Modern Orthodoxy at a Crossroads

Modern Orthodoxy’s leadership may be at a do-or-die moment in dealing with the recent serial challenges from the Far Left. How it acts – or chooses not to act – will determine whether it will continue to be a force in shaping the Jewish future. As the Left continues to try end-runs around traditional Orthodox values and practices, many laypeople and rabbis are waiting to see how Centrist leadership will respond. Can it continue to lay claim to halachic and hashkafic integrity while successfully encountering general society? The way it is meeting these challenges in both its triumphs and its failures has much to teach all frum Jews.

I am privileged to live simultaneously in two communities – the Centrist one, as well as the Yeshiva world. (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I find myself, along with many thousands of others, caught between two communities, or part of a nascent Third Way in Orthodoxy that as yet has no name.) Like many others, I have been keenly watching developments since the Rabbinic Council of America (RCA), the rabbinic wing of Modern Orthodoxy, spurned ordination-by-any-name for women at its annual convention last spring, after Rabbi Avi Weiss decided to upgrade Sara Hurwitz’s title from Maharat to Rabba. I keep track of the articles and the blogs, and I converse with people in the thick of the issue. Here are some personal observations.

People who reside entirely in the more traditional Yeshiva world would be surprised by the makeup of the “modern” rabbinate. The diversity is enormous. You will find bnei Torah with good learning skills, a real love for limud Torah, and an enviable grasp of serious, nuanced halacha. At the other end of the continuum, you will find ignorance of gemara and halacha of epic proportions. My sense is that there are more of the former than the latter. Conversing with rabbis of all stripes and reading their words, I perceive two groups with radically different skill sets and assumptions about the way halacha is done. While my own perception is that in general, the traditionalist group can lay claim to far more knowledge of Torah sources and depth in their understanding, this is not the key difference. What really separates the two camps is radically different understandings of the importance of Torah learning and how halachic questions are answered.

Among the more serious bnei Torah, the sense of frustration is palpable. They understand that the policy of continued provocations by the HIR/ YCT/ IRF (Hebrew Institute of Riverdale; Yeshivat Chovevei Torah; International Rabbinic Fellowship) axis must be answered – but are not quite sure what the answer ought to be. They find their leaders drawn into debate and dialogue, when it might be more appropriate to simply draw a line in the sand and say, “This is not our Yiddishkeit!”

Many might contest the term “HIR/ YCT/ IRF axis.” The three loudly claim to be independent of each other. It would require a serious monograph to make the case for treating them as a single force acting in collusion; I will leave that for someone with more patience and time than I have. I use the term not to be provocative, but because so many centrist rabbis believe that when they connect the dots of activities, statements, and innovations of the three institutions named (which also lay claim to the same personalities), they detect a common platform between these organizations – one that they strongly reject.

Many in the RCA believed that in the strong pushback against the “rabba” decision, they had convinced Rabbi Avi Weiss that the Orthodox world was not prepared to accept his vision and his innovations. They believed that the convention statement assured that he would be more circumspect in the future. Quickly, it became apparent that this was not the case. The rabba continued to use her title. It was not long before a woman was leading a kabbolas Shabbos service at HIR – this in itself in response to its hosting of a group from Drisha, a women’s program in Manhattan that welcomes faculty members trained by and teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary. (Drisha also offers minyanim at which women both layn and receive aliyos.) The “chatter” on websites of the Left included assurances that the RCA Convention vote against ordination of women was only a minor setback, and that the struggle for egalitarianism would continue apace. A document on attitudes towards gays was circulated around the country. It contained much that was good and sensitive, but was seen by experienced rabbanim as flawed in some of its key suggestions, incomplete in its consideration of halachic issues, and a kowtowing to political correctness at the expense of taking counsel with available Torah leadership. With very few exceptions, only individuals identified with the Left signed it.

Most core Cross-Currents readers are hardly supporters of these moves. Even those who deeply oppose them, however, should recognize the sincerity of those behind them. We can believe that they are seriously misguided and pose a huge danger to our mesorah, without demonizing their champions or beginning a holy war against them – and certainly not their shuls and their members. No small blog piece is going to address the arguments and counterarguments associated with these innovations. The point is that these measures are passionately rejected by another (much larger) group within Modern Orthodoxy, pointing to a deep divide within its ranks.

