(Orthodox Religion) Bellicose and Narrow (Michael Wyschogrod)

Modern Orthodox Judaism has wrestled with the tension between halakhic norms and human-moral conscience since the late 196os. I have posted already about Aharon Lichtenstein and Gerald Blidstein. Apropos to this year’s ugly national-religious flag march last week in the Old City of Jerusalem, provocative and racist, I am adding a short bit by Michael Wyschogrod. It’s from a book review of Eugene Borowtz’s A New Jewish Theology in the Making (1968). In this 1969 review, Wyschogrod responds to Borowitz’s break with classical of Reform Judaism, with what Wyschogrod calls “orthodox” Reform Judaism. At the conclusion of the review, this critique of Orthodox Judaism comes as if out of the blue.

Orthodoxy will therefore not solve the problem of conscience by learned articles which elicit the bounds that the law imposes on conscience. A review such as this is of course not the place for a full theological consideration of this problem—and it must be theological rather than a Halakhic con sideration because a purely Halakhic consideration would beg the question. I am, however, prepared to say this: in the final analysis it comes down to what kind of hu man beings are produced. If the young people Orthodoxy produces today are bellicose and narrow, assuming airs of superiority because of a profound insecurity, unable truly to listen to those with other views because deep down they know that were they to listen they would yield, if this is indeed the typical product of Orthodox education, then we have forgotten what the Torah Jew was meant to be. When it worked, the tradition produced men who were individuals, who were not frightened, who listened and loved their fellow Jews and their fellow men. A religious tradition either produces such men loved by God or it perish” [“Reform Reformed” in Tradition, (fall 1969), p.91].

What stands out in these comments is the date of publication. Wyschogrod’s critique concerns the type of young people that Orthodox Judaism was producing, The remarks were prescient and as keen as its author, one of the great Jewish theologian-philosophers of the late twentieth century and a major figure in Christian-Jewish dialogue. Marked today by extreme expressions of anti-Palestinian racism and acts of violence, the so-called flag march through the Old City has become a national religious holiday peculiar to the nartional religious sector of Israeli society and orthdox Judaism. Secular Israelis by and large have nothing to do with this march anymore, and more or less not much to do with Jerusalem. For its part, Religious Zionism and the orthodox Judaism it represents has turned into a “bellicose and narrow” mutation “assuming airs of superiority” whose violence masks deep insecurity. What Wyschogrod’s comment reveals is that tensions around moral conscience and modern Orthodoxy are already surfacing in 1969, long before the occupation of Palestinian territories and Jewish settlements, an inherntly violent state-supported structure, became the religious norm that it has become today in modern orthodox and religious nationalist communities.

(h/t Ittai Hershman)

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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3 Responses to (Orthodox Religion) Bellicose and Narrow (Michael Wyschogrod)

  1. tzvee says:

    Do you need this reminder? Name calling is not philosophy – ugly, provocative and racist – are not analytical or philosophical terms. Surfacing in 1969? Really? Take another look at the Alenu prayer.

    • zjb says:

      rooted in tradition, these are modern or postwar articulations of the problem as raised by orthodox thinkers like Wyschogrod and others

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