Commentary

Compartmentalization and Synthesis in Modern Orthodox Jewish Education

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David Stein

“The great problem of modern American Orthodoxy,” wrote Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm in the May-June 1969 edition of Jewish Life magazine, “is that it has failed to interpret itself to itself.”[1] Rabbi Lamm’s critique of the young movement was scathing – he pointed to “a remarkable intellectual timidity” as the root cause of its struggle to find its ideological voice. Yet he also suggested a powerful antidote, arguing that Modern Orthodoxy must articulate a worldview “that is halakhically legitimate, philosophically persuasive, religiously inspiring, and personally convincing” in order to survive.

In many ways, however, Rabbi Lamm’s challenge was never sufficiently addressed. By 1982, David Singer would lament that “Modern Orthodoxy did not fail – it never happened.”[2] Indeed, as Charles Liebman first described it in 1976,[3] American Jews were increasingly exhibiting a phenomenon described as “compartmentalization,” an orientation defined by “a marked decrease in the centrality of traditional religious values and way of life.”[4] In a word, instead of a sweeping, integrated, and inspired religious experience, sociologists were quickly finding that Modern Orthodoxy, in practice, was defined by deep segregation between the modern world and Jewish tradition. Judaism was reserved for Shabbat and the shul, while the boardroom or courthouse were the places that the kippah came off. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, himself one of the most powerful champions of an integrated religious worldview, lamented the contemporary state of Orthodoxy in a public lecture first published in 2003, quoting the haunting words of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: “the center cannot hold.”[5]

The challenges facing Modern Orthodoxy can also be seen in recent demographic data. Indeed, despite the findings of the 2013-2014 Jewish Day School Census, which demonstrated that enrollment within Modern Orthodox day schools has remained roughly constant over the past 15 years,[6] the 2013 Pew study showed that Modern Orthodoxy is facing a dramatic demographic decline: while 43% of Orthodox Jews aged 50–64 consider themselves to be Modern Orthodox, only 9% of those aged 18–29 similarly identified with Modern Orthodoxy. The challenge facing Modern Orthodoxy, then, is not just an abstract sociological question – it is an educational one as well: our students are rejecting the values we seek to instill within them.[7] As Moshe Krakowski has recently pointed out, religious schools serve “simultaneously as educational institutions and as religious socializing agencies.” In other words, we teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and our schools are the vehicles for inculcating our communal values and ideological worldview.[8] As Krakowski notes,

the ways in which students come to understand their own religious identities within these schools is central to the communal crisis modern Orthodoxy is facing…instead of pursuing a robust modern-Orthodox identity, many students have chosen to become either ultra-Orthodox or non-Orthodox.[9]

Make no mistake about it: if Modern Orthodox day school education does not sufficiently foster deeply integrated Modern Orthodox identities among its students – encoding, as Krakowski put it, “the norms and patterns of engagement in society” – then our schools will cease to be relevant, especially in a world of rising tuition costs.[10] This paper will examine how we instill and inspire Modern Orthodox identities within our students by analyzing three separate facets of the school system that serve to communicate our values: the structure of the school itself, the curriculum taught in the school, and the pedagogies employed by its teachers. Along the way, I seek to identify the factors within schools that reinforce the reality of compartmentalization, while also highlighting initiatives that may allow for a more integrated religious educational experience within Modern Orthodox day schools. To paraphrase Rabbi Lamm, I hope to both understand and suggest improvements to the way we “explain ourselves to ourselves.”