To date, Modern Orthodox leadership has not come up with a formula or modus vivendi to deal with the incompatibility of the two understandings. I wish the rest of our community could see some of the discussions between members of the two camps. There are no charamim, no bans, and (generally) no ad hominem attacks. Opponents address each other with respect and restrained (if guarded) words. You can detect, at times, that patience is wearing thin, but conversation continues without flaring up into full-scale, take-no-prisoners battles. The most radical move sought by the traditionalist group is a statement of principles, one that would make clear the unacceptability of the approach of the Left. No one is pushing for its leaders to be defined as kofrim, its shuls treated as outside Orthodoxy, its members seen as lost to heterodoxy. One of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s thirteen midos was kavod, or honoring all people, especially those with whom one is in disagreement. The comportment of the rabbis in recent discussions fulfils R. Yisrael’s expectations. It is especially welcome considering the seamier side of interpersonal and intergroup conflict, across the spectrum of Orthodoxy. We are no longer surprised to witness smear campaigns and character assasination on anonymous blogs, or shunning and distancing people over the slightest ideological or behavioral differences.

Nonetheless, it seems futile to deny that a chasm has opened up within Modern Orthodoxy. The divide between the majority and the left flank increasingly is about vastly different understandings of halachic process, the nature of Torah she-b’al-peh, Torah greatness and Torah authority – not specifically about women’s issues or modernity in general. This is why attempts to negotiate a common platform appear to be doomed to failure. The two camps “do” halacha differently. The Left again and again practices halachic minimalism, satisfying itself with picking the answers they like best from a large group of halachic “voices.” The majority believes that not all answers are of equal importance. Different approaches are left to compete with each other in the search for Truth; the victors are the ones that present the strongest arguments and evidence. Traditionalists believe that the final arbiters between competing readings of texts are the most seasoned and deepest talmidei chachomim available; the Left wants personalities and authorities left out of things. Traditionalists are willing to seek and be bound by the counsel of those same figures (whom they regard as the authentic ba’alei mesorah of the generation) even when those scholars cannot prove their case through chapter and verse; the Left will not hear of this. Traditionalists attach importance to years and years of depth learning of gemara and poskim, including years of kollel learning (and often, albeit not always, achieve it); the Left is content with a few years of yeshiva-lite.

Peaceful, respectful dialogue, however admirable, does not make the problem vanish. The quest to keep everyone under the same big tent is likely sophomoric and polyannaish. Moreover, it is probably counterproductive.

Not so many years ago, it looked like the Conservative movement would eclipse both Reform and Orthodox. It had the biggest piece of the membership pie, and gained the admiration of Americans Jews and non-Jews for occupying the ever-popular middle ground between the extremes of Reform and Orthodoxy.

Today, the movement is in shambles, and unlikely to survive another two decades. It has twice as many members over the age of sixty-five than does Reform, which has moved ahead of it numerically. (Of course, part of the numerical advantage is Reform’s embrace of patrilineal descent, meaning the inclusion of many members who are not at all Jewish.) The recession has been hard on Solomon Schechter schools, many of which are closing. Those that aren’t are not succeeding in producing young people who will even commit themselves to marrying within the faith.

There are many reasons for the imminent failure of Conservative Judaism, and there is likely some truth to all of them. One of them is that Conservative Judaism never had a clear mission statement. Its theology was made of teflon; nothing ever stuck. People were led to believe that Conservative Jews disagreed with both Reform (much less true today) and Orthodox, but Conservative writers could never describe what they believed in. Even after the movement invested time and money to address the problem, they released a group of hemmed and hawed equivocations. (Is Torah Divine? Some of us believe…while some of us think that, but still others argue…. This process then repeated itself for all crucial questions of belief and practice.) This might have been inviting to the open-minded skeptic, but it did not make for effective transmission to a new generation. You can’t sell a moving target to teenagers. Most people of all ages want a brief, uncomplicated summary of what they are expected to do and to believe before committing to a religious community. If you stand for too many things, you effectively stand for nothing.

Modern Orthodoxy in particular needs to have a firm, resolute voice. It wants to interact with the general community, and impact upon it. Equivocation about what it stands for will give it collective laryngitis, and confusion among its young people. Unless Modern Orthodox leadership takes firm action, it could go the way of Conservative Judaism. In a world that needs voices able to project Torah values to the rest of the world, this would be beyond tragic.

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41 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Evanstonjew commented above that “One last point Rabbi Adlerstein if I may. These not really Orthodox were carrying the flag of Orthodoxy here in America way before you were born. They built the big shuls, they sent their children to the charedi yeshivas in the 40’s thru 60’s and they trusted the charedim not to turn their own children against them . No such luck!”

    Let’s look at this accusation of “against them”. That particular group of “them” was specific to a time and place long gone. There are very few remnants of “them” in today’s world, not because they were shunned or insulted, but because people began to adopt more self-consistent positions and modes of behavior. It’s possible to adopt a self-consistent point of view from the left, right, or center. However, a center that consisted of grossly mismatched beliefs and practices would be inherently unstable.

  2. L. Oberstein says:

    Liberal has become a pejorative. That is simply sad as it frees people to care only about their immediate self interest and excuses disdain for those less fortunate. The son in law of a leading political Conservative orthodox person engaged me in conversation recently. How can you support a social democrat he asked, the poor are that way because they are lazy and lack ambition. If they had any drive, they would get out of poverty. His father in law makes a fortune advocating such positions. Is that really orthodox Judaism, callous disregard for the other. There are many social positions taken by some liberals that are at odds with orthodoxy, and not all Democrats agree with everything on the liberal side. However, the real divide is how much we really care about other people. Much of what passes for anti-liberal hate speech is just a justification for selfishness .
    It is a tragedy of major proportions that so many intelligent orthodox thinkers who represent our community in the public forum have hardened their hearts and closed their minds.

  3. robert lebovits says:

    Social justice is certainly not a goyishe idea, as L. Oberstein writes. But how do we determine what issues to address & what side of any given issue we ought to promote? Our children are presented with an enormous amount of information – and misinformation – that can be overwhelming. What sort of guidance do we provide in making sense of it all? There is no contradiction between adherence to Torah & caring about humanity, though the views we hold about current concerns may very well be at odds with the liberal zeitgeist so prevalent in academia & media. The critical question is are we willing to honestly explore what the Torah tells us – as understood by Daas Torah – and follow where it leads however unpopular that may be? Or is the liberal/progressive position our goal and we simply cherry pick an opinion here & a psak there to get us were we want to go? I think this choice exemplifies the difference between centrist & leftist Modern Orthodoxy.

  4. L. Oberstein says:

    I think Robert Lebovits is correct in discribing that there are several divergant groups within “Modern Orthodoxy”. What he calls the “Left” is a minor phenomenon where I live in Baltimore. Most of the YU alumni I know are very far to the right of the “left’ both politically and religiously. Maybe in New York or Teneck or LA thre are more who care deeply about “Universalism, feminism, so-called tolerance & diversity”. That being said, the issues raised by the “left” are valid and need to be dealt with . Especially our children who are more educated secularly and more comfortable in general society, will recoil if we are too smug in our self righteousness and dismissive of social and moral issues that affect humanity. i think it is possible to be sincerely religious, respect Daas Torah, value Torah scholarship and still actually care about social justice. Tzedeck,tzedeck tirdof is not a “leftist’ idea, ecology, global warming, immigration reform, the plight of the uninsured, social inequities are not goyish ideas. We have to find a way to care about Torah and about humanity and our children have to see that we care.

  5. lacosta says:

    is anyone surprised that the OU essentially says nothing on this issue?

  6. robert lebovits says:

    “The Left’s modus operandi is fairly transparent…”. Their methods may be clear, but it is worthwhile to articulate their agenda. The disconnect between the centrist Modern Orthodox & the far Left is the very standing of Halacha in daily life. Centrists affirm that Torah is the organizing principle from which we derive our opinions and attitudes toward current events and the “isms” of the day. They may support more engagement with modern sensibilities than the Yeshiva world, but they do so with the solid foundation of recognized Talmedei Chachomim.
    The Left have staked out culturally-liberal positions as their identity. Universalism, feminism, so-called tolerance & diversity as defined by the general culture are their pre-determined values. Subsequently, Torah views & postions are sought to provide cover for these views. If no support is initially discovered, the Left will argue that we must create a structure that will then give legitimacy to these ideas, or we will be condemned as tribal, misogynistic, etc., etc.
    Perhaps a schism already exists. If it walks like a duck…..it may necessary to finally call it a duck.

  7. joel rich says:

    R’YA,
    Look forward to that post – please make sure it is one that allows comments; not allowing comments gives the impression that the torah can not take on all comers.
    KT,

    [YA – That will depend on the expressed wishes of the guest author. As the old saying goes, “Cyber-beggars can’t be choosers.”]

  8. YEA says:

    How about a blog post from Rabbi Adlerstein about Daas Torah — what it is, what it isn’t, is it a new or old concept, and “stretching the concept beyond the breaking point”? Please?

    [YA – The community needs something magesterial, which means that it should be written by someone a generation older. I’ve been pushing one such person, and am still hopeful….]

  9. mycroft says:

    “Such pressure could and should be resisted more effectively by the majority element articulating principles backed by their roshei yeshiva that distance themselves from the ideological basis of the Left”

    My comment is not intended to be a practical one for evaluating current disputants-but who says RY should have priority over local Rabbonim in how to deal with problems on the ground. In a non MO context see the debates between Rav A Kotler on one side versus R E Silver ane Rav Y Kamenetsky on the other side during the late 1940s on this issue. R Rothkopf (Rake3fett) discusses the debate in his biography of R E Silver.

