Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein Goes Sledding

In the recent Jewish Action, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the leading rabbinic authorities for Modern Orthodox Jews, reviews a collection of essays, titled the Eye of the Storm, written by his Haredi colleague Rabbi Aharon Feldman. Rav Lichtenstein attacks Rabbi Feldman, but does so in the sort of sporting gentlemanly fashion that one often despairs into thinking is out of date in this world. Rav Lichtenstein begins by recalling his childhood relationship with the older Rabbi Feldman when they both lived in Baltimore in the early 1940s. While Rav Lichtenstein hints at his disagreements with Rabbi Feldman when it comes to Zionism, feminism and Rabbi Slifkin, his real focus is on Rabbi Feldman's polemical stance. Rabbi Feldman writes out of anger and denies the very possibility that others could reasonably disagree with him. Rather than attempt to reach out to others Rabbi Feldman openly states that he is writing for members of his community, for those already agree with him. Rav Lichtenstein ends with a touching plea for mutual understanding that I think is worth sharing:

Dear Reb Aharon: That pair of juvenile prattling sledders is now well past seventy-five. Each has, besiyat diShmaya [with the help of heaven], in successive contexts, respectively, learned much Torah and has been blessed with the ability and the circumstances to enable reaching out and personally transmitting to others that which we have been endowed. It stands to reason and is, presumably, mandated by joint mission, that our worlds meet and attain mutual fruition. As we both painfully know, however, this occurs rarely.

Must the walls that separate our communities and our institutions soar quite so high, the interposing moat plunge quite so deep? Shall we never sled again?


Josh said...

For someone who focused his life on literature, R Lichtenstein seems to have no sense of how to write. "Shall we ever sled again?" How lame can you get? The turgid prose reads like a blog I would not read, and leads one to question the extent to which the hoary scholar delved into the Miltonic universe he ostensibly trained in. BeSiyata Deshamayah and IYH we will see better writing attain fruition in the plunging moat of mixed metaphors sledding precipitously downhill in the occupied villages now called Alon Shvut. Not holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Lichtenstein made the false assumption that Rav Feldman's book would have been palatable to the Modern Orthodox repertoire. Rabbi Feldman is a gadol, but his views are not wholly in accordance with those of the Modernisch. Rather than attacking the book, we should be content on drawing the line in the sand and accepting the differences.

Garnel Ironheart said...

No, they shan't ever sled again. Modern Chareidism (is that an oxymoron) is built on the assumption that it, and only it, is the true form of Torah observance. Any other version of Torah observance is, by definition indefensible and illegimiate and therefore not worth arguing with.

Presto! Self-satisfaction at being right and not having anyone around to disagree.

Izgad said...


To each his own. I recognize that Rav Lichtenstein’s style of writing might be a bit over the top for some. What particularly moved was the sense of him recognizing that his time was up and that, however many more years he might live, this was no longer his world and that he no longer had the ability to influence events.


I think this is an example of the Haredim wanting to have their cake and eat it to. They wish everyone to show due difference to their leaders as “gedolim.” For example, in regards to evolution, the Haredi argument to someone like me would be that whatever I might have personally believed about evolution, now that “the gedolim” have ruled that evolution is a heretical doctrine, I should nullify my views in the face of theirs. I need to recognize that any argument I put up against their view, no matter how plausible, is by definition invalid, because I have no business arguing with them in the first place. The irony of this is that it makes people like me relevant. If Haredim were logically consistent in their insistence that their leaders are the heads of not just individual schools and communities, but the Jewish people as a whole then one would expect that they would be able to even speak to Jews like me in a way that I could comprehend and accept.

I once made a similar argument about Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky http://izgad.blogspot.com/2008/04/slightly-polemical-discourse-which-i.html.

Josh said...

He never influenced anything ever. He has been a marginal figure from day one except amongst self proclaimed cognoscenti of scifi Torah.

Michael Rose said...

I read Rabbi Feldman's book and I did not feeel it was written with anger at all. On the contrary, I felt he wrote with logic and compassion (especially to the Homosexual Baal Teshuva).

Rentsy said...

כל המבזה תלמיד חכם בפרהסיה חייב נידוי

Anonymous said...

I assume that Rentsy is addressing Josh in that statement.