Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More on Noah Feldman and the Modern Orthodox World

Harvard law professor Noah Feldman's NY Times Magazine article is certainly attracting a lot of attention in the Blogosphere. Perhaps what is most brilliant about his piece is that it was not purely a rant about how his Modern Orthodox high school air brushed him and his non-Jewish girlfriend out of a group photo at his ten-year reunion several years ago. Rather, it is an informative, intelligent opinion piece about religion and our country. It is one of the most coherent articles on the tension between secularism and religion.

Feldman contrasts the public's reaction to an Orthodox Jew's campaign for the vice-presidency (Joe Lieberman) to a Mormon's campaign for President (Mitt Romney) and the first Muslim's successful bid for Congress (Keith Ellison). He moves from Baruch Spinoza to Maimonides to Moshe Feinstein. Feldman also looks at the murderous acts of Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir.

Instead of ranting and raving about his beef with his former high school, Feldman poetically explains the tension he felt at the Maimonides School between the traditional world and the modern world (Torah U'Mada).
[T]he Maimonides School, by juxtaposing traditional and secular curricula, gave me a feeling of being connected to the broader world. Line by line we burrowed into the old texts in their original Hebrew and Aramaic. The poetry of the Prophets sang in our ears. After years of this, I found I could recite the better part of the Hebrew Bible from memory. Among other things, this meant that when I encountered the writings of the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, I felt immediate kinship. They read those same exact texts again and again — often in Hebrew — searching for clues about their own errand into the American wilderness.
At the beginning of his section entitled "Difference and Reconciliation," he writes:
I have spent much of my own professional life focusing on the predicament of faith communities that strive to be modern while simultaneously cleaving to tradition. Consider the situation of those Christian evangelicals who want to participate actively in mainstream politics yet are committed to a biblical literalism that leads them to oppose stem-cell research and advocate intelligent design in the classroom. To some secularists, the evangelicals’ predicament seems absurd and their political movement dangerously anti-intellectual. As it happens, I favor financing stem-cell research and oppose the teaching of intelligent design or creationism as a “scientific” doctrine in public schools. Yet I nonetheless feel some sympathy for the evangelicals’ sure-to-fail attempts to stand in the way of the progress of science, and not just because I respect their concern that we consider the ethical implications of our technological prowess.
At, Joey Kurtzman interviewed Noah Feldman about his "Orthodox Paradox" article. Kurtzman writes that Feldman's article "is a shanda fer da goyim, a skewed and distasteful takedown that invites non-Jews to gawk at the internal problems of a modern Orthodox Jewish community. Or maybe it's a poignant and brave discussion of the challenges of bringing a traditional faith into modern life, written by a man who cherishes his people. Either way, it's kicked up a storm of impassioned chatter throughout the interweb, where you can find both these judgments and many more."

The interview can be accessed here.

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