Sunday, January 31, 2010

Post-Orthodox: Th(ree) Visions

Post-Orthodoxy seems to be the hot buzzword of the moment, in Modern Orthodox blogger circles. There are now three rabbis online trying to define "Post-Orthodoxy" as a parallel to Post-Evangelicalism.

1) R' Gil Student, who started the effort to define it, plays the disingenuous card, claiming that it's just a sociological observation, Post Orthodox does not necessarily imply Non Orthodox, but here are a number of ideas which, if you hold a lot of them, would make you Post-Orthodox. Note that a lot of the ideas are themselves non-Orthodox, while others are themselves are perfectly normal ideas in Talmudic study (see my previous post); what unites them is Gil's unstated-but-real attempt to define a class of people who are no longer Orthodox because of the collection of ideas they hold. That is, it's an attempt to disenfranchise part of the left wing of modern Orthodoxy.

2) R' Jeffrey Woolf has been inching towards trying to define Post-Orthodox as a theological narrowness of vision, turning Judaism into soulless practices that may be solidly based on texts, but do not reflect the weight of Jewish tradition or a concern with using one's ritual observance as a tool with which to build a relationship with God. He thus applies it equally to Right and Left.

The Left creates practices that were never seen before, or at least not in recorded history, that are based in classic texts, that may feed the zeitgeist, but little thought is given to how they will increase people's attachment to Hashem and to traditional practice.

The Right, with its concentration on humra, also increases the punctilio of observance, but in so doing, they don't really pay attention to the classical vision of humra as a personal practice that increases one's attachment to Hashem and His Torah; and by drawing their theological boundaries ever narrower, their new text-based humra culture excludes many Rishonim and Acharonim from the pale of Orthodox belief.

3) R' Brill, who initially posted on Post-Evangelicalism, and speculated on whether there might be a Post-Orthodoxy parallel to it, strongly rejects Gil's idea that it should be the basis for creating a schism, and driving the out fringe of LWMO out of Orthodoxy. Not that he says so directly, of course. Rather, he defines Post-Orthodox narrowly, as a parallel to Post-Evangelicals, of people who self-defined as Orthodox, many of whom were in fact raised Orthodox, but chose it in adulthood as well, mostly in the 1970s through early 1980s, and then regretted their decision. So they left Orthodoxy, consciously, for whatever personal reasons, but continued to struggle with finding a religious identity.

R' Brill's primary example is Rebecca Goldstein, PhD, who wrote an autobiographical novel and a book about Spinoza. She chose Orthodoxy, lived in Orthodox towns (Teaneck and Highland Park), and then left. Her writing seethes with her continuing obsession with Orthodoxy, though.

So for R' Student, it's a way to disenfranchise a subgroup of Modern Orthodoxy, while claiming that Post-O is not necessarily Non-O. For R' Woolf, it's a symptom of the rise of textualism over mimeticism, and a drawing away from a concern with avodat Hashem. R' Woolf's Post-O are, apparently, still Orthodox, but not in modes based on tradition. R' Brill's Post-O are individuals, not a sociological subgroup, who have consciously left Orthodoxy after choosing to enter it. So for him, Jews can be Post-O only by virtue of having become Non-O.

Whose Vision Reigns Supreme?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Post-Orthodox or Pre-Orthodox?

Gil has a cute post (after Jeff Foxworthy) on "You might be Post-Orthodox if..." I suppose it's an attempt to answer his critics that find his use of the term "Post-Orthodox" dismissive (as in the PO are beyond the LWMO, and beyond the pale) yet vague (he doesn't really define what he means as "Post Orthodox" except in terms of "I know it when I see it."). But even this attempt at definition has its problems:

By Gil's standard, CHAZAL are Post-Orthodox.

I mean, look at how many of his statements don't agree with the Gemara:

1) they never heard of the Rambam's Thirteen Principles, certainly not as a standard by which to define heresy, and anyway, they have no problem with lots of ideas that Rambam objected to, like astrology, demons, amulets, etc. Not to mention the author of Yigdal, who leaves out the Fifth Ikkar. OK, that's post-Maimonidean, not Chazal, but still - he must have had a reason. Oh, right, Kallir - Machnisei Rachamim etc.

