Better To Be Reform Than Secular?

Professor Marc B. Shapiro blogs:

Returning to my conversation with R. Hayyim Sarne, which began with a discussion on Weinberg and moved into other areas, I was at his home for a good while and asked him many things. I even got into a disagreement with him on one issue. I am sure this surprised him, since roshei yeshiva are not used to young men challenging something they say. He insisted that it was better for people to be secularists than to identify with one of the non-Orthodox denominations. I responded that the opposite was the case, as the non-Orthodox groups at least add some Jewish content to people’s lives. They also help slow down assimilation. (Of course, all this is valuable in and of itself, but from a purely utilitarian standpoint it also makes the job of the kiruv organizations easier.) Yet he didn’t buy it and couldn’t even see my point, which I think is shared by virtually all thinking people in the Diaspora.

I used the conversation to ask him why the haredim have such a negative view of R. Kook’s philosophical writings, and his answer was very enlightening. To this day I have never seen it anywhere in print. He told me that one can turn pages and pages in R. Kook’s philosophical works without coming across a rabbinic text (ma’amar hazal). He insisted that a "kosher" work of Jewish thought must be constantly citing rabbinic texts. I had never thought of this point before, but I think it is quite significant. As all who study R. Kook know, he writes in such an original fashion that he becomes the primary text, and one can indeed turn many pages before seeing a ma’amar hazal.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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