Challenges and Issues in Modern Orthodox Education:
An On-Line Library of R. Shalom Carmy's Essays

Teaching and learning are inseparable. Not only because preparing a class furthers the teacher's understanding, but because the more you know, the more intensely you think, the better your teaching will be. The age of your students doesn't matter--whether they are elementary school kids or sophisticated adults.

That's why reading the best of our community's writers on issues of educational importance is an invaluable aid to teaching well. Even if you don't assign these writings in class, the ideas acquired accompany the educator in the classroom setting. With this in mind, we present to the community of educators these essays of educational import selected from the work of Rabbi Shalom Carmy.

Rabbi Carmy has long been considered one of the ablest practitioners and writers of Jewish Thought. Many educators, including quite a few of his students, have drawn on his teaching and writing. Other readers have at times struggled to understand the full subtlety of his writing and the complexity of his thought. The following introductions to our selection of his articles should make the going easier as they summarize the essential arguments and highlight key points to look for when reading the original. Most valuably, they locate the various essays within the context of larger educational questions, issues, and challenges that Jewish educators face every day.

Surveying these essays, and others, leads us to a few conclusions about the nature of Rabbi Carmy's contribution, and its value for the Modern Orthodox educator. As a student of both Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik ztz"l and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein yl"h, he understands that truth often entails holding multiple perspectives in dialectical tension. Rabbi Carmy consistently strives for a balanced approach that avoids oversimplified one-sidedness. For example, he argues that wholesome religious life requires appreciation of both general and individual providence, supports employing the tools of academic Jewish studies without adopting problematic academic attitudes, explores the interaction of intellect and emotion in prayer, and outlines a theory of life in exile (galut) that finds religious meaning in that life without turning it into the ideal.

Even educators who utilize a variety of traditional and other sources in their own teaching will be struck by the wide range of Rabbi Carmy's reading. The broad scope of Jewish literature and Western thought are surveyed in the quest for the "truth that edifies." Like his teachers, and unlike many spokesmen for modern Orthodox culture, his religious orientation leads him to favor non-Jewish thinkers committed to traditional religious belief, writers like Kierkegaard, Newman, and Eliot. Rabbi Carmy believes that Christian writers, who share many of our religious presuppositions, are more likely to prove instructive to us. His curiosity and interest in the wider culture does not entail chronic capitulation to the fashions of Western culture and academic popularity. On the contrary, Rabbi Carmy often employs Western thought as a basis for a more penetrating criticism of contemporary society.

These essays--just a small sample of Rabbi Carmy's writings--reveal a thinker who refuses to bifurcate between his intellectual analysis and his personal religious commitments. In contrast to the academic ideal of detachment, Rabbi Carmy approaches each topic from the perspective of a passionately committed Orthodox Jew. At the same time, he aspires to fairness and objectivity in discussing adversaries of Orthodox Judaism and difficulties in his own positions. Teachers often need to be reminded that jingoistic boosterism for one's religious team is sometimes as great a danger as the neutral aridity of some university professors.

As students of Rabbi Carmy, entering his classroom years ago, we were struck by the note appended to the syllabus he handed out: "As always, our goal is to grow as thinking religious people." That formulation--an alternate take on "Torah on one foot"--left an indelible mark on us and so many of his talmidim, and has guided our own teaching. Indeed, it is no surprise that so many of Rabbi Carmy's students have chosen the professional path of Jewish education. The reason for this, and the worldview that shapes much of what is written in these essays, is hinted at in a statement he made a few years ago ["Symposium on Orthodoxy," Tradition 33:2 (Winter 1999), p. 31]:

Each day brings with it the prospect of discovering a new facet of Torah or a new way of communicating to others what I have already gained. Each day brings with it the possibility that my Torah study, to a lesser extent my other reading, and my interaction with talmidim will help to make me a different person for the better. The excitement of learning, the shudder of insight, the awareness of commitment to my students, and the inspiration I draw from them (including those whose path is not always smooth)--these driving feelings often seem palpable: as if the Torah were nourishment, and its transmission electric.

Rabbi Carmy's work provides important models for the thoughtful Modern Orthodox educator. Modern Orthodoxy, at its best, appreciates the pull of opposing ideals, employs the best of Western culture while maintaining a critical distance from that culture, and mixes good judgment in argument with engaged commitment. We hope that you will discover insights and approaches which will aid your understanding of some of the more complex and subtle challenges facing Orthodox Jewish life, learning, and teaching. Grappling with Rabbi Carmy's treatment of these issues will enhance your teaching--both in the classroom and in counseling students.

-Rabbi Yitzchak Blau
-Rabbi Jeffrey Saks

Click here for the Table of Contents.
Rabbi Carmy would be glad to respond to your questions. He can be contacted at carmy@yu.edu.

Our thanks to Rabbi Yitzchak Blau for preparing the introductions to the essays. Our thanks to the copyright holders for granting permissions to reproduce these materials: Rabbinic Council of America (R. Basil Herring); Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (R. David Israel); WZO/JAFI; Ten Da'at (R. Moshe Sokolow), Yeshiva College Commentator; Student Organization of Yeshiva; and the Orthodox Union. Our friend Rabbi Yamin Levy provided valuable advice and encouragement for the project.

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