Noah Feldman’s “Orthodox Paradox” may be influencing people, but it’s not making him many friends.
In today’s issue of The (New York) Jewish Week, Editor and Publisher Gary Rosenblatt, probably the most respected Jewish journalist in America, picks apart Feldman’s essay with his typical mix of respectfulness and incisive logic. One of the things that I’ve found fascinating in Modern Orthodox readers’ response to his essay is how much “pain” they see in his essay, which to me, seems a fairly rational, dispassionate look into some problematic aspects of the Modern Orthodox approach to the world. A Modern Orthodox person I work with said it was full of “pain,” while Rosenblatt calls it “a long and bitter complaint.”
Rosenblatt goes on to call Feldman’s essay “intellectually dishonest” and calls Feldman “unfair” for “expecting to be lauded by a community whose values he has rejected.” It’s interesting that Rosenblatt reads into Feldman’s essay a desire to be lauded; at no point does Feldman ask to be lauded, nor does he gloat over his truly impressive personal achievements. All he appears to be asking for is acknowledgment of the existence of his marriage and children. Getting a one-sentence mention in an alumni newsletter is a far cry from expecting community plaudits.
Rosenblatt is also disturbed by his discussion of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yaghil Amir and Baruch Goldstein, the American-born fanatic who massacred 29 Arabs in Hebron in 1994. As uncomfortable as this may make Rosenblatt, at no point does Rosenblatt refute any of his arguments for the complicity of Torah teachings on factual grounds; he’s more disturbed by a perceived lack of balance, quoting a rabbi who calls Feldman’s argument, “That’s like judging the peacock by its feces.” But, it is commonly accepted, especially in the Jewish world, to argue for a reform in Islam based on the violent and despicable actions of a tiny minority of Muslims. Why should we put Islam’s feces under the microscope but not ours?
Nonetheless, Rosenblatt does see that Feldman’s essay is a wake-up call for the Modern Orthodox community and its response to its ostracized intermarried members. My question is: will they be too busy pressing the snooze button to hear it?
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