The reaction to the Slifkin ban was almost immediate and ranged from sedate to passionate. Never before in the past 40 years have we seen so much feeling and emotion, on such a scale, around a single issue and it is, of course, the phenomena of the 'blog' that facilitated it. As a blogger pointed out, once the rabbis began to resort to writing pamphlets to support disputed positions, they abdicated their place as sole arbiters of Torah truth and put the power of judging in the hands of the laymen. Boy, did the laymen go for at it?!
It may be productive to try to understand why such anger was provoked by what might appear to be an abstruse purely theological issue. I believe that it is due primarily to three factors:
1.The increasing prominence of the Baalei Teshuvah in Orthodox Jewish life. Many BT's are serious thinkers who never fully stopped grappling with the issues of acceptance: do I belong, did I make a mistake, is it all a mirage, would I do it again? Remember - a BT did not usually grow up with the sights, smells, and images of religious life and, if what we see in childhood remains our unconscious standard, BT's often deal with the sense of not belonging, of "not normal" almost daily throughput their life and career. The sense of alienation and the fear of betrayal is never far from the awareness of many BT's. For many of us, faith remains a difficult balancing act and compromise positions like the ones that Slifkin promoted, are the only thin line between me and the abyss. There are compromises with one's moral sense, with one's perception of the absurd, with one's sensation of 'self and other', family and community. Religiously speaking,many BT's are in the state of inner tension. On the outside, they may look fully integrated but on the inside the battle for belonging rages.
This is, of course, an oversimplification of a complex phenomenon, but worth pointing out.
Look what happened! "A group of bearded, unappealing rabbis proclaimed one of our won to be a heretic. By extension, they rejected ME, after all that I had done, after everything that I went through. To add insult to injury, they negated my importance, dismissed all my sacrifices and declared that in which I believe to be of no worth." The anger followed.
2. The maskilim. There are many frum Jews who are maskilim, in the sense that the values of Haskala are their values. We must remember that while Chareidi ideology barely survived, the Haskalah won. Haskalah had a right wing, fully Orthodox G-d fearing scholars who would never compromise one iota of religious observance. That is who we are now - right wing maskilim. We speak English, dress in the modern fashion and study secular subjects, at least through high school. The divide between the right wing of Haskala and its Chareidi detractors had never been bridged; it is just that the opponents of Haskala renamed the situations that they were willing to tolerate, so that they may survive. Now they are stronger and are reopening hostilities. The Slifkin ban violated the tacit truce and upset the delicate balance, and old wounds are now opened again.
3. The intellectuals. As always this group represents the smallest group numerically but is prominent on the scene out of proportion to their true numbers. These are the professors, doctors and lawyers, people who know how to write and how to win an argument. Some of them fall into the other two groups, others were genuinely perturbed by the anti-intellectualism emanating from the opponents. They also made their voice heard.
As a result, a vocal, intellectually equipped and highly motivated opposition to the Chareidi viewpoint and its leadership emerged out of the shadows - surprising and discomfiting the leadership that never saw it coming. Their response in the next installment.