Reply to Rabbi Slifkin
By Baruch Pelta
Rabbi Natan Slifkin recently penned a postscript to his “In Defense of My Opponents.” At the end, he raises two issues.
1) Can those who share his approach truly be considered haredim from a theological perspective? After all, virtually no haredim who share Rabbi Slifkin’s approach have publicly said so and all of the figureheads of that community have denounced his approach at some point. In relation to this question, Rabbi Slifkin brings up those haredim who reject the call of the gedolim to vote for haredi political parties and instead vote for other parties. Rabbi Slifkin comes to the (tentative?) conclusion that these people, while haredi by sociological standards, are not haredi in ideology.
2) Should Rabbi Slifkin label those who share his approach as members of the Torah Umadda camp?
If I may be so bold, I would like to opine on both issues. I should note that later this year I will be beginning an in depth sociological study of Orthodoxy, so I may change my perspectives down the line.
With regards to Issue 1, Rabbi Slifkin asks whether or not people who share his approach may be considered haredi. To better clarify my answer I will focus on a specific example. For instance, if we are going to discuss whether somebody may maintain Rabbi Slifkin’s approach towards the age of the universe and still be called haredi, then I believe the answer is an emphatic yes.
Daniel Eidensohn has confirmed that Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, for example, believes it is permissible to believe the world is older than 6000 years old. Whether he believes it himself or not may be a different story, but he believes it is permissible.
A person living in any haredi society who openly believes the world is over 6000 years old will probably feel very uncomfortable. It may be difficult for him to get his kids into school. He may lose friends. He may find his acquaintances often trying to “mekarve” him.
Yet I believe he still may be classified as haredi. To explain this, I must explain what, in my humble opinion, separates a haredi Jew from a non-haredi Jew. It is not whether or not he feels comfortable in his society or not. It is whether he believes in a certain notion of Daas Torah. Because I believe that this notion of Daas Torah is what defines haredi society against their non-haredi Orthodox brethren.
Daas Torah has been espoused by many, but it is often defined differently by different spokespeople. In its softest forms, it can even be accepted by the Modern Orthodox (e.g. guidance in non-halachic matters). In its hardest form (e.g. everybody, even Sephardic gedolim, must defer their judgment in certain important matters to R’ Eliashiv), it is unacceptable to some of even the most hardcore haredim. We must examine what the softest form of Daas Torah is which is considered acceptable to a significant subset of the haredim as well as some of their gedolim, while not considered acceptable by non-haredi Orthodox Jews. I believe that definition is roughly as follows: the living gedolim are the ones who decide what perspectives in hashkafa are acceptable;  as long as you believe a belief which “your gadol” believes to be permissible, you are not a Zionist, and you do not believe that secular studies should be studied b’iyun and lishmah bizman hazeh, you are haredi.
But some of the beliefs of Rabbi Slifkin are regarded as permissible by at least one gadol. Therefore a person could believe many of these beliefs held by Rabbi Slifkin and still live in haredi society. The question is, why would he want to? Why would he want in a society which largely regards his ideas as treif? The answer – and whether it is a good answer or not would go beyond the scope of this paper – is because of perceived problems (real or imagined, sociological or theological) that the individual would have with a non-haredi society.
With regards to Issue 2, now that I have noted that I believe haredim may share some of Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches, I do not believe that his approach should be called Torah Umadda. In Rabbi Lamm’s book, he notes that he cannot identify his approach with Torah im Derech Eretz because of that approach’s close identification with anti-Zionism and Austritt. Similarly, as Torah Umadda is closely associated with Yeshiva University, I do not believe that it can be identified with Rabbi Slifkin’s approach. That is not to say that Rabbi Slifkin does not identify with Yeshiva University, but that there are those who may adopt Rabbi Slifkin’s approach who perceive themselves as following haredi rabbinical authorities.
 The exception is Rav Hirsch. Although Rav Hirsch is long niftar, his approach is still considered valid by haredim (albeit that there is a significant amount of revisionism as regards exactly what his approach was).
 How the word “gadol” is defined is a different story. Also, “his gadol” may be a general consensus of a subset of gedolim that he perceives himself to be following.
 I hope Rabbi Slifkin will explore this issue is his forthcoming book. Whether he does or not, I eagerly await the volume!