Defining Modern Orthodoxy’s Crossroads

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By Dovid Goldman

Rabbi Broyde’s article is an important contribution to an important conversation. So far, however, it only strengthen’s Rabbi Adlerstein’s points, which were almost all completely sidestepped (when a response ignores all your important points and picks on one sidebar, you know you are on to something).

Here is Rabbi Adlerstein’s main point: “The far left of Modern Orthodoxy seems to be intent on continuing an unrelenting drive to push the envelope and change the way people lead an Orthodox life… Rabbi Avi Weiss has unfortunately become the charismatic leader of what is now a movement.”

He is not focused on a list of questionable halachos being proposed and how our community ought to view them. If that were the case, Rabbi Broyde’s response might have been appropriate. But that misses the entire thrust of Rabbi Adlerstein’s argument.

Characterizing the Far Left as a “movement” that seeks to “[change] the way people lead an Orthodox life” is a far more serious charge than complaining that they’ve crossed a few lines in the case of specific halachos. This charge suggests that the Far Left represents a foreign value system – not simply that they are introducing specific foreign ideas which we can quibble about. It posits that Orthodox Judaism is not a set of rules, with one community relying on “gedolim” to preserve them while another is more open to a process of reconsideration. Orthodox Judaism (which might better be called the derech haTorah) has a derech to it, with an end in mind towards which it strives. There is a way to learn, a way to reach psak, a way to lead a community, a way to raise a family, etc. – all seeking to develop shleimus, closeness to our Creator, an ideal version of ourselves and our communities. “Halacha” means the “way to go” along this derech, and to Orthodox – as opposed to Conservative – Jews, getting it wrong has real consequences, both in this world and in the next.

Undoubtedly, this derech is a wide path, with much room for different approaches. For more than half a century, however, it was almost universally recognized as including most of the right wing and most of the left wing of Orthodox Judaism. There were specific arguments about Torah Lishma (Rabbi Lamm’s, which included secular studies vs. Rav Ahron Kotler’s, which excluded them), the State of Israel and accommodations to modern life, such as dress and openness to culture. If you think about it, just about all the differences fit into these categories.

Today’s Far Left is undermining the integrity of this derech haTorah, which they have rejected – not by their specific halachic proposals or conclusions, but by their approach to Torah knowledge and leadership. Their engagement with the modern world looks nothing at all like an outgrowth of Rabbi Lamm’s Torah Lishma. It looks suspiciously like the Conservative Judaism of the last century. I would even say it looks almost exactly the same.

You define the Far Left as those who are “attempting to discard many aspects of minhag Yisrael” but that definition falls short.They are better defined as those attempting to insert the liberal values of the day into the Torah. Changing the text of berachos and discarding minhagim is only the natural (and entirely predicable) result of this endeavor.

It is one thing to be open to the best of the modern world; it is another to adopt its value system as muchzak (presumptive) and then fit as much of the Torah into it as possible.

To make matters worse, the YCT community consists almost entirely of young people who hardly spent much time in the beis medrash. Without the benefit of zikna (as in accumulation of wisdom and experience), they bring their youthful idealism to the task of reinventing Orthodox Judaism as they wish it to be, not of extending its age old principles to the modern world.

Rabbi Broyde – I ask that you please respond to this concern, which Rabbi Adlerstein raised several times in several ways. To summarize: On the whole, the “halachic approach” of the Far Left is for young, hardly learned people to start with a contemporary liberal value system and to seek out hashkafic and halachic sources – wherever they can dig them up – to justify them and frame them in a Jewish context. [I don’t believe they all do this but, unfortunately, this is the dominant approach.]

I, for one, will maintain that any product of such an approach, even if it technically conforms to the halacha, and even if it is from the “beauty of Yefes”, is a fundamental distortion of the Torah that is of no use to anyone; in fact, it is poisonous to the soul of the Jewish community.

Please reread Rabbi Adlerstein’s article, and look for his focus on the integrity of the “mesorah.” Please do not sidestep this overarching concern about the Far Left’s integrity as teachers of this mesorah by focusing on how the rest of the community might evaluate their particular innovations. It is about them, their movement and their qualifications; it is about binyan ne’arim stira (the building of the young – i.e., inexperienced, immature – amounts to destruction). In a word, they are ne’arim who are foisting an immature and disrespectful approach to Torah on an often unsuspecting public. And the result is destruction.

