C or R. People are shomer tora umisvot or not. They behave as a Jew should, or less so. But "orthodox" - shu haadha?

(Personally, though I certainly acknowledge the work of the Neo-Orthodox gedaulim, I see myself rather as pre-hyphenated or altorthodox, too.)

3/21/2006 7:36 AM  
Blogger Phillip Minden said...

(I put it on my blog, as the matter of discussion went away a bit from the original topic.)

3/21/2006 7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the world is evil i must stay away" attitude is non-MO.'

love that one. there is a sculpture in the hallways of Hebrew Uni of 3 people (like the 3 see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil monkeys) but instead of having their eye, ears and mouth COVERED by their hands, they are using their hands to ensure they hear clearly, see clearly and speak loudly.

i take it as a jewish version of the 3 monkeys, as if to say, "the world is a good place, look at it, listen to it and contribute (speak) in it." after all, The Lord saw that it was good.

i love that statue.

also: there was a debate on the pages of a certain jewish journal as to whether a club-med holiday was the ideal MO lifestyle or a terrible corruption of it. worth a read or two, I guess.


3/21/2006 1:34 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Jacob Farkas:

I think the fact that a ski trip is considered an acceptable or positive [non-Shabbos, of course] activity is an expression of synthesis itself. Especially if one makes sure to eat kosher food, and make a berakha on the mountains.

3/21/2006 5:24 PM  
Blogger Phillip Minden said...

From Meryam-Vebster's Yiddish-English dictionary:

ski trip
Pronunciation: 'skE trip, British sometimes 'shE 'trip
Function: noun
: goyyem naches

3/22/2006 1:11 AM  
Blogger micha said...

I think that Hirschian neo-Orthodoxy certainly is a synthesis: Judaism is seen as the sacred component in world civilization. Thus it participates in that civilization, qua derekh eretz, but is also charged to be the voice of G-d and morality contributing to it. The latter is RSRH's model of "For from Zion shall go out the Torah..."

The Rav, OTOH, was not trying to produce a synthesis. I have no idea why R' Norman Lamm chose that term. The cornerstone of the Rav's thought is the notion that man must navigate between unresolvable dialectics; not attempt to resolve them. And his model for Modern Orthodoxy is "Ramatayim Tzofim" -- two peaks (with an abyss between them). It's another tension that man must confront.


10/30/2006 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a passage in Frankford on the Hudson that describes Breuer's that way.

11/17/2008 9:44 PM  

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