We are not “Modern Orthodox”

Question: It is argued that the religious are not modern, do not keep up with the times, hold on to something old-fashioned and are unwilling to give it up. Is this so?

Answer: We are certainly modern, but we are not “Modern Orthodox.”  We are modern. We love science and technology. We know that they are vital for the building of our state. We are happy about every advance that takes place in society. We give thanks to G-d day and night for all of the innovations that the times bring: a state and an army, the return to Zion and the building up of the Land, agriculture and industry. We know that in all of these, G-d’s hand is at work.

Yet when it comes to faith and mitzvot, we feel no need to be amongst the innovators. Quite the contrary, we view with pride our taking the “old” path paved by Avraham and Moshe, our imbibing the ancient wine, carefully preserved. We have no pretenses or ambitions about reaching higher than Avraham. We see no need for any additions to the blessing received by Avraham’s seed, in which they were called “G-d’s beloved” (Yeshayahu 41:8). Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes, “The essence of Jewish life is summed up entirely in G-d’s loving Israel. This trait is an accepted fact, without any need for further investigation or argument” (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah, vol. 1 p. 43).

We learn from elderly rabbis, who themselves learned from elderly rabbis, going all the way back to Moshe. We fill ourselves with the old, and out of the great quantity of old that we learn, we attain solutions for the new. Rashi comments on Devarim 11:13, “If you hearken to the old, you will [more easily find answers] to the new.” In religious matters, every new thing arouses suspicion and requires precise examination. If it passes the test, it will be accepted with love. And what is the test? Clarification that the new thing is really old, and perhaps something old that has been forgotten. We undertake the yoke of Heaven to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land, of building up and consolidating the state and the country. All of these are old things which have been postponed throughout our Exile, and now they are being reawoken thanks to G-d’s kindness.

In his speech at the Inauguration of Hebrew University, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook made a fundamental distinction, saying that we may accept science from the Western World, but not its spirit. Quite the contrary, the spiritual must spread from here towards the West (Ma’amarei Ha-Re’eiyah, p. 306). G-d’s word which comes to us from the Torah and the prophets, by far transcends all the thoughts of western man. Obviously, we can probably find sparks of goodness in the West which we would be able to accept. As our Sages said, we have to learn from the reputable practices of the nations (Sanhedrin 39b). Yet under what conditions is this so? We must not add to the Torah what it does not contain, G-d forbid. Rather, we may avail ourselves of the style of the Western World in order to be able to explain rationally to those who need such explanations, a minuscule bit of the great light that has come down to us through prophecy (Agadot Ha-Re’eiyah, ibid.).

Yet we are not students of western culture, and we must not force the Torah to disguise itself in western garb in order to receive a western stamp of approval. We certainly must not strive to make Jewish law fit the spirit of western thought. We are modern, but not “Modern Orthodox.” We are faithful students of Moshe.