Modern Orthodoxy Should Be a Noble Synthesis, Not a Lukewarm Compromise

Jan. 28 2022

Although he was one of the leading figures of Modern Orthodoxy in our times, the late Rabbi Norman Lamm declared in 1969 that he was “uncomfortable” with the term, but could not find a better one. And although three years later he would say of Modern Orthodoxy, “I write about it, I advocate it, I defend it, I preach it,” he would in the same breath express his “worries” about its health. Lamm, as Jeffrey Saks explains, criticized the movement both for its lack of religious zeal, on the one hand, and its insularity, on the other.

The problem, of course, identified early on by Rabbi Lamm, was that too many would-be devotees of Modern Orthodoxy gave the impression that it is a pareve form of [religious piety] instead of an ennobling synthesis. He earnestly countered, this “is not a case of ideological wimpishness.” “The main idea is that Torah must be embraced together with that which is noblest and most compatible in the prevalent culture, and that the Jew, totally committed to Torah, must utilize his spiritual powers to inhere in Torah in order to fructify and sanctify all the rest of human endeavor. . . . Whereas we in fact accept this ideology, . . . we have been too apologetic in explaining and interpreting ourselves to the outside world.”

Lamm eventually came to hold up as his ideal the Maimonidean (and Aristotelian) virtue of moderation and the pursuit of the Golden Mean, but he saw this virtue as anything but wimpish:

For Maimonides, and by extension Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Lamm, “the key to character . . . is not the mean as such, but the weighing and measuring and directing, the conscious use of reason rather than passively following nature blindly and supinely. In other words, the process of arriving at a determination of one’s own life and character is more important than the results.” . . . [Lamm] saw the ability to navigate the Maimonidean path as “the halakhic implementation of moderationism.” . . . While Rabbi Lamm reminded us that moderation is not a “mindless application of arithmetic averages,” he understood why some were tempted by that easier path of an imagined calculator crunching the numbers and pointing toward a position.

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More about: American Judaism, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Modern Orthodoxy, Norman Lamm

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship