Modern Orthodoxy is Always at the Crossroads


By Michael Broyde

[Editor’s Note: Rabbi Broyde penned and submitted an eloquent reaction to my piece in Ami Magazine regarding the dilemma that Modern Orthodoxy faces in regard to the Far Left. It is a more than worthwhile read, for cogently capturing a very different point of view. Rabbi Broyde and I have been fast friends for years. Despite the fact that we very rarely agree about important matters, we both sense that we share far more than we disagree about. I do not regard him as a member of the Far Left, especially because of our shared passion for serious Torah learning – even though we frequently disagree about pshat in the passages before us. We are friends neither in spite of our differences, nor because of them. We are simply friends.

Needless to say, I disagree with both my friend’s analysis of the differences between the Far Left and mainstream Orthodoxy, as well as his recommendations for action. I am hoping that readers will do much of the heavy lifting in reacting to this piece, saving me from having to write a detailed response. – YA]

I. Introduction

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s brilliantly written essay “Modern Orthodoxy at a Crossroads” is, like everything else Rabbi Adlerstein has written, full of his erudite insights into community. However, ultimately, both his diagnosis of the problem and his explanation of the solution are, I think, wrong: Modern Orthodoxy is always at the crossroads – no more now than yesterday or tomorrow. Furthermore, he fundamentally misunderstands the Modern Orthodox ethos and condition – Modern Orthodoxy will always be more embracing of all Orthodox Jews than many are comfortable with as our boundaries are determined more by the historical parameters of halacha than by current gedolim. Modern Orthodoxy will always be more open to all Orthodox Jews.

At its core, Rabbi Adlerstein’s essay is an attempt to delegitimize what he call the Orthodox “Far Left,” a term he does not define or characterize, but is used throughout in his essay. Allow me to give it a definition: the Orthodox “Far Left” is a group within the Orthodox community which is attempting to discard many aspects of minhag yisrael on matters of women’s issues and perhaps will come to adopt the same approach to other issues as well. Yet it seems that at least in intent (if not in effect, to borrow Lawrence Summer’s term), they are not seeking to leave the halachic community at all. They are, instead, seeking to expand the borders of customary practice with innovative readings of sources, some grounded in classical insights, some grounded in innovation and some grounded in social change that they perceive as present. Furthermore, and this might be the crux of the issue, they steadfastly refuse to defer to the judgments of the gedolim who dominate the community that Rabbi Adlerstein comes from and instead either put forward their own gedolim or deny the need for sanction from gedolim to make the changes they recommend.

Rabbi Adlerstein’s view is that the RCA must expel the “Far Left” and without such an expulsion, the cooperation with the Charedi community will be jeopardized. Both of these conclusions are wrong – indeed, I think that the RCA should welcome as members those whom Rabbi Adlerstein thinks is the “Far Left” with open hands; the Orthodox center and right are all better with the Orthodox “Far Left” present, and much more importantly, the Orthodox “Far Left” is better served in a community with the rest of Orthodoxy. Each will moderate and temper the other. The parts are weaker than the whole. Modern Orthodoxy has to be more embracing of all Orthodox Jews. Furthermore, if we exclude the halachic “Far Left” from our community, we will have no say in what they do and how they do it.

II. Halacha First: A Modern Orthodox Credo

First and foremost, Rabbi Adlerstein’s plea for expulsion is completely unconvincing to me. Anyone who really understands what Modern Orthodoxy ought to be, understands that after we are finished expelling the “Far Left”, there will be a new far left to expel. In this regard, the Rav’s z.t.l approach to Rabbi Rackman was correct – wrong halachic ideas are criticized and sometimes even delegitimatized – but people are not normally expelled for advocating ideas that are within the halachic universe but simply not proper or normative.

(But this is not enough of a vision for the Modern Orthodox community – as we have to decide what idea and conduct are outside of these parameters. Our tent needs to have walls – otherwise, what kind of tent is it? More on this in the next section)

Second, and most importantly, Modern Orthodoxy is – as its name suggests – an attempt to meld the classical rabbinic tradition with the best of the modern world, and it requires, indeed even mandates, that the modern world be examined to determine what is in it that ought to be part of the Orthodox community. This can be found in the rabbinic idiom that “The best of the house of Yefet should reside in the house of Shem” – the best of western culture should be part of the Jewish community.

To implement this requires two things, one obvious and one less so. It requires that we examine western culture faithfully and diligently to determine that which is best and ought to be incorporated. More subtly, it requires that we recognize that there are things missing from our own tent, so that we ought to acquire them from the outside: the recognition that there are things missing from our own tent is a central point of the Modern Orthodox mindset.

Here is the Modern Orthodox difficulty: we sometimes argue about what is missing from our own tent that ought to be incorporated. For example, some of us think that greater egalitarianism is needed, and others think that egalitarianism is not a virtue. Some think that Messianic Zionism ought to be incorporated — and others think that Messianic Zionism is a vice. Some welcome a university which is a yeshiva — others do not. Some of us think that Talmudic rabbis can err about scientific fact — and others do not. Modernity has brought many changes, not all of them good – but not all of them bad, either. Modern Orthodoxy is itself uncertain about these issues and most of us believe that each of these ideas (and many other modern ideas) has brought both positive and negative changes. Equal pay for men and women performing the same jobs, and communal action to prevent domestic abuse and marital rape are two clear examples of a positive impact of feminism. The unbridled use of unwarranted abortions and immodest dress, on the other hand, are clear examples of a negative impact. As with other contemporary values, such as democracy, the halakhic community must determine which values within a given contemporary ideology are worthy of incorporation. Most topics are rarely questions of black and white, and require a careful analysis of the halakhic sources as well as meta-halakhic factors at stake. Truth resides typically between the polar ideals of a complex situation.

How are we to solve this basic problem? I suggest Modern Orthodoxy both cannot and should not. Instead, we should allow experimentation within the Orthodox community to allow time to help us discern what is and what is not missing from our tent and to incorporate external virtues into our community gradually.

Finally, and related, until the reestablishment of a Sanhedrin, we need to achieve unity and not uniformity, enabling a reality of diversity without divisiveness. This is the appropriate historical lesson of the terrible schism within European Orthodox Jewry in the 19th and 20th centuries. The vicious fights between religious groups (Chasidim versus Misnagdim, Zionists versus anti-Zionists and many others) and the many polemical disputes about the details of ritual life (sermons in the vernacular, the placement of the bimah, etc…) with their delegitimizing tone strike one, with the wisdom of hindsight, as unwise. The fratricidal fighting did not help our community or Judaism as a whole, and appears particularly misguided in light of how we have come over time to live with these differences. Modern Orthodoxy – recognizing the difficulty of the task of melding the best of western culture with classical Orthodox Judaism – will be more embracing of all Orthodox Jews than those movements who see no value in this task.

This same motto of “unity without uniformity, diversity without divisiveness” should also apply to the range of opinions regarding women’s issues, and in particular, the role of women as students and teachers of Torah. Clearly, there exists a wide spectrum of opinions on this matter, ranging from Rabbi Soloveitchik’s opinion that Talmud study ought to be a routine part of women’s education, to Rabbi Teitelbaum’s approach that women may only be taught the Written Torah without even Rashi’s commentary. Many others fall out between these two poles, again recognizing that all remain a part of the Orthodox community.

III: Where Should the Walls of Our Tent Be?

But, of course there have to be walls to our big tent. These walls should be the wide historical walls of classical Orthodox halacha and haskafa and not the contemporary walls that bind our community in America or Israel. The Modern Orthodox community, and the RCA specifically, ought to welcome into its tent anyone who professes loyalty to the theology of Jewish belief endorsed by Rishonim and Aharonim as historically and halachically understood, and whose conduct is governed by classical Jewish law, even if that conduct is inconsistent with the current norms as put forward by the gedolim that Rabbi Adlerstein admires and expects fidelity to.
Let me add that Modern Orthodoxy by its very nature – incorporating the best of western culture into the rabbinic tradition – will be less traditional than other Orthodox communities which do not look at the world around them in any positive way. And that is not a problem. The Nodah beYehuda observes (correctly in my view) in OC 2:18 that when there is a clear minhag yisrael to do something (in his case, to have 12 windows in a shul), but that minhag is an obstacle to serious religious growth, then if the minhag is not grounded in halacha, we ought to abandon the minhag in that particular case. Most of us in the Modern Orthodox think that the Noda beYehuda’s formulation is correct, and if that is true, then all arguments of minhag without any serious reference to halacha will not really persuade anyone who is not already persuaded. They will always respond in reference to the Nodah beYehuda: non-halachic minhagim need to change as the reality of life changes. To really set limits on our community, we need to speak the language of halacha first and foremost.

