Avodah Mailing List

Volume 37: Number 97

Sun, 22 Dec 2019

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Message: 1
From: Allen Gerstl
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2019 13:32:33 +0000
Re: [Avodah] A Modern Orthodox Hedgehog

I would propose that rather than Torah **U**Madah that the Rambam's
concept of Madah as an important part of Torah rather than as an adjunct
to Torah should be considered and that his form of Deveikut should be
considered as the "hedgehog" being sought.

The latter means that Madah is part of "Talmud" (Lehavin davar me-toch
davar) which is the third of the tripartite division of Torah learning:
Tanach, Mishnah (halachah) and Talmud. As a part of Talmud, Science
(Maasei Bereishit) and Metaphysical Philosophy (Maasei Merkavah) involves
knowing the works of HKBH with the goal of doing so to become closer
to Him through evoking what is ultimately deep love (Ahava) of HKBH and
wanting to "partner" with him in also helping the world fulfill His will
and achieving such closeness.

Please see the Morah Nevuchim 3:54

        ...[T]he perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by
        him when he has acquired--as far as this is possible for man--the
        knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the
        manner in which it influences His creatures in their production
        and continued existence. Having acquired this knowledge he will
        then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment,
        and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God. We have
        explained this many times in this treatise.

        God is near to all who call Him, if they call Him in truth,
        and turn to Him. He is found by every one who seeks Him, if he
        always goes towards Him, and never goes astray. ..."

This may in fact be a type of non-mystical Chassidus i.e. focusing
on love of HKBH and wishing to "partner" with Him (an element also of
HIrschianism) but reaching that point of intense love and devotion by
a different route. That is an authentic route taken by many role models
in our history.

Kol Tuv,
Eliyahu Gerstl,
Toronto, Canada

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Message: 2
From: Micha Berger
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2019 17:51:09 -0500
Re: [Avodah] A Modern Orthodox Hedgehog

On Tue, Dec 17, 2019 at 05:19:31PM -0500, Sholom Simon via Avodah wrote:
> See
> https://thelehrhaus.com/commentary/a-modern-orthodox-hedgehog-for-a-postmodern-world/

and part 2:

I have a lot of thoughts on the subject.

To start with the banal... The "hedgehog" metaphor isn't just about
finding your company's strength and running with it. It's also about
prioritizing other things out. We use the term all the time at work. We're
not writing our own low-latency networking layer because there are people
who do that full time. Our hedgehog is trading systems; why waste time
doing something ourside that bailiwick -- find the company for whom low
latency networking is their hedgehog. So, to really use the idea here
would mean to leave learning to the yeshivish, davening to chassidim,
go out of kiruv since Chabad does it, and just focus on leOr Goyim. Let
everyone do what they do best, and hire out the other jobs to those who
do each of those jobs best. Yissachar and Zevulun, but on steroids. The
idiom was misused. (Totally irrelevant; it just felt good to get that
off my chest.)

Second, a movement is a group of people who gather around an Ism, not the
other way around. You can't save Mod-O by giving them a different ideal,
even one you feel is related to their current one. That's killing one
movement by creating a new thing to attract its adherents. Nothing too
terrible. After all, the only value in a movement is whether it generates
fealty to Torah umitzvos, not as an end in itself.

You can't just tell people "here's your new ideal now". (Which is
basically the same as RJR's point.) That mod-O crowd would have to buy
into this leOr Goyim Ism for themselves. You can't just propose it in a
Lehrhaus article. Look how many decades of leadership it took RYBS to
put his fingerprint on the Mod-O ideal, and even that was only in the
realm of nuance about what "u" means, and what "mada" does. You expect
to totally redirect the community without having a rabbi's rabbi at the
helm? Then figure out how to fire up a grass roots movement.

Because we are not talking about a "hedgehog", we are talking about what
idea people should put front-and-center in their life's mission statement.

The target here is diaspora Mod-O. This leOr Goyim wouldn't be attractive
to somoene living in a Jewish State. Nor to someone who doesn't believe
in a Torah-and hashkafah with its openness to participating in general
society. But it's not Mod-O's current Ism in any way similar in emphasis
or behavior.

As for Torah uMada... I wrote here a couple of times that I don't think
it speaks well to the masses. First, because RYBS's vision of "mada"
really only appeals to the academically inclined. Second, because his "u"
is dialectical. Not too many people even know what a neo-Kantian means
by dialectic. It's not a synthesis. It is not compartmentalization of two
opposites. It's finding meaning in their interplay, without expecting to
get to resolution. Can the masses do that with Torah uMadda? Or are the
outcome inevitably going to be primarily a population of compromizers and
a population of compartmentalizers? TuM thus has the rare problem that
imperfect following of this ideal is actually worse than not chasing it
at all. Because it gives motive to compromising one's fealty to Torah!

