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?


Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

By the way, based on your comments on Hirhurim, I want to kiss you. Anyway...

Here's what it seems to me:

First, all three people are discussing totally different things, as your very useful cheat-sheet shows. (Thank you!)

Second, we might categorize them as follows:

1) Rabbi Student wants to disenfranchise, but disingenuously won't say so, as you point out.

2) I don't know Dr. Woolf's precise views on individual issues, so I don't want to label him, but it's clear that he's at least sympathetic to the post-Orthodox. At the very least, he recognizes that they have very legitimate grievances and are responding in a very understandable way. Perhaps he's like Rav Kook's sympathizing with the non-religious? I don't know Dr. Woolf's precise views, but one way or the other, he or more less seems to hold the opposite view of Rabi Student.

3) Dr. Brill is entirely foreign to the discussion of the above two. He's describing a totally different, completely unrelated population. He's not discussing LWMO; he's discussing people who aren't Orthodox at all anymore. His discussion is apples to Rabbi Student's and Dr. Woolf's oranges.

Furthermore, I've pointed out that Rabbi Student's claim to be giving a sociological argument is disingenuous, because whereas university academics speak of "Orthodoxy" as an Eastern- and Central-European socio-religio-political phenomenon (and exclude the German Neo-Orthodox and the Sephardim), by contrast, Rabbi Student is a rabbi, and is presumably using the word "Orthodox" to indicate anyone who is shomer mitzvot and frum, etc., including Sephardim and Germans. (At the very least, this is how people will read his blog. I don't think Rabbi Student claim to own an academic hat.) So when Rabbi Student claims to be using "Orthodox" as a sociological term, I frankly don't believe him. But Rabbi Dr. Brill, HE can use "Orthodoxy" as a sociological term. His analysis seems to be comparing post-Orthodoxy to post-Evangelicalism, without making any judgement calls. He's being purely objective, purely historical, purely sociological.

micha berger said...

I think RGS wants to disenfranchise, but realizes the argument isn't really there. You're reading his own internal conflict, not disengenuity.

As for myself, I'm with R' Woolf. Although he (as did R Dr Haym Soloveitchik) conflates mimetic transmission of behaviors (eg how much matzah is in a kezayis is defined by what everyone eats) and cultural transmission of religion's emotional content. But I think post-O is loosing both, so the difference doesn't impact my embracing his definition.

But remember, a discussion on a few blogs doesn't necessarily reach enough people to change anything. What percentage of MO does Hirhurim reach, even 2nd-hand? A danger of hanging out on line and remembering the few incidents where on line discussion makes it to impact the real world is that we tend to forget how few people care much about what goes on here.

As for a future schism, it's likely to be over a behavioral difference, e.g. ordaning Rabbanot. Not philosophical ones. People don't got shocked by words as they do by actions. O is a social category, not a halachic one. So the schism would be over what issue has sociological impact.


thanbo said...

>I want to kiss you

Well, then, it's a good thing there's 5000 miles separating us.

That's something I've been noticing - you Gen-Y/Millenials (as R' Brill talks about) are much freer using intimate language with friends than I would be. E.g., I do something a bit odd/unexpected, and Russel (age 25, married) says "That's OK, we love you Jonathan". Now there's this.

If I used such language, it would be "gay". Even the word "gay" seems to have become more "icky/stupid" than "sissy-homosexual". Not as much real implication of homosexuality when using it. At least in South Park. (vulgar cartoon show in the US; you may remember it from your pre-yeshiva days).

On a more substantive note, R' Brill has updated his post to address the Gil/R' Woolf categorization.

thanbo said...


Dr Grach shlita (I kinda like the nickname, as it's almost the same as my old therapist, Dr Gratch) may confuse mimetic transmission of halachic norms with transmission of cultural/emotional depth, but then so does his father ztl. If you look at my notes of R' Rakeffet's lectures, you'll see the Rav often bemoaned the fact that while he could transmit knowledge to his students, he couldn't transmit the feelings, the emotional depth of Torah and Torah life, to his students.

So that may have influenced R' Haym S.

micha berger said...

I don't see how your quote proves the point, although I fundamentally agree that RYBS probably didn't make the distinction I am suggesting.

In the ideal, the emotional depth of Torah and Torah life is picked up mimetically. Developing these things through Mussar or "mussar" is much harder.

In addition, halakhah requires balancing textualism and mimeticism.

If you only look at the means of transmission, they have mimeticism in common.

RYBS lamenting the lack of mimetic transmission of aggadita doesn't mean he was intending to include mimetic halakhah. It could have been off the charts altogether. In fact, given Brisker tendencies in pesaq, I'm not sure how much RYBS valued the inertia of mimetic halakhah -- beyond his comments on nusach hatefillah, piyutim and qinos.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


The cultural intimacy shift may be the cause of the invention of the disclaimer " homo", which has recently been parodied with " femo" (for feminism), " zio" (for zionism), " pomo" (for postmodernism) and " Bomo" (for Baltimore).