Let’s focus on the example Rabbi Adlerstein focuses on most closely – Rabbi Kanefsky’s proposal to abolish the recitation of the bracha shelo asani isha, and replace it with the bracha she-asani Yehudi. (I will speak about the tone of Rabbi Kanefsky’s essay in the penultimate section.) Anyone who has read the halachic literature on this topic sees that such a proposal is grounded in the halachic literature, although very far from the current practice. A strong case can be made that the Rema endorsed the saying of the bracha of she-asani yehudi (see, for example, the Machon Yerushalayim Tur OC 46 note 12*), the Gra is widely quoted as endorsing such (see Sedai Chemed, Maarerchet Cherufin, Asifat dinim 5 sv umedi vedri on page 174) and so is the Rosh. It is not hard to find teshuvot on the Bar Ilan CD endorsing such a proposal as a matter of historical halacha.

I see no reason to exclude someone from Orthodoxy because they advocate a view that is far from normative now, when it has a fine rabbinic pedigree, even if it is unpopular with the giants of our contemporary times and untraditional. Let me add the obvious – even as I oppose this proposed change, I do not think that one who proposes it is outside of Orthodoxy.

Modern Orthodox tent walls need to exclude people and rabbis who advocate ideas outside the halachic box, but we should not exclude people who defy the current Orthodox convention. The way it is now is not the way it always was and we need not be convinced that it will always be the same. Exclusion should be limited to people who halacha lemaaseh endorse practices that are outside the confines of historical Orthodoxy, no matter what the current norm is.

IV. What then, Really, is at Stake?

So what is really at stake in the current controversy about the “Far Left”? Here, I think Rabbi Adlerstein again sees the world through his wonderful but focused eyes. He writes that the real reason the “Far Left” has to be excluded from Orthodoxy is:

Firstly, the impact upon areas of Orthodox cooperation will be enormous. If the Far Left grows stronger in untethering itself from both traditional hashkafos and accepted protocols of determining halacha, there will almost certainly be a reaction in the rest of the Orthodox world. Lemegdar milsa, to draw clear lines of differentiation, the traditional community will move in the opposite direction to oppose changes it sees as dangerous and illegitimate. We will drift even further apart. Cooperation in many areas – education, kashrus, kiruv, gerus, political advocacy – will be jeopardized or eliminated. Much of the right will argue that if Modern Orthodoxy can tolerate such aberrations in its midst rather than expelling it, than they cannot trust or continue to deal with the Modern Orthodox – especially if a YCT presence becomes mingled with the Modern Orthodox representation in common enterprises. Cooperation that took decades to accomplish may quickly unravel.

There is no “secondly” in the essay, a surprising breach of linguistic protocol for such a wonderful writer (and a member of Phi Beta Kappa) but this small linguistic faux pas reflects the fact that there is no other value present, really, in his calculus.

Let me be plain spoken here, because Rabbi Adlerstein is so honest. What he says might be true – the Charedi community might cooperate less with the Modern Orthodox community if we allow voices in our community that are repugnant to the Charedi mindset, and that is a political reason to remove the “Far Left.” I understand that rationale. I just do not favor these witch hunts; witch hunts never end – they just find more witches to hunt for, until the hunters consume themselves.

The threat is clear and the promise obvious. The Charedi community, Rabbi Adlerstein tell us, will not cooperate with the Modern Orthodox community unless we agree that there have to be clear limits and those clear limits will have to be determined by the gedolim approved by the Charedi community. Here, I think that no real reply is needed, but we should not substantively change our policies in light of this political truth, any more than the Rav zt”l did not respond to the cherem against participating in the Synagogue Council of America many decades ago – but he did not direct the RCA to withdraw from the SCA either. The Charedi community will have to accept Modern Orthodoxy on its own terms – or not – but I know that progress forward is not possible in any community if one has to look over one’s left or right shoulder all the time.

The same fatal flaw is found in Rabbi Adlerstein’s quoting of Rabbi Balk’s proposal to create a narrow based Modern Orthodox Moetzet gedolai Torah. Rabbi Adlerstein writes:

With the stakes so high, only one recourse suggests itself. The question of keeping YCT or defining it out of contemporary Orthodoxy should be put to the three talmidei chachamim within the American Modern Orthodox world that are most respected for their halachic ability: Rabbis Hershel Schachter, Gedalia Schwartz, and Mordechai Willig. The RCA should be prepared to abide by whatever decision these three come up with.

The decision to leave Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein and Norman Lamm off this list, speaks volumes about what is wrong with this proposal and where its biases reside. I favor, truth be told, a Modern Orthodox moetzet – but Modern Orthodoxy needs to pick its own broad based leadership and I suspect that a Modern Orthodox moetzet needs to (like other mo’atzot) have many more than these three Torah giants as its voices in making such important decisions.

V. A Word to the “Far Left”

Having said all of this, the reader might think that I am an defender of the “Far Left”, so I end this essay with words of loving direct rebuke of that community.

The tone of much that is written from the leadership of the “Far Left” community leaves much to be desired; not only is their writing careless, but imprudent and haphazard planning of change has jeopardized the progress achieved on many levels within the Modern Orthodox world and brought our small community to the cusp of schism for no good reason.

So too, the “Far Left” community has proven bad at drawing lines in its sand and having walls in its tents. Nothing was said when the chair of the YCT attacked Rabbi Willig and Rabbi Schachter at a public event years ago; nothing was said when a YCT rabbi issued a gay friendly Haggadah featured in a YCT publication; nothing was said when Sarah Hurwitz was ordained rabba, and nothing was said when a women led kabbalat Shabbat at a prominent shul. Silence is not the way to define the walls of the tent – since people do not know which conduct was genuinely reflective of ideals, and which simply a mistake — and the sounds of silence are defining who the Far Left is. The same can be said for the tone of the initial article written by my good friend Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky (a “wonderful human being,” as Rabbi Adlerstein notes who I have known for more than 35 years) that provoked this current firestorm.

Everyone – left, right, and center – needs to be careful before they speak or write or do in public.

VI. The Path Forward

If Orthodox is to stay together – clearly a virtue that Rabbi Adlerstein and I share – it has to be because people are sensitive to what rocks the boat, and we all need to hesitate to the rock the boat without forethought and a great deal of planning. I turn again to the wise counsel of Rabbi Norman Lamm שליט”א Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University. He stated:

There are certain things that are acceptable only in the long run. I approve of the idea of increasing the role of women in religious life and think it is an important one….. At the same time, things have to be done gradually. To have a woman learn Gemara a generation or two ago like women learn Gemara today would have been too revolutionary. But with time, things change; time answers a lot of questions, erodes discomfort, and helps.

Orthodoxy – left, right and center – should take note of Rabbi Lamm’s reservations and hesitations regarding the future and recognize that the pace of change is a central measure of the likelihood of success. His nuanced formulation addresses well the question of change in minhag yisrael. Minhag yisrael does evolve over time, and yet slowly. Slow and careful change facilitates greater insight, feedback, and development, and could be a good motto for Orthodoxy in this area. The “Far Left” community has caused this crisis because they have adopted a pace of chance that is neither planed out nor thought out nor shared.

Lew me suggest a metaphor: change in Orthodoxy is a lot like orthodontics. To move teeth, you have to apply small amounts of pressure over great periods of time. Lots of pressure over small periods of time do not move teeth but break them. So too with the Orthodox community. Slow change produces positive developments, while large movements break us apart. There is also a natural limit to just how far teeth can move.

VII. Concluding Thoughts

Modern Orthodoxy, by its very nature, is always at the crossroads. As the modern world changes, Modern Orthodoxy must change as well, while remaining open to all Orthodox Jews. Responses that worked at a different time, no longer work, so the Modern Orthodox community has to craft new response to a new modernity. We understand that this is frustrating to our brothers on the right who are achecha bemitzvot, but who are less modern; we also understand that this is frustrating to the community to the left of us who are still waiting for us to incorporate the full impact of modernity. We sense that Modern Orthodoxy is a full blown lechatchela approach to the world that we live in, so long as we journey with care and deliberate speed — it incorporates two central values that we cannot live without: Halacha and the best of western culture. The question is whether we can still work together united if in fact we are all loyal to halacha. Modern Orthodoxy is happy to – but each community needs to do so on our own terms.

Rabbi Michael Broyde is a professor of law and the academic director of the Law and Religion Program at Emory University. He was the Founding Rabbi of Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, and a dayan for Beth Din of America

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84 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    R Broyde-WADR, one cannot ignore the many problematic comments of the personae who are considered LW MO rabbincal leaders and academics vis a vis the nature of the covenant between HaShem and Am Yisrael, views of TSBP that view it sexist or akin to a pretzel that can be bent at will to accomodate the Zeitgeist or POVs that view Moshe Rabbeinu and Chazal as great personae but limited by culture and their base of knowledge. Why the same can’t be appropriately categorized either beyond the pale of traditional belief as Machish Magideah , apikorsus or Kefirah simply escapes me.

