“Words from the Heart” posted by Yosef Kanefsky

Garnel Ironheart is an avid – and mostly critical – reader of Morethodoxy. But I was very taken with a comment he submitted last week and reproduce it here in full (and I apologize for the negative remarks about Chabad. They do not reflect my views at all.)

Look, I’m not a big fan of Morethodoxy. Frankly I think it’s only about 10 years until you’re the right wing of UTJ, full-on Conservativism with a mechitza (hopefully). But in the interest of achdus let me give you some free advice.
Look at Chabad. If you think you’re having troubles with the Agudah then think about what they’ve gone through. The Agudah’s PR flacks attack you in print. Chabadniks have gone through physical attacks from that part of the Jewish community. You get called “Unorthodox”. They’ve been called heretics, non-Jewish and neo-Christians. Remember all the abuse heaped on the Rebbe, zt”l by Rav Shach, zt”l?
Yet years later, after all the abuse, after all the ongoing sex scandals, after all the messianism, Chabad is incredibly successful and growing stronger. Why? Because they have a message (Believe in the Rebbe and ye shall be saved) and they stay on it. They push the positive, drumming their ideology into anyone who will sit still long enough . They don’t take time to respond to outside attacks. They plow forward with their agenda no matter what. And it has worked for them in spades.
If you want this Morethodoxy thing of yours to amount to something more than a bunch of new-age feel-good rabbis sitting around talking about kindness and love then you have to develop a concrete message and start pushing it. Playing defense all the time will just get you shoved into a corner.

I’ve never met Garnel (unless he also goes by some other name, in which case maybe I have!), and as I said, I don’t agree with all of what he says here. But I do appreciate the humanity and sincerity with which he wrote this. I read it as “words that emanate from the heart” (which, as we know, “enter the heart”) So here a few things that I’d like to share in response:
(1) I have never, and still don’t really think about Morethodoxy as being a “thing” – a movement, a distinct ideological sub-group. Like most of the “founding” Morethodoxy crew, I am a musmach (ordainee) of YU, a member of the RCA , and a full-time rabbi in an OU-affiliated shul. But I understand and appreciate the perspective that Garnel and many others have, namely that Morthodoxy is a forum for the ideas and religious philosophy that have become identified with the students of Yeshivat Chovevai Torah (YCT) and members of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and that in reality -though not by conscious design – the three, along with Yeshivat Maharat and several other organizations as well, have effectively coalesced into a distinct movement within Orthodoxy. While I – and most of my friends and colleagues – reject this perspective, the perception is both significant and real. (And, in fact, I am the current president of the IRF, and my co-blogger Rabbi Gelman is a past-president.)
(2) I’m sure our wives and kids wish that we were just “feel-good rabbis sitting around talking about kindness and love!” Like my Morethodoxy companions, and so many of the rabbis who are members of the IRF, we are out in the trenches, day and night, pastoring, teaching, programming and building, as rabbis of shuls, as teachers and principals in schools and as campus rabbis and chaplains around the country. In fact, this is a large part of why we lack the laser-like focus of an organization like Chabad. We are an integrated part of the Orthodox community’s multifaceted rabbinic leadership, serving in numerous and various institutions, each with its own complex set of unique challenges.
(3) Having said all of this, I think that Garnel’s challenge needs to be taken seriously. Not to satisfy our critics, and not as a means of carving out a place for ourselves as a distinct wing of Orthodoxy. Rather in order to better serve Klal Yisrael generally, and the Orthodox community especially, through bringing our vision forward in coordinated and concrete ways. We are reaching a critical mass in terms of the numbers of Orthodox rabbis and Jews who are passionate about living and teaching an Orthodoxy that is (choose your adjective) engaged / progressive / inclusive / connected , and for the sake of God, Torah, and Israel, we need to have greater focus in terms of agenda, message, and action. And – as Garnel implies – we mustn’t get pre-occupied with playing defense.

Is this easier said than done? Sure. But let’s get to work. I’ll do my share. It’s not upon any one of us to complete the work, but none of us is exempt from participating.

3 Responses to “Words from the Heart” posted by Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Abe Katz says:

    To me Modern Orthodoxy has an opportunity to make an impact on Orthodox Jewish life in the United States, not so much in practice as in scholarship. I would like to share with you a letter that I wrote to Rabbi Lopatin.

    Dear Rabbi Lopatin-I was pleasantly surprised to learn from the most recent Maimonides School alumni newsletter that you were a 1982 graduate of Maimonides. I am a 1971 graduate. I am contacting you to provide you support in your mission as president of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and to share some unsolicited advice.

