Last week Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University said with a heavy heart that “we will soon be saying kaddish over the Reform and Conservative movements”. Shocking. If I was a psychologist I might suggest that perhaps Rabbi Lamm was “projecting”, but I’ll get to that later. It’s just mean spirited. Had a reputable hareidi rav said that of the modern orthodox movement there would have been hell to pay. What did Lamm benefit by being so uncouth?
The truth of the matter is that the modern orthodox movement is doomed to the same future as the reform and conservative movements. The numbers, ideology, commitment and intellectual honesty are on the side of the hareidim – unfortunately. Hareidim reproduce prodigiously, are totally committed with little or no compromise to their way of life and have a very deep and abiding belief in “netzach yisrael”. The modern orthodox, on the other hand, are totally confused as to who and what they are. They aspire to be part of the sophisticated, educated and cultured secular world; appear as modernists and wish to apply those standards to Torah values. For example, the reform and conservative movement s have been ordaining women rabbis for decades. It finally hit the modern orthodox that they too could do something like that. All they would have to do is tweak the system. They not only have lagged behind by a few decades and appear to be “knock off” of the two other liberal movements but they are terribly disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.
The modern orthodox are today where the conservative movement was in the 1950’s. A healthy respect for halacha, but in need of upgrading it to fit the times. Then they were sneered at by the orthodox community and there wasn’t much of a hareidi presence in America because they were still recovering from the war and adjusting as freshly minted greenhorns. Today however the conservative movement can hardly be differentiated from the reform. Both are competing for the title of the largest Jewish movement in America – as if numbers really matter. What the reform movement won’t tell you is that nearly 50 % of their membership is either not Jewish by anyone’s standards, converted by reform standards, or recognized as Jews through patrilineal descent.
Logic would dictate that both the conservative and reform movements will ultimately fade away. The question is who will be around to say kaddish for them. I don’t think it will be the modern orthodox because they will be right behind the reform and conservative. (This is beginning to sound like a modern version of Chad Gad Ya). Modern orthodoxy is an experiment that outlived its usefulness. In its inception it had value and purpose. American Jewry was at a significant existential juncture after world war two. The American Jewish community had little direction other than what the reform and conservative movement was offering. Had it not been for the rise of modern orthodoxy as formulated by Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik many would have been lost to traditional Judaism. But those days are long gone and the hareidi community has not only grown but has become mighty powerful economically and politically.
The entire infrastructure of the American Jewish enterprise is dependent on the hareidi community. The entire hechsher system of food products manufactured globally is in the hands of the hareidi community. (The hechsher tzedek, noble as it is and one that I support is “batel b’shishim, a mere drop in the ocean). The hechsher of meat and poultry too is dependent on their administration. They also have powerful lobbyists advancing their interests on the state and national level. Day schools and yeshivos are staffed in good measure by the every same community of totally committed Jews whose sole dedication is “harbazat torah”, the proliferation of Torah. While hareidi men and women devote themselves to the noble task of education (chinuch), the modern orthodox are choosing lucrative careers that highlight status and prestige.
Yeshiva University the bastion of modern orthodoxy, once a pillar of Torah study has been reduced to a footnote within the Yeshiva University complex. It has become an institution of higher learning competing for government grants and funding. Their schools have little to do with the perpetuation of Torah culture and its values but concerned with the academic recognition of their graduate schools of medicine, science and the social sciences. It is no wonder that the message coming out of Yeshiva University and modern orthodoxy is one that is garbled and confused rather than crisp and articulate. The fact of the matter is that modern orthodoxy pales in comparison to the hareidi community. It wouldn’t surprise me if the liberal movements survive in spades the modern orthodox community. If anything the hareidi community will witness the demise of the liberal movements and modern orthodoxy. It would appear that Rabbi Lamm ought to revise his estimation as to who will be saying kaddish over who!