Structural Challenges

Modern Orthodoxy is a worldview that encompasses intellectual, social, spiritual, cultural, and professional dimensions, and which recognizes that there exist multiple – and competing – values in our world, all while upholding the primacy of Torah learning and observance. All too often, however, it gets reduced (at worst) to an ideology of compromise, or (at best) a superficial pairing of general and Judaic studies. Educationally, then, we’re charged with identifying the values in our world and in our tradition, articulating ways in which they can be balanced, highlighting the relationships between them, and helping our students apply them to our lived spiritual and human experiences. Yet the barriers to doing so are extensive, and begin within the communal and institutional structures of the Modern Orthodox day school system itself. As early as 1986, Jack Bieler argued that “The modern Orthodox school itself is undermining rather than supporting the religious outlook that it should be encouraging within its student body.”[11] Samuel Heilman, in his landmark 2006 study of the American Jewish Orthodox community, describes several factors that have contributed to this reality.[12] First, he notes that with increasing professional specialization and training in fields of medicine, law, and business, Modern Orthodox parents find themselves without the religious training or free time to be actively engaged in the education of their children. As Heilman puts it, “The school had hoped not to replace the family and community, but in practice in the modern world it did.”[13] This growing divide between the roles of parents and teachers – indeed, between school and home – means that students’ lived communal and familial experiences develop separately from their educational encounters; they often learn one thing at school and then see something very different at home. To make matters worse, the very teachers that students engage with at school are often at odds with the core values that Modern Orthodoxy espouses. This reality creates significant additional barriers to communicating a Modern Orthodox worldview within our schools, as Heilman further notes that

the teachers in their schools and many rabbis did not share their values and remained unprepared to endorse the modern orthodox life trajectory even tacitly… the teachers often did not share the same neighborhoods and certainly not the same community as the families of the students they taught.[14]

Indeed, identifying, recruiting, and hiring Modern Orthodox faculty role models (especially for limmudei kodesh classes) is a such a daunting task that Heilman estimates that by 2003 up to two-thirds of Judaic studies teachers in schools were Haredi. At the very outset, then, the school system itself often suffers from a failure to align its educational prerogatives and professional staff with the families and communities that it serves. While it may be that some parents may prefer the Haredization of school faculty as a correction for perceived deficiencies of Modern Orthodoxy, it goes without saying that such a perspective would point to a complete breakdown of our educational mission and ideological platform. Faced with this disconnect between faculty, parents, and school, then, it is no wonder that students struggle to identify with the religious values and philosophical worldview that we seek to inspire within them.

Furthermore, Bieler has also noted that the seemingly rote questions of scheduling classroom hours within schools can communicate an institution’s stance towards integration.[15] Indeed, scholars of educational culture have described the bell schedule as one of the most powerful cultural features of a school, determining where students should be and what they should be doing at all times.[16] It should be unsurprising, then, that in many of our schools where Judaic studies are exclusively taught in the morning, with general studies classes meeting in the afternoon, students can easily begin to compartmentalize the disparate classrooms that they occupy without identifying relationships or connections between them. These types of organizational structures are so powerful, in fact, that several meta-analyses of educational research have found that a school’s culture, values, and systems are often the most powerful determinants of student outcomes.[17] In essence, researchers have shown that actions speak at least as loud as words, and so while a school’s mission statement may preach the values of Modern Orthodoxy, if everything from role models to class schedule – as well as field trips, assemblies, outside speakers, school policies, and even the posters in the hallways – doesn’t also reflect our ideological values, then we implicitly send a powerful message about where our priorities really lie.

Strategies to address these structural issues within our schools are both obvious and frighteningly difficult to implement. On the one hand, it should go without saying that hiring teachers who are ideologically aligned with the mission and values of a school would make an enormous impact on the school’s ability to communicate its values. Yet actually doing so is not so simple. In a recent personal conversation, the Dean of the Azrieli Graduate School for Jewish Education at Yeshiva University reported that out of a yearly class of thirty-five Master’s degree students at the school, many candidates are already employed as teachers.[18] The efforts of this program to bring new educators into the field while also providing growth opportunities for current teachers are undoubtedly essential to our schools. At the same time, however, there is simply no way that we are meeting the demand for qualified Jewish educators in our schools – even with an optimistic estimate of total graduates entering the field from other institutions as well. The reasons for this are obviously complicated, but economics are one starting point: unless we pay more for our teachers, we’re less likely to attract top talent to Jewish education.