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey R. Woolf said...

Thank you for your observations. I would like to clarify two points.

1) I think that the left is spiritually hungry, but its hunger and its frequently uncritical acceptance of western norms leads it to violate (sometimes grossly) the texture of halakhic tradition.

2) I am, indeed, sympathetic with the concerns that Gil labels as 'Post-Orthodox.' I don't, however, think that many of them are Post-Orthodox. On the contrary, I think that the RW has so constricted the halakhic and spiritual parameters of normative Orthodox tradition, that much that is 100% acceptable is now rejected.
I say that in full recognition of the fact that there are boundaries beyond which a person, despite all the sincerity and good intentions in the world, places himself beyond the realm of Traditional Judaism.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

I think that the RW has so constricted the halakhic and spiritual parameters of normative Orthodox tradition, that much that is 100% acceptable is now rejected. --- Dr. Woolf.

Rav Kook said:

"If rabbis were to permit what was permitted in accordance with Halakhah, then people would likewise accept that which the rabbis prohibit as really prohibited by the Torah. On the other hand, when it is revealed that rabbis are ruling stringently on matters that may be deemed permisible, without concern for the hardship that such rulings may cause an individual, a great desecration of God's Name (hilul Hashem) will result." (Rav Kook; Mishpat Kohen, no. 76; Orah Mishpat, Orah Haim 112. Quoted in Rabbi Barry Gelman, "Mipnei Takanat ha-Shavim - Outreach Considerations in Pesak Halakhah", Meorot vol. 3.)

Dov Kaiser said...

That reminds me of a Mahari Mintz cited by the Taz in YD:92, where MM warns poskim that when they pasken l'kula in a case of hefsed meruba, they should tell the questioner why they are being meikil. Otherwise, the next time he asks the same question (but without the hefsed meruba) and receives a p'sak l'chumra, he will think that the Rabbis just make it up as they go along. I suppose it boils down to the need for Rabbis to inspire trust.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Inspiring trust is probably the most important reason, I agree.

But I think there's a second reason: Judaism is essentially democratic. ALL Jews have an obligation to learn Torah, and given a certain level of knowledge, ALL Jews have an equal right to decide halakhah. So if the rabbi is ruling, he must remember that despite his greater knowledge, nevertheless, in essence, he is no greater than his questioner. Therefore, his rulings should be transparent, because his questioner has every right to know exactly how and what the rabbi just did.

Gil Student said...

Dr. Brill's update *agrees* with what I've been saying, including that Post-Orthodox sometimes is within Orthodox boundaries and sometimes outside of them.

thanbo said...


IOW, you and Gil agree that there are boundaries (I don't think anyone disagrees), but that you would set them in a different place


>agrees with what I've been saying.

Yes, of course, because R' Brill posted the original links to Post-Evangelicalism that clearly talked about Post-Evangelicals as a parallel to lapsed Catholics. So for him, Post-Orthodox of course means non-Orthodox.

What you've been saying and what you've been "saying" are two different things. It's clear to everybody who has been following this that Post-Orthodox is Non-Orthodox, but you're using it deceptively with this funny line that "it's not necessarily Non-Orthodox".

Yes I'm somewhat upset at you for this dissembling. Why do you ask? You know you're doing it, everybody else knows you're doing it, but to play politics because you're now part of The Establishment, you continue.

Everybody knows you're trying to disenfranchise the left fringe of MO, the only speculation is why, and why now? As opposed to R' Brill, who mostly talks about those who have consciously left Evangelicalism, even in the "update." He's not talking about insiders categorizing certain people who think they're insiders as well, as outsiders.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...


I think Dr. Woolf and Dr. Brill both have their own further nuances as well:

Yes, Dr. Woolf is critical of Post-Orthodoxy (PO). However, he seems to be blaming the right-wing (RW) for the trends that have served as the impetus for PO. PO may be wrong in his opinion, but their concerns are legitimate. Cf., IMHO, how Rabbis Hirsch and Kook said that the Reform movement was inspired by overly dry and uninspiring Orthodoxy of the day. Nineteen Letters criticized Reform, but it was very sympathetic, and rather than reject the Reformers and the problem they claimed Orthodoxy had, it instead proposed a different solution to the same problem, admitting that the Reformers were correct in their claims, but incorrect in their solutions. Dr. Woolf seems to be taking a similar approach. By contrast, Rabbi Student seems to be not only criticizing PO, but also, he rejects the possibility that the RW did anything to contribute to the problem.