  2. Daniel W says:

    Yehosuha K. raises the point of “What “best element” of the modern world contributed to the breaches in tznius, leniencies in hilchos kashrus and Shabbos, and virtual abrogation of limud Torah l’shma, that are rampant in segments of the Modern Orthodox world.”
    This is where the conversation turns from the argument on rabbinic positions to what kind of “Balabatim” these rabbis develop. This is indeed a huge challenge within modern orthodoxy, that people are being happy with basic Shmiras Shabbos and basic (read: lenient) Shmiras Kashrus and letting everything else slide. R’ Broyde himself clearly doesn’t live that way and there are many who have learned under him who are much more “Lishma” than that as well. I also do see some light in the rising young professional generation – in secular colleges, where much of Yehoshua’s concerns are fostered, there is certainly a lot of dabbling in less-than-Halachik activities; however, as these people are graduating, entering established communities, and marrying and having children, there is absolutely a settling back into a more religiously active and truthful MO lifestyle – a lifestyle that one might say is now enriched with “the best of Western culture”.

  3. cohen y says:

    while the article from Sept 27,2011 was addressed,the article of July 17 2009 was not addressed.

  4. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    R. Michael and R. Yitzchok, you are both awesome! The details of all this skirmish are of course important, but the derech eretz with which you do so is more so. I would hope and pray that your discussion will be a role model for the way these conflicts are carried on in the future, instead of, say, what’s been going on in Beit Shemesh lately. As for the question of whether a rav lives in Israel or the US, Jews keep making aliya and that will continue as life in Israel gets better and life in America gets worse. Modern communication makes physical location not very relevant.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    R Michael Broyde responded to my post:

    “To Steve Brizel: You are underplaying Rabbi Lamm’s massive intellectual contributions to our community in his writing and you are also over emphasizing Rabbi Lichtenstein’s criticism, while under emphasizing his role. He clear identifies with Modern Orthodoxy and the reverse too. When the RCA turns to its most senior members, Rabbi Lichtenstein is always on that list as was Rabbi Lamm. I agreed with the second half of your second post, and thought the first half of your second post was of the wrong tone and misplaced in its emphasis”

    RAL’s views on MO are a matter of record-RAL views himself as being insufficeintly RZ in comparison with other RZ and insufficiently Charedi when compared to Charedi RY and rabbinic leaders. As far as my second post, with respect to the views that I summarized, IMO, LW MO refuses to acknowledge that such views are problematic, at the least, or worse verging into what RYBS called “Machish Magideah” or what could properly called Apikorsus or Kefirah. IMO, it is unfortunate that the LW MO views any discussion on the same as the religious equivalent of a witch hunt.

  6. Tal Benschar says:

    On the other hand I think that the idea that the RCA will take a strong stand on this is highly unlikely.

    I tend to agree for the reasons stated above.

    When the Soviet Union (anyone remember that monstrosity?) was breaking up, I recall at one point that someone, half-facetiously, stated that perhaps Russia should withdraw from the Soviet Union. Perhaps those on the right of the RCA should re-think whether they still belong there.

  7. joel rich says:

    R’ Yehoshua K,
    To paraphrase one of the great speakers of my time -I have a dream that my MO will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their shirt, but by the content of their character.
    In addition many of those leaders on “the far left” do not fit your description of religion-lite (which btw exists as far as I can tell in all sectors) but are extremely thoughtful in their approach. I do not agree with them but I wouldn’t question their seriousness or commitment to Torah. I say to you “We’re not so different than you when you peak underneath the srugie,R’ Yehoshua K . Come back to where you really belong. You’ll always be welcome here.” (even if you think 6000 years is not the actual age of the earth)

  8. Tal Benschar says:

    When I was in YU, there was a certain well-known Rabbi, who announced publicly that Hashem had breached His covenant with the Jewish people by permitting the Holocaust, and, accordingly, thereafter all mitzvos are optional. That person was never kicked out of the RCA. I distinctly recall R. Aharon Soloveichik stating publicly that he was embarassed to be a member of the same rabbinic organization as that rabbi. But his words went unheeded.

    Fast forward to the “Morethodoxy” article. WADR to R. Broyde, the issue is not one of “tone” nor is it one of the specific question of the nusach of that berachah. The original article (conveniently erased from the blog — I searched in vain throughout the internet for a copy) was an out and out bizayon of Chazal — accusing them of misogyny and worse. This is not merely bizayon of a contemporary gadol — this is denigration of the pillars of our tradition from Moshe Rabbenu to the present. The Rambam has an apt description of this: makchish maggidehah shel Torah.

    Even the revised article outrageous claims that halakha negates the dignity of women:

    “As I wrote in my original post, I believe fervently that Orthodoxy has yet to grapple fully or satisfactorily with the dignity of womankind. We know and understand, like no generation before us has known and understood, that women are men’s intellectual and spiritual equals. Our society has accordingly decided to treat both genders with equal dignity, and has opened all professional, political and communal endeavors to both genders equally. I believe that our community however, falls short of this goal in many ways. We are, of course, committed to operating within the framework and rules of halacha. But it is not hard to construct a halachik universe in which women’s physical space in shul and intellectual space in day schools and Study Halls are not lesser, but equal. It is not hard to imagine a halachik universe in which virtually all positions of leadership are available to all. And we must create a halachik universe in which the extortion of women by their ex-husbands as the Bet Din stands helplessly by, is simply unfathomable. It’s not halacha’s fault that we are lagging. It’s our fault”

    So here is my question: does the RCA have any red-lines? What does one have to do to be kicked out of it? Blasphemy and openly denigrating Chazal are apparently not enough. Or does anyone who uses the “O” world qualify?

    Turning to the “left wing” and their stated goals of halakhic revision, R. Broyde response, WADR, misses an important contextual facet. Context is important. The gemara in Sanhedrin tells us that be shaas ha shmad even a minhag like shoe laces (arkesa de mesana) is yehareig v’al yaavor. That’s a minhag that no one today even practices! Yet, the gemara tells us that in a certain context, the halakha REQUIRES one to accept martyrdom rather than vary from such a minhag.

    Today we have a group of people who have determined to adopt a philosophy — radical egalitarianism — which is foreign to, and in the view of many (including myself) antithetical to, the Torah. They are then seeking to revise halakha to conform as near as possible to this philosphy. You don’t have to be a mind reader — the purpose and goal of this group is stated explicitly. (see the above quote)

    In that context, the fact that they might be able to find an opinion among Rishonim (which has not been follwoed for centuries) is really besides the point. Their adoption of such an opinion is not because this group believes it is amitto shel Torah nor is their reliance thereon in conformance with traditional rules of psak, such as shaas ha dechak or longstanding minhag. Rather, whatever opinion fits the zeitgeist qualifies. It is that process which many object to and find utterly illegitimate. To compare that to, for example, the Mechaber holding (like the view of many Rishonim) that Chanan does not apply be shaar issurim is really ignoring this basic contextual reality.

  9. Yehoshua K says:

    I must begin with the admission that I, most likely, lie somewhere in that 3rd Way that Rabbi Adlerstein advocates. A BT of over 2 decades, with years of chareidi yeshiva learning behind me, and currently working in “klal work” in the chareidi community, I also consider myself both knowledgeable and appreciative of certain elements of secular thought, philosophy, and worldview. I try to live in absolute adherence to the words of Torah, Chazal, and the Gedolei Torah of our generation. At the same time, I endeavor to make myself aware and informed regarding both challenges to the lifestyle and community I have chosen, as well as insights and ideas that would benefit and advance the communities and individuals I both benefit from and serve.

    All of that said, I find elements of Rabbi Broyde’s defense of Modern Orthodoxy to be wishful thinking at best, and, unfortunately, more likely somewhat disingenuous. While I would not question for a moment Rabbi Broyde’s sincere and serious allegience to halacha, nor would I feel differently for the choshuva roshei yeshiva and rabbanim of RIETS, the Rebbeim in countless in and out of town day-schools and mosdos that are musmachim of RIETS and other institutions, and the klei kodesh of OU and YI shuls around the United States, to claim that the singular motivating drive in the relationship between Modern Orthodoxy and the secular world is:
    “to meld the classical rabbinic tradition with the best of the modern world.” What “best element” of the modern world contributed to the breaches in tznius, leniencies in hilchos kashrus and Shabbos, and virtual abrogation of limud Torah l’shma, that are rampant in segments of the Modern Orthodox world. Which secular value or piece of wisdom was carefully evaluated, and subsequently hand-chosen for incorporation in the hashakafa of the Modern Orthodox world that has paved the way towards mixed swimming, flagrant physical contact between boys and girls on many different levels, and views, ideas, and opinions about chazal and Torah shba’al peh that borders on overt kefira as understoon by many rishonim?