Two promising initiatives – adult education programs and scheduling changes aimed at reducing compartmentalization – may be somewhat easier to achieve but also require extensive effort, planning, and investment. At Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, for example, the Shalhevet Institute was established as a center for learning, conversation, and scholarship for the entire community, and it has helped transform the school into a driver of ideas and education for parents and adults, thereby bridging the gap between school and community. The Shalhevet Institute’s programs – courses for parents built around content that the school’s students are studying, Shabbatonim designed to allow community members to engage in immersive learning, and scholars in residence who communicate the school’s mission and generate dialogue within the community – are all designed to connect parents to the ideas and values that the school seeks to instill within its students. Recently, SAR High School established Machon Siach, a project that seeks to foster “collaboration among the school, community, alumni, and parents while engaging in research around crucial issues affecting Jewish education.”[19] Taken together, these initiatives point to a growing recognition that in order to effectively communicate its values, the school must leverage its resources to engage both students as well as adults throughout the community.

Scheduling changes to the school day offer another opportunity to achieve integration within our educational institutions. While there may be many logistical or personnel factors that shape a school’s scheduling decisions, growing adoption of block scheduling systems at Modern Orthodox day schools offers important opportunities for reducing compartmentalization. Under these systems, which allow for classes to meet for longer periods on a rotating basis (i.e., each class does not meet every day), students alternate between their science, Talmud, literature, Tanakh, or math courses, helping to facilitate maximal cross-pollination and connection between seemingly disparate fields.

The Written Curriculum

It also matters what students actually learn in their classrooms. We must ask ourselves, then: what does a Modern Orthodox curriculum actually look like, and how should it be taught? Should Modern Orthodox Torah learning aim to be essentially identical to what is being studied in the yeshivot of Bnei Brak – with the only difference being that we also value the science laboratories or literature classroom – or must we chart out new curricular approaches to communicate our values?

Several authors have made important contributions to the question of what a Modern Orthodox curriculum should look like. Among them, Alex Pomson has argued that the problem of compartmentalization can be traced back to the challenges (and failures) of developing “integrated” curricula.[20] Building off of the work of Robin Fogarty,[21] Pomson proposes that curriculum integration – by which he means weaving together multiple disciplines (or “multiple experiences within a single discipline”) in order to construct knowledge – can allow students to “make connections within and across” a particular discipline.[22] For example, Pomson suggests that a study of the laws of mishloah manot can be combined with a project to deliver food packages to a local nursing home – requiring students to calculate and plan a budget and consult with elderly caregivers, while demonstrating mastery of the rules and regulations behind mishloah manot. Similarly, Pomson proposes that the study of Megillat Ruth in a Tanakh class can allow for integration with several other disciplines by engaging the Drama department in a musical production of the story, the English department in script writing, the History department in studying the role of minorities within society, and the Literature department in reading similar stories about outsiders or converts. For Pomson, then, integration of disciplines around shared ideas or themes can allow for a Modern Orthodox school to escape the trap of compartmentalization by creating meaningful connections across Judaic and general studies.

In a similar vein, Moshe Krakowski proposed using problem- (or project-) based learning (PBL) in Modern Orthodox schools in order to “build connections between abstract Jewish text based legal codes and everyday Jewish practices,”[23] and a related effort has been spearheaded by Tikvah Wiener at the newly founded Idea School in North Jersey. There’s obvious value in these approaches: by empowering students to connect ideas and values across disciplines while harnessing the creativity and engagement of these project-based pedagogies, we can reduce compartmentalization by ensuring that Judaic studies are not relegated to the sidelines of students’ educational experiences.[24] Along the way, a powerful model for Modern Orthodoxy can be constructed echoing Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein’s assertion that “the final word” on the synthesis between Torah and general knowledge “is with integration and harmony.”[25]

However, beyond the value of integrating disciplines within the PBL model, two important questions must be raised as we chart out a Modern Orthodox curriculum. First, we must consider the question of the limmudei kodesh curriculum itself: what should the study of Judaic texts look like? What skills or dispositions should be developed? What topics should be included in the curriculum? Should a school focus on Jewish holidays? Everyday rituals and regulations? Talmudic case law? Before embarking on the path of synthesis and integration with other disciplines, then, we must first consider what Modern Orthodox students should actually be learning in their Judaic studies courses in the first place. And here Michael Rosenak has identified an additional question for our consideration.[26] As opposed to Rav Lichtenstein’s thesis of integration and synthesis, Rosenak has suggested that the hallmark of a Modern Orthodox curriculum should instead be defined by “dichotomies and tensions” – echoing the complex and multivariate nature of the world around us.[27]

What would such a curriculum look like? Truth be told, dynamic tension is almost definitional to Jewish law and tradition. As Rav Lichtenstein has written elsewhere, to open and learn a page of Talmud is

to gain access to a world in ferment. It is to enter a pulsating bet midrash, studded with live protagonists; to be caught up, initially as witness and subsequently as participant, in a drama of contrapuntal challenge and response, of dialectic thrust and parry; to be stimulated by the tension of creative impulse.[28]

Yet our students don’t generally experience the majesty of this encounter with Torah learning. Instead, all too often, students feel disengaged from their limmudei kodesh classes in our schools, reinforcing the reality of compartmentalization by relegating Talmud study to the sidelines of their interests and focus – an ancient and arcane discipline that simply does not relate to the world around us. Simply put, if students don’t value or are not motivated to engage in Torah study, then there is nothing to “integrate” with their secular subjects and cultural experiences to begin with. And while conclusive data on the subject is limited, the data we do have certainly isn’t positive. A 1991 study in Israel found that gemara was the least favorite class among Israeli students, while a 2009 dissertation by Aaron Ross found that motivation to study Talmud depended largely upon students’ general academic motivation as well as their relationships with their teachers.[29] Taken together, these studies suggest that gemara learning is often of little intrinsic interest to our students, a reality which – if true – is an existential threat to integration. Reversing this trend and reigniting student interest in limmudei kodesh is therefore essential to any efforts toward reducing compartmentalization within the Modern Orthodox community and building recognition within our students of the ways in which Jewish learning can inform our engagement with the world.

In order to tackle the need for a curriculum that effectively communicates the values that we’re trying to instill within our students, Noam Weissman and I created LaHaV, a limmudei kodesh curriculum project that provides content and training for schools and educators across the world. At its core, the goal of LaHaV is to reframe Torah learning for students in our schools along the lines envisioned by Rosenak, and so the curriculum itself is designed to focus on the dynamic tensions within our tradition. How, for example, does halakhah balance between the will of the majority and the needs of the minority? The Mishnah in Eduyot 1:5 – which establishes the legal norm of recording minority opinions along with those of the majority, along with the famous narrative of Berakhot 27b – where Rabban Gamliel is removed from his leadership of the Sanhedrin after humiliating Rabbi Yehoshua over a halakhic dispute – highlight this tension and articulate potential solutions that should be included in a Modern Orthodox curriculum. What about fostering both unity and diversity within our communities? Here again, our tradition grapples with this fundamental question, as in the gemarot in Eiruvin 13b, Hagiga 3b, and Rosh Hashanah 25a. Should halahkah be guided by looking to previous generations (an approach championed by R. Yosef Karo in his introduction to Beit Yosef), or should it be decided based on communal norms of the current generation (as advocated for by R. Moshe Isserles in Darkhei Moshe)? Our Sages recognized similar creative dialectic between the role of the people and the Rabbis within halakhah (Pesahim 50b, Avodah Zarah 36a), as well as the ways in which individual needs may override halakhic norms, such as the role of kavod ha-beriyot (human dignity – Berakhot 19b), makom tzarah (sickness or pain – Ketubot 60b), and makom mitzvah (performance of a mitzvahPesahim 66b) in allowing for leniency within halakhah.

Yet the ways in which Hazal balanced competing values within a complex world aren’t always apparent to the casual student of Talmud – the discipline isn’t organized around these issues, and so we’ve spent years researching and selecting Talmudic sugyot to weave together into a fully structured and spiralled curriculum. In these cases and many more, we’ve attempted to identify areas of dynamic tension within our tradition, and to use these tensions to engage our students in deep and sophisticated learning that communicates the complex system of conflicting priorities that Hazal attempted to balance. Today, we’re working with schools across the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Israel – and while our curriculum is certainly not the right fit for every school out there, I’ve argued previously at the Lehrhaus that any responsible approach to Jewish learning for our students must focus on deliberately and consciously engaging students with the competing values that can be found behind any Talmudic sugya.

Dialogue

Articulating a compelling Modern Orthodox worldview, however, isn’t just a question of who is doing the teaching or how the curriculum is defined. Modern Orthodox education is also about how we teach – and what we’re willing to talk about with our students. If Modern Orthodoxy is an orientation that recognizes that the world is filled with competing values that coexist with the primacy of Torah learning and observance, then these values must always be in conversation with one another. In the final analysis, then, we must ask ourselves how to facilitate these conversations. Do we talk with our students about the moral, religious, spiritual, and political conflicts that we encounter in our lives and our communities – or do we simply reduce these conflicts to easy choices shaded in hues of black and white? On this issue, Devra Lehmann has highlighted the ways in which the classroom discourse within Jewish schools can create cultural barriers to integration as well. Lehmann analyzed the basic norms of speech and interaction that govern the discourse of general studies and Judaics classrooms – and here she found a stark difference between the two. She describes that in the classrooms she observed,

English teachers wanted to develop independent readers who could make sense of the text on their own, who could find ways to support their own views even when they encountered the critical tradition, and who could feel free to express their views in assertive or even strident ways…humash teachers, on the other hand, wanted above all to develop Jews who were committed to their tradition. This commitment entailed not only knowledge of the tradition, but also a sense of one’s own smallness in relation to its wisdom and authority.[30]

As one student put it in an interview, “in secular classes you get to think, but in Jewish studies classes you just spit back whatever they tell you.”[31] Lehmann’s work therefore suggests that compartmentalization is not just a function of curricular content or communal integration within our schools. Rather, Lehmann argues that on a much deeper level, the very nature of our classroom discourse influences the ways in which students relate to the course material – and that there exist serious differences here between Judaic and general studies classrooms. To the extent that students get to think, explore, or question in secular classes but not with limudei kodesh, then, we risk our students developing very different orientations towards these disciplines, sabotaging integration and cross-pollination between the two.

In a very real sense, Lehmann’s work forces us to ask ourselves how we view the students that we’re charged to inspire: do we see them as passive receptacles for a static tradition, or as essential links in a dynamic conversation that has spanned generations and which must be continued in order for us to address the challenges facing our community and our world? How we talk in the classroom, then, may be just as important as what we’re teaching. Are we developing a culture of inquiry and critical thinking? Do we encourage creativity and originality within our limmudei kodesh classrooms? Are we willing to speak about the issues of our day – gender, truth, economics, otherness, and more? Does the ideology of Torah im Derekh Eretz (a philosophical forebearer of Modern Orthodoxy) permeate our sense of mission to develop moral thinkers as well as talmidei hakhamim? Ultimately, Lehmann’s analysis forces us to consider the pedagogies, norms, and discursive cultures that are encountered by students within our classrooms. If – to paraphrase Rav Soloveitchik – we seek to create students “who long to create, to bring into being something new, something original,”[32] then we must treat our students as such by fostering personal creativity and connection within our classrooms.

The issue of how to teach in a Modern Orthodox school is certainly the most expansive of the issues tackled in this essay, and obviously may take any number of forms. Yet it should go without saying that the modality of a classroom focused on project based learning or havruta study communicates a far different message about the nature of authority and the value of creativity than one in which a rabbi stands in front of the classroom and reads from a gemara. Similarly, the way we discipline our students and respond to their challenges (and mistakes) must also be part of our thinking about how we help them recognize and embrace the responsibilities and conflicts that they must navigate in their encounter with the world. Democratic educational approaches – often the mark of “progressive” schools – which focus on student empowerment, autonomy, and responsibility within the classroom, are another potential avenue for creating and modeling an authentically Modern Orthodox discourse within our schools. In truth, this type of dialogue is the legacy that Hazal imparted to us in pages of Talmud filled with running disputes, attempted resolutions, and continuous inquiry. And if we are to successfully inspire our students to embrace this heritage, then, Talmudic discourse shouldn’t only be encountered in the classroom – it needs to be modeled in our hallways as well. Mahloket and dialogue are not just the hallmarks of our tradition; they must be the watchwords of our movement, along with a wariness of simplistic answers, and a recognition that we may not always find resolutions to our many questions.

At the end of the day, then, I’d argue that Modern Orthodoxy isn’t about compromise – it’s about embracing dynamic tension and attempting meaningful harmonization. And, if we are to survive, we must build educational institutions that can inspire our students to engage in that process. To do so, we must think carefully about whether the structures in our school are designed to communicate these tensions, how our curricula provide students with the tools to navigate conflict, and whether we are sufficiently empowering them to find their own voices within these essential conversations. While no two schools will take the same path to build these systems, as a community and a movement, we need to do a better job of explaining ourselves to a generation of students who are wondering what role Torah learning should have in their lives and in the world around us.


[1] Cited in Zev Eleff, Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History (Philadelphia: JPS, 2016), 189.

[2] David Singer cited in “A Symposium: The State of Orthodoxy,” Tradition 20:1 (Spring 1982): 69.

[3] Charles S. Leibman, “Orthodox Judaism Today,” Midstream 25:7 (Aug-Sept 1976): 25.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, “Centrist Orthodoxy: A Spiritual Accounting,” in By His Light: Character and Values in the Service of God (Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2017), 193-220.

[6] Marvin Schick, “A Census of Jewish Day School in the United States.” Avi Chai Foundation, 2014.

[7] For a recent critique of Modern Orthodoxy issued by a self described “normal Modern Orthodox kid, who goes to a normal Modern Orthodox high school,” see the recent Times of Israel article published by Eitan Gross at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/modern-orthodoxy-from-a-teenagers-perspective/. Gross points to the “glaring hypocrisy” and “internal contradictions” of the movement, arguing that “Modern Orthodoxy tries to create a balance that, at the moment, cannot work.”

[8] Moshe Krakowski, “Developing and Transmitting Religious Identity: Curriculum and Pedagogy in Modern Orthodox Jewish Schools,” Contemporary Jewry (2017): 1-24.

[9] Ibid., 2.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jack Bieler, “Integration of Judaic and General Studies in the Modern Orthodox Day School,” Jewish Education 54:4 (1986): 18.

[12] Samuel Heilman, Sliding to the right: The Contest for the Future of American Jewish Orthodoxy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

[13] Ibid., at 103. On this point, see as well Haym Soloveitchik, “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Tradition 28 (Summer 1994): 64-130.

[14] Heilman, 110.

[15] Bieler (1986),  15-26.

[16] See, for example, Owens and Valesky,  Organizational Behavior in Education, 11th Edition (2015).

[17] C.R. Cook, K.R. Williams, N.G. Guerra, T.E. Kim, & S. Sadek, “Predictors of Bullying and Victimization in Childhood and Adolescence: A Meta-Analytic Investigation,” School Psychology Quarterly 25(2) (2010): 65–83. A. Thapa, J. Cohen, S. Guffey, & A. Higgins-D’ Alessandro, “A Review of School Climate Research,” Review of Educational Research 83(3) (2013): 357-385.

[18] Dr. Rona Novick, personal communication, October 8, 2018. Shared here with permission.

[19] www.machonsiach.org

[20] Alex Pomson, “Knowledge that Doesn’t Just Sit There: Considering a Reconception of the Curriculum Integration of Jewish and General Studies,” Religious Education 96:4 (2001): 528-545. For a review of Pomson’s and other approaches towards integrated curricula, see Jon Levisohn, “From Integration of Curricula to the Pedagogy of Integrity,” Journal of Jewish Education 74(3) (2008): 264-294.

[21] Fogarty, Robin, “Ten Ways to Integrate Curriculum,” Educational Leadership 49:2: 61-65.

[22] Pomson, 534.

[23] Krakowski, 10.

[24] The educational world is somewhat split about the efficacy of problem based, or “constructivist” approaches to learning. See, for example A. Kirschner, J. Sweller, and R. Clark, “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry Based Learning, Educational Psychologist 41(2) (2006): 75-86, in a journal volume devoted entirely to debating this question. Yet as Tikvah Wiener recently put it to me in a personal conversation, there is obviously no single educational approach that works best here, and that the best pedagogies balances between student inquiry and direct instruction.

[25] Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, “A Consideration of Synthesis from a Torah Point of View,” in Leaves of Faith Vol. 1, (Brooklyn, NY: Ktav, 2003), 89-103. Shortly after Rav Lichtenstein zt”l passed away, someone commented to me that “Rav Lichtenstein didn’t really value integration – he spent his life in the Beit Midrash!” My own experience learning from Rav Lichtenstein, however, was marked by an overwhelming sense of his educational synthesis and integration of disparate values, sources, and ideas in his Talmud Torah in much the same way that Krakowski is arguing for. His writing on the topic is marked by both a serious openness to curricular innovation away from traditional gemara learning [as expressed in his 2007 essay published by ATID – see Aharon Lichtenstein and Yehudah Brandes, Talmud Study in Yeshiva High Schools (Jerusalem: Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions, 2007)], along with an emphasis on the need to find an appropriate balance between kodesh and secular studies in the “Consideration of Synthesis” article quoted here. At the same time, however, there is no question that Rav Lichtenstein saw intensive, focused, and independent Torah learning as an ideal pursuit. See, for a forceful example, Aharon Lichtenstein, “Why Learn Gemara?” in Leaves of Faith Vol. 1 1-18.

[26] Michael Rosenak, “Towards a Curriculum for the Modern Orthodox School,” in Jonathan Sacks (ed), Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity (Hoboken, NJ : Ktav Pub. House in association with Jews’ College, London, 1991.

[27] Ibid., at 65. It should be noted here that “integration and harmony” and “dichotomies and tensions” are two very different visions of what Modern Orthodoxy is really about. While Rav Lichtenstein certainly argued for and modeled the integrative approach (within limits), others, especially Rav Soloveitchik, wrote extensively about dialectic and tension within religious experience. See, for example, Rav Soloveitchik’s famous introduction to The Lonely Man of Faith: “it would be presumptuous of me to attempt to convert the passional, antinomic faith-experience into a eudaemonic, harmonious one” (p. 2), as well as the tensions layed out in his 1964 essay, Confrontation. Between the worldview of “harmony and integration” and the vision of dynamic tension lays a deep chasm at the heart of what it means to be Modern Orthodox – an ideological divergence that may explain why we’ve failed to articulate what the movement actually stands for.

[28] Aharon Lichtenstein, “Why Learn Gemara?” in Leaves of Faith Vol. 1,  1-18.

[29] S. Weiser and M. Bar Lev, “Teaching Talmud in the Yeshiva High School: Difficulties and Dangers” (Hebrew), Nir ha-Midrashiah 8 (1991): 233-56. For Ross’ dissertation, see http://lookstein.org/articles/motivational_issues.pdf.

[30] Devra Lehmann, “Calling Integration into Question: A Discourse Analysis of English and Humash Classes at a Modern Orthodox Yeshiva High SchoolJournal of Jewish Education 74 (3) (2008): 295–316.

[31] Ibid., 316.

[32] Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man (Philadelphia: JPS, 1983), 100.

David Stein
David Stein is the Director of Judaic Curriculum and Instruction at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, CA as well as the Co-Founder and Managing Director of the LaHaV Curriculum Project. David attended Yeshiva College and RIETS for his undergraduate and semikha studies, and also holds Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University and in Jewish Education from American Jewish University. He is currently studying towards his Doctorate in Education at Yeshiva University's Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education & Administration as a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar.