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

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The Ultra-Orthodox (Ḥaredim), by contrast, suffer from no such problem: the great rabbinic leaders of yesteryear have been replaced by a steady stream of new talent.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

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law