    In my opinion, a quick route to your school gaining wide acceptance in the Orthodox community is through scholarship-not the scholarship of your teachers but through the scholarship of your students. That may appear to be a lofty goal but it is much simpler than you think. Traditional Rabbinic seminaries like REITS emphasize the study of Talmud as a legal corpus. They ignore that the Talmud equally serves as a chronicle of Jewish life. My point is that you can develop student scholars by combining the method of studying Jewish texts followed by Rabbinic seminaries with the methods employed by Jewish Studies professors. Asking the questions when did the author of the work live; where did he live; what was transpiring in Jewish history during his lifetime and what was happening in world history, provide information that can lead to a fresh view of Jewish texts. The public rarely hears Rabbis talk Jewish historyspeak. From my own experience in writing and in lecturing in the field of Beurei Hatefila in which I ask the questions when did a Tefila enter the Siddur and why, I can tell you that the public, Orthodox and other, often commend me for introducing them to a novel way of looking at Jewish prayer.

    How do you develop students who can create and share fresh scholarship with the Jewish public? It begins with fluency in Modern Hebrew. One of the skeletons in the closets of traditional Rabbinic training programs is that their students are graduating without the ability to read texts written in Modern Hebrew. Those students cannot access the materials being written by college professors in Israel nor the texts written by Rabbis who having lived in Israel for either all their lives or parts of their lives, feel most comfortable writing in Modern Hebrew. (If you need an example, read any issue of the Journal Yerushaseinu published by the Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz, an organization dedicated to preserving Ashkenazic [as in German] customs-a right of center organization, to say the least). Compounding the problem is the unavailability of such texts here in the United States. Because the U.S. Chareidi community cannot read Modern Hebrew nor can most Modern Orthodox Jews, bookstores do not stock books which few will buy.

    Even the YU booksale has cut back dramatically on the sale of such books. In the past, I would look forward to the YU booksale as an opportunity to stock up on recent publications from Israel. For the last five years, they have slowly reduced their purchases of such books to the point that none of them were available for the last two years. Perhaps your school would like to sponsor a book sale of such books.

    You might be skeptical that your school can quickly train students who will be able to write and lecture at a high level of scholarship. I am confident that I can train them to be student scholars in the field of Beurei Tefila at the end of a one year course of study.

    Why should your school train Rabbis in the field of Beurei Hatefila? Do I really have to convince a student of Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth, z”l, of the importance of studying Beurei Hatefila? It is a known fact that Rabbinic seminaries teach their students little about Tefila. They certainly are not going to teach them of the many changes that have entered the Siddur over the centuries. Yet, the same schools hold out their students as being able to lead prayer services in synagogues. They are able to pull the wool over the eyes of Jewish communities only because the general Jewish public knows so little about the history of Tefila. Those of us who study Tefila are shocked by the large number of misstatements that pulpit Rabbis utter when they discuss Tefila. I got so tired of hearing those errors that I prepared a 102 question exam on Tefilas Shacharis that Rabbinic schools can use to test their students’ knowledge of Tefila. The feedback that I received was that very few Rabbincal students could answer a substantial number of those questions. I hope that your students do not fall into that category.

    As a student of Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth, z”l, you know well that Beurei Hatefila was everyone’s favorite Jewish studies class. Yet almost no day schools teach Beurei Hatefila. What few realize is the growth in the number of sources that are available to assist in uncovering the origin of the words and structure of the Tefilot.

    Many of us in the community believe that your school serves an important mission. That your school is not more highly respected is because your administrators have been involved in trying to solve too many problems within the Orthodox Jewish community. To truly be able to effectuate change, your school first needs to earn a reputation for excellence in scholarship.

  2. Oh course you’ve never met me! I’m an important secondary character from the fantasy fiction novel “The Curse of Garnel Ironheart”.
    (BTW, netiquette suggests you include a link to my blog when you mention me at the top of the post. Just saying…)

  3. Miriam says:

    I am posting the following comment here, because it seems to have been missed where I originally posted it, in the thread ‘A cry from on high’. It is still awaiting moderation after over a week. My comment on that thread, in reply to Avi, is:

    If Baruch Goldstein’s act was ‘an isolated, condemned, reprehensible action’, how come his grave became a place of pilgrimage? And in 1929 there was certainly a massacre, but many Arabs sheltered Jews and saved their lives.

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