Rabbi Gidon Rothstein posted a thoughtful if at times strident rejoinder on Torah Musings. He picks up the gauntlet and defends God‘s honor in the face of His presumed irrelevance posited by Jay Lefkowitz. R. Rothstein’s response included many excellent points. One point that particularly resonated with me: Lefkowitz’s situation is a certain type of reflection of the success of Modern Orthodoxy in America. The shul and community are so welcoming that so many different people who in the past may have felt shunned or at least unwelcome now feel comfortable. Perhaps a little too comfortable! It reminds me of a line I once heard Rav Lichtenstein quote which now thanks to Google I am able to attribute to Lord Acton quoting the Duc de Broglie : Beware of too much explaining, lest we end by too much excusing.
I’m not much interested in rebutting Lefkowitz. I am very interested though in thinking about how our yeshivot should be engaging our students so that they are more than just socially Orthodox but that they live lives that in addition to the beauty of shared halachic practice are also invested with a sense of the Divine, love of God, fear of God and pride in commitment to Him. Lefkowitz’s situation has to be viewed as at least partially a result of our reluctance to talk about God. We talk plenty about the Torah and Halacha. Sometimes we’ll refer to Hashem but it’s almost always not to talk about God but to introduce a mitzvah. I don’t really expect otherwise. We were never trained to talk about God or to think much about theology. Lefkowitz’s piece makes me think that we need to bring God back into the classroom. We need to train ourselves as teachers how to talk about God. Students develop a sophistication about all areas of knowledge including Chumash and Halacha as well as all areas of General Studies. And our teachers are well equipped to guide students in those journeys. We are not well equipped though to talk about God. Many of our students are content with an emuna peshuta and they are unbothered by questions. Others are bothered and want answers. We need to provide them with the tools to develop a “second naivete” in the words of Ricoeur and reclaim their emunah. Before we provide them with the tools we need to develop them ourselves.