As for Dr. Brill, I believe, as I said, that his articles are purely historical and sociological. Similarly, "Rupture and Reconstruction" is full of analysis, but one will search in vain for Dr. Soloveitchik's own personal opinion. Similarly, Dr. Brill's article merely says what the PO are doing, and how their claims and impetuses are similar to those of the post-Evangelicals. His articles say nothing about his own opinion. Heck, a Hindu (who could care less what Jews do within the confines of their own intra-religious affairs) could be ghost-writing Dr. Brill's articles, for all we know. As far as I can tell, Dr. Brill is only describing what has happened, without saying how he feels about it.

Dr. Woolf has a definite opinion, but he's sympathetic to PO nonetheless. Dr. Brill is expressing no opinion at all. Rabbi Student, by contrast, has an opinion, and a very negative, unsympathetic one at that.

As I've said, I see Rabbi Student as responding exactly the way the (proto-)Haredim did to Reform. What did Rabbis Hirsch and Kook do? They admitted Reform had some good points and some truth, and they tried to answer the claims Reform had, either by reformulating Judaism (i.e. re-explaining it without actually changing it), or by even changing it (Torah im Derekh Eretz being a departure from Eastern-European attitudes, and anthropological-theonomy being a departure from mysticism). But the Hungarians simply stood their ground, stuck to their guns, and drew a line in front of them. They nailed their feet to the ground, and said that anyone who wants to leave, leave. They built a fortress around themselves, and didn't care who stood outside the boundaries. I see Rabbi Student's approach as being very similar.

Not to mention that the same way Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein declared vernacular sermons to be avodah zara, even though the Shulhan Arukh nowhere mandates Yiddish, likewise, Rabbi Student has declared women's ordination to be heretical, with his only source being an aharon who has a dissenting opinion from an equal aharon right there on the same page!

I'll note that Rabbi Hirsch came to a Frankfurt where Orthodoxy was losing ground every day, where Jacob Rosenheim says he was the last young adult to be wearing tefillin. From this wasteland, Rabbi Hirsch produced an entire thriving community. By contrast, the Hungarians started with a significant holding and strength, but they succeeded only in holding their ground. Rabbi Hirsch started with nothing and ended up with everything; the Hungarians started with half and ended with half. Who was more successful? Whose approach is the more correct one?

Gil Student said...

No, you are misreading Dr. Brill. Read the following and note how Post-Evangelical includes those who have gone way off and those who are still within:

Even among the Evangelicals, it is used by diverse groups including those who have opted out, those who have created the more spirit driven Emergent Church, those mainline Evangelicals who have started new projects, and as a name for a new era that would also include the opposition.

That is precisely what I have been saying. Why did I bring it up recently? Two reasons: 1) I only saw it on Dr. Brill's blog recently, 2) The YU homosexual panel was a perfect example of Post-Orthodoxy that has not gone all the way off.

As to whether R. Avi Weiss has left Orthodoxy, I have an opinion but I am refraining from publishing it until the elders of our community have the opportunity to publicly respond to the development. I am, of course, aware of R. Hershel Schachter's view but I believe others more to the center will be forced to weigh in as well.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

But Dr. Brill (in his second post) also describes Modern Orthodoxy and Centrist Orthodoxy as being departures from classical Yiddish Orthodoxy! Dr. Brill is speaking as a sociologist; for him, the Modern-, Centrist-, Neo-, and Sephardic-Orthodox are all outside the boundaries of Orthodoxy!

Dr. Brill even says, "... Post-evangelical is like Yuppie or returning GI ...". Earlier, he says, "... Centrist Orthodoxy embraced conservative positions on social and cultural issues combined with an identification with Yuppie values ...". According to Dr. Brill, Centrist-Orthodoxy is a change no less than Post-Orthodoxy is!

You cannot claim Dr. Brill in your support. He's being a sociologist, merely describing the events without having an opinion. For him, "Orthodoxy" is an value-less term, designating a certain community (viz. old-world Yiddish Orthodoxy), with no judgment of whether those outside its boundaries are legitimate or not.

By contrast, you clearly view your brand of Orthodoxy as the correct version. When you say that Rabbi Avi Weiss is not Orthodox, you are not merely saying that sociologically, he is part of a different class. Such a claim would be true, but then again, such figures as Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch and Rabbi A. I. Kook are also outside the boundaries of your brand of Orthodoxy. Sociologically, these rabbis all belong to several different schools. But you, Rabbi Student, are not merely saying this. You are saying that Rabbi Avi Weiss's approach is fundamentally illegitimate precisely because it is sociologically outside your school. This is a completely different claim than Dr. Brill's.

Gil Student said...

