5/10/2005

Postmodern Postmortem of MO

Last year, when I lived further out-of-town than I do now, a layman friend and I started a really cool group. About once a month, a group of, say, 10 to 15 guys, all bright and seriously engaged in Judaism, but of a wide range of belief and observance, would congregate in a pub having read an article or two about some controversial Jewish topic, and we'd drink beer and shmooz for about an hour and a half. It was phenomenal. I imagine Olam Habah to be something like that. It's called LagerHeads (I'm in the process of trademarking it, so don't touch). It's been taken over by the local MO Rabbi, and is still going strong, and I still read up on the articles that they discuss.

I was bugged by a recent topic. They discussed the difference between Orthodox and Conservative approaches to Halakha. An article by RAL in Leaves of Faith was chosen as the Orthodox selection. An article by David Golinkin for the Conservative. My critique of the latter, I found, runs very deep, and that's not the point of this post.
I also found that RAL's approach didn't really resonate with me. It's really the same critique as RYBS' Halakhic approach as well: the insistence on seeing Halakhic categories as objective, metaphysical constructs which operate autonomously. In RYBS' grand vision of an intergenerational conversation, where Rava, Abaye, Rambam, Ra'avad, and R' Chaim all sit together and converse, while beautiful, misses, IMHO the basic point that these great men were not talking to each other. They lived in different times, spoke different languages, had different axiological assumptions about a whole host of religious issues, etc. It's not a great conversation through the ages. each participant is constrained and contextualized and must be understood in that way. The attempt to reduce Halacha to a metaphysical system, the attribution of objective status to human constructs, and the relation to earlyier texts as goldmines to be sifted through for the occasional conceptual nugget is a thoroughly Modernist approach and, being totally honest, it doesn't work for me. There's much, much there to be worked through and gleaned from their works, but at its core, it doesn't speak to contemporary sensibilities.

I was disappointed that no other Orthodox approach was presented there, and when I saw this discussion between Steve Brizel and An MO Rabbi in the Godol's comments, I saw that it's not only me who feels this way. In fact, it's an entire generation that's either dogmatically defensive, questioning without answers, or starting to pick up the pieces and construct a new basis for postmodern observance.

Halakhic Man was an acknowledgement that Nefesh Ha-Chayim did not resonate as a foundation for a Torah-based theology. This generation needs its own. As I've mentioned previously, R' ShaGa"R's Keilim Shvurim is too shallow and incomplete. Then who?
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