Maybe Rabbi Birnbaum Has a Point: A Solution

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In this week’s Yated, Rabbi Birnbaum writes a pretty offensive article aimed at the modern orthodox community. In private and public correspondence the article is being heavily criticized for its many flaws.

I don’t wish to discuss its salient points, errors, or fallacies here or anywhere else for that matter. I am not interested in debating or fighting with Yated people about the two different communities. It’s pointless and I am sick of it.

Instead I want to propose a solution.

Much of the heated exchange between the yeshivish and modern orthodox communities is based on a lot of misinformation and hearsay. There is very little communication between the two groups. Rarely do the two groups work together to solve social or political issues. There are no formal forums where both communities interact in writing. Facebook is the closest thing we have to a common area for discussion and I have been blessed to host many conversations on my Facebook page where people from across the spectrum interact. But it’s not enough.

In the old days we lived among one another. We shared resources. We worked together on common issues. There was a rapport. Today our respective communities are so vibrant and are thriving. We don’t need each other. We stand apart, separated by the tiniest of margins. It’s a blessing that we have become so strong as individual groups but in my mind it has caused this divide.

Reaching out

True, we disagree on a lot. We disagree about the value and power of Daas Torah. We disagree about Chazal and science. We disagree on the value of full time learning and how long it is appropriate. We disagree on the importance of fathers providing for their family. We disagree on the level of insularity. We disagree on the harms of media consumption. We disagree on Zionism. We disagree on the flexibility of some areas of halacha. We disagree on the emphasis on chumros. Yes, we disagree. But in the end, this is a minuscule fraction of what we agree upon. We agree on Torah M’Sinai. We agree on Rambam. We agree on Shulchan Aruch. We agree on R’ Moshe Feinstein. We basically agree on Israel. We agree on America. We basically agree on education for children. We agree on so much.

Yet, as we have noted many times, when we are similar to one another we seek ways to distinguish ourselves from one another. That’s what has happened here. We’ve divided ourselves over petty matters and it’s starting to affect our midos toward each other.

The solution here is quite simple. People from all walks of life need to get together and talk. We need to have Shabbatons for all kinds of people to enjoy the company of one another. We need to tackle issues of common concern together. We need a formal place to talk to each other instead of about each other. I doubt Rabbi Birnbaum would have dropped his article as a comment on Ha’emtza or even on my Facebook page (although I have gotten worse). But he’s writing for Yated readers and somehow (read: the Internet) the modern orthodox community gets ahold of the article, reads it, and to them he sounds off the wall. It would be so much more productive to talk to each other rather than writing screeds on blogs or “olde tyme” blogs (newspapers) like the Yated.

The modern orthodox community must be able to articulate its positions from a place of strength and confidence. The yeshivish community must be able to express its positions with less bombast. Both communities must try to hear the other side. But most of all, this conversation should not be between strangers, it should be between friends.

We’ve got to figure out a way to have friends from across the spectrum of orthodox Judaism. The issues have to be personalized by the humanity of relationships.

If this doesn’t work and we still can’t find a way to communicate civilly and productively, I’ll try to think of something else. But in the meantime, l’maan Hashem, let’s try to do this right.

This is a formal invitation to engage in a round table or panel discussion on the issues that are plaguing our communities. Let’s talk to each other, not about each other.

I am happy to host or attend such a conversation. If you are interested, please contact me. Send this to people from both sides of this issue and let’s make it happen.

  • Z

    This is basically what Johnathan Rosenblum proposed to address these tensions as a scholar-in-residence at our (MO) shul a few weeks ago. It would be nice to see him strongly advocate this in (Hareidi) print.

    • MarkSoFla

      Z, you just identified 2 more parts of the problem (the essence of which is that it is an asymmetric issue):

      1. An MO shul often has charedi guest speakers. A charedi shul NEVER has MO guest speakers.
      2. Moderate charedim say different things to MO crowds than they do to charedi crowds.