No, I am not saying that it is fundamentally illegitimate because it is outside of the my school. It is illegitimate for other reasons.

The question is whether it is outside of the "school". Post-Orthodoxy is a mood, an attitude, that many people in the Orthodox community have adopted but not by any means all. The majority of the Orthodox community, who are neither Gen-Y nor millenarians and whose sensibilities reflect an earlier time, are concerned that some of the Post-Orthodox have left the Orthodox sociological group.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Thank you, Rabbi Student, for informing us that those who ordain women are part of a different sociological group than the one that does not ordain women. Without your analysis, we never would have known that LWMO and RWMO are two different schools. Why, all along, I thought Rabbi Herschel Schacter and Rabbi Avi Weiss were like ideological identical twins! Thanks for clearing the confusion up.

Gil Student said...

I believe that even LWMO rejects this latest move, certainly the center and right wing. Just wait and see what is happening outside of your echo chamber.

micha berger said...

There are two levels of dispute: one is to argue for your position, but recognize the other position as an alternative interpretation of divrei E-lokim Chaim. (Even if you think it is perhaps inferior.)

The other is to see the other position as beyond the whole spectrum of eilu va'eilu.

I would have thought the above was known to everyone in this discussion, since it's both pretty fundamental and something I've said on Avodah a number of times. (And I note that all of us have served time on Avodah.) One of my favorite paradoxes is that where I consider Rav X's shitah to be within eilu va'eilu, but he similarly doesn't consider mine. Is that logically meaningful?

However, Mike, you're conflating the two. I hear Gil as saying that R' Elyashiv and R' Ovadiah differ from his own world-view in an eilu-va'eilu sort of way, but R' A Weiss crosses his line in the sand.

A sociologist only cares about social camps, so the above is not central to his analysis. Although it should figure in somewhat. MO - Chareidi relations are sociologically different than MO - C relations because we place C beyond the pale.


thanbo said...

Problem is, I kinda mistrust Gil's type of reading where there is only a line in the sand on the Left, but not on the Right. It says "I no longer identify with the center, I'm now a Rightist, and I'm cutting off the Left from my world to justify to the Right that I'm now part of them."

Someone like Harry Maryles or R' Woolf is more believable, because he has a clearly defined centrist position - there are boundaries on both left and right.

But Mike does have a point, in calling Gil on the same thing everyone else has been calling him on - the speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

And I don't know really why Gil doesn't address partnership minyanim. He just calls them "off the grid", while focusing on women rabbis. Partnership minyanim are far more problematic than women rabbis, it seems to me, particularly where it comes to women's aliyot. But for him, women rabbis are the "breaking point."

From Debbie's perspective, she doesn't like them, because as a BT, she had to struggle to accept Orthodoxy's segregationist program. Partnership minyanim, with their sneaking towards egalitarianism, betray the value of that personal struggle.

Jeffrey R. Woolf said...

FWIW, a first rate Rav and Academic once put the quandry this way.

'There is no problem with women wearing pants. The first person who authorized it was a apiqoros.'

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Dr. Woolf,

Could you please explain that quote?

In any case, as far as I know, Jewish women in the Ottoman Empire dressed pretty much like non-Jewish women did. If so, this would have included the şalvar. According to this website, "The dress for women in the Ottoman Empire was very similar to that worn by Muslim women in the Middle East. It consisted of a knee-length, white, sleeved chemise (gömlek) . . . The usual full trousers (chalvar) were accompanied, as in men's dress, by a decorative waist sash (kusak)."

So I've always been confused by the claim that pants are forbidden by the halakhah.

Y. Aharon said...

Gil, you have no basis for assuming that the LWMO world largely rejects the nomenclature of "rabba" currently being given to R' Sarah Hurwitz by Rabbi Avi Weiss and is upset with the rabbi. As far as I can make out, it is not a big issue, and likely came about by request from R' Hurwitz. The feminists will say, "its about time", and the men will likely shrug their shoulders, "maharat, rabba, whatever".

The issue is only a deal-breaker in Gil's mind and those similar minded types.

Josh said...

I love Rabbi Wolf's quote about pants. Indeed, looking at the issue of, say, Begged Ish, which is societally defined, it is quite clear that any innovators are in halachic trouble- but the (secondary or tertiary) followers of innovation are OK. In this, Gil is serving (disingenuously, to be sure) his role as gatekeeper, before the second and third wave come and are more acceptable, if they do.

Gil, in terms of LWMO rejecting this move, it's not so clear. I live in LA amongst many on that side of things, and the sense I get is, "this is simply too soon, I needed more time to adjust to this". You're cut-and-dried approach, if anything, would drive them more to Avi Weiss than what I would consider normative (at this time) halachic issues in terms of women in rabbinic roles.