BOOK REVIEWS - 12/No. 1/Book   BOOK REVIEWS One Man's Judaisms, by EMANUEL RACKMAN (New

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One Man's Judaisms, by EMANUEL RACKMAN (New York:Phiosophical Librar, 1970).

Reviewed byMichael Wyschogrod

In one of the essays that make

up tbis collection, Emanuel Rack-man writes as follows:

Rightly or wrongly, one Jewish so-ciologist has named me as anideologist of "modem Orthodoxy."However, one can hardly regardmodem Ortodoxy as a move-ment: it is no more than a coterieof a score of rabbis in Americaand in Israel whose interpretationsof the Tradition have won the ap-proval of Ortodox intellectualswho are knowledgeable in bothJudaism and Western civiliation.None of the rabbis feels that heis articulatig any position thatcannot be supportd by referenceto authentic Jewish sources. Nonewants to organize a separate rab-binic body, and several have re-jected an attempt to publish an in-d~pendent periodical, because theyd!~ not want the remotest possi-bility that th form of separatismbe interpreted as a schism in Or-thodoxy. .1, no les~ than tpey, denyany clar to innovation. Ourchoice of method and values inthe Tradition, our emphases, and

our concerns, may be different.But the creation or articulation ofshades and hues hardly warrantsdignifying our effort with the terms

. "ideology" or "sect." We know thatthe overwhelming majority of Or-thodox rabbis difer with us and thatthe faculties of most Orthodox dayschools and rabbinical seminariesdisapprove of some of our viewsand so instruct their pupils. It isnot our mission to have them joinour ranks. Rather do we seek tohelp Jewish intellectuals who arebeing alienated from the Traditionto realize that they can share /lcommitment to the faith which isacceptable to them and at leastas authentic as the one they havereceived from their teachers butwhich they feel impelled to re-nounce. We reject the multiplica-ton of i:0gmas and their preciseformulation. . . . Ours is a com-mitment which invites questioningand creativity in thought and prac-tice, as applied not only to theLaw but also to theology.

Noteworthy about this passage isRackman's realization that "mod-ern Orthodoxy" is a minority view~it? which "the overwhelming ma-

Jonty of Orthodox rabbis difer"whie "the faculties of most Ortho-


TRAITION: A Journal of Orthodox Thought

dox day schools and rabbinical sem-

inaries disapprove of some of ourviews and so instruct their pupils."Not so long ago the philosophy of"synthesis," a term commonly as-sociated with the ideology of Ye-shiva University, was presented asthe wave of the future, the hopeof American Judaism. Suddenly wediscover that the majority of Or-

thodox rabbis and faculties of Or-thodox day schools reject modemOrthodoxy and that its exponentsare therefore of necessity an em-

battled band surrounded by hostileforces. One can only conclude thateither the "synthesis" preached at

Yeshiva University is not quite thesame product as the modern Ortho-doxy to which Dr. Rackran refersor that events did not quite develop

as anticipated. All this demonstratesthat the condition of American Or-thodoxy requires investigation.

Orthodox Judaism in Americafalls naturally into three divisions,

each of which has its own diverstiybut which nevertheless can be iden-tified in a broad sense. There is firstthe Yiddish speaking wing of Or-

thodoxy that rejects all secular edu-cation beyond the legally prescribedminimum. A large portion of thisgroup consists of Hassidic Jewsbut it would also include such non-Hassidic centers as the LakewoodYeshiva and similar institutions.Then there is the group that Iwould associate with yeshivot suchas Torah Vodaath and ChaIm Ber-lin. Most students in thi group at-tend college though usually in theevening and with some degree ofambivilence, since secular education,while not altogether forbidden inthese circles, is not exactly encour-


aged. Then there is finally the wingof Orthodoxy centered around Ye-

shiva University. Here secular edu-cation is less ambivalently em-braced and, as noted, talk about

"synthesis" is often heard. Thereare groups, such as that of Hirsch-

ian Orthodoxy which do not easilyfit into any of the groups. But out-side of such few exceptions, most

of American Orthodoxy does fallinto these three groups.

