Orthodoxy’s Rift Must Be Healed
A Column from “A Modern Orthodox Life.”
by Emanuel Rackman
Modern Orthodoxy is very critical of itself. It also has the dubious blessing of hostile criticism from Jewish thinkers to the left and to the right.
From the right come the arguments that modern Orthodoxy has lost its “war” with the yeshiva world, which is equated with ultra-Orthodoxy; that modern Orthodoxy has few accomplishments to its credit, while the ultra-Orthodox have been phenomenally successful; that the cooperation of Orthodox rabbis with the non-Orthodox, as supported by the modern Orthodox, was prohibited by one who was considered the greatest Jew of his period, Rabbi Aaron Kotler, whose eloquent spokesman was the late Irving Bunim.
I believe it important that tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews who read The Jewish Week should know the facts and, instead of exacerbating hatreds, should contribute to amity and mutual respect in the Jewish community. At the same time non-Orthodox Jews should learn not to deem all Orthodox Jews as of one mind and certainly not to identify the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews with the tiny minority of stone-throwing and police-resisting zealots who are more considerate of dead bones than of living Jews.
Orthodox Jews do differ on many issues. Bunim adored his rabbis, as I do mine, including my saintly father who taught me differently. Moreover, Rabbi Kotler, of blessed memory, was the founder of the great Talmudical Academy of Lakewood. But his father-in-law, Rabbi Isar Zalman Meltzer, taught my father. My father was closer in spirit to his teacher than was the son-in-law, Rabbi Kotler, whose brothers-in-law were also of quite a different mind. I knew all of them well, worked with them and often heard them complain that the philosophy of separatism which was advocated by Rabbi Kotler was not one that they shared.
However, all of them are to be respected. They held what view they held with sincerity and often with self-sacrifice. The important fact to remember is that there are different points of view. If the modern Orthodox embraced one and not the other, it is not because they are brazen innovators who have no respect for spiritual giants. It is rather that they have their own giants for guidance and adoration.
What ought to impress everyone is that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik never approved of the separatism which Rabbi Kotler espoused. Nor did the late, lamented Dr. Samuel Belkin.
So much for separatism. As for the “war” between the modern Orthodox and the yeshiva world, let it be known that modern Orthodoxy gave, and still gives, enormous support to yeshivot, even to those with whose philosophy it does not necessarily agree. One should not confuse opposition to Rabbi Kotler’s separatism with opposition to yeshivot. Readers of The Jewish Week know how often I have pleaded for the Israeli yeshivot to be accorded at least the support Israeli universities get. And Yeshiva University is one great achievement of modern Orthodoxy.
No one can deny that the renaissance of Orthodoxy in the Western Hemisphere is due to Yeshiva University. Yet the disciples of Rabbi Kotler never accorded it the respect, appreciation and support due it. And that too is a difference between the modern Orthodox and those who differ with them. The modern Orthodox are quite ecumenical they also support yeshivot with whose ideology they are not very enthusiastic, including Rabbi Kotler’s, while their opponents are as hostile to Yeshiva University as they are to non-Orthodox schools.
Modern Orthodoxy could rest its case on its establishment of Yeshiva and Bar-Ilan universities. These achievements of modern Orthodoxy dwarf the achievements of the Lakewood Yeshiva and others similarly minded. But even that is not the heart of modern Orthodoxy s case.
What modern Orthodoxy has insisted upon is that Orthodox Jews shall cope with the culture of the modern world. It seeks not only the brotherhood of all Jews but also the mastery of the natural and social sciences, philosophy, literature and the humanities. All the living Orthodox Jews who have made it in the modern world have achieved what they achieved because they ignored
Rabbi Kotler s counsel and attended a university. The doctors, the lawyers, the chemists, the physicists, the academics and the professionals are alumni of schools which Rabbi Kotler and many of his peers in America and in Israel would have placed out of bounds for them.
Thus all of that which prompts critics of modern Orthodoxy to be so happy with the state of Orthodoxy today is the result of defiance of the view of Rabbi Kotler. Therefore, I ask who won the “war?”
It is not pleasant to fault a saint and scholar like Rabbi Kotler, but I must try to convince more Orthodox Jews that, just as Rabbi Kotler erred with regard to his position on secular education, so he may have erred in his position on separatism. The Jewish people cannot afford internecine conflict. Soloveitchik has stated it better than I. When Jewish blood is shed the enemy does not discriminate between Orthodox and non-Orthodox.
And while the Jewish situation is not as dark as it was in the 1940s, Israel’ s fate still hangs in the balance. Consequently, every divisive step is to be shunned. We are all one and must make every effort to remain one.