Demand, Not Supply, Explains Modern Orthodoxy’s Leadership Crisis

Oct. 14 2016

In Modern Orthodox circles it has become a commonplace that the denomination suffers from a lack of the sort of rabbinic personalities whose combination of talmudic erudition, piety, and an ability to speak on the pressing issues of the day confer a larger-than-life authority—figures known in traditional terminology as g’dolim, or great ones. (The absent, archetypal great rabbi is usually taken to be Joseph B. Soloveitchik.) The Ultra-Orthodox (Ḥaredim), by contrast, suffer from no such problem: the great rabbinic leaders of yesteryear have been replaced by a steady stream of new talent. Chaim Saiman ventures a reason for this:

Modern Orthodoxy’s ongoing failure to find its share of g’dolim . . . leads the community both to question whether it is even capable of producing g’dolim and, alternatively, whether it should continue to feel inferior to communities that routinely produce them. Inevitably, the conversation shifts to criticizing the Modern Orthodox educational system. . . .

The problem with the structure of this conversation is that it focuses almost exclusively on the supply side, while wholly neglecting the question of demand. . . . To be sure, on the supply side, anyone worthy of the title gadol must have certain baseline qualifications. But equally important is that for someone to become a gadol, . . . he must exist within a community searching for one. . . .

Thus, in the ḥaredi communities where the demand for g’dolim is high, the threshold for what constitutes a gadol is comparatively low. Soon after the passing of a reigning gadol, the best available talent is promoted. . . . Upon being crowned, the [new] gadol is addressed in the third person, and stories attesting to his greatness circulate in the subculture. Everyone stands to attention when he walks into a room, and he takes on a distinctive style of dress. These critical components . . .  have little to do with erudition or qualifications, but speak volumes about demands and expectations of what a gadol is.

[By contrast], Modern Orthodoxy will fill the position only with a Hall-of-Famer, so to speak. If there is a gadol worthy of the title, he will be treated as such, but, as many sports teams have learned, nothing ensures that Hall-of-Fame talent is available. In these situations, several trends are likely to emerge. First, the shadow of previous g’dolim is cast longer, which is why one can still find arguments about what Joseph B. Soloveitchik or, more recently, Aharon Lichtenstein (1933-2015) would have said about a given subject. Likewise, the role of authorized interpreters of these prior g’dolim becomes more important.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Aharon Lichtenstein, American Judaism, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbis, Religion & Holidays, Ultra-Orthodox


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy