Monday, November 24, 2008

Modern Orthodoxy — a religion of compromise. Difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chabad


To the right is Gan Eiden, to the left is Gehinnom, and they walk in the middle, afraid to step into either one.

Modern Orthodox Teshuvos”, a lecture by Rabbi Adam Mintz (courtesy of the Hirhurim blog) about perpetual balancing act in Halacha that defines Modern Orthodox movement.
I know how to build a Modern Orthodox shull. I know how a Conservative shull looks like. In a Conservative shull, there is no mechitza — so, I will have mechitza in Modern Orthodox shull. In a Conservative shull they use microphone on Shabbos — so, I will not use microphone on Shabbos. A Hareidi shull has mechitza to the ceiling. I know how to build a Modern Orthodox shull. It will have a four-foot-mechitza. That’s easy, because the extremes are very clear. When it comes to Halacha, Modern Orthodox have no room to maneuver. [...]

He said: “Modern Orthodox have ceded halachic thinking on the one side to the Hareidim, on the other — to the Conservative.”

Now, with all due respect, I don’t agree (for what it’s worth) with Rabbi Mintz regarding what he said at the end of the lecture: that the idea of a rabbi paskening according to specific needs, situation and circumstances of his specific congregation is unique to Modern Orthodox Judaism. I think this certainly exists in all areas of Judaism, although an idea of a rabbi who is not a rav making a psak din (if I understood correctly what Rabbi Mintz was saying) may indeed be shocking to the rest of Orthodox world. What distinguishes Modern Orthodox specifically is the goal MO rabbis have when making halachic decisions (or not making them, as the case may be): to address social issues (such as women singing and getting an aliyah) that is so dear and near to the agenda of Conservative rabbis — with the difference being that MO rabbis do it within the framework of Halacha.

They are perpetually interested in obtaining heterim for minimizing any conflict they may have with the outside world, increasing their ease of life in this world (this, of course, is veiled in such arguments as feeling of self-worth by women — as opposed to the Conservative argument about morality). Hareidi Jews, on the other hand, are interested in paskening in such a way as to guard Judaism from any potential outside influence, as much as possible, and to preserve their “inward” and isolated style of life, to separate themselves from the world (as a result, while Modern Orthodox rabbis are constantly looking for new sources of heterim, Hareidi rabbis’ favorite activity is banning things and issuing chumras).

Chabad differs from both approaches.

When Alter Rebbe was in Russian prison, he refused to eat non-kosher food. One of the officers who was on duty and knew a little bit about Judaism reminded Alter Rebbe that if he died from starvation, this would be the same as suicide — Alter Rebbe may lose his share in the Gan Eiden. Alter Rebbe answered: “I don’t want physical world, I don’t want spiritual world. I don’t want lower Gan Eiden, I don’t want upper Gan Eiden. All I want is Him — His Essence alone.” This is the focus of Chabad Chassidus: not on this world, not on that world, not on preserving community, not on balance between Halacha and modern social agendas — but on G-d alone.

This, indeed, affects how Chabad (and Chassidus in general) paskens Halacha. Although generally it tends to more stringent opinions, Chabad too may find loopholes in Halacha to obtain a heter (e.g., not to sleep in sukkah, not to eat sholosh seudos meal, to be less strict with zmanim of davening, to eat before davening Shachris) — but the reason it looks for these loopholes is starkly different from the reason MO rabbis look for heterim. The latter are interested in this world. Chabad is interested in drawing closer to G-d and therefore paskens according to the anatomy of G-d’s relationship with the world, Kabbalah. More about this in Rabbi Paltiel’s audio-shiur, “How Kabbala Fits into Avoida”.

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