Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Reinstating the Old Fashioned Torah Part 2 The Old Fashioned Torah by Joe Orlow

Guest post by Joe Orlow

What is the Old Fashioned Torah?

The key element of the Old Fashioned Torah is that it requires a Jew to think. Books such as "Obligations of the Heart" and "Path of the Upright" make this point. A Mitzvah requires the alignment of a Jew's inner and outer states. Thought and action have to coincide. For example, for someone to "pray" without understanding that they are addressing G-d, even if they say the words in a language they understand, they have accomplished nothing.

Thinking leads to the realization that the Torah requires a man to work, not for a man to mooch. The sources in the Torah that teach that everyone must work have been taught by Rabbi Dovid Eidensohn, and will only be treated briefly here. The Rambam says that a man must marry at age eighteen, and have a job and a paid up house. The Zohar says that not to have a job and paid up house and to marry puts the man into the category of a Shoteh, a strong term meaning someone who is untrustworthy due to his careless behavior. Rava, in the Talmud, encouraged his students to have business investments that would give them the income and the time to study Torah.

To be sure, it is proper at this point in history for some men to devote themselves full time to learning. But the decision that a given individual should learn full time should be made by the community in consultation with a Rav who has nothing to gain by deciding that the man should not work. The decision not to work should not be left up to the man himself, even if his wife is willing to be the sole source of income for the family; nor should the decision be made by his Rosh Yeshiva who stands to benefit from the increase in size and prestige of the Yeshiva.

The Torah World was a natural outgrowth from the great Yeshivas that taught the Old Fashioned Torah. What happened?

The Torah World got to the point of falling apart because it began demanding unthinking unquestioning obedience to Gadolim, some of whom turned out to be unworthy of their followers (please refer to the article Pseudo Gadolim appended below). The way to counter the break up of the Torah World is to teach people to think.

It is helpful to examine how unthinking became entrenched in the Torah World. Reb Chaim of Volozhin started his Yeshiva in reaction to "Enlightened" Jews disputing with Torah-true Jews as to the legitimacy of Torah observance. The Volozhiner Yeshiva emphasized pure Torah study isolated from the give-and-take of conversations with "Maskilim". Later, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch articulated arguments to counter the Reform and others. Rav Yisrael Salanter introduced the Musar Movement to Yeshivas. Still, there remained a standoffish attitude within Yeshivas, which is now becoming their downfall.

Specifically because all outside criticism is eschewed, Yeshivas lack a correction mechanism when their leaders veer away away from the Torah. They are closed to rebuke, immune to pressure. What was once a strength has become their undoing.

How can we teach people to think, the pre-requisite of an Old Fashioned Torah Yeshiva? That is the subject of Part 3.

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