2) The Gemara itself posits that the last 8 or 12 verses were added by Yehoshua. One day post-Mosaic, a thousand years post-Mosaic, it seems all the same to you.

3) The Amoraim certainly distorted the views of the Tannaim - or why was there so much confusion what the Tannaim said that half the Gemara seems to be trying to work out what the Tannaim said and what they meant. What is "chasurei mechsera vehachi katani" in many cases but an addition of assumptions to the text that may not have been what the Tannaim meant?

4) The gemara itself disagrees with statements like "hilcheta gemiri leih" and "halacha ke-R' XXX". Despite later theorists like Rambam trying to put them up as undisputed conclusions.

As for other issues:

5-6 are part of "Open Orthodoxy" - why persist in using a pejorative term instead of the term they themselves use?

7) I don't know anybody who says that. Unless the professor is himself a rabbi, like R' Sperber, I suppose - in which case, it's a rabbi with an expanded education, like, I dunno, could be, THE RAV (YBS)??!!?

8) What is "accepted"? The whole EJF vs. Rabbi Angel thing shows that standards are changing and have changed in the not-so-distant past.

9) So do all the poskim who talk about "minhag shtus", or the Rav who talked about "stupidity".

10) This is not Post-Orthodoxy, it's naivete. I don't think even RAWeiss, who does talk about interfaith work, believes in it being "complete, unbounded."

11) They already are, in some shuls, with definitely non-"post-orthodox" rabbis. In many cases, the rabbis just don't know who they are. And there are different degrees of "out-ness" - to one's family, to one's friends, walking into shul carrying a sign that says "Ich bin ein Poofter". And what does "equal members" mean? Count for a minyan? Allowed to run for the board? Allowed to lead davening on weekdays? shabbos/yom tov? yamim noraim? lein"

I see here a lot of problems with definitions. And definitions that depend on undefined qualities are still pretty vague/subjective. I start to see what Russell/Wittgenstein were after.

12) "Practices"? "Some practices"? "All practices"? Again we return to Chazal, who did what they could to minimize discriminatory practices, between men & women, but like all of us, they were limited by the grundnorms of halacha. Which is exactly the bind that Orthodox Feminists find themselves in. So the feminism has to give, or else you're out of the system and out of the fold.

13) Again this is naivete, not post-Orthodoxy. If someone knows more, and has more followers, he's more authoritative. But if you feel you have good reason to follow someone who is rejected by others, like, say, the Lub Rebbe or RYBS or R' Kook, is that necessarily Post-Orthodox?

Judaism rises & falls on distinctions. The author is handicapping himself, and maybe consciously so to raise discussions, by being vague about what seem to be critical distinctions.

R' Dr. Jeff Woolf has a similar point-by-point response.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Ki Shem Hashem Ekra


by Cantor Sherwood Goffin
Ki Shem Hashem Ekra

I have been asked why “Ki Shem Hashem Ekra” (Devarim 32:3) appears before “Hashem S’fatai Tiftach” at the start of the Amida only for Mincha and Musaf, but is not said for Shacharit or Ma'ariv. The simple answer is that it is because, in Shacharit and Ma'ariv, the blessing of “Gaal Yisrael” is said before the Amida. Since “Ki Shem” is not an integral part of the Amida as “Hashem S’fatai” is, to say “Ki Shem” would be an invalid interruption between “Gaal Yisrael“ and the Amida. However, in Musaf and Mincha, “Gaal Yisrael” is not present (Kaddish is said before the Amida). Therefore it is acceptable to say “Ki Shem” there.

The recitation of “Ki Shem” is found in the Machzor Vitri, the most influential predecessor to our siddur, but not in the siddurim of Rav Amram Gaon or Saadia Gaon. The Rambam omits both “Ki Shem” and “Hashem Sfatai.” Rambam is, however, the Sfardi Minhag, whereas Machzor Vitri is our Ashkenazic precursor, therefore we follow the latter. The words are a meaningful preamble to our tefillot: “When I call out the name of G-d, ascribe greatness to (Him)” – i.e.: acknowledge that His ways are just, His word is true and His prophesies of Redemption will come true. From this the Talmud decides that we should make a blessing before Torah study; the “Rabbosai N’vorech” before Bentching and “Baruch Shem Kavod” to be said after the utterance of G-d’s name in the Holy Temple.