      • tesyaa

        1. Well, would a MO shul invite a Conservative rabbi to speak? Despite Harry Maryles’ protestations, the chareidi world views MO the same way MO views Conservative.

        2. Of course, because why alienate a major source of funds?

        • MarkSoFla

          1. My MO shul has had conservative Rabbis (IIRC). We’ve also had non-orthodox politicians, non-orthodox Israel supporters, non-orthodox soldiers. And, once, we had a Christian minister. Also, please realize that by this comment, you are asserting that “charedi” is a different classification (different sect) than “orthodox” (and I mostly agree with that assertion).

          2. Yep. And also they believe that their people “can’t handle the truth.”

          • tesyaa

            In all seriousness, when an Orthodox shul hosts a Christian minister or a nonorthodox politician, it’s not to give the drasha. Chareidim are perfectly willing to host non-Orthodox or non-Jewish politicians too (especially if they are receptive to the community’s needs, ahem).

            But Harry Maryles suggested that Lakewood invite Rav Herschel Schachter to give a shiur, and that is like an O shul having a Conservative rabbi give the drasha.

            • It’s not really like that. They just think it is.

              • tesyaa

                What would be so bad about a learned Conservative rabbi giving a drasha in an MO shul, assuming he (she?) didn’t touch on controversial issues?

                • They think if you give the rabbi a platform it means that you approve of his entire hashkafa.

                  • tesyaa

                    Who thinks that? An MO shul who doesn’t want to host a Conservative rabbi, or a chareidi shul that doesn’t want to host an MO rabbi? Both?

                  • tesyaa

                    Oh, and I imagine that there are many Reform and Conservative shuls that don’t want to host an Orthodox rabbi because of lack of relevance, but not as a shitta, so to speak.

                    • There are some that wouldn’t b’shita too.

                    • tesyaa

                      Of course, you’re right.

                  • Adam Kenigsberg

                    There’s a difference between approving of ones hashkafa, and approving of ones perversion of halacha.

                    Shomrei mitzvot from all different hashkafot will speak in the various batei knesset in my town.

                    I can have a difference in outlook on specific issues, and still recognize the validity of the Torah of a given presenter.

                    However, R/C are not halachic. Inviting a speaker from a non-halachic group, who claims to be teaching “Torah”, is placing a stumbling block before the blind, and is a serious scriptural violation.

                    • tesyaa

                      I’m very familiar with this standpoint, having lived it for decades and still living with a person who lives it every day.

                    • ben_yehoshua

                      And inviting an MO Rabbi, with a strange (to say the least) Hashkafa to speak to a Haredi crowd from the pulpit is not placing a stumbling block?

                    • No. People can listen and make their own decisions. He’s not going to say kefira.

                    • Adam Kenigsberg

                      No, it isn’t. (Besides the fact there’s no such thing as an MO Rabbi).

                      A rav of any sect of shomrei mitzvot will not advocate for the violation of halacha.

                      A R/C rabbi (See RMF’s distinction in terms) may very well do so.

                    • Now you’re just trolling.

                    • Adam Kenigsberg

                      I am not aware of any yeshiva that labels itself Modern Orthodox.

                      Yeshivat Chovovei Torah labels itself Open Orthodox. I suppose that one could refer to their graduates as OO rabbis.

                      Since there is no MO yeshiva, there are no MO rabbis.

                      “Modern” (or the yeshivish slur “modernishe”) is a disdainful epithet used to attack brilliant rabbanim like HaRav Hershel Shachter.

                      So no, HaRav Fink, I am not “trolling”, I am defending the honor and integrity of the amazing rabbanim from whom I had the distinct privilege to learn.

                    • Adam Kenigsberg

                      None of them received rabbinic ordination from a yeshiva that labels itself “Modern Orthodox”. It’s not the same thing as a JTS minting Conservative Rabbis, or HUC ordaining Reform Rabbis.