  10. evanstonjew says:

    I agree with Rabbi Adlerstein’s descriptions. The left, the lite, the post, the scare quote “Orthodox” fit his descriptions to a tee. Now what? I would think schism, get rid of the far left. We are fighting about a word, a name, a new name that was created post-Reform. This is a decision Orthodoxy can make, draw the line at some point, and say until here and no more. There are a few problems. The more full bodied Orthodox have to decide who does the kicking, the RCA, the bloggers, some head gadol? Second, how do you kick someone out? Do you call the police when he shows up in shul? There are many ways of austritt, and some decisions must be made. Do you eat their food, count the post Orthodox towards a minyan, allow the radical feminist left to use the mikvah? I feel these problems can be overcome.

    So for purposes of discussion let us imagine you Rabbi Adlerstein is the decisor, and you know how to force people out. You say it should be done, but would you actually press the evict button? Suppose then a third of MO are unacceptably left, you kick and they walk. Who would be hurt? Some day-schools in the provinces might close, some minyanim will be depleted. I see no big problem. In a generation RWMO will be back to its current numbers. What about those purged, will they be staying up nights bemoaning their fate? I seriously doubt it, since the core idea of the left is that it is nobody’s business why and how somebody identifies with Orthodoxy. They just might not care a whole lot how others define Orthodoxy. Would they become Conservative? Some. But I think the bulk will stay in place and reorganize along more liberal lines. It would in fact be a great chizuk for the left. So I see a win-win situation. The ranks of RWMO would have been purified, and the heterodox would also benefit.
    This tummeling on the blogs might just be the beginning, and in time RWMO will indeed gather the courage and strength to schism. In fact the situation we have now, threatening, condescending, disparaging LWMO is also good. It doesn’t inflict much pain, and provides an internal enemy. Whatever happens it’s all good.

    One last point Rabbi Adlerstein if I may. These not really Orthodox were carrying the flag of Orthodoxy here in America way before you were born. They built the big shuls, they sent their children to the charedi yeshivas in the 40’s thru 60’s and they trusted the charedim not to turn their own children against them . No such luck!

    [YA – As a fellow cynic, I recognize the tell-tale signs of spending so much effort on the dripping sarcasm that you missed all the points.

    I would not kick them out. I would have the majority element of the RCA formulate and adopt a set of principles that the Left could not accept while continuing on its crusade. They would be welcome to stay anyway – but it would be clear that the umbrella organization representing the MO rabbinate distances itself from several of the key features of the YCT/ HIR/ IRF axis.

    The Left’s modus operandi is fairly transparent. Unless you can prove (by unstated criteria, left up to them) that something is a clear, unequivocal violation of all halachic thought (meaning no daas yachid supports it), it is an option. This is not acceptable – but explaining what principle should substitute is not easy, and not one that will be instantly embraced unanimously by the centrists. I believe that the time has come to enunciate that some things may not be done even when they are not explicitly prohibited by a se’if in Shulchan Aruch, and that the ones who decide are great talmidei chachamim – as defined by operational criteria.

    Like you, I don’t want this to go too far. Shemiras mitzvos is not chopped liver. I want to be able to disagree – forcefully, and to the max – without vilifying or calling people kofrim. I want to be able to walk into HIR and daven, while still unequivocally rejecting key planks of its platform.

    Your last paragraph scores points in faulting charedi zeal for distancing many who should not have been left hanging outside to dry. Those who built those institutions are not the rabbis of the Far Left today. You cannot really compare Rabbis Herbert Goldstein and Leo Jung with the members of the IRF. Besides, the right did not succeed in turning all the children against the parents. One large group that did not turn against them is the majority element of Modern Orthodox rabbis within the RCA – the group that almost voted in a stronger condemnation at the last convention. They represent, hopefully, the future of MO – but will become irrelevant if no one knows what they stand for other than keeping mitzvos (which the Left also embraces) and feeling nervous around the Left.

    They need to sound resolute and focused – but not necessarily to push any evict button.]

  11. L. Oberstein says:

    When you talk about orthodox rabbis who are not well learned in Gemara, you are describing the orthodoxy of the past with mostly non shomer shabbos members, not learned laity, anxious to be real Amricans. These rabbis kept orthodoxy alive when few thought it could survive. Today, these shuls and these rabbis are a minority, but their era’s demise isn’t all good. In the past, non frum people belonged to orthodox shuls and these non scholarly rabbis influenced many of their children to go to a day school, NCSY, etc. Now, our shuls are for the shomer shabbos only and an ignorant person walking in on our services would not have a clue . We try to deal with it with Learner’s Services, etc. but, mainstream orthodoxy today mostly for the observant orthodox. It’s a shame we have lost our bridge to the rest of the community. As far as the modernists you are referring to, they are causing a scism because they want to distinguish themselves from the mainstream YU rabbinate. That is why the RCA is so concerned. If one orthodox rabbi allows women to lead services, have a torah reading, read the ketuva under the chupah, then it is much harder to hold the line in the Modern Orthodox shul. Maybe the remnant of Conservative Judaism will merge with the left wing of orthodoxy.

