Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Modern Orthodoxy and the Mesillas Yesharim

I have recently been wondering whether Modern/Centrist Orthodox folks get Chizuk for their approach to Yiddishkeit when they read through the Mesillas Yesharim. The way I see it, they do not even get up the first rung without encountering some serious problems with their attitudes.

I mean, let us take the Middah of Zehirus - the Middah of paying close attention to his actions and attitudes, and ascertaining whether they are in conformity with Halachah. The Mesillas Yesharim, in the fifth Perek, discusses three things which distance a person from this Middah and destroy his spiritual ascent. They are:

1) Being busy with the matters of Olam Hazeh
2) Fun-poking and mockery of Torah related issues
3) Social interaction with fools and sinners

Now, Charedi society, as a matter of course and ideology, does its utmost to distance itself from these Mafsidim, these destroyers, of the Middah of Zehirus. They exit the rat race of America, stage left, they abhor mockers of Torah, and socially interact with like-minded people. On the other hand, Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy, as a matter of course and ideology, embrace being a full participant in Western society and culture.

So, a youth who goes to a Modern Orthodox High School, where (the more serious) students get caught up in the pressures and demands of attending a good college, which is one of the precepts of Centrist/Modern Orthodoxy - that a student must be given the opportunity to attend the ivy leagues, runs a FAR higher risk of, during some of his most impressionable years, being completely unreceptive to a message of the primacy of spiritual pursuits. The tactic of Par'oh - Tichbad HaAvodah Al HaAnashim - described by the Mesillas Yesharim as a favorite stratagem of the Yetzer HaRa, is institutionalized and ingrained in the Talmid from the get-go.

Let the Modern Orthodox not fool themselves into thinking that the secular studies curriculum is geared toward an appreciation of Madda as a pursuit of enhacement of understanding of Torah or of Hashem's wisdom in Creation. Evolution is taught by Apikorsim, which is an out-and-out prohibition Min HaTorah. (Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that one must rip the pages out of a science book that deal with matters that deny Creation. I do not think that there is one Modern Orthodox school in America that would follow this imperative. In fact, ripping pages out of a book is quite the anathema to Modern Orthodoxy). The curriculum is guided by what is required for acceptance to college. Period.

Speakers who mock the Torah and her values are consistently invited into the homes of the Modern Orthodox. Not in the flesh, but through the thoroughly corrupt medium of television.

As a small example, the mainstream media is full of a constant drip-dripping of the idea that one of the greatest evils of politics is to have policies guided by one's religious beliefs. This is one of the most pervasive sources of criticism, and ridicule, of President Bush. Yet, this attitude is utterly abhorrent to the Torah Jew, who is absolutely enjoined to have his policies, yes, on a national level as well, be influenced and driven by the values of the Torah.

Naturally, the fare on the entertainment oriented shows on television are hardly conducive to building a sanctuary, a Makom Torah, out of one's home.

Now, certainly, not everyone who self-identifies as Modern Orthodox has a television. But it is completely acceptable in Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy to own and watch television.

Worse, let us take a look at one of the prominent bastions of Modern Orthodoxy in America, the Young Israel shuls. Here (follow the link) is a description of the emotions which recently suffused the congregants in one of the most prominent Shuls on the West Coast.

An excerpt (the bold is my own):

While many synagogues around the country offer adult education programs and brochures, Young Israel of Century City is one of the few to package it in a humorous, stylized brochure. Last year the brochure was designed as a National Geographic magazine. Past themes have included the National Enquirer, a museum tour, and "soul food," featuring a diner design.

"We felt that if you package your program in a sophisticated fashion people will pay attention," said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, who instituted the catchy brochures in the first years of his arrival, some 22 years ago. Not only do congregants anticipate the unveiling of the brochure (at Kol Nidre), (!!!) but Muskin gets requests nationwide from other rabbis who are inspired by his design and by his programming.

My dear readers, this is the epitome of the S'chok V'Latzon which the Mesillas Yesharim is talking about. Congregants walk into Shul on the most somber night of the year, ready to beg for their lives, to be inspired, to awaken from their spiritual slumber, and what is front and center on their minds? What is the design of the program this year! Ooh, the NATIONAL ENQUIRER. "Brad caught cheating on Jen?"

And this abomination (there is no other word that can adequately express my disgust at this), garners calls from other Rabbis nationwide who are "inspired" by his design!

One can read 100 Machzorim of the Rav, and have his Yom Kippur, and his year, and his Din, destroyed by this debasing of the Torah.

The social interaction with sinners and fools is one of the great banes of (the primarily modern) Orthodox blogs. All ideas are given voice - with the most biting sarcasm or most acerbic wit earning the heartiest applause of the bloggers. The great Kavod which is given to people like Gadol Hador, who is a Meisis in every sense of the word, for his ability to mock and poke fun (there is no question that if not for his ability as a writer to put-down and belittle, his "quest for truth" would be paid very little attention), is probably a violation of the Mitzvah to hate an inciter.

Torah policies are NOT the domain of any two-bit guy with a keyboard. They are the responsibility of the great experts of Torah of the generation, and belittling those who are thoroughly steeped in decades upon decades of uninterrupted mastery of Torah and granted Siyata D'Shmaya in their decisions is sheer folly.

Too many Modern Orthodox people have to endure their share of mockers, who are ready to criticize any attempt at achieving higher levels of spirituality which are taken as a withdrawal from society. The social pressure to NOT excel is pervasive. You took the TV out of your house!? What kind of a frummock are you? You stopped going to movies? For shame! You won't even take the kids to "Finding Nemo"!? (Which is a movie with a horrible message, but that is for another post).

Before you know it you'll be taking a shower with your black hat on!

They claim to be adherents of the Rambam's approach of the Sh'vil HaZahav. But they forget that the very same Rambam says that if the environment is one which is antagonistic toward Torah must run to the deserts, since it is the nature of man to be drawn after the environment. Yes, he should CUT HIMSELF OFF from that society. Anyone who fails to see that the entertainment industry is full of values antithetical to Torah has certainly not read a Mussar Sefer in the recent past.

If the Modern/Centrist Orthodox world is going to advocate walking that fine a line of full participation in Western culture, while avoiding their social milieu and their mockery, you would expect that there would be a long list of Mussar Sefarim and prominent Mashgichim and Baalei Mussar warning incessantly of the very real dangers that lurk in these interactions! Yet, not only is this list non-existent, but, for the most part, what you hear is that the risk of losing one's Emunah, or cooling it off, is worth the benefit of this interaction, or the risks are pooh-poohed as the figment of the imagination of some fanatic band of paranoid freakazoids with long beards.

Modern/Centrist Orthodoxy clearly doth not begin to tread the Path of the Just.



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