                      Didn’t they teach you in law school not to use Wikipedia as a credible source? ;o)

                    • You’re hilarious. One can be a modern orthodox rabbi no matter where one gets ordination. The same as one can be haredi or reform no matter where one gets ordination. That much is obvious, as is your trolling.
                      And Wikipedia is an excellent source for verifiable information and an even better source for issues that relate to the zeitgeist.

                    • Adam Kenigsberg

                      I resent being accused of trolling.

                      I post using my full name, I never attack or insult any other commenter, and I mean what I write.

                      If you don’t want me to continue the discussion on your blog, I won’t.

                      You are incorrect – one cannot be a Reform rabbi “no matter where one gets ordination”. It’s simply not true.

                      URJ-member synagogues only hire graduates of HUC-JIR. Period.

                      Conservative synagogues used to hire Orthodox rabbis, but I doubt that they can do so any longer.

                      My point is, unlike URJ and USCJ, there is no appointed body of a separate movement called “Modern Orthodoxy”.

                      It’s not an entity separate from shmirat hamitzvot. “MO” isn’t an entity at all.

                    • You are welcome to comment here. But you can’t just superimpose your fantasy world on top of the actual real world and expect to be taken seriously. Modern orthodoxy is a vibrant, living movement. I don’t think they care if you think they don’t exist.

                    • Adam Kenigsberg

                      What is the name of a self-titled “Modern Orthodox” seminary, that gives rabbinical ordination to “MO” Rabbis, for the purpose of presiding over “MO” synagogues?

                      There isn’t one. There are a wide variety of yeshivot within the world of shomrei mitzvot.

                      Eilu v’Eilu etc.

                      It’s wrong to treat “MO” as if it were a liberal break off movement from Torah Judaism, like Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal.

                      Those break off groups would love to cast OU and NCYI affiliated synagogues in that role – just another break off group. It gives the rest of them legitimacy. As if to say, “See? They change halacha too, we just change it a little bit more”.

                      I reject that notion, and I hope that you do as well. There’s no cause to put a modifier next to the word Orthodox for the great rabbanim of our generation.

    • snowbird

      I think he has.

  • de

    First time commenting here ever. Great article. I live in Lakewood, I have both types of neighbors (yes even here in Lakewood), I’m more to the right side and one thing I can’t understand WHY can’t we just respect each other, why the attitude toward the left. What does it hurt to respect be nice? Why not just pretend? I always ask the extreme here, what harm will it cause if you’re just tactful and friendly? And what if you just pretend to be?? I don’t get it. Maybe bec I’m an out of towner so I’m not choshuve enough to get the general attitude in town here. Thx for an awesome respectful article.

    • Adam Kenigsberg


      You’re very khashuv if you love each and every member of Klal Yisrael.

  • Benny Hutman

    One of things I appreciated most when I lived in Pittsburgh and Silver Spring, was the diversity of our friends and community. I understand on a sociological level why things operate differently in larger communities, but you are absolutely right that we should not be happy with the situation and we should work to emulate these aspects of out-of-town communities.

    • MarkSoFla

      One of the nice things of living outside of the general NYC area (aka OOT) is that Jewish communities are generally small and have to stick together.

      • tesyaa

        This is true. I’m wondering, though, if my cousin whose husband got an Orthodox pulpit OOT has adjusted to the fact that many congregants drive to shul.

        • MarkSoFla

          My shul has a “shabbos parking lot”, a grassy area separated from the regular parking lot (which is closed on shabbat and chag) by thick bushes/trees.

          Better to drive to shul than to drive to the mall or the movie theater.

          • tesyaa

            Absolutely, you can go the mall or the movies in the afternoon. 🙂

            • MarkSoFla

              Before or after mincha? 🙂

          • Adam Kenigsberg

            I disagree. Driving to shul is MUCH worse.

            At least when a knowledgeable Jew drives to the mall or movie theater on shabbat, s/he can’t excuse their desecration of Gd’s Holy Gift to His People.