  12. Tal Benschar says:

    “This can be done without bans, charamim, charges of kefirah, or “throwing out” anyone from within Orthodoxy.”

    Questions: Suppose an “Orthodox Rabbi” were to state publicly or write that God abrogated his convenant with the Jewish people by permitting the Holocaust, and henceforth keeping the Torah is merely optional, would that be kefirah?

    Should such a Rabbi be permitted to remain a member of a national Orthodox organization in America?

    Of the major national Orthodox organizations, which would and which would not kick out such an “Orthodox Rabbi” from their membership?

    [YA – Good point. They might respond, however, that said rabbi is a recognized maverick whose ideology is no threat to the masses. Throwing him out, they might argue, will make him a martyr and thereby make a bad situation worse. To the best of my knowledge, he stopped calling himself Orthodox years ago. Not so the Lefties, who create pressure on ordinary rabbonim to move in their direction. Such pressure could and should be resisted more effectively by the majority element articulating principles backed by their roshei yeshiva that distance themselves from the ideological basis of the Left.]

  13. Tal Benschar says:

    “I firmly dispute this. I know many of the rabbonim, and I and other more yeshivish friends who have attended conventions have been very pleased by the majority. They learn, they take halacha seriously. They all draw lines in the sand, starting with the 13 Ikarim of the Rambam.”

    R. Adlerstein, I think you are completely missing my point. I have the greatest respect for many of the MO Rabbinate, and most are devoted Bnei Torah and Talmidei Chachamim. But that is a far cry from the RCA declaring that a portion of its membership has acted beyond the pale. The RCA, in my view, is culturally and organizationally incapable of doing that.

    I was a talmid in R. Aharon Soloveichik’s shiur in YU when he was alive and well enough to give it. I distinctly recall him stating publicly that he was embarrasesd and ashamed that the RCA allowed a certain left-wing “Rabbi” (who, IMHO, makes Avi Weiss look like a piker) to remain a member. Did that bother anyone there? Not at all.

    (I asked him why he remained a member, and he answered that he felt that this allowed him to connect with certain baalei batim and strengthen Torah in a way it otherwise would not.)

  14. mycroft says:

    “Rabbi Addlerstein was talking about the Modern Orthodox world – full stop. At no point did he do a compare and contrast to the Charedi world or make any claim the Charedi world is better”

    I find Rabbi Adlerstein’s blogs to be ones that are worth reading precisely because he does not specilaize in attacking other Orthodox Jews not in his machene. The attack I believe it was on Joel Rich. To be fair it is far from the main point of Rabbi Adlerstein’s comments but he did write: “While my own perception is that in general, the traditionalist group can lay claim to far more knowledge of Torah sources and depth in their understanding…”

    BTW-the truth and falsity of that statement may depend on how one defines Torah-does one limit oneself only to Shas or is knowledge of Emunot Vedeot and Moreh Nevuchim not also part of Torah sources

  15. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I am pulling the plug on an entire thread of comments. My piece was not intended to set off a duel between proponents of Modern Orthodoxy and Yeshiva Orthodoxy.

    Modern Orthodoxy need not act defensively around my posts. I made it clear that I accept, appreciate, and value much of both MO and YO. I personally draw from both. I wrote the piece out of a sense of frustration with MO leadership (NOT the rank and file rabbonim, and certainly not the laity) for not enunciating and articulating principles accepted by rov minyan and rov banyan of MO rabbonim that would firmly differentiate between themselves and the Left. This can be done without bans, charamim, charges of kefirah, or “throwing out” anyone from within Orthodoxy.

    As long as two strains of MO vie for popularity, individual Centrist rabbonim will be under increasing pressure to adopt more and more practices that the talmidei chachamim of both MO and YO reject b’shtei yadayim. If the ideology and methodology of the Left can be distanced by a large rabbinic organization, there will be protection in the prescription of the many.

    I will be deleting many comments in the queue, and undoubtedly more to come from those who simply ignored what the piece was about. If you submitted one of them, hold on to it. Perhaps someone’s future post will be a suitable place to submit it. Regarding this piece, the only comments should be about the agonizing dilemma of rabbonim, many of whom can learn quite well (and who do not need to validate themselves or their beliefs to anonymous critics) trying to deal with a belief system they reject, while still trying to preserve as much unity as possible.

  16. Bob Miller says:

    About this “nascent Third Way” we are discussing:

    Who’s to say it’s the third? By now, in our age of designer Orthodoxy, we may actually have ten or more—just count the major divisions you know of. If present trends continue, our many “ways” will multiply further and make mutual cooperation even more problematical.

    While difficult, finding more common ground is a critically important task.

  17. Daniel Rubin says:

    “(Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I find myself, along with many thousands of others, caught between two communities, or part of a nascent Third Way in Orthodoxy that as yet has no name.)”