    Rabbi Broyde, I do not believe you have lived in the Ivory Tower of academia so long that you have so completely lost touch with the reality on the ground, and replaced it with a beautifully painted, idealized, theoretical picture of the movement, the tenets of which you may agree with, but the practical implications of which you lie far to the right of. You are not convincing enough in your arguments to dispel the impression that the elements of the secular world which have become incorporated into Modern Orthodoxy are only those that help people “fit in” to the world around them, feel less out of place, or, most frighteningly, allow them to “give in” to their ta’avos. Please show one instance of a secular value that, once brought into Modern Orthodoxy, have strengthened yiras shamayim, mitzvah observance, ahavas HaShem, or even (and I knew you were waiting for this one) mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro (a quick snapshot comparing the behavior of teens in pizza shops in Cedarhurst and Boro Park on a Motzei Shabbos would show us that teens are teens, and while there are most definitely many differences in their behavior on certain levels, no honest claim can be that Modern Orthodoxy has bred a heightened sensitivity and adherence to wonderful middos or ethical behavior.)

    As to your first argument that throwing the Far Left of Modern Orthodoxy out would not accomplish anything, because it would quickly be replaced by a different Far Left, I am shocked that a person of your stature, intelligence, and respect for dialogue, would resort to such an insulting and demeaning comment. Your argument presumes that the opposition to the Far Left is empty of substance, beyond that they are the just the “farthest away” on the spectrum, and, as such, should be ejected. How dare you? You don’t believe that the arguments are without any validity such that you can level such an accusation? Perhaps what would replace the Far Left would be a version of Modern Orthodoxy led by Rabbi Michael Broyde and other sincere thinkers and leaders, who would advance a Modern Orthodoxy that is more than just the current version’s excuse for “religion-lite.” No one in the Yeshiva Orthodox camp would argue for rejection of a Modern Orthodoxy that promoted deep thought about philosophical ideas, or consideration of ethical issues raised by our engagement in the secular world, while still advocating and insisting upon a serious and committed relationship to Torah, Mitzvos, and Yiras Shamayim. In fact, a Modern Orthodoxy like that would look quite a lot like many of the card-carrying chareidi Rabbanim and even Roshei Yeshiva that I have come to know and respect. The only difference is whether they wear that aspect of their intellectual lives on their lapels and wave the flag of their breadth around so as to earn someone’s respect or to define themselves more by their secular credentials or knowledge than by their chochmas haTorah or Avodas HaShem. We’re not so different than you when you peak underneath the big black hats, Rabbi Broyde. Come back to where you really belong. You’ll always be welcome here.

  10. Michael says:

    Rabbi Broyde wrote: “Rabbi Avi Weiss is a Orthodox rabbi in a shul with a mechitza. Although I do not agree with much of what he does in a few areas, your comment seems over-zealous.”

    Rabbi, I appreciate your reply, but I’m afraid I don’t understand it. Rabbi Weiss has produced a Rabbah and a Maharat and had a woman lead Kabbalat Shabbat. Is a mechitza more or less “minhag yisrael” than those? Are you saying that any Rabbi in a shul without a mechitza can’t be in the RCA?

    I really don’t know a lot about the UTJ, I just heard about it, and when I read what they have on their website it seems to meet your definition. It “professes loyalty to the theology of Jewish belief endorsed by Rishonim and Aharonim as historically and halachically understood, and whose conduct is governed by classical Jewish law, even if that conduct is inconsistent with the current norms.”

  11. ARW says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    If by “heave lifting” you mean you expect people on the right to respond to Rabbi Broyde, then it will not happen. Rabbi Broyde is considered to be well outside the right wing camp, by many to actually be either part of the far left or overly sympathetic to it. No one really believes they are going to convince him of anything. People on the right have no interest in having dialogue around statements like “the best of western culture should be part of the Jewish community”. This indicates a world view so far from our own that there is no common point of discussion. Also I find the use of euphemisms like “expanding borders” to be disingenuous. The far left does not want to expand borders; they want to control the entire country.

    On the other hand I think that the idea that the RCA will take a strong stand on this is highly unlikely. Where will the boundary be drawn? Unless the far left starts saying things openly and explicitly like “we do not believe in the revelation at Har Sinai” or “we repudiate the authority of Chazal” then they will not be expelled. Simply implying these things, which I think they have done, will not be adequate to push the RCA leadership to action.

  12. Yosef Kanefsky says:

    I add my appreciation to Rabbi Adlerstein for allowing Rabbi Broyde to guest-post. This decision reflects, as others have said, Rabbi Adlerstein’s interest in honest dialogue. In that spirit, I would ask him to cease and desist from using the (dramatically capitalized) term Far Left in this discussion. Borrowed from the coarsest of today’s political rhetoric, it is a term chosen in order to delegitimize the opponent (just as the term Far Right does). Its use is intended to shut down discussion rather than open it up. It is a crass political tool, specifically intended to suggest that conversation and dialogue are absurd, for the other side is off its rocker.
    I know that there are significant areas of disagreement. But the first decision is whether we are prepared to engage one another in respectful, thoughtful discussion or not. Perhaps we have already come to the place where even respectfully engaging the most modern (or whatever adjective you prefer) of the Modern Orthodox community, is to a grant it a legitimacy that needs to be withheld. I sincerely hope not, and would be delighted to hear otherwise.

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      Rabbi Kanefsky’s appreciative note is reciprocally appreciated! I am afraid, however, that I don’t understand his point about the use of the descriptor “Far Left.” I don’t readily understand why a phrase that positions a certain ideology on a continuum is more objectionable than ways groups describe themselves, which inevitably contrast (favorably) with different groups. Take the term “Open Orthodoxy,” for instance. Is that term not laden with implied criticism of other groups? Can you see Aguda emblazoning the slogan “Closed Orthodoxy!” on its banner? What should we make of YCT’s self-description? “The goal of the Torah curriculum at YCT is to create knowledgeable, broadminded and critical-thinking Torah scholars (talmidei chakhamim), halakhic decisors and spiritual leaders. The span of this curriculum, in depth, breadth and methodology goes far beyond that of classic Orthodox rabbinical schools and yeshivot.” Is the reference to the depth and breadth not found in other yeshivos meant to stimulate dialogue?

      These phrases – self-descriptions and depictions of others – are meant neither to shut down discussion, nor to stimulate. They are meant to capture a bit of the passion of a group or its self-understanding in a few words.

      Whether or not we have reached a point where dialogue has become impossible for fear of conferring legitimacy is not for me to decide. פוק חזי מאי עמא דבר . There are clearly communities in which this is not even a question; dialogue is not the issue, because people don’t see any great issues at stake. Perhaps they are right. There are other communities, however, where there is no longer any dialogue, actual or potential, because people are convinced that the distance in halachic and hashkafic outlook is so pronounced, that they no longer share a common language of discourse. Perhaps they are right. Or perhaps no one is right. I wish I could offer more reassurance, but I am uncertain myself.