            I’m not talking about people who are trying to transition to shmirat hamitzvot; I mean specifically those who justify their shabbat violations by praying in an Orthodox shul.

            • tesyaa

              They may just enjoy the social atmosphere of an inclusive Orthodox shul better than a Reform or Conservative shul where very few people show up each week. Doesn’t mean they want to “transition” to being Orthodox or that they’re trying to justify anything.

              • Adam Kenigsberg

                My comment was in response to Mark, who wrote:

                Better to drive to shul than to drive to the mall or the movie theater.

                It’s not halachically better, it’s halachically worse.

                The social atmosphere of the gym, the park, and the bowling alley, are all better choices than a shul.

                And if you will object that cultural Jews want to socialize with other Jews, the JCC and certain country clubs (depending on the city) are rife with Jews on the weekend.

                • Ben Waxman

                  It’s not halachically better, it’s halachically worse.

                  driving is driving. the question isn’t one of halacha but of implications.

                  • Adam Kenigsberg

                    Driving on shabbat in a way that the person fully understands is prohibited, is one violation.

                    Driving to shul on shabbat, which the person may justify as permitted (or at least “not as bad”) is two violations – breaking shabbat, and bearing false witness to oneself.

                    Possibly, one could tack on a third prohibition of “lifnei iver”, when others see him/her parking at/near the shul on shabbat.

                    Therefore, diving to shul on shabbat is two or three times worse than driving to the mall on shabbat.

                    • Ben Waxman

                      what makes you think that someone who drives on shabbat to go shul is fully aware of what that means? the people i know who drive to shul on shabbat (granted not many because this is a chul l’aretz thing) would never say “i am shomer shabbat”. they might say “i am shomer shabbat but i drive to shul”, or “i’m not shomer shabbat, but i like or identify with that particular shul”.

                      you’re misusing lifnei iver. if that was the definition, than we are all guilty of it regarding avak lashon harah (for example).

            • MarkSoFla

              Once they are ready for full shmirat hamitzvot, obviously they move close enough to shul to walk!

              I’m not sure how going to an orthodox shul can justify any violation. Doesn’t justify financial fraud either.

      • Ditto. In our community, we can be members of the Orthodox shul yet still daven at the Conservative shul (inside the eruv) occasionally, & nobody objects, beyond some good natured teasing.

  • Estee Lavitt

    You’d be naive to think you could get them in the same room.

  • Mordy Chaimo

    Personally I was offended from the tone and content of the article..I emailed you a copy of a letter I sent to the editor at the yated in response, but I highly doubt it will get published there..I consider myself to be in the yeshivish crowd and still identify more closely with the yeshivish way of thinking but this Holier than thou attitude has got to stop!!

  • Shragi

    With all due respect, Rabbi Fink, I believe you’re laboring under a misconception. See Birnbaum ends off his article saying that he’s looking for solutions but, as you pointed out, his article was so offensive that one has to conclude he isn’t in fact looking for solutions. This was just a reminder to the Yated readership to avoid precisely what you’re suggesting here; do not engage in dialogue, do not ever attend a shabbaton together with MO people.

  • bp27

    Its funny how you write that the MO community read the article and finds it “off the wall” I read some of the MO blogs (e.g. Haemtza), and I feel the same way reading those articles!

    I think the gulf between us is larger than you are insinuating. I both camps think that the others’ point of view is “off the wall’, than we need a long bridge to bridge the gulf.

    BTW, I am one who found Rabbi Birnbaum’s spot on, as I usually do his columns.

  • baalebus

    I stopped getting the yated years ago – ever since drudgereport came out so im not familiar w his article
    as to your challenge – game on go through the topics you mention one by one
    Ill start with the attitude towards chazal – it seems to me that your perception is outright apikursus

  • Yes, face to face discussion (even if through a computer monitor) is always the most effective means of communication!