    It is wonderful to finally see someone identify us and acknowledge our existence! Thank you!!

    Perhaps someone will now create a networking and shidduch website for this under-served population. :-)

  18. Charlie Hall says:

    “It was not long before a woman was leading a kabbolas Shabbos service at HIR – this in itself in response to its hosting of a group from Drisha, a women’s program in Manhattan that welcomes faculty members trained by and teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary. ”

    I don’t think this is entirely accurate. I was at HIR the night of the event you mention, and attended Kabalat Shabat in the main shul led by a man. Drisha visitors were all over the women’s section.

    [YA – Interesting. I related what I was told by someone else who was in attendance the same evening!]

  19. Tal S. Benschar says:

    “[I]t be more appropriate to simply draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is not our Yiddishkeit!'”

    The problem is that the leadership of the RCA comes from a cultural milieu that eschews any drawing of lines in the sand. Such actions to them are highly distasteful. To their way of thinking, acting this way is too reminiscent of medieval times. Their gut reaction to such a suggestion would be, “R. Adlerstein, who do you think we are? Torquemada? The Edah Charedis?”

    [I firmly dispute this. I know many of the rabbonim, and I and other more yeshivish friends who have attended conventions have been very pleased by the majority. They learn, they take halacha seriously. They all draw lines in the sand, starting with the 13 Ikarim of the Rambam. They believe that the greatest talmidei chachamim should be consulted – even when the answers can’t be formulated in halachic language. (IOW, they believe in Daas Torah, even though they won’t call it that. But then, that is more the fault of some of our own chevra for stretching the concept beyond the breaking point.)]

  20. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    For people in the active Yeshiva world rabbinate, getting their position is always determined first and foremost by their erudition. Amongst the active MO rabbinate, scholarship very often takes a back seat to pastoral and/or oratory skills. I don’t see how this is even debatable.

  21. S. says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, I don’t understand how you can use a word like Centrist without also positing some kind of valid left flank. What is, in your opinion, the valid left flank of Orthodoxy? Evidently it’s to the right of YCT, but what/ whom do you have in mind?

    [YA – I simply do not understand your question. I’m using standard terminology, not of my invention. My opinion is not so important, but if you ask, I accept most of Centrist Orthodoxy ideology (as opposed to practice) as valid and often lechatchila. I disagree with some ideas here and there, as do rabbis who call themselves Centrist. I do not see any of those areas of disagreement as threats to the mesorah, which is one that I believe is shared by all of us. I cannot say the same for the Left. Some of its ideology (not just practice) I believe to be both flawed and dangerous. Even there, I have not yet encountered ideology that I would call kefirah, and am loathe to apply a sobriquet that is abused by application done too freely. Halachically, its spokespeope are still part of the halachic construct of “amisecha.” ]

  22. Michoel says:

    I’m very impressed that everyone is saying p’shat in R. Adlerstein! Mamash like a Rashi on Chumash. A key diuk is that RYA refers not to “Chareidim” as I, Joel, and snagville misquote him, but to the “yeshiva world”. It is simply preposterous to equate the am haratzus of segments of the MO world with Mir, Chafetz Chaim and Lakewood, and your average black-hat layman from Baltimore or Queens. And the drive to do so bespeaks a lot of insincerity when valid criticisms of the Yeshiva world are raised.

  23. robert lebovits says:

    Today’s Modern Orthodoxy has historical antecedents. Perhaps the most influential force in creating an interface between Yiddishkeit & the modern world was the Torah Im Derech Eratz movement of R’ S.R. Hirsch. The Hirschian construct always placed Torah ahead of modernity (Torah is the Queen; Derech Eretz is the handmaiden). The outcome of such a relationship is of course pre-determined as the parties are not equivalent.
    The question has always been do we bend Torah to allow us to be full participants in the modern world or does Torah inform us as to the degree of participation we may have without losing our essential integrity. Interestingly, this dynamic exists in both the MO community and the Yeshiva velt. No one has a lock on the perfect balance but we can see when the scales are skewed so far as to make Torah an afterthought. The very methods employed by some to define & articulate the Torah perspective are of questionable authenticity. The MO scholarly community must establish a set of principles of shared practice in the halachic process that is not at odds with precedent. Otherwise there is no dialogue.

  24. Reb Yid says:

    The straw man–Conservative Judaism–doesn’t apply here.

    The main reasons why Conservative Judaism faltered: 1) Inability to grow and retain a substantial committed laity; 2) Ethnicity as a means for cohesion and survival is now much less politically correct than it used to be

    The progressive elements of Orthodoxy have passionate, committed rabbis and laity alike. And while Klal Yisrael is part of the package, a more crucial driver is social justice–which is something that young Jews across the denominational spectrum desire, and that institutional Orthodoxy sorely lacks.