[As a postscript, let me address two points specifically. You claim that Rabbi Adlerstein writes that “the real reason the “Far Left” has to be excluded from Orthodoxy is…” the fear that the chareidim will disengage from the Modern Orthodox community. This is completely off the mark. Rabbi Adlerstein made the point I just described throughout his article. At the end, he asked, “Why should the more traditional part of the community careabout issues completely off its radar?” He answered with that point – we care about our relationship with the Modern Orthodox world. This was merely a sidebar and had nothing to do with his primary argument. Please consider this in reevaluating his words.

Finally, here is my own central argument to your position: You depend heavily on the Noda B’Yehuda which you quote as saying, when a “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.” You then conclude that “To really set limits on ourcommunity, we need to speak the language of halacha first and foremost.” I have one question – what about speaking the language of “serious religious growth” first and foremost? That’s the equation, right? No change to minhag unless it is an obstacle to “serious religious growth.”

In my view, this is the greatest failing in your approach – you throw off religious growth as if it is nothing. Once you have that nebulous standard – merely “serious religious growth” – no minhag is safe. Is this not the grandest of all questions? Does this not set the highest of all standards? How are we to evaluate whether the community as a whole will net “serious religious growth” from these innovations? I would contend that disposing of these minhagim leads instead to serious religious unraveling – is this not the more essential conversationfor us to have than how to justify isolated halachic proposals?

Rabbi Dovid Goldman is the founder of Jewish Spirit Media, the voice of Kiruv organizations throughout the country, and is the managing editor of Klal Perspectives, a forum for discussion of challenges facing the Torah community.

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27 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    The passage of whatever number of years has allowed western societies to reach a point of moral collapse. In particular, social engineering experimentation from the progressive era onward has been an overall failure. This can happen when Torah is not the reference point.

    Ironically, Woodrow Wilson resegregated the Federal Civil Service and the American eugenics movement fueled Nazi racial theory and practice. You never know when “progress” will come back to bite you.

  2. Noam Stadlan says:

    Bob Miller- you fail to understand the difference between ‘modernity is good’ and ‘the passage of 2000 years has allowed western societies to develop moral values that discourage discrimination by race or gender and to try not to restrict people from pursuing the life they wish’. The latter are Torah values. Lo ta’aneh et raecha. Tzedek tzedek tirdof. We are created in Tzelem Elokim(see Rav Eugene Korn in Tradition) The question then becomes, to what extent did premodern society affect the expression of these values within Halacha, and should we eliminate this non-halachic influence? Rav Eliezer Berkovitz describes it well in Jewish Women in Time and Torah, using the terms Torah tolerated and Torah true.
    David Kornreich- I offered my opinion and you are certainly entitled to yours. I suggest that a more effective rejoinder would be to address the content of the statement. I think the Rambam would agree with me. Following your logic, you should never make statements about science, since you are not a scientist. Regarding your second point, please see the first paragraph.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    YM, would it be harder for you to concentrate on your davening in shul if you believed the management was anti-halachic on one or more major points?

  4. Dovid Kornreich says:

    The positions of the ‘left’ are not compromise bedieved accomodations of modernity They are the result of a well reasoned halachic approach stemming from a commitment to mitzvot, and a view of Halacha that they consider correct.

    Evaluating whether the Left has indeed developed a “well reasoned halachic approach” is something for halachic experts to determine and I don’t think you have those credentials.

    And even if we grant that this isn’t their conscious intent, don’t you find it suggestive that these well reasoned halachic approaches invariably are ones that are always accommodating the more contemporary values of western society?

  5. YM says:

    When all of the controversy about Sara Hurwitz, the famous Rabba at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale hit the news, I checked to see if the OU was going to throw HIR out of their organization. They didn’t.

    The bottom line for me is whether I can daven at a shul and be yotze. I can’t daven at conservative shul and be yotze unless no women show up. I don’t think I can daven at a service where women daven from the amud (even for Kabbalas Shabbos) and be yotze, although I have never asked the question. I think that as long as the “Far-left wing” keeps their shuls kosher, they will not be expelled, but if their shuls are not fit for davening, they will be expelled eventually.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Noam Stadlan wrote, “The positions of the ‘left’ are not compromise bedieved accomodations of modernity.”

    He then offered his explanation. An alternative explanation is that these positions take modernity (namely, modern societal attitudes regarding women’s status and the like) as lechatchilah.

  7. Noam Stadlan says:

    I think that anyone who labels themselves as Orthodox(ragardless of what other words are attached) considers themselves obligated in Torah and Mitzvot. The debate is not over obligation, but the details of the mitzvot and how to arrive at those details, especially in cases where there are competing halachic values. Some place extreme value on tzniut and mandates supra-obligatory humras. Others place value on not oppressing women and Nachat l’nashim and try to find the minimum mandated coverings.
    The other major factor is the role of precedent that is based on historical cultural/societal norms and not strictly Halacha. It is reasonable to seperate the mandate of Halacha from the general(jewish and non jewish) societal practices of history. Otherwise, was have turned premodern society into cannon law.

    There are many other issues, but the ones above manifest themselves in the areas where society has most changed: women’s issues. The positions of the ‘left’ are not compromise bedieved accomodations of modernity They are the result of a well reasoned halachic approach stemming from a commitment to mitzvot, and a view of Halacha that they consider correct. In fact, it is the far right who have skewed the true Torah values and led Judaism off the path that is the Ratzon of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Let’s say some halachic decision about something offends a given person, who then opts out of religiosity altogether. Does that result say anything at all, pro or con, about the merits of the decision?

  9. DF says:

    RL Obserstein seems to imply that the many Jews raised orthodox that leave orthodoxy [and he is right that there are huge numbers in this category] can find a niche within left wing modern orthodoxy. I dont think that’s correct. From everything I have seen, when an orthodox Jew leaves the fold, he leaves it entirely – he doesnt become conservative, he doesnt become reform, and he doesnt become left wing MO. Often such Jews still remain attached in some way to standard orthodoxy, usually through yomim tovim. But other than that, they have left the fold, and a feminized, lite version of orthodoxy, [even for women], holds no attraction whatever.

  10. Menachem Lipkin says:

    With all due respect to the erudition on this topic over the last few weeks, I think it can be summed up succinctly with a baseball metaphor.

    Rabbi Kanefsky was at bat, hit a “Sheasani Yisrael” and the following calls were made:

    Rabbi Adlerstein: Strike 3
    Rabbi Broyde: Foul ball
    Rabbi Pruzansky: Foul out
    Rabbi Goldman: Tried to change umpire Broyde’s call to strike 3

    However, what I think you all may be missing is that many, a lot more than you imagine IMHO, have changed the channel.

  11. Dovid Kornreich says:

    I think Rabbi Goldman and Rabbi Broyde are addressing different entities entirely.
    Rabbi Broyde is addressing the definition of Orthodoxy which is an affiliation with clearly defined technical boundaries (like definition #3 above and a little of #2).
    But Rabbi Goldman is addressing Judaism as a religion where the main question is always “what does God want from us?”
    Of course Rabbi Goldman is correct that God does just want technical performance, but that’s the talk of religion–not of affiliation. If you want to label a group “not-Orthodox-enough” then you have to talk Rabbi Broyde’s language of affiliation in order to argue your point.

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    Reb Yid: People join shuls in the Diaspora for a sense of community. If one is sabbath observant in a Conservative synagogue he is lonely. I am glad there is no litmus test for one’s innermost beliefs when joining a shul. There are lots of weak believers ( I won’t say non believers) who practice orthodoxy. In the Temples, many people openly call themselves agnostics but belong for the communal aspect.”Life is with people”. A Traditional Conservative Jew can easily fit into a Modern Orthodox shul and find many who share his values and life style. Gentiles believe in a catecism, you have to learn and subscribe to a set of beliefs, Jews, I learned as a child, observe and the practice is what we value. I agree fully with the comment that allowing a woman to read sheva brochos in English after a man reads them in Hebrew or hold the poles of the chupah or lead non essential parts of the service are sops to feminism without substance. But, if you are Avi Weiss, how far can you go and feel in your heart that you are still a talmid of the Rav. Make no mistake, he believes it and values it. That is what keeps him within boundaries as he defines them.

  13. S. says:

    Rabbi Goldman, I cannot speak for Rabbi Broyde, but I can suspect what he feels, which is what many if not most Modern Orthodox Jews feel: that your values are not to be equated with Torah values only, but are a complex conglomeration of Torah values and conservative tendencies. This mixture is what you and the Chareidi world at large equate with the Torah. That Modern Orthodox Jews’ values are a complex conglomeration of Torah values and liberal tendencies is simply no different, in our view.