  13. Michael Berger says:

    I enjoyed Rabbi Broyde’s piece (I regrettably did not have a chance to read Rabbi Adlerstein’s original post) and the flurry of comments. Refreshingly spirited, respectful (for the most part), and largely substantive. This is rare on today’s internet and should be noted (and appreciated).
    I don’t have much to add to the many insightful comments but to note two related things:
    1) Historical context plays a critical yet unstated role in this discussion. The comparison of today’s realities and debates to many machlokot and differences of opinion over the pre-modern centuries is not fully legitimate, because the existence of denominations today render certain options and debates that may fit Rabbi Broyde’s criteria of “inside Historical Orthodoxy” to now be “off the table” by virtue of their identification with contemporary non-halakhic communities. Of course, this has been true in every generation – determining what’s “in” or “out” always and unavoidably takes place in a context of other Jewish groups and their claims. To take a banal but relevant example: the Ba’al ha-maor is able to raise the possibility that those who do not prepare chamin for shabbat (through hatmanah) can be suspected of being a min simply because he lived among Karaites who insisted that any warm food on shabbat was assur. We all know that saying such a thing today would be odd, since Karaites are not the contemporary halakhic community’s opponent. This, I think, is RAL’s point (as cited by one comment) about the more egal minyanim in Yerushalayim and what is making several individuals get so upset at Rabbi Kanefsky’s proposal around changing “she-lo asani ishah” – we live in a time where changing matbe’a hatefillah has been done by groups clearly NOT within Orthodoxy (and at times, brazenly anti-Halakhah), and many Jews cannot easily see a way to say “yes” to one change and “no” to others (the “slippery slope argument”). Rabbi Broyde has proposed some basis for distinction – it has to be from a source within “historical Orthodoxy,” it should affect “minhag” rather than “halakhah,” etc. I myself do not know whether this distinction can or will stand by itself (e.g., minhag has morphed into halakhah in both Ashkenaz and Sfarad over the centuries in so many ways that I don’t know how the distinction can be objectively maintained), but we should see Rabbi Broyde’s suggestion as an effort to “hold the halakhic line” in some way without insisting on uniformity. In a sense, he has looked over at Conservative Judaism – which for over a century claimed to be a halakhic movement – seen that most Conservative rabbis no longer feel the need to cite a “da’at yachid” or plumb the traditional halakhic sources to justify their positions, and thus Orthodoxy can (now) afford to be more expansive and its tent bigger. I am thus not necessarily agreeing with Rabbi Broyde’s position, but I do want to contextualize it within the larger realities of the contemporary Jewish landscape – which, in my mind, has ALWAYS been the appropriate context for such discussions.
    2) In a related vein, the term “Historical Orthodoxy” is troubling – or, more accurately, overly vague – to me, and I need to know more to understand what Rabbi Broyde means, since it is the basis for his determining the walls of Orthodoxy’s tent. Several posters noted this vagueness — positions that were normative at one point in history, and are even recorded in our authoritative codes, no longer are! — so hopefully in the coming days he will share with us what criteria he’s using to establish the membership of this or that view within “Historical Orthodoxy.” He might, in fact, admit that the notion of “Historical Orthodoxy” is itself fluid and evolving – Chassidut would likely have been excluded in 1780 but included in 1880 – but that just puts the onus on identifying what TODAY we would use as our criteria for being part of that tradition. Leaving aside the fact that the term “Orthodoxy” is itself recent (and he thus should let us know what “Orthodoxy” meant at the time of the Rishonim and early-middle Acharonim), we are all aware that many things can bring a view into Orthodoxy or expel it: the authority of a tremendous posek or group of poskim, a community’s practices and norms, threats (real or perceived) from others – these are all factors that in the history of halakhah have helped determine what is acceptable and what is not. Now Rabbi Broyde, as a professor of law, may feel comfortable using a reified term like “historical Orthodoxy” (as if there was a book called “historical Orthodoxy” and I could just open it up to see if this or that position was in it) but we respectfully ask him to clarify what he means since what the term itself denominates seems to change over the ages and places.
    Yasher koach to all for a thoughtful and provocative discussion. Devarim be-rumo shel olam.

  14. Aaron L says:

    Attempts to delegitimize (from the right or the left) instead of engaging in respectful, source-based, and honest debate damage the Jewish people. Our achdut suffers, and our attempts to “win” create dishonest uses of sources and needless personal slander which most thinking Jews will reject and find extremely distasteful. YCT ordained rabbis currently have been invested with serious positions in Orthodox communities, Hillels, and day schools around the country, and there will be nearly 100 of them leading communities in just a few short years. Trying to convince the tens of thousands of people they have engaged in Torah that they are not legitimate, Orthodox, honest, et cetera will only do damage to the credibility of the attackers.

  15. Daniel W says:

    R’ Adlerstein – This article has been shared many times on Facebook (among other places, I’m sure) and it comes as no surprise that the readership has increased, especially by those who are apt to be active on such sites. As I have said to others before, the intellectual world is small: as soon as an article/blog/commentary is posted, it can be referred to and repsonded to anywhere in the world. This could indeed underscore your note that it “would make CC an even more important enterprise than I had thought.” It’s certainly cheaper than flying everyone in for a conference :^)

    It is also relatable to R’ Broyde’s notion that some “deny the need for sanction from gedolim to make the changes they recommend.” Anyone who considers himself an intellectual can do their Google research to find support for their cause. While I must say that I gain so much from even being able to see the rabbinic interaction in these articles, the comments also allow for regular “Balabatim” like myself to chime in with thoughts and questions (and, of course, anyone can publish his own blog response). Thus the separation between the great rabbinic minds and the non-rabbinic kibbitzers almost disappears. How do I know which people involved are indeed Gedolim? If someone puts forth a compelling argument, who am I to disagree?

  16. Michael Broyde says:

    To David F: Catholic Orthodox Israel is a fine concept widely noted in the various poskim, albeit not in that term. I have no problem with it, nor I suspect does anyone else. The central issue is what is Orthodox such that being catholic about it is okay.
    To Joe Hill: No, I think you are mistaken. Ideas are sometimes voiced and discarded, and sometimes they are long term disputes within halacha or haskafa. The view that there is no Moshiach has been long since rejected, whereas the view that Channan does not apply to shar issurim is alive and well, and so is the idea that our sifrai torah have vav’s in them that might not have been in the original one.

  17. Dovid K. says:

    The problem with our Shtadlonim like Rov Adlerstein and Avi Shafran is that they don’t have a kinyan on chochmas haamim. They think because they quote a football player like Yogi Berra it shows that they really know the goyishe velt. Its like if a frei yid quotes Mordechai Ben David to show they know the frum velt.

    Our shtadlanim all need bekius and iyyun in the real chochmei haamim like Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Neitsche.

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      You misspelled Nietzsche
      I once picked up a copy of Aristotle, but it was purely accidental
      I hate Plato. The kids used to leave pieces of it on the floor, and on Pesach we could never figure out whether it was chametz nukshah, or chametz gamur
      I would love to think of a categorical imperative to prove you wrong, but I Kant.
      I tried modifying my attitude towards Hegel, but every time I tried to change, I kept going around in a helix
      I ran into Darwin once myself, on a trip to the Galapagos Islands. He was having a hard time adapting.

  18. Daniel says:

    Thank you for responding.

    I have a couple more questions:

    A. I am still wondering about your stance towards Avi Weiss and YCT. I had thought they were the main targets of Rabbi Adlerstein’s article, but you seem to agree they are out of your tent, and are focusing the discussion on people who are “attempting to discard many aspects of minhag yisrael on matters of women’s issues and perhaps will come to adopt the same approach to other issues as well;” but keep their actions within the bounds of what you consider halacha, by finding a shittas acharonim to rely on.
    So, would you make explicit whether Avi Weiss and YCT are orthodox, and what measures you might support against them by groups such as the RCA?

    B. If I understand correctly, your contention is any machlokes which was decided since the gemara was sealed has the status of “minhag yisroel”, instead of halacha. And thus, you apply the noda b’yehuda that one may discard minhag yisroel for religious gain. And thus, these people are orthodox since that is what they claim to do. (aside: This noda be’yehuda was talking about windows in a shul, but you say it would apply equally to issur v’heter. Is there any other source for this idea that might go closer to issur v’heter?)
    Would you make explicit whether you have any more qualifications. Such as, must one be a talmid chochom to decide to discard minhag yisroel, or is this a personal choice?

  19. joel rich says:

    Dr. E,
    R’YA calls for a “third way” somewhere between MO and chareidism. I think that once MO is rejected, the knock at the door (or the tolling of the bell) will be for the “third way”.

    I’d also ask those who think the hashkafa question is black and white and not subject to the public voting with its feet, to consider the origins of chasidism and the current issue referred to by R’ Gary Shulman above.

  20. Elliot Pasik says:

    A modern orthodox moetzes would be inconsistent with our democratic roots and American venue. Aguda is daas Torah, gedolim, and pre-war Europe. The RCA works fine. I see no need to either stifle individual rabbinic growth and creativity, and the exclusion of so-called daas baal-ha’battim from critical decision-making. Already, we’re arguing over who should be on the modern orthodox moetzes, and machlokes will only increase as the MO Moetzes is compared to the Aguda Moetzes. A different model would be the old Council of Four Lands in Europe, which combined rabbis and communal leaders. Such an idea would be worth pursuing.

  21. Gary Shulman says:

    There is something more dangerous to the faith than a woman reading at a chasunah a kesuba,or a rabbi having a problem with saying a brocha that today seems to some not p.c. in his private davening. [Changing the nusach hatifila in his shul by omiting this brocha would be a problem for me.] Those that klap at the end of davening “Long live our rebbe and teacher King Messiah forever and ever.”and are viewed by most as very religious scare me and are a great threat to Judaism as a monotheistic religion. YCT is the molehill and the “Others” are the mountain.

  22. Joe Hill says:

    Rabbi Prof. Broyde’s arguments reach their logical conclusion by arguing that it is okay to deny the coming of Moshiach, as Hillel himself does.

  23. Dr. E says:

    I know both of of our discussants, and I think the answer lies probably somewhere in the middle of what is really a narrow Hashkafic continuum (although this is confounded by the knowledge that Rabbi Adlerstein is more Modern than his critics give him credit for and Rabbi Broyde is more traditional (small ‘t’) than his critics give him credit for.)