    [YA – 1) From social justice, you cannot sustain a religion. Reform tried that, and can lay claim to a retention rate well below ZPG. Young people may want to see more involvement in social justice (at least some of them; in time, it will happen), but they also need to feed their neshamos in a way that HKBH set down as normative. Reform doesn’t believe in that; Conservative doesn’t know how to do it, and the ultra-left of MO is on the verge, not deliberately, of losing its hold on it. 2) Others may have an advanced sense of social justice, but they have lost all sense of balance in regard to placing your own first. Particularism is a dirty word in matters of philanthropy, and it has already succeeded in yielding a new generation of philanthropic Jews – who do not give to Jewish endeavors. I push social responsibility on my own students, but only in synch with unapologetically teaching them about the responsibility of taking care of our own first (something I see practiced quite unapologetically in mainline Protestant circles!)

  25. BobF says:

    MO will be successful if they focus on fulfilling the needs of their constituents. Whether someone else considers them not learned enough, or something else is irrelevant.

    [YA – Boruch Hashem, the Modern Orthodox leadership that I am familiar with is too principled to accept such a utilitarian benchmark, and are also quite learned. But their convictions are under assault from the left flank, that can offer people who are not so learned a Judaism that seems similar to them, but is quite a departure from those convictions. ]

  26. mb says:

    Cut off the left, then the centre will be on the left, then they will cut you off too!

  27. lacosta says:

    could some one please explain to me dovid’s comment—

    Your comment is a classic example of unwarranted, knee jerk Charedi bashing. Rabbi Addlerstein was talking about the Modern Orthodox world – full stop

    — how could saying the same thing about haredi judaism is qualified as ‘bashing’
    but saying it about MO is thought ful consideration? unless one has a premise of separate, but unequal?!?!

  28. michoel halberstam says:

    There is something that has been left out of the mix. Today Eretz Yisroel accounts for almost half of world Jewry, the proportion will only become greater with time. It is the cultural home of the world’s most important autonomous Jewish community, as a result it is the place where the most ferment in the real Jewish world, the world where being Jewish has relationship to Learning and shemiras hamitzvos, is taking place. We may not know it or want to know it, but already there are numerous communities of committed observant Jews in EY, with their own leaders, their own hashkofos, and many of our yeshiva trained brethren here in America had better sit up and take notice, because otherwise twenty years from now they will wonder what happened. Some of the trends being developed there may begin to have a greater haspoah on us here, and that will be a positive development. Here in this country today, the Yeshivishe world has totally abdicated is positions to the extreme chareidi elemnt in EU as a result the lefrt wing doesn’t feel like we have anything to say to them. The right wing is absolutely sure that they have the whole ems , so who do thyey have to talk to, and the bulk of our Jews are simply disappearing. I don’t seen that the future will come out of how we , that is the right wing, MO, or the RCA, deals with Avi Weiss and his shittos. What really needs to happen is for all of us to reexamine our own levels of understanding. In a very real sense, we cannot rely on a small cadre of self selected leaders to make our decisions.

  29. Not Emes/Snagville says:

    Joel,

    I agree you with completely. Now I will let you in on a little secret (just between us). What RYA meant was that Charedi Jews (like myself) would be surprised by the diverse makeup of the MO rabbinate as there are some who are actually quite good in learning. This would be a surprise to many Charedi (not me though). To MO Jews your fact about Charedi Rabbis would not be a surprise, just a fact.

  30. Michoel says:

    Actually, R. Adlerstein does imply that the charedi world is better in regard to serious lumdus. And of course he is absolutely correct. The MO world needs to be confident enough to admit that the charedi world has some strengths.

  31. David says:

    Joel – You’re exactly right, the yeshivishe world isn’t a single movement either. The point I was making about MO – that there really is no such thing as “Modern Orthodox leadership” that can make official policy decisions for Modern Orthodoxy – applies equally to the yeshivishe velt. There is no unified ideological front there, either.

  32. Steve Brizel says:

    I think the issue boils down to whether the LW of MO are seriouly viewed beyond their own chattering class as Baalei Mesorah and Baalei Horaah. If one would not ask such persons a simple halachic question or seek their expertise on very complicated halachic issues, then one can rest assured that their voices are simply viewed as not worth responding or listening to.

  33. Dovid says:

    Joel Rich,
    Your comment is a classic example of unwarranted, knee jerk Charedi bashing. Rabbi Addlerstein was talking about the Modern Orthodox world – full stop. At no point did he do a compare and contrast to the Charedi world or make any claim the Charedi world is better. Is this blog not allowed ot discuss legitimate issues in the MO world in a respectful manner as this article does?