TiDE doesn't have these problems, since DE has more to do with being
a refined human being as defined by being cultured. High culture, not
academic knowledge. And synthesis, not dialetic. The Tzitz Eliezer,
in a festschrift for RSRH, described TiDE as a hylomorphism (a tzurah
vachomer). That derekh eretz is the substance to which a person is
supposed to give Torah's form.

AND, TiDE includes much of what R Gil Perl writes about here. But without
making it the front-and-center. The idea of Yaft Elokim leYefes veYishkon
be'ohalei Sheim is not just that Sheim should benefit from Yefes's yofi,
but that Sheim has the job of being the moral and spiritual voice in
the partnership.

But again, making that aspect of things the centerpiece of the movement
would be something new.

In terms of defensibility... We are given the whole Torah project in order
that we be a "mamlekhes kohanim vegoy qadosh". Hashem introduced maamad
Har Sinai with those words. Arguably the Torah is to the Jews as the Jews
are supposed to be to the world -- the means of obtaining Devar Hashem.

But, aniyei irekha qodmin... How do you make a movement about bringing
Hashem's values to non-Jews that doesn't invest more effort in doing
the same to our fellow Jews? The dialectic (sorry!) between universalism
and Jewish particularlism can't be thrown out the window.

Although, Universalism is in now, Jewish particularism being too close
to the lately much maligned ideal of nationalism.

I am not saying the idea that the Torah can be viewed as a way to make us
a priesthood caste to the rest of the world is false. I am just wondering
if that way of viewing the Torah can possibly attract people well enough
to build a new movement around.

And in fact in much of part II, RGP himself spells out reasons why,
for which his solutions fall flat to my ear.

The Post-Modern era is not one in which the idea of spreading the message
to others is going to win adherents. His answer is to sure to brand on
LeOr Goyim instead of Or laGoyim, to inform rather than to preach. "My
calling is not to convince you of their certitude, but to humbly offer
you a glimpse of their beauty." But it is exactly the kind of subtlety
that would get lost in the translation to a mass movement. One slides
into the other and out of fitting with the times.

OTOH, what is exciting many Mod-O Jews today on a spiritual plane is
what a famous Jewish Action article (somewhat incorrectly) labeled
Neo-Chassidus. A worldview built on the Peiczeza and Nesivos Shalom,
Tanya, Bilvavli and the Chalban. With the music of Carlebach and lots
of epigrams by Rav Nachman.

The opposite direction from reaching out.... Deveiqus. A Me-and-G-d way
of viewing Judaism.

We even have a similar problem in The Mussar Institute. (Whose audience
are "spiritually seeking Jews", primarily from the non-O world.) People
are getting so caught up in middah work, the reaching in, that I have a
personal agenda to focus on the bein adam lachaveiro part of R Yisrael
Salanter's message. Perfection in middos being their maximizing our
ability to be givers (REED), to be nosei be'ol im chaveiro (R Chazkel),
leheitiv im hazulas (R Shimon Shkop), etc...

Selling an Other-Focused Judaism, even one with a universalist spin, may
not be the world's easiest sell.

Myself, I would push an Other-Focused Judaism too, but without the
deemphasis of ahavas Yisrael in favor of ahavas haberios. And, for that
matter, leheitiv im hazulas applies to physical chessed to my wife,
family, friends and neighborhood well before the hatavah of teaching the
world what the Torah has to offer. My spirituality starts with concern
for my stomach and your soul.

If only I knew how to make that message attractive in a world where
products are made popular by putting the word "I" in front of their names.

But that's where my own quest as moved since the days when this list
began. Mussar is a good idea, and one I hadn't given up on. But it never
was a mass movement, and likely something that requires that much work
never could be.

But could in theory be practiced by anyone is a Torah based on the idea
that Hillel's saying that the whole Torah is "de'alakh sani, lechaverkho
lo sa'avid" was means seriously, or that "ve'ahavta lerei'akha kamokha"
is a kelal gadol even after you leave the poster behind when you leave the
2nd grade classroom. A return to the Judaism of aspiring to an ehrlicher
Yid, rather than the emphasis on ritual and personal holiness of frumkeit.

If only I knew how to fight those elements of the zeigeist.

But then, I am not trying to rebuild an already existing movement.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger                 Nearly all men can stand adversity,
http://www.aishdas.org/asp   but if you want to test a man's character,
Author: Widen Your Tent      give him power.
- https://amzn.to/2JRxnDF                    -Abraham Lincoln

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Message: 3
From: Akiva Miller
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2019 18:52:00 -0500
[Avodah] Cellphones on Shabbos

There is currently a thread on Areivim titled "more than one quarter of MO
youth admit to using their phones on Shabbos", in which R' Danny Schoemann

> And I'm sure on Avoda we've discussed why and how using a phone
> is Chillul Shabbos. If not, then maybe we should.

