It's been deeply gratifying to see and hear some of the thoughtful responses to my essay on the need for a Modern Orthodox Hedgehog Concept (pt. 1, pt. 2, Op-Ed 1, Op-Ed 2). I wanted to briefly address a few pieces of feedback that made their way back to me in different forms, as I believe that they help sharpen the argument I was trying to make.
The first, which most recently came to me in the name of a student at SAR high school, was "Who says the Hedgehog is better than the Fox? Perhaps we're meant to be Foxes?!" This astute student is referencing Isaiah Berlin's essay "The Fox and the Hedgehog," which was the inspiration for Jim Collins to develop his Hedgehog Concept. In it, Berlin divides some of history's most influential thinkers and writers into two categories: those who know a little about a wide array of topics he calls a Fox and those who know a lot but only about "one big thing" he terms a Hedgehog. And, the young woman who raised the question is absolutely right when it comes to Berlin. His essay passed no judgement whatsoever. Neither type was superior. They were simply different.
It is Collins that begins to favor the Hedgehog over the Fox, but I think even he would be reticent to say that one is generally "better" than the other. The real question is "better for what?" Collins was trying to explain what made good companies great. And so he argued that for the particular metrics he was using to define "greatness" in companies or organizations, those that acted like a "Hedgehog" showed better results than those who did not. I was suggesting a similar case could be made for religious denominations or, more specifically, for ideological movements. And so my contention is not that Hedgehogs are - in some generalized objectified form - "better" than Foxes, but that they are better for creating, energizing, and sustaining an ideological movement.
That gets to what strikes me as most glaringly absent from the defenses of Torah U'Madda that have been written in response to my article (see, e.g., here and here). Those pieces argue for the importance and beauty of Torah U'Madda - neither of which I'd ever deny. But they don't address the fundamental question of does it, or can it, work as the cornerstone of a movement.
From two fellow Heads of School, both of whom I admire greatly, I heard two alternatives to Or Amim put forth as potential Hedgehogs for Modern Orthodoxy. One was in a newsletter message to their school community in which the Head of School wrote as follows:
I don't want to reject his answer, but for me the ongoing commitment to curiosity at all ages and stages of life may be what distinguishes our type of Judaism from others – asking stimulating questions, thinking about texts and what they mean, and continuing to ponder, learn, and grow throughout an entire lifetime. Modern Orthodoxy simultaneously respects our core tradition, knowing that we are eager to hear what it has to say, while also having the intellectual honesty and rigor to never shy away from deep, probing, and sometimes difficult questions.
While the values of curiosity and intellectual honesty certainly resonate deeply with me on a personal level, it seems to suffer from many of the same challenges as Torah U'Madda. First of all, while curiosity can certainly be cultivated (at a young age), it is and will always be an intellectual pursuit. Some, I dare say a minority, of our community will be drawn to it. Many, though, will not be. Second (and speaking of intellectual honesty) it suffers from the question that isn't asked nearly enough about Torah U'Madda which is - mina lan? What foundational Torah texts extoll the virtues of general curiosity (or, in the case of Torah U'Madda, of sophisticated study of the sciences and humanities) to the point that it should be seen as the guiding force for Jewish life? The fact that many Modern Orthodox Jews are intellectually curious (or, in the case of Torah U'Madda, that they receive a rigorous secular education) is not the same as saying that they ought to be so. As an educator I feel like our young people need to see, understand - and perhaps most importantly - feel, the ought behind the is, if we want them to truly buy in.
I'd offer a similar response to my other colleague who suggested that the Modern Orthodox Hedgehog is "being a Ben Torah in everything you do." Here again, I think it's a laudable ideal. But I don't think it answers our central questions. Certainly, he'd agree that one who lives in Lakewood, spends his day learning in kollel, and sends his kids to cheder - and does it with the utmost menschlichkeit, ehrlichkeit, and passion - is a Ben Torah through and through. But he is not Modern Orthodox. So the key to this proposed Hedgehog, lies in an expansive definition of the "everything" you are doing. Or, in other words, if our children are to believe that "being a Ben Torah in everything you do" is an essential piece of HaKadosh Baruch Hu's Torah that they are uniquely positioned to fulfill, the key to that fulfillment is in going beyond the walls of the Beis Medrash and being a Ben Torah there. That's the "everything you do." In that case, I ask again, mina lan? Who says we're supposed to go beyond the walls of the Beis Medrash? What foundational texts suggest that that's the ratzon Hashem? If the answer to that question is the myriad of texts that charge us with making a Kiddush Hashem and being an Or La-Goyim, than he and I are saying the same thing. If not, I'd want to see what other sources could be marshaled in its defense.
A very different set of responses came from those who wondered how my Or Amim proposal would differ from that of the work being done by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, or a newer organization called Root Source. Though I do not claim any expertise in the inner workings of either organization, my layman's sense is that both organizations (for different reasons) focus on areas of theological overlap, influence, or common interest between Judaism and Christianity. While that may well be part of the Or Amim charge, it seems to me as only half of the equation. Equally as important, in my view, would be respectfully and non-dogmatically teaching the Christian community about the ways in which our world views differ. Indeed, having lived in the mid-South for seven years, I know that there are many in the evangelical Christian world who don't understand why Orthodox Jews aren't standing side by side with them on every political issue of theological import. Part of the answer has to do with our current status and our long history as a persecuted minority. But part of it is because we don't necessarily agree with them on all religious issues but they - and many of us - don't fully understand the contours of those differences.
The last set of responses came in the form of related questions: Is Modern Orthodoxy worth saving? Can you "manufacture" a movement's core ideal or must it emerge organically? If it is worth saving, and it can be "manufactured," do you think the entrenched community infrastructure of the American Modern Orthodox community can actually be reorganized to shift its focus toward this new Hedgehog?
My answers are: I hope so, I don't know, and only time will tell.