Norman Lamm’s Theology of Moderation

Aug. 19 2022

In his ethical writings, Moses Maimonides puts great emphasis on the virtue of moderation—drawing in equal measures on Aristotle, rabbinic writings, and biblical wisdom literature. In recent times, the late Norman Lamm, a leading American Orthodox rabbi and the former president of Yeshiva University, spoke often about this same virtue, its importance in both public and personal conduct, and its theological implications. He even took to dubbing his preferred sub-denomination as “Centrist Orthodoxy” in a nod to the importance of the middle path. Tzvi Sinensky traces the development of Lamm’s thinking about moderation, and its relation to politics and to the interconnected virtue of civility:

[Lamm] acknowledged that some may contend that Maimonides’ middle path is limited only to individual character, [rather than public life]. Yet he rejected this view on the basis of a number of arguments. First, prima facie there is no reason to distinguish between the private and public levels; if anything, mass extremism is more dangerous than its individual counterpart. Second, Maimonides’ own approach to matters of public policy, such as his tolerant attitude toward the Karaites, was characterized by precisely the sort of levelheaded balance Rabbi Lamm advocated. Third, Lamm noted that one of Maimonides’ biblical sources for the Golden Mean was drawn from Abraham’s path of righteousness and justice (ts’dakah u-mishpat), which the Torah connects with his advocacy on behalf of the people of Sodom; thus, the very source for following the middle path is drawn from a scenario of public policy!

In 1989, Lamm dedicated a full essay to the theme of Centrist Orthodox and moderation, or what he now preferred to call “moderationism.” Pushing back firmly against those who misconstrued the idea as a sorry compromise, Lamm argued that it was anything but—and that, in fact, the dynamic act of weighing what was made such judiciousness “the way of the Lord.” Lamm cited his mentor Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s interpretation that Maimonides was not simple-mindedly requiring one to fall in the middle in each individual scenario, but rather over the course of one’s life.

As Lamm summarized the point, “The key to character for Maimonides is not the mean as such, but this weighing and measuring and directing, the conscious use of reason rather than passively following Nature blindly and supinely. . . . The process of arriving at a determination of one’s own life and character is more important than the results.”

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Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, Moses Maimonides

How the Death of Mahsa Amini Changed Iran—and Its Western Apologists

Sept. 28 2022

On September 16, a twenty-two-year-old named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for improperly wearing a hijab. Her death in custody three days later, evidently after being severely beaten, sparked waves of intense protests throughout the country. Since then, the Iranian authorities have killed dozens more in trying to quell the unrest. Nervana Mahmoud comments on how Amini’s death has been felt inside and outside of the Islamic Republic:

[I]n Western countries, the glamorizing of the hijab has been going on for decades. Even Playboy magazine published an article about the first “hijabi” news anchor in American TV history. Meanwhile, questioning the hijab’s authenticity and enforcement has been framed as “Islamophobia.” . . . But the death of Mahsa Amini has changed everything.

Commentators who downplayed the impact of enforced hijab have changed their tune. [Last week], CNN’s Christiane Amanpour declined an interview with the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, and the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s notorious morality police and senior officials for the violence carried out against protesters and for the death of Mahsa Amini.

The visual impact of the scenes in Iran has extended to the Arab world too. Arabic media outlets have felt the winds of change. The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protests in Iran are now top headlines, with Arab audiences watching daily as Iranian women from all age groups remove their hijabs and challenge the regime policy.

Iranian women are making history. They are teaching the world—including the Muslim world—about the glaring difference between opting to wear the hijab and being forced to wear it, whether by law or due to social pressure and mental bullying. Finally, non-hijabi women are not afraid to defy, proudly, their Islamist oppressors.

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Read more at Nervana

More about: Arab World, Iran, Women in Islam