I can very easily understand people for whom the temptation is so great
that they succumb occasionally or even often. But I don't think that's what
you're asking. Are you suggesting that these kids honestly don't realize
that using a cell phone on Shabbos is assur?

It seems to me:

Even the most basic listing of the 39 Melachos is more complicated than is
needed for this discussion. A discussion of Kavod Shabbos would also be

Just ask them: "You don't turn lights on and off, do you? What the
difference between that and everything that lights up on the screen?"

Or ask them: "You wouldn't write something with pen and paper, would you?
How is texting any different?"

I concede that if we wanted to, we could get involved with all sorts of
lomdish chakiras to answer those questions. But none will make a nafka mina
regarding mutar/assur. They are all d'Oraisa/d'Rabanan distinctions,
distracting us from the main point, which is that there is no way to use a
cellphone on Shabbos except for legitimate medical needs.

Kol hamosif gore'a.


Akiva Miller
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Message: 4
From: Joseph Kaplan
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2019 22:37:11 +0000
[Avodah] Chanukah and the Jews Living in Bavel

?Prof. Levine posted the following quote about the Jews who went to Bavel
in the time of the Hasmoneans in Areivim 37/102 (I?m replying here in
Avodah because the moderators told me my comment is sufficiently Torah

"While it seemed like tragedy at the time, these brilliant men, Torah
scholars all, immediately established a Jewish infrastructure upon arrival
in Babylon. A dozen years later when the Temple was destroyed, the Jews who
were exiled to Babylon found there yeshivas, synagogues, kosher butchers,
etc., all the essentials for maintaining a Jewish life. (See Part 23<https://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/babylonian_exile/>)?

Prof. Levine?s question arising from the quote was the following:

? However,  I have never heard that the Jews living in Bavel offered any
assistance to the Jews in EY during the 30 years of the fighting.   Surely
the Jews in Bavel must have become aware of what was going on in EY during
this 30 year period.  I can only wonder why they did not come to the
assistance of the Jews living in EY.  Does anyone have any information
about this??

I?m not particularly interested in that question. What I do wonder about is
the quote. More specifically, I wonder how the person who wrote it knows
what he appears to say are historical facts. I looked at the linked article
and the link in that article but I really didn?t find any historical
sources supporting ?Torah scholars all, yeshivas, synagogues, kosher


Sent from my iPhone
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Message: 5
From: Anthony Knopf
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2019 23:29:25 +0000 (UTC)
Re: [Avodah] A Modern Orthodox Hedgehog

R. Micha,

Thank you for including me on this rich and thoughtful post.

Here are my thoughts, responding to some of your points in the order
that you made them.

- Your second point seems to assume that movements can't evolve in their
  point of emphasis. Is that necessarily so? Did Chabad always emphasise
  the outreach which has become their trademark activity? I also wonder
  if the comparison can be made with the other movements that Rabbi
  Perl mentioned. Chabad, religious Zionism, Torah Im Derech Eretz and
  the yeshivah movement were all started by ideological leaders with
  a particular agenda. Was this so of Modern Orthodoxy? I guess what
  I'm questioning is whether Modern Orthodoxy is based on some kind of
  founding ideal and agenda which would be transformed if we were to go
  the path Rabbi Perl is suggesting.

- Rabbi Perl clearly wasn't assuming that proposing it in a Lehrhaus
  article would create the change. But it has initiated a conversation.
  And even if we don't accept his answer, I believe the question is a
  powerful one and can lead to meaningful reflection and even development
  in the Modern Orthodox community. It remains to be seen how much can
  be achieved without a rabbi's rabbi at the helm but the development of
  "Neo-Chassidus" within the Modern Orthodox community that you refer
  to is instructive.

- I am more convinced by your later points about the necessity of finding
  an idea that is central to our approach to Judaism/life and the
  difficulty in justifying giving this centrality to non-Jews rather than
  "aniyei ircha". Indeed, I believe that middot, based on the teachings of
  Modern Orthodox thinkers and availing itself of the considerable recent
  academic work in the study of character, would be a more appropriate
  central concept for the community.

- You question whether something requiring so much work could become a
  popular movement. This is a sobering thought given how much work
  you have given to the cause over decades. But doesn't a life
  commitment to Talmud Torah take work? Doesn't the Chabad shlichus
  demand self-sacrifice for others? I'm sure there are ways to respond
  to this, making chilukim, etc. but I am not as inclined to rule out
  the broad acceptance of an approach to middot, chesed, nosei b'ol,
  etc in our communities.

As you know, I'm working on a conference to set a process in motion. If you
don't try, you won't know!


Check out The Rise Together Project at <https://risetogetherproject.com>
and my website at <www.jewishethicalwisdom.com>
Rabbi Anthony Knopf


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