  24. Michael Broyde says:

    After I wrote my comments on the first 17 comments, but before they were posted, five more comments came, some of which are worthy of comment.
    To Steve Brizel: You are underplaying Rabbi Lamm’s massive intellectual contributions to our community in his writing and you are also over emphasizing Rabbi Lichtenstein’s criticism, while under emphasizing his role. He clear identifies with Modern Orthodoxy and the reverse too. When the RCA turns to its most senior members, Rabbi Lichtenstein is always on that list as was Rabbi Lamm. I agreed with the second half of your second post, and thought the first half of your second post was of the wrong tone and misplaced in its emphasis.
    To Daniel: I am sorry that you are confused. It must be my poor writing style. I am sorry. Let me write tersely, since verbose did not work. (A) I think that every tent needs walls, but silence – while a bad strategy to create walls — is rarely a form of agreement; Walls are not formed by silence. (B) I think contemporary gedolim do not form the walls that I think we should use to exclude people and that walls is formed by gedolai rishonim and achronim. Let me use the example of Channan that you picked. The Mechaber denies Chanan beshar issurim and he certainly is “in”; I assume even you agree? I might not eat the food of a person who adopts the Mechaber’s view, but I would certainly consider such a person Orthodox and welcomed into my Orthodox community. Lockstep is not needed all the time. (C) Division is always complex and I do not take it lightly. I think no one should leave yet. (D) This is a complex topic. I suggest you read Rabbi Lamm’s Torah Ummadah and Rabbi Lichtenstein’s “Leaves of Faith”

  25. David F. says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s, did you really think the commenters here on CC would do the heavy lifting for you? Not a single response here surprised me and I don’t know the commenters nearly as well as you do.

    Rabbi Broyde writes, “Instead, we should allow experimentation within the Orthodox community to allow time to help us discern what is and what is not missing from our tent”
    Catholic Israel anyone?

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

      I will admit to being surprised by the comments. Either Rabbi Broyde is bussing them in (I doubt it), or the readership of CC is even more diverse than I had thought! It will be worthwhile having to do my own heavy lifting (if the more traditional readership does not wake up and start pecking away at their keyboards) to find out that CC is occassionally read by a good number of people who did not have yeshivish chinuch, or do not identify with it, even while remaining committed to halacha. That would make CC an even more important enterprise than I had thought.

  26. Michael Broyde says:

    First and foremost, I want to thank Rabbi Adlerstein for publishing my essay. Whatever comes of this, Rabbi Adlerstein remains a shining model of how dialogue is supposed to take place. Although he is the director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, if Orthodoxy had a director of intra-faith affairs, I would nominate him for that post too. So too, his kind words about me are over stated. I view myself one who struggles to keep up in serious Torah and the most that can be said is that I am blessed to have been well trained by excellent rabayim and teachers at Yeshiva University.
    I reply now to the first 17 comments and I will try to log on regularly to comment on additional comments as needed. I do not reply to every comment.
    To Baruch Gitlin: I do not think that dialogue within the Orthodox community is anywhere near impossible. I think that the starting point has to be both respect and ligitimazation – and proper tone is very important too. We are lacking now in all of these, but none are uncorrectable errors.
    To Micha: Your comment “Isn’t R’ Adlerstein’s point that violating minhag Yisrael in order to incorporate a value not articulated in aggadita but rather through absorption of Western Culture itself a violation of halachic process, and thus its results beyond halakhah, beyond Orthodoxy” I think the answer is no and I think we all need to recognize that minhag yisrael in some areas does change slowly and carefully. So too, the absorption of external values is sometimes part of the process. That is exactly what tov shebeyefet be’ohalai shem means.
    To Ellen: I do not think that decisions of inclusion or exclusion are uniquely limited to poskim (and I am not sure if you are correct about Rabbi Lamm, either). The Moetzet of Agunah is not made up exclusively of poskim either.
    To Menachem Lipkin: I agree with your first two paragraphs in some sense, and in some senses not and I thank you for your final sentence.
    To Shimon: Thank you for your comments. Another commentator explained this well, although windows and walls are clearly interrelated in Bet Yosef OC 90.
    To Michael: Rabbi Avi Weiss is a Orthodox rabbi in a shul with a mechitza. Although I do not agree with much of what he does in a few areas, your comment seems over-zealous.
    To Observer of the Orthodox community: Your comments are worthy of a great deal of thought. You could be correct.

    Thank you to the many commentators who posted kind words as well. They are un-earned, but appreciated.

  27. Mike S. says:

    Let me cite four and a half cases where Askenazic practice is at complete variance with the psak of Chazal: 1) We do not permit women to do shchita 2) We do not duchen every day 3) We forbid eating rice on Pesach and 4) We do not give z’roa lchayayim and keva from shcitas chullin to kohanim and 4.5) The chassidic practice of not eating in the sukkah on shmini atzeret chutz la’aretz. The first is an explicit p’sak of the Rema without a clear source, and his successors argue as to the reason. For the second, the Rema offers what can olny be described as a post hoc attempt at justification and a weak one at that. Both the Gaon and R. Chaim of Volozhin tried to change the minhag and gave it up after mischance. The third is mocked in early Ashkenazic rabbinic literature as a foolish folk custom only to pop up a couple centuries later as holy minhag that va’ad arba aratzot will enforce. The fourth seems to have been practiced until comparatively recently, leaving 19th century posekim puzzled as to why the butchers have stopped giving the required matanot. The sukkah was cited as one of the deviations justifying a cherem against the chassidim–yet less than 150 years after the Vilna cherem a mainstream Litvische posek (Aruch haShulchan) is offering a limud z’chut for the practice. It is very hard to avoid the historical inference that there have been any number of cases where popular acceptance of certain changes in practice has forced the rabbonim into justifying the practice after the fact. Certainly orthodoxy has come to terms with the deviation of Chassidim from what had been normative Ashkenazic practice.

    That leads me to suggest there are several possibilities for the left wing orthodox practices at issue.

    1) They will meet a social need and spread and a couple generations from now gedolei yisrael who everyone accepts will find at least post hoc justification for what will have become a wide spread practice

    2) They will not meet much of a need and will dies out or live on as an oddball practice of a few shuls, that poses no great concern.

    3) They are the start of a slippery slope and those who adopt them will eventually abandon halachic observance and thereby pull themselves out of the orthodox community.

    4) The right wing will succeed in getting them pushed out of the community.

    I am not a seer and cannot predict which of these will occur. However, I am pretty sure that if choice 3 will happen, no amount of protest from the chareidi community will avoid it. I suppose the goal of such protest is to keep 1) from happening in favor of 2), but I strongly suspect that harrangues from rabbinic leaders will matter far less in the long run than whether they can develop methods of chinuch so that the contrast between a woman’s roles in religious and secular life is not so alienating to so many women and men. On the other hand, I think Chazal are pretty explicit that if 4) were to occur those responsible will be held to account by the ultimate Judge not only for the aveirot committed by those driven away, but by their descendants for all eternity. Given the history of deviations from practice and even halacha that are eventually accepted, I do not see how anyone can be sufficiently confident of the value of 2) over 1), much less his ability to effect it, to risk responsibility for choice 4). But then, I am not a Manhig Yisroel; perhaps out leaders need to be made of sterner stuff than I am.

  28. Eric Leibman says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein:

    Expel the YCT people and Avi Weiss and his ilk now and be done with them. Permanently. Just put them in cherem. Your niceness is misplaced and misguided. This is war. And you need to act like it.

  29. Daniel says:

    I am a bit confused on a few counts.

    A. Firstly: He says that the Modern Orthodox tent must have walls. He just thinks these people are within his walls. Then, he criticizes the “far-left” for not having walls. He criticizes them for silence in the face of; (1) attacking Rabbis Willig and Schachter, (2) issuing a “gay friendly” haggada (whatever that means), (3) ordaining a rabba, (4) having a woman lead kabbalas shabbos.

    The implication is that Rabbi Broyde would like to see the people who do this excluded from the far-left’s tent, and certainly from his own tent.
    Well, these are for the most part, the people who Rabbi Adlerstien is attempting to exclude. This is, YCT and Avi Weiss.

    I guess he allowing Rabbi Kanafsky to stay, but I wonder why: Did he protest these 4 things? Was he also silent to Avi Weiss? Did Rabbi Kanafsky exclude them from his own tent? Does Rabbi Broyde allow in his tent, those who will not exclude them who Rabbi Broyde excludes?

    B. Secondly, I simply do not understand the line he wishes to draw. Is there not a fundamental difference between how Rabbi Broyde determines halacha and how it is being determined by the far left? I am no posek, but is one really allowed to choose random acharonim which we have not accepted for hundreds of years and use it?

