Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What is Orthodox anyway?

There are a few thoughts that have been making me go hmmmmmmmm........ (for those of you old enough to remember Arsenio Hall's late night show.) He used to do a bit where he would ask the audience "have you ever had things that made you scratch your head and go hmmmm...? "Like, how does the aspirin know to go to your head when you have a headache? Hmmmmm........ " Ok, a bit silly, but he made the point in a comedic way.
So too, I have those things that make me go hmmm..... Like, what is Modern Orthodoxy? Is it wearing pants and no head covering for women? No yarmulkes in the workplace for men, but yarmulkes at home? Eating dairy out at kosher restaurants? One of the things that fascinates me in the debate is the juxtaposition of Modern Orthodoxy and Lashon Hara.
A while back, I wrote two posts (click here for one of them) about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the "open orthodox" yeshiva in New York. They got a lot of hits, primarily because of the wide readership of Mark Einhorn's blog on what he terms "fringe orthodox Judaism." And fringe orthodox is, according to Mr. Einhorn, Chovevei Torah, and his particular target tends to be Rabbi Darrin Kleinberg, the Rabbi of the Kidma Synagogue in Phoenix, which is, unfortunately for Rabbi Kleinberg, where Mark Einhorn is based. Of course Rabbi Kleinberg gives him much to latch on to by taking some unusual and provocative positions. I guess many people share Mr. einhorn's views however, since many of the people who read my post were referred by his blog. I also happen to occasionally agree with Mr. Einhorn that sometimes, Rabbi Kleinberg and Chovevei go too far, but to imply that they are not orthodox is a bit over the top.
The whole notion of what constitutes orthodox in the first place is a question for me. I stopped using the term a long time ago. I believe that there are core principals that make one "orthodox." The observance of Mitzvot, Shabbat, Kashrut, and acceptance of the divinity of the Torah. However, when I was in college, i had friends who did all those things, but called themselves Conservative and Reform. I couldn't understand it. What do you mean you are reform? You keep Kosher, observe Shabbat and put on Tefillin. The response, " I just feel more comfortable with reform theology". OK, I accepted the answer. Didn't understand it, but accepted it. Later in my college career, I got a job teaching in a conservative Hebrew School. The educational director was a Reconstructionist Rabbi. Turns out that he kept Shabbat, kept Kosher, and his wife covered her hair. "Why are you Reconstructionist I asked?" I got the same answer as above..... And lastly, when college was over, and I got married and moved to my nice little religious neighborhood, many of my "modern orthodox" friends did not wear a kippah during the day and ate (dairy) in non-kosher restaurants. HELP!!!!!!
As I grew up, ( I was already an adult, but needed to grow up more) I learned that there are shiv'im panim l'torah, "70 faces to the Torah." That is to say that there are many ways to look at the Torah, and observe it. I came to a place in my thinking where I understood that everyone has to find their own way. It may not be a way that works for me, but it works for them.
In my career as a Jewish communal professional I have to deal with people from all over the Jewish spectrum. Some are tolerant of the fact that I keep Kosher and wear a kippah, some less so. I try to figure out a way for them to respect my decisions, and for me to respect theirs. Usually it works.
Chovevei is one of those Shiv'im Panim L'Torah. I believe it is an important one. It may be that Rabbi Kleinberg's ideas are not quite what "mainstream modern orthodoxy" might often espouse, but neither were those of the Ba'al Shem Tov. I liked what Rabbi Josh Yuter wrote in his post on the subject and explained that a) continuing the debate is not all that interesting, and b) there will always be those who disagree. The fact is that it makes more sense to try to influence those who wish to listen, or work, instead, on ourselves.
Hence, the beginning discussion on Lashon Hora. I am going to be more careful in the future. In the meantime, I will await the opening of the Hooters in Tel-Aviv with great interest. It will be very interesting to see what response THAT brings!


Pam said...

why does the link Lashon Harah lead us to arsenio hall's website?
is there a subliminal message that i am missing?

Mottel said...

Oops!!! You know how that Arsenio was......
It is all fixed now. Thanks!

XYZ154 said...

Reb Forest Gump said it best: Orthodox is as Orthodox does.

The reality, IMHAAO(in my humble and anonymous opinion) is that each individual (or group of individuals) will make his (its) own definition of what is what. Anyone who does any less than me (or us) is a heretic and anyone who does any more is a fanatic.

I like what Mottel says about the 70 faces, but am concerned (convinced?) that most "Orthodox" Jews aren't so open minded. Maybe that's why HaShem invented blogs.

Mottel said...

Thanks for the note, XYZ. I Poskin like Reb Forest. In the end, you are right. It took me a long time to get here and it was a long journey.
I call to the phenomena you refer to the "frumometer" Everything to the right is fanatic, left is a sheygutz!

Ariella said...

Actually I think the Orthodox is as Orthodox idea prevails. So you have many people who do Orthodoxy, i.e. affiliate with an Orthodox shul, send kids to an Orthodox school, observe all holidays, etc. who would consider themselves fully identifiable as Orthodox even if their personal theology may actually be closer to Reform in terms of perception of divinity of Torah, etc.

donald said...

Every Jew is required to do the best he/she can in terms of keeping their Torah obligations. However, since we were created as humans and as such we are imperfect unlike angels, we tend to be slightly imperfect in following our spiritual obligations to its fullest. Hence, as you call it, the frumometer that others use as a judgment lever.

A leader and in particular a rabbinic "orthodox" leader may not encourage the tribe to wander off and to disregard any Mitzvah.
Hence the issues with "Chovevi."
It seems to me that their goal is to officially sanction issurim that some of us have taken for granted on a personal basis such as eating dairy in a non-kosher establishment.

Ikvesse d'mshichesa that leaders today encourage gay behaviour and on the opposite spectrum those that call you a shaygetz because you don't wear a kippah.
Shabbat Shalom