Monday, May 23, 2005

YU: from the outside looking in

Menachem Butler, invites me to comment on the fascinating exchange(s) between Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein in tne pages of the YU 'Commentator'. See Menachem's blog for the links, over several postings.

Both YG and AL agree on the changes at YU. Their memories (and their interpretation of the dynamics) are different, but both agree that a broad, inclusive approach to ideas and culture (Jewish and general) has been replaced by a more intensive, narrower focus. Rabbi LIchtenstein clearly acknowledges this.

However, their positions on the issue - are the changes good or bad? - are irreconcilable, and like others who see themselves caught up in the same argument, there is (tragically) not even any room for dialogue.

Louis Jacobs, who was involved in his own battle at Jews' College in London at about the same time, has since written that in retrospect he could not have won his dispute either politically or theologically, because the tide of Orthodoxy was already turning, driven by far greater forces than he appreciated at the time. The same seems to be true of YU. Rabbi Lichtenstein's view seems to be (my paraphrase) "Yes, it has changed; yes, a great deal of cultural and intellectual opennness has been abandoned - but it was worth it, because the benefit in the increase in the quality and intensity of Torah study outweighs the loss."

Together with Rabbi Greenberg, I think that that is a debatable point. Something huge has been lost, and a certain totalitarian mentality has taken its place. All non-Haredi* Orthodox Jews are an endangered species. Whether their / our time(s) will come again is anyone's guess.

*My working definition of Haredi is anyone who sends their children to a school where the 'secular' instruction is at or below the legal minimum.

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