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.


Mikewind Dale said...

Great response. Your adducing "hasurei mehsura v'hakhi ketani" is exactly what I responded as well. By the way, the Gra says (I believe this is recorded in Shimon of Shklov's translation of Euclid, but I'm not sure) it does not really mean that the Gemara is restoring the original text of the Mishnah. Rather, says the Gra, the Gemara is trying to replace the minhag and mesorah of Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi with their own variant Babylonian customs. When the Rema got a hold of the Shulhan Arukh, he saw that many of his own traditions were not accounted for; the Babylonian rabbis, says the Gra, reacted the same way to the Mishnah.

Other things Rabbi Student says, are simply rejecting anything not said by an Ashkenazi aharon. For example, Rabbi Benzion Uziel said women may be rabbis, but Rabbi Student calls this "Post-Orthodox". Professor Michael Silber, in his "The Invention of a Tradition" (regarding Hungarian Ultra-Orthodoxy), shows how many of the Haredi responses to the Neologs were not halakhic, but were merely sociological knee-jerks, elevating what had been merely custom, into a newly-invented halakhic tradition. Rabbi Student does exactly the same. Of course, Professor Haym Solveitchik says MO trails Haredism by 15 years, so should we be surprised that Rabbi Student is now doing exactly what Rabbis Hillel Lichtenstein and Akiva Yosef Schlesinger did?

Mikewind Dale said...

Oh, and Tosafot rejected much of the Bavli, the same way that the Rema rejected parts of the Shulhan Arukh, and the Bavli rejected parts of the Mishnah.

Mikewind Dale said...

Rabbi Student's latest piece is simply criminal. His final section is the most damning.

He says (I've added section-numbers for reference), (1) Because it [viz. the rise of Post-Orthodoxy] was inevitable, we can't look to see where the Modern Orthodox leadership have lost in Post-Orthodox circles and identify those issues as failures. Instead, we have to estimate how bad it would have otherwise been. Maybe by not confronting Biblical Criticism they lessened its impact on our community.

(2) Modern Orthodox leaders led on social issues but not on theological issues. On which set did they lose more? I suggest the social. It could be for other reasons but, perhaps, the very act of protesting made the problem worse. Or, we could look at it and say that it would have otherwise been much worse. Social issues could have torn the community in half but, because of the strong leadership, only a small portion has turned Post-Orthodox.

Let me translate into a less verbose form:

(1) Post-Orthodoxy would have occurred anyway, so we cannot blame the rabbinic leadership AT ALL. They are totally blameless. We cannot attribute any errors or mistakes to them, because they have Daas Torah, and Post-Orthodoxy would have occurred without them anyway, so they cannot be at fault.

(2) Modern Orthodox authorities DID take social positions, and therefore, if Post-Orthodoxy exists, it must be despite (not because of) the positions the rabbis took.

My reaction:

(1) I reject Daas Torah, and I'll say that maybe the rabbis WERE wrong. You cannot just assume that the MO rabbis are correct, and that Post-Orthodoxy is wrong. This begs the question.

(2) Maybe the MO authorities took the WRONG position! Rabbi Student is assuming that the MO authorities took the correct social positions, and that therefore, Post-Orthodoxy must be DESPITE the good positions taken, and not BECAUSE of them. But this begs the question. Maybe the authorities took the WRONG positions and CAUSED Post-Orthodoxy! Cf. Rabbis Hirsch and Kook, on desiccated Tanakh-and-Midrash-less Judaism leading to Reform. Even if rabbis DO take positions, their taking the WRONG position can fuel false movements.