Dr. Rackman's book is, in thefial analysis, a thoughtful defense

of what might be called "rationalOrthodoxy." He proves beyondshadow of doubt that the geniusof Judaism has been its abilty toembrace diverse points of view andits reluctance to declare herctical

even views which did not gain wide

acceptance. He shows how thegreatest names in Jewish thoughtdisagreed about some very funda-mental matters (e.g., the corporeal-ity of God) with everybody con-

cerned retaining his good standing

in the rabbinic fellowship. And heshows how Jewish law has devel-oped in response to changes in theconditions of life to which the lawwas being applied. In short, Rack-man makes amply clear that thekind of dark Judaism, a mutation

of Judaism that asks no questions

and permits no deviation from aparty line, is not, in spite of whatit claims, the real original but rath-er a modern corruption of a viablefaith which did not shrink from lifeand its challenges when its healthwas in better shape.

And yet, rational Orthodoxy, aseven Rackman admits, is on the de-fensive. It is not easy to see howthis can be documented short of

Book Reviews

a large scale invasion by question-

naire of the major institutions ofOrthodoxy, an approach which theempirical sociologist considers in-dispensable. But even in the ab-sence of such documentation onedoes get the impression that think-ing Orthodoxy is swamped in manyplaces by a less complicated prod-

uct which claims to have easy an-swers to questions and whose an-swers lack the complexity and per-

haps, to a degree, even ambiguity

which is almost always the resultof thought. Right-wing Orthodoxy

appeals to many for various rea-sons. It is uncompromising and de-mands much arid the imagiationsof many young people are movedby stringent, uncompromising de-mands. Furthermore, many thinkof Judaism in quantitative terms,reasoning that if Judaism is a goodthing, then the more of it there isthe better and the most the best.Intertwined with this is what mightbe called discount thinking: ouryoung people wil in any case sheda portion of their Judaism and itis therefore vital that there be somereserves so that even after the in-evitable discounting, enough re-main. All this produces a psychol-

ogy of safety: it is safer to send achild to a right-wing Yeshiva than

to a left-wing one; it is safer to

depend on this kashrut endorse-ment than that, etc. Seen in thislight, modern or left-wing Ortho-doxy is a risky and dubious propo-sition indeed.

I forget now whether it was Hux-ley's Brave New World or Orwell's1984 that depicts a society whose

mottos consist of such absurditiesas "Rebellon is Submission" and

"Innocence is Guilt." Whatevermay be the case in the politicalorder, in the sphere of faith thereis an inherent dialectic such that

safety is peril, certainty is ignor-

ance and defeat is victory. Thebroader ramifcations of this de-serve morc discussion than is pos-sible here, but it is not going too

far afield to point out that because

in faith Israel relates to its Godwho, while historically immanent,is also totally transcendent, there

is a constant unhinging of the hu-

man standpoint when the livingGod makes his demands. Anyfounding of Judaism which is ba-sically (in contrast to tangentially)

rooted in the wisdom of the world,in child psychology or in the prin-ciples of safety rather than in theobedience to a command which asoften as not involves embarking ona journey through a perilous desertin which there is no security, is awrong founding. Humanly speak-ing, it makes good sense, if we wishour children to retain a certain

quantity of Judaism, to endow themwith a larger quantity so thatenough remains even if some of itwears off. But because Judaism isnot only of this world, because it

is largely the gift of God to Israel,such calculations are dangerous be-cause they tend to assume success

in a worldly sense (i.e., the successin numbers of right-wing Ortho-doxy) and thereafter failure on theonly level that counts: pleasing

God.Here, of course, answers are

notoriously diffcult to come by.What is God's opinion about thisor that wing of Judaism, this or

that wing of Orthodoxy? Surely


TRITION: A Journal of Orthodox Thought

nobody knows for sure, and surelywe begin to be religiously seriousonly when tbs dawns upon us,when we discover that we are alunder God's judgment and that ofwbich we are the proudest andwbich we despise the most maynot correspond precisely to what

delights and angers God. There-fore, as fi an adherent of mod-em Orthodoxy as I consider my-self and as sharp a critic of darkOrthodoxy as I fancy myself, Imust ask also whether there issomething wrong in what modemOrthodoxy does and somethingright in the right? Without this

question, the record would be in-complete.

In the scientifc real, it is wide-

ly believed, there operates a checkon theory wbich precludes too rad-ical a loss of contact with reality.Th check consists of the "does itwork?" criterion? A theory aboutmetals which leads to a bridge thatcollapses is discredited; similarly,a medical theory which yields atherapy that produces no benefitcannot long be maintained. Is thereanything even pary approximatingsuch a reality check in the religious

domain?It seems to me that after all the