    Perhaps we are more self aware in that we don’t assert to you or to ourselves that our complexities is the Torah, but believe me, this is how we see the Chareidi world and, by the way, the only way we could justify not being Chareidi, which we could not do if we believed as you do, that the Chareidi way is the Torah.

    Just as you can go off the deep end tilting right but do not dramatically throw your extremists off the ship, we do not do the same with our left. You could believe this or not, but you would need to at least recognize this in order to understand the position R. Broyde espoused.

  14. micha says:

    RTB: The description of Open O / LWMO / whatever that I gave is based on discussions on Avodah and Areivim, where members of the community can tell me themselves. Assigning negative motives to people and insisting on them when challenged is really not how we are called upon to judge other Jews.

    They really do believe that feminism is a reality. Not that it is or isn’t at odds with the Torah, just that it’s an unavoidable reality given today’s lifestyle. Thus, judgment statements about it really have no pragmatic impact. Now the question is how to pasqen, given that new reality.

    That said, I agree with the rest of the post. Bottom line is that telling a woman she could be a Rabba, but never do everything a Rabbi can, is setting her and those who look up to that model up for more frustration, not less. Rather than teaching how to find G-d through modalities fully open to her, we reinforce her inclination to find the Creator in ways in which they are more limited in their opportunities. Personally, I was convinced by some essays by R’ Herschel Schachter that it comes from a confusion between having an important job and having the limelight that plagues today’s man and woman alike. A man also should be viewing the amud and the rabbinate as personal sacrifices he might have to make, since he shares the chiyuvim they enable.

  15. Dovid Goldman says:

    Thank you to those who offered comments. Micha #1 and Shlomo are both correct in two respects and, I believe, off the mark in one each. They are both correct that I did not provide support for my position. More on that later. They are also both correct, I am afraid, in their interpretations of the logical conclusion of Rabbi Broyde’s position – namely, that Modern Orthodoxy defines Judaism based on its practices and not based on its vision, a position which I belief is indefensible. In fact, I would not expect Rabbi Broyde or even the leaders of the Far Left to knowingly take such a reductionist position. Is Torah really about the details only and not about its truths?

    Before I elaborate, let me draw your attention to a point of confusion: Whatever “Modern Orthodoxy” means, it is an attempt to combine two things – the truth of the Torah according to the Torah sheb’al peh and the unique challenges of applying the Torah to the modern world. At least until now, it has never been some radical new philosophy of Torah. It is meaningless to talk about what Modern Orthodoxy believes separate from what the Torah actually teaches.
    In fact, the word Orthodox – even in the phrase “Modern Orthodox” – means: (1) of, pertaining to, or conforming to the approved form of any doctrine, philosophy, ideology, etc. (2) of, pertaining to, or conforming to beliefs, attitudes, or modes of conduct that are generally approved, (3) customary or conventional, as a means or method; established, (4) sound or correct in opinion or doctrine, especially theological or religious doctrine (taken from dictionary.com – this is a blog, what can I do). We didn’t choose the word Orthodox but this definition is pretty close to the expectations the Torah has.
    When we talk about what Modern Orthodoxy believes, we must not confuse that with the Torah itself, since Modern Orthodoxy was never meant as a comprehensive reassessment of the entire Torah. The term “Modern Orthodoxy” must be kept in perspective as an approach to applying the entirety of the Torah on its own terms to the modern world.
    Back to my comment: I had questioned whether Rabbi Broyde or the Far Left would accept the conclusion that only halacha has limitations while “all hashkafic approaches are legitimate, provided they do not produce practices that are beyone the halachic pale,” in Shlomo’s words.

    The implication of this position is that the Torah essentially consists of a list of details with no overall vision; it is only the actions of the body that matter while the knowledge of the mind and the values of the heart do not. According to this proposition, G-d is picky about the details of your physical activities – whether the animal you slaughter had it’s trachea severed precisely halfway or a hair more – but He’s pretty wide open about your spiritual orientation, such as the depth of your understanding of Torah, your appreciation of its values and your purpose in life. As you long as you dot your i’s and cross your t’s, you can pretty much write whatever you want. The reason I did not provide support to undermine this position is because it is utterly foolish on its face – a ridiculous philosophy of life even it was not the farthest thing in the world from the teachings of the Torah.