    Only when it is for the purpose of “serious religious growth”? Who decides this? Each person on his own decides what he needs for his religious growth and finds a shittas acharonim to support it?

    If I decide to not hold of “chan”an by shaa”r issurim” (rashba in toras habayis and mechaber), to not hold of “Shehiya b’miut basrah” (mechaber), to not wait after meat before milk but to only bentch (yesh omrim in rema, tosfos), etc., am I still in Rabbi Broyde’s tent?

    More importantly, does that not underscore the problem? If I am in his tent, will he allow me to be a mashgiach in a restaurant where I will presumably allow things which are clearly issur according to all normative ashkenazi halacha? Will he eat my own hashgacha? Will he want the OU to accept it in their facilities?
    If I pasken some kulah in gittin which has not been held of in 400 years, will he uphold my gittin? Will he allow his congregants to marry my divorcees? Will he officiate?

    C. Thirdly, as I alluded, I do not take as lightly as he, the danger for division this brings. I am from a nice out of town community, where everyone eats the local hashgacha, where everyone davens in all the shuls, where you can marry a divorcee without wondering if she is an eishes ish, and can marry a convert without wondering if your kids will be Jewish (and if you are being oiver on the gzeira of beis dino shel shem).

    But, if these people begin doing gittin, will we be able to marry their divorcees; if they do geirus, will we marry their converts; will we eat their food? No. How could we, when they do not follow normative halacha?
    Is that not a problem? Will the chareidi community break away and form a registry of families who they will marry into? Is that not a negative development? Say it is worth it, but don’t say it will not happen or is not negative.

    Beis shammai and beis hillel were friends, but would tell each other whom in their community was a mamzer (from tzaras ervah in yibbum), or a pagum (from tzaras ervah l’shuk) to each other. The division of beis shammai and beis hillel was not seen as a positive development in Judaism, and eventually they decreed that it was assur to even be machmir like beis shammai. So even imagine they l’havdil are like beis shammai- should we not ostracize the people who would divide Judaism like happened in the times of beis shammai?

    D. Fourthly, I am unfamiliar with the idea of it being central to Judaim to absorb concepts from the outside (presumably because I went to a relatively chareidi yeshiva- Chofetz Chaim). But, let us allow it to be so. Who is to decide what ideas to absorb? Does everyone absorb what they like, and then claim it is in the name of G-d that they do it? Is that weird? Is that not just doing whatever you want, and claiming it is G-d’s will?

    E. Regarding the substantive issue, of whether they are in the realm of the halachic process at all- I have no idea. I am no posek.

  30. Steve Brizel says:

    R Broyde’s article failed IMO to note that many who consider themselves or are considerd LW MO view as legitimate the POVs advocated by many advocates of LW MO that TSBP is sexist, that there is nothing unique about the covenant between HaShem and Klal Yisrael, advocate the changing of Nusach HaTefilah and even maintain that the uniqueness of Moshe Rabbeinu and Chazal is limited to their times, culture and knowledge. Like it or not, IMO, MO has a noisy LW, a silent majority, and a vocal RW. The real issue remains whether MO will abandon what IMO is an obsession with inside baseball and water cooler like pilpulim about issues that are irrelevant to the person on the street, and articulate a message that has depth and profundity to the average American Jew that one can live a life committed to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim of the highest order while working as a college educated professional. IMO, that is the message that needs to be stressed, as opposed to apologetica geared for cultural deviants, feminists, and their supporters.

    The real question, which R Broyde did not address IMO, is who does the greater MO world turn to on halachic and hashkafic issues, regardless of the nature of the same.

  31. Steve Brizel says:

    Let me add an additional point or two to this conversation. R Broyde is a fine talmid Chacham who has undertaken the very arduous, if not impossible job, of serving as a middle of the road between LW MO and the RIETS RY. That being the case, I think that RAL, as noted previously, views himself both as unqualified to serve in such a capacity with respect to a community that he basically visits for recruiting and fund-raising purposes since RAL made aliyah in the early 1970s. More fundamentally, in two articles published in Leaves of Faith , Vol.2, Pages 309-331, and By His Light, Pages 220-252, RAL identifies many areas for spiritual improvement within MO. I would suggest that the RIETS RY, who spend much of their spare time, giving shiurim all over the US, and engaging in kiruv and chizuk and Harbatzas Torah throughout the greater MO world, have a far better sense of the facts on the ground in the US than RAL.

    R D Lamm was a great President , fund raiser, Baal Machshavah and darshan. However, IMO, R D Lamm’s not so benign neglect of JSS, sent a message that BTs have no place in YU, let alone MO, and allowed the Charedi world to assume a predominant role in kiruv and dealing with BTs. The aborted closings of Revel and MTA also IMO showed a lack of appreciation of the role of academic Jewish studies and a high school as a feeder for a yeshiva gdolah. Moreover, being a great President, fund raiser, Baal Machshavah, and darshan AFAIK requires a far different skill set than being a great Talmid Chacham and Posek. R D Lamm’s reign was also marked by a not so subtle sense of public disagreement with his own RY, and his Hashkafic battles with the Charedi world.

  32. joel rich says:

    dr. bill,
    That is one of the dividing lines between MO and chareidism, well not really, IIUC chareidism would be OK on a defacto basis with your statement if you added “in a non-public manner” after “perspective to add”

  33. DF says:

    “Allow me to give it a definition: the Orthodox “Far Left” is a group within the Orthodox community which is attempting to discard many aspects of minhag yisrael on matters of women’s issues and perhaps will come to adopt the same approach to other issues as well”

    PRECISELY. The far left that Rabbi Broyde champions is simply and wholly a feminist organization that only “perhaps” might eventually approach other issues. In other words, it’s a special interest group for a small minority of women, masquerading as a religious ideal. There are plenty of areas withing contemporary orthdox life in which a pendulum swing correction of “kulah” should now be taught. Shabbos, for example, or kashrus, are areas of universal practicality in which there has been an undeniable tilt towards chumrah in the past few decades. The entirety of the orthodox spectrum could use a fresh look at the current halacha in these fields. Yet we hear nary a peep from the far left in this regard. Instead, we hear over and over about nothing more than women’s issues. This is on top of the feminist ideology we must aborb on a regular basis from the secualr society. Sorry, Rabbi Broyde, you can cite data bases of seforim all you want. This is not a movement picking up steam, and nothing the broader orthdox community has any interest in joining.

  34. dr. bill says:

    Ellen’s comment (re poskim) brings an important issue into sharp focus. Is expelling the MO left a halakhic issue or an important political and/or hashkafic one where Rabbi Lamm (as well as other “non-poskim”) have important perspective to add?

  35. James says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein is concerned that failure to expel certain members from Modern Orthodoxy would jeopardize cooperation with charedim. Rabbi Broyde is not.

    There are three problems with that argument:

    1. It assumes that there is substantive and meaningful dialogue between the two camps. Does anyone believe that to be the case? Not one member of the Moetzet will ever say a shiur at YU and Rabbis Schachter and Willig will never be invited to give a shiur at BMG.

    2. The best way to encourage the Modern Orthodox to consider the opinions of the Chareidim is to encourage the Chareidim to be more accepting of people with whom they disagree. I dont think Rabbi Broyde feels he has anything to gain by kicking out the far left.

    3. Rabbi Adlerstein, if you are concerned with cooperation between the two camps, why not write an article advocating for the expulsion of the far right? A while back, your “fast friend” Rabbi Broyde was vilified and labeled a heretic by a Chareidi “gadol”. An article advocating for his removal from mainstream Chareidi organizations would have gone a long way in convincing the Modern Orthodox that you really do care about cooperation within a framework of mutual respect.

  36. Noam stadlan says:

    Excellent piece by Rav Broyde and kudos to Rav Adlerstein for publishing it here. Where great and small minds will disagree is on when to push for change and when to wait. When does the pull from the right mandate a greater pace for change? Sometimes waiting for gradual change doesn’t seem like an attractive option when the the other side is changing without waiting

  37. Observer of the Orthodox Community says:

    “The “Far Left” community has caused this crisis because they have adopted a pace of change that is neither planned out nor thought out nor shared.”

    I would like to comment on this formulation of Rabbi Broyde because it highlights the Western Culture component of Modern Orthodoxy – the Western world currently moves at ‘one hundred miles a minute’, many (including teenagers) are connected to the internet through hand held devices and communication no longer occurs through snail mail. All posts/comments are analyzed and dissected in real time, such that slowing down the pace through orderly, conscientious discussion, speaking and writing may not be possible or desirable (lest it be considered outdated). The community at large wants answers, often without carefully considering the questions at play.