  34. Michael says:

    It seems to me that the variety of approaches to hashkafa, even within the Torah world, relate in part to the diversity of human personalities. People stake out an approach, and then find an institution to associate with, which is sometimes a perfect fit, more often not. The institution fills up with all sorts of different personality types, and they grow and shift over their lives. Eventually, the institution becomes a “big tent” holding views that are too diverse for one institution, and the institution chooses (which often means giving up part of its original mission) or dies. The ever-present ideological range which is natural to human life becomes a becomes a struggle over carefully built institutions and their resources. But the range of views–the raison d’etre of the institutions in the first place– precedes the institutions, and outlasts them.

    I think many of these happenings of recent years– the decline of Conservative Judaism, Rabbas, Canadian Conservadox seminaries, non-modern orthodox YU grads, leftward and rightward movement within the Orthodox rabbinate, increasing modern trends in the Chareidi world– are just manifestations of this phenomenon.

    There have always been right, left and center. There have always been literalists and non-literalists. There have always been kana’aim and those who are much more laid back than [the kana’im claim] their beliefs should allow. It is human nature, and it is not just a phenomenon amongst Jews.

    Just my conjecture based on unscientific observation.

  35. shloi says:

    There is no clear definition of MO because different voices coming from the MO world are being heard in the public domain.

    I believe that there are also different voices in the charedi world but the structure of the charedi society does not allow these voices to be heard.

  36. David S says:

    “Can it continue to lay claim to halachic and hashkafic integrity while successfully encountering general society?”

    The encounter with modernity is no encounter if the outcome is predetermined. A man might stand in front of a group of people and speak to them, all the while believing he is engaging in dialogue but what is actually occurring is monologue. This is the case with this article. It is written by someone who is clearly not willing to consider the possibility of dialogue with the general society on the issue of women’s equality (which has embraced equal opportunity for women as a fundamental human right). He may be willing to dialogue with the general society on the need for an education in math and english (which a Haredi person might not be willing to dialogue upon). That said, it is simply a matter of personal preference and degree.

  37. Bob Miller says:

    David (October 13, 2010 at 3:26 am) made a good point.

    As long as there are different attitudes toward and definitions of both modernity and Orthodoxy within the “Modern Orthodox movement”, there will be opposing factions. The brand name Modern Orthodoxy has largely lost its clarity and usefulness, which is why other terms (or euphemisms) such as Centrist or Open have been invented lately.

    Splintering into factions is not unique to MO; it’s part of a broader failure to unite that typifies Klal Yisrael in the exile we pray to leave soon.

  38. Chareidi Leumi says:

    It is interesting to me that most of the major issues of this sort are comming out of the USA whereas the parallel RZ community feels less of a reason to define itself in such a way. It seems that the minimal criteria for inclusion in RZ is a minimal shmirat haMitzvot (probably kashrus, shabbas, taharat mishpacha) and a dedication to contributing to the techiya of am Israel in Eretz Israel (which is parralel to the USA MO value of “participation in general culture” but takes on much greater religious value when general culture is the state of Israel).

    Interestingly, the parts of the society that has the greatest “pushing the envelope” of halacha and meta-halacha here in Israel are those areas which have a sizable anglo MO population (such as Katamon and Givaat Shmuel).

    I do not think such a model is workable in chu”l but perhaps the lesson is that any encounter with modernity is more effective and organic on the playing field of Eretz Yisrael.

  39. joel rich says:

    R’YA,
    I think the real dicotomy is not the one you describe but MO (Torah umadda is torah plus) vs. MO-Lite (we really should be chareidim but it’s too hard so lets pick and choose what we’re comfortable with)
    KT

  40. joel rich says:

    David -Whereas the charedi movement presents a focused,unified approach through Agudah?????? and of course chassidim and mitnagdim are pretty unified in approach as well?

    but I really appreciated the following: “People who reside entirely in the more traditional Yeshiva world would be surprised by the makeup of the “modern” rabbinate. The diversity is enormous. You will find bnei Torah with good learning skills, a real love for limud Torah, and an enviable grasp of serious, nuanced halacha. At the other end of the continuum, you will find ignorance of gemara and halacha of epic proportions”

    Now try this on for size:
    People who reside entirely in the more traditional MO world would be surprised by the makeup of the “charedi” rabbinate. The diversity is enormous. You will find bnei Torah with good learning skills, a real love for limud Torah, and an enviable grasp of serious, nuanced halacha. At the other end of the continuum, you will find ignorance of gemara and halacha of epic proportions.

    BTW-both statements are true imho

    KT

  41. David says:

    Part of the problem is that even demographically and instiutionally, much less theologiclly, there is no clear definition of “Modern Orthodoxy.” Many more yeshivish-leaning YU alumni do not consider themselves “Modern Orthodox,” because to them the term refers to wishy-washy halachic standards, not to certain beliefs regarding secular studies, the State of Israel, daas torah, etc.

    My point is that there is no cohesive, well-defined “Modern Orthodox movement,” so it is impossible for any official statements to be made claiming to represent Modern Orthodoxy.