    Modern Orthodoxy never imagined that practical halacha is more central to the Torah than the commitment to understanding its great truths. That would rob the Torah of all its kavod and grandeur, which clearly are to be found in the power of its intellectual and emotional vision, and not just in the quantifiable behaviors it prescribes.
    As the Midrash says about that slaughter rule I mentioned, “Does it really make all the difference to G-d how an animal is slaughtered? In fact, the Mitzvos were given to refine people.” The details of the mitzvos are a means to an end. To address Shlomo’s mistake about my post, I was not making light, G-d forbid, of the vital importance of getting the details right. I was suggesting simply that details are always less relevant than the big picture. Doesn’t a math teacher, for example, give you more credit on the test if the formula you applied was correct but you wound up with the wrong answer because of a mistake in the arithmetic? Would you deserve any credit at all if the formula was all wrong, even if you somehow wound up with the correct number at the end? If the formula is wrong, that is the area of concern, not the result. (Micha’s mistake was addressed by Tal Banschar)
    I cannot resist concluding by quoting the following Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 5:4), which is perhaps THE source about today’s Far Left. Note how he speaks of so much more than detail in halacha:
    וכל תלמיד שלא הגיע להוראה, ומורה–הרי זה שוטה רשע וגס רוח; ועליו נאמר “כי רבים חללים, הפילה” (משלי ז,כו)… אלו התלמידים הקטנים שלא הרבו תורה כראוי, והם מבקשים להתגדל בפני עמי הארץ ובין אנשי עירם, וקופצים ויושבים בראש לדון ולהורות בישראל–הם המרבים את המחלקות, והם המחריבים את העולם, והמכבים נרה של תורה, והמחבלים כרם ה’ צבאות. ועליהם אמר שלמה בחכמתו, “אחזו לנו, שועלים–שועלים קטנים, מחבלים כרמים”: שיר השירים ב,טו

  16. ARW says:

    Rabbi Oberstein states
    “If Open Orthodoxy didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it to deal with people who are not willing to accept the standards of current yeshivish and chassidish orthodoxy.”

    I could not agree with this more. The only thing I would change is what I perceive to be a jab at those on the right by singling out the Yeshivish and Chassidish. The far left is not even willing to accept the standards of the current Modern Orthodoxy. But the main point is that there is a market for this kind of Yiddishkeit and it isn’t going to go away. The conservatives can’t supply it any more so those in the market for such an experience have created “Open Orthodoxy”.

    As I have said before, if all the Open Orthodox movement wanted was to create a comfortable environment for those who are only willing to take on a limited commitment to Torah so they would not go farther off the derech, then although not so desirable, I am not sure it would be worth a fight. The problem that Rabbi Oberstein misses is that the far left is not satisfied with this. They actually want to have an intellectual position and represent Orthodox Judaism to the rest of the world. They publish statements on controversial issues and fight those farther to the right. I doubt they will agree to drop their intellectual platform just be a comfortable place for those at a certain limited level of Yiddishkeit.

  17. Reb Yid says:

    Rabbi Oberstein:

    While your analysis is mostly spot on and worthwhile for people on this board to mull over, there are crucial differences between that C world and the progressive Orthodox world.

    I think you’ll agree that many raised in the C world who join progressive O shuls (or even some middle of the road O shuls) do so because they are looking for a Shomer Shabbat community, plain and simple. It has often been said that children of Conservative rabbis were incredibly lonely since they did not have a cohort with whom to play, interact, etc on Shabbat. Not so with the progressive Orthodox crowd…there is a real, vibrant kahal here. It is not restricted to those who are at YCT.

    So yes, progressive Orthodoxy is vibrant because it is filling an important void….but it is not the new Conservative.

  18. Yeed says:

    It boils down to this: Liberals v Conservatives. The overwhelming amount of orthodox Jews are (small “c”) conservative. The group defended by Rabbi Broyde are liberals, with a peculiar focus – I would call it almost a fixation – with feminist issues. Given this, even if everything Rabbi Broyde said was right, would it be any wonder the majority find the minority illegitimate?

  19. Tal Benschar says:

    As to whether the Open Orthodox crowd “represent a foreign value system”, this is non-trivial. They see themselves as addressing a new reality, one in which certain cultural artifacts are not ignorable. For example, they believe that feminism is a fact of today’s lifestyle. Sarah is now a partner in a law firm. Her being denied certain roles in Judaism will lead to frustration as there is no way she could internalize the attitude they suggest. They believe this is the metzi’us with which the poseiq has to deal; not a new value they are trying to infuse into Judaism. They believe that they are maximizing religious growth by not trying to impose a Judaism that is at odds with today’s reality.

    There are two basic problems with this:

    1. It is simply not correct. The LWMO do not posit that, nebbech, we are in a reality at odds with the Torah and therefore we have to bend halakha to make women comfortable (a problematic enough notion as it is). Their premise is that halakha itself is immoral for being out of tune with the zeitgeist.

    Look at part of the revised version of the article which caused so much furor:

    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.

    In short, any difference in treatment of men and women in halakha denigrates the dignity of women, and the “goal” is to make them equal in every way. Halakha (indeed the Torah) has been judged and found wanting.

    2. The same people claim that “We are, of course, committed to operating within the framework and rules of halacha.” The problem is that there are so many areas of halakha and parshiyos in the Torah which do NOT treat men and women alike — dinim deoraysa that there is no dispute over whatsoever. (Women are pattur from many mitzvos, including Talmud Torah and mitzvos aseh she ha zman gerama; women are passul from being dayanim and edim, and acc. to the Rambam any form of serrarah; women do not count for a minyan, etc.) You cannot get around the fact that the Torah and Chazal do treat men and women differently, and this is not going to change without abandoning basic halakhos. So instead they look to a few borderline cases they can change — what I would call “nibbling at the edges.”

    Frankly, if I were a feminist, I would find the attempt to “nibble at the edges” of halakha to be very insulting. For example, in one LWMO shul, they decided to let women lead kabbalos shabbos, which lead to a great uproar. But my reaction was — who do they think they are fooling? So, big deal, they let women lead kabbalos shabbos. Reminds me of the practice of some shuls to let a katan lead the tsibbur in Ein Kelokeinu and Aleinu at the end of Shabbos davening, or to sing Adon Olam or Yigdal. (At my in-law’s shul, they let even six year old lead Adon Olam at the end, very cute!) They still won’t let a woman lead the tsibbur in the main parts of davening — Barkhu and Shemone Esreh. So in the end, “women’s dignity” is still being trampled upon — they won’t let them do anything with any halakhic significance, just the unimportant things like kabbalos shabbos or Adon Olam. And this is supposed to satisfy the women who made partner in a law firm?

    Furthermore, this attitude breeds contempt for halakha. Halakha becomes just a bunch of archaic, immoral rules we are stuck with, and which only occassionally we can work around to “uphold the dignity” of women.

    The bottom line is that you cannot square the circle. You cannot at the same time believe in the Torah and believe that morality demands that men and women must be treated the same in every detail. The only way for anyone to deal with this is to accept that the Creator made men and women differently and has different roles for each, and that halakha reflects this in many details.

  20. micha says:

    FWIW, I think an argument can be made that giving minhag avos weight is itself part of the halachic process, no less than acharei rabim lehatos. It is in honor of this concept that Tosafos find a less-than-compelling answer to the question of why Ashkenazim focus on talmud bavli rather than the tanna’s formula of 1/3 Tanakh, 1/3 established halakhah, and 1/3 halachic dialectic, or why we don’t wash mayim acharonim, among many others. It’s that minhag avos plus the weak answer combine to make a sufficient halachic justification. Similarly, minhag avos is invoked to justify trimming off the edges of a rabbinic law, when we allow dancing on Shabbos or Yom Tov. “Look and see what the world does” may not be enough to overrule halakhah by itself, but it does allow one to follow lines of reasoning that in-and-of-themselves would be weak. Similarly, in the reverse; someone who wants to promulgate a new pesaq in opposition to the one commonly accepted and followed needs very strong justification.

    But I didn’t see either side make this point, that ignoring “the way people lead an Orthodox life” is itself a violation of halachic process. That’s the part I do not understand about RMJBroyde’s rejoinder.

  21. L. Oberstein says:

    I want to comment on these two asertiions in the above article.
    “It looks suspiciously like the Conservative Judaism of the last century. I would even say it looks almost exactly the same.”
    “To make matters worse, the YCT community consists almost entirely of young people who hardly spent much time in the beis medrash. Without the benefit of zikna (as in accumulation of wisdom and experience), they bring their youthful idealism to the task of reinventing Orthodox Judaism as they wish it to be, not of extending its age old principles to the modern world.”

    Cross-Currents is having an intellectual discussion about the philosophy of Open Orthodoxy Vs. normative frumkeit. That is one way to look at it and there is a gulf between the assumptions and practices of these two ends of the spectrum. For those of you who live in the world of the intellect this discussion is very relevant. I want to look at it from a different vantage, how American Jewry really is outside of the intellectual tower.
    Most Jews became Conservative to fit into modernity and for a time, it seemed to work. Today, young people do not join anything, they are autonomous and this is bleeding the budgets of the large edifices of Consewrvative and Reform Judaism.Their own grandchildren aren’t paying dues, aren’t getting married and not having many children. Conservative Judaism is also an intellectual framework but nobody in the synagogue cares much about the philosophy, they just want an experience that meets their needs without demanding too much. There really isn’t that much that divides Reform and Conservative laity.
    That is why what you call left wing orthodoxy is having so much success. It fills the void caused by the decline of a vibrant Conservative Movement. You are absolutely right about that.
    Avi Weiss’ shul has a mechitza, the Rabba is a full member of the clergy , that is true. It attracts a lot of people who are very much at home in the modern world, and they really don’t care if you think that this is a treif concept. If Open Orthodoxy didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it to deal with people who are not willing to accept the standards of current yeshivish and chassidish orthodoxy.
    I am not attempting to deal with this intellectually, just realistically. Which would you prefer, that a college educated young person leave orthodoxy entirely or that they find a path that goes to the edge and maybe a little over? If it were your son or daughter, what would you prefer?
    Do you have any idea of how many orthodox young people stop being frum in college, of how many are turned off by their Bais Yaakov and Yeshiva teachers who demean everything modern, it is a deluge out there and it affects the best homes.
    Seeing it in that context, isn’t it amazing that Open Orthodoxy attracts so many young people? They couldn’t care less what the rest of orthodoxy thinks, they are self contained. If you succeed in kicking them out, what will you gain except self satisfaction. I am not defending their theology, I think it has little to do with anything for most people. Open Orthodoxy is the new Conservative, but that doesn’t make the two clones, just trying to fill the same space between secularism and fundamentalism.

  22. David F. says:

    Wow! Rabbi Goldman did a masterful job of articulating what troubled me so much about Rabbi Broyde’s response. The job assumed by Rabbi Weiss and his ilk is not one that ought to be left to lightweights. It requires far broader shoulders than those currently attempting to do this sort of heavy lifting. Yeyasher Koachachah!

  23. Gershon Pickles says:

    Ironic indeed is the whole discussion and assessment of the various strands of orthdoxy within the framework of “halacha”. The obsession with halacha, it must constantly be recalled, is a new phenomenon. The entire establishment of yeshiva culture itself is less than 150 years old, a mere blink of an eye in Jewish history! And the focus upon halachic minutia, as distinct from learning, is far younger than even that. Religious Jews never before, until recently, spoke about halachic topics. Most religiouss Jews didnt speak in learning at all, in fact. The emphasis upon halacha is largely an american phenomenon, and a post-chazon ish Israeli phenomenon. Given that, all the analysis and discussion and scrutiny about the degrees of halachic observance in the various communities seems, well, a bit silly.

  24. S. says:

    “There were specific arguments about Torah Lishma (Rabbi Lamm’s, which included secular studies vs. Rav Ahron Kotler’s, which excluded them)”

    Really? It was a machlokes Rav Aharon Kotler and Rabbi Norman Lamm? You think you stacked the deck a little maybe?

  25. Shlomo Pill says:

    R. Goldman is missing the point, I think, or is at least talking past, not to, R. Broyde and his arguments.

    R. Goldman seems to contend that the real problem with LWMO is not halachic; he seems to concede that LWMO halachic practice is within legitimate halachic parameters (although far afield from center, to be sure). The real problem with LWMO, the reason they should be “kicked out of the MO camp” is that LWMO as a movement, espouses a philosophy that is at odds with what R. Goldman considers normative hashkafa.

    R. Broyde’s point, if I have it correctly, is that for the MO there is no NORMATIVE hashkafa. There are instead many different hshkafic approaches, all of which are legitimate and “within the camp” (under the principles of eilu v’eilu divrei elokim chaim and shivim panim l’Torah) provided they do not produce practices that are beyond the halachic pale. R. Broyde focuses on LWMO’s questionable halachic practices because on the MO view, that is what matters and that is how we should judge a movement or hashkafa’s legitimacy in the orthodox camp.

    R. Goldman’s contention that “Characterizing the Far Left as a “movement” that seeks to “[change] the way people lead an Orthodox life” is a far more serious charge than complaining that they’ve crossed a few lines in the case of specific halachos” illustrates the point. Truly? Is crossing halachic lines less problematic than “changing the way people lead an orthodox life”? Orthodox life today would be unrecognizable to Torah-observant Jews of era’s past, but we still keep shabbos, kashrus, and taharas hamishpacha like they did, and we still study Torah, get married with chupa v’kidushin, wave the daled minim on Succos and eat matzah on Pesach. The way people lead an orthodox life HAS changed, it is always changing; it is halachic lines that remain the same, and that is what really matters, isn’t it?

    At least, halachic lines are what matters to the MO. For R. Goldman, however, some extra-halachic concept of how to lead an “orthodox life” seems paramount.

    R. Goldman may be right in one respect. The LWMO approach may be “for young,hardly learned people to start with a contemporary liberal value system and to seek out hashkafic and halachic sources – wherever they can dig them up – to justify them and frame them in a Jewish context.” If this is true, the movement will belie its unorthodoxy in the unhalachic practices of its next generation. Until it does, however, on R. Broyde’s approach, it cannot be expelled from the orthodox camp on bare hashkafic grounds. As R. Broyde readily implied, hashkafic (and legitimate halachic) differences are grounds for vigorous, even contentious, debate and discussion. Those (who think) who think the LWMO approach is wrong (or misconceived) can and should argue against it. That does not mean, however, that they should be expelled from the orthodox camp.

  26. micha says:

    I think RDG misses RJMB’s essential point. The following of specific halakhah wasn’t raised because it was a sidebar in RYA’s original article. Rather, as I understand him, R’ Broyde was saying that halakhah is the sole criteria for deciding which behaviors (I didn’t see a discussion of beliefs) we should consider outside the pale. In other words, the whole dispute between them is whether “chang[ing] the way people lead an Orthodox life” while following the right basic legal process is in fact a show-stopper. R’ Goldman takes it for granted that it does, to the extent that I don’t see an actual argument for this position. Unlike, say, the various pointed articles on the topic of Mesorah that appeared in the last two issues of the OU’s “Jewish Action” magazine.

    Bringing up Conservative Judaism is a red herring, since their legal process isn’t the same as halakhah’s. They are outside the pale by both definitions.

    As to whether the Open Orthodox crowd “represent a foreign value system”, this is non-trivial. They see themselves as addressing a new reality, one in which certain cultural artifacts are not ignorable. For example, they believe that feminism is a fact of today’s lifestyle. Sarah is now a partner in a law firm. Her being denied certain roles in Judaism will lead to frustration as there is no way she could internalize the attitude they suggest. They believe this is the metzi’us with which the poseiq has to deal; not a new value they are trying to infuse into Judaism. They believe that they are maximizing religious growth by not trying to impose a Judaism that is at odds with today’s reality. RDG’s response takes too much for granted when it presumes otherwise without proving the point.

  27. Doron Beckerman says:

    One primary point in Rabbi Broyde’s article is a bit shocking.

    It is well known that R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik once attempted to deliver a Tanya class to a group of students, but it failed to take root. He famously stated that his students are interested in what in his head, but have no use for what is in his heart.

    How can a vibrant Modern Orthodox community be defined as halachah (sans current Gedolim) plus the “best of Western culture”? Does Judaism not have its own culture? For example, is the concept “a Jewish home is a Beis HaMikdash” part of Modern Orthodox outlook? I can’t find it in Shulchan Aruch, and it certainly is not part of Western culture…

    This sort of gaping hole in Modern Orthodoxy’s heart goes a long way in explaining being (or at least tolerance for being) fast and loose with women’s roles (hey, its not like she’s working in a Beis HaMikdash…)

    In truth, I can’t understand how anyone with a modicum of appreciation for what was arguably RYBS’ most outstanding, and undoubtedly unique, contribution to Torah–the conceptualization of Halachah as expression of broader Hashkafic themes–can possibly contend that authentic Orthodox Judaism has no independent culture, a beating heart, that simply cannot be excised without murdering it.