    Slowing the pace of change/modification in the name of unity/understanding will require MAJOR efforts on both the right (no Kol Korei-like pronouncements) and left (think, then act). To draw upon lessons from the U.S. government, nothing will ever be accomplished unless moderate, yet outstandingly learned voices such as Rabbi Broyde’s) bring the “far left” and “far right” to the table.

    Here’s hoping that this is possible.

  38. L. Oberstein says:

    Yasher Koach for real dialogue, rather than preaching to the choir. I spoke with an individual of importance today who said only half in jest, that if the RCA beggan kicking out people, soon there wold be no one left. This pointgs out the reality that the right wing of orthodoxy sometimes only barely recognizes the legitimacy of those who have another, less isolationist point of view.
    Rabbi Broide is asking women who want equality to wait for the right time and not push the envelope. He may be right that what is accepted today was rejected not too long ago,but the opposiite is even ore true. Many stringencies that were only in the chasidic community like not having a woman’s picture in a magazine are becoming normative in the Yeshiva world. Religious soldiers in Israel seem to be demanding ever higher standards of modesty , as their rabbis decide it. If a man cannot command a woman in the army, what is next to be forbidden? I think there is an inevitable scism in the works.
    Neither side is reaally tolerant of the other.

  39. SRS says:

    This is in response to Ellen:

    I believe the suggested list (Rav Schachter, Rav Schwartz, Rav Willig) is a “gedolim list.” Why are those two absent? Rav Lichtenstein is not in the US (and has noted his different jurisdiction in the past) and Rabbi Lamm is not a posek. Here is essentially the difference of opinion you point out between Chovavei and some who have spoken against it: what is a gadol and do the Modern Orthodox care?

    Me — Since when does one need to be a posek to be a gadol? The fact that Rabbi Lamm is not a posek means that he should not be included in such an important issue?

  40. Citer says:

    Shimon: I think R. Broyde meant to write “4 walls in a shul” (although the 12 window issue in OH 90 is the usual issue, hence the confusion). But you could have been a little more generous in your comment, since R. Broyde’s halachic point from that tshuva was correct, and even the context (the architecture of a shul) was correct.

  41. S. says:

    “Anyone who really understands what Modern Orthodoxy ought to be, understands that after we are finished expelling the “Far Left”, there will be a new far left to expel.”

    This is true and really all that needed to be said. All the rest is commentary.

  42. Michael says:

    >the RCA specifically, ought to welcome into its tent anyone who professes loyalty to the theology of Jewish
    >belief endorsed by Rishonim and Aharonim as historically and halachically understood, and whose conduct is
    >governed by classical Jewish law, even if that conduct is inconsistent with the current norms…

    Why hasn’t the Union for Traditional Judaism been incorporated into the RCA? Is it just because they once called themselves the Union for Traditional *Conservative* Judaism? Why is Avi Weiss more acceptable than David Weiss Halivni?

  43. Bob Miller says:

    Part of the difficulty here is that the concepts of Jewish authenticity and fidelity to Torah are resistant to precise definition in words. Many things that feel wrong or smell wrong to traditional Jews really are wrong, but the exact reasons why can be hard to pin down. As used now, “daas Torah” typically refers to the intangible and intuitive aspects, but it, too, fails to capture the idea completely. Also, its limits are not well-defined, and even the most well-respected authorities in any given camp have differed among themselves about policy.

  44. Shimon says:

    Rabbi Broyde wrote
    “The Nodah beYehuda observes (correctly in my view) in OC 2:18 that when there is a clear minhag yisrael to do something (in his case, to have 12 windows in a shul)”

    I looked up this Noda biyehuda and it says nothing about 12 windows in a shul.

  45. Harry Maryles says:

    I wish I could define and articulate the positions of Modern Orthodoxy with the skill and knowledge that Rabbi Broyde brings to the table. I am truely in awe of his ability to do that. I would certainly add his name to any ‘roster’ of an MO Moetzes.

    I have to say that while I understand Rabbi Adlerstein’s concerns and agree that we should do whatever we can to keep the trust of the charedi side of the Orthodox spectrum, I agree that we should remain a big tent on the ‘Far Left’ side of Orthodoxy as long as halacha is not breached. We need to remain with our own integrity on this issue. This does not mean that we cannot be critical of both the far left and the far right. I do that all the time on my blog. But at the same time it behooves us to seek unity among ourselves as Orthodox Jews. As Rabbi Broyde points out about himself and Rabbi Adlerstein so too is this true for all of Orthodoxy – there is more that unites us than divides us. Differences – no matter how great – ought to respected even as they are criticized.

  46. Tzvi says:

    Although I really disagree with everything Rabbi Adlerstein wrote in his original article, I just want to say that I am very impressed with his allowing this critique by Rabbi Broyde to be published in Cross Currents. This is an example of true mentshlichkeit on his part and also a machloket l’shaim shamayim on the parts of both participants. Thank uou!

  47. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s article, while beautifully written as usual, troubled me greatly. I had difficultly articulating what about it bothered me so much. Now Rabbi Broyde has done the “heavy lifting” for me in so perfectly capturing my sentiments. As much as I admire Rabbi Adlerstein and see him an amazing voice of moderation, I’m not sure he fully understands the angst that so many of us in the orthodox community feel regarding many of these “modern” issues. Rabbi Slifkin gave voice to some of this last week in his article on “Post Chareidism” and today Rabbi Broyde has greatly enhanced that voice.

    IMHO, the ramifications of lopping off the left wing of orthodoxy would be far greater than Rabbi Adlerstein, the RCA, or YU realize. So many of us, who may not actually be in that camp, nevertheless depend on them to act as counterweight to prevent orthodoxy from careening over a cliff of fundamentalism and giving a place to so many Jews in our “tent” who otherwise would have none.

    Kol Hakavod Rabbi Broyde

  48. Ellen says:

    people are not normally expelled for advocating ideas that are within the halachic universe but simply not proper or normative

    The problem here is that they are not advocating within – they have set up their own institution to do things their own way. If the RCA includes them, they’ll participate as much as they can, but when the RCA votes against one of their ideas they’ll do their own thing anyway. Not exactly in line with Rabbi Yehoshua who yielded to the Sanhedrin’s calculation of Yom Kippur.

    The decision to leave Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein and Norman Lamm off this list, speaks volumes about what is wrong with this proposal and where its biases reside.

    I believe the suggested list (Rav Schachter, Rav Schwartz, Rav Willig) is a “gedolim list.” Why are those two absent? Rav Lichtenstein is not in the US (and has noted his different jurisdiction in the past) and Rabbi Lamm is not a posek. Here is essentially the difference of opinion you point out between Chovavei and some who have spoken against it: what is a gadol and do the Modern Orthodox care?

  49. micha says:

    Isn’t R’ Adlerstein’s point that violating minhag Yisrael in order to incorporate a value not articulated in aggadita but rather through absorbtion of Western Culture itself a violation of halachic process, and thus its results beyond halakhah, beyond Orthodoxy? At some point not intending to violate halakhah isn’t enough; the violation in effect is so grievous there isn’t common ground.

    If it isn’t R’ Adlerstein’s point, it is something R’ Aharon Lichtenstein declared about the Partnership Minyanim in Katamon and elsewhere. RAL’s actual wording included branding them “Conservative”; comparing them to another community that (at least large sections of) do not intend to violate halakhah, but instead define it in a way incompatible with what we believe halakhah to be.

  50. Baruch Gitlin says:

    Kudos to Rabbi Broyde for writing such a wonderful and comprehensive exposition of Modern Orthodox philosophy, and to Cross-Currents for printing it. I particularly like the following: “The Charedi community will have to accept Modern Orthodoxy on its own terms – or not – but I know that progress forward is not possible in any community if one has to look over one’s left or right shoulder all the time.” I am a baal tshuva who adopted a charedi hashkafa for many years, until I left because, among other things, I found the intellectual atmosphere in the charedi world to be far too stifling, rigid, and often intellectually dishonest. But one of the reasons I initially avoided Modern Orthodoxy is that I felt it was too often reactive to the charedi world, rather than asserting its own ethos. I took this as a sign of weakness and lack of substance. Rabbi Broyde does a tremendous job here of asserting what Modern Orthodoxy does stand for. And, moreover, I think we should face facts – to a very large extent, the charedi world does not accept Modern Orthodoxy or Religious Zionism. I think the best evidence for this is the wholesale deligitimization of the conversions performed by Rabbi Druckman. No issue exemplifies the need for mutual cooperation better than conversion, so when the charedi world stops accepting non-charedi conversions, I would ask what the Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist world still has to lose from ignoring charedi criticisms? Better they should be true to their own philosophies, and move in positive, not reactive, directions.