Monday, March 15, 2010

Disintegration of Modern Orthodoxy

There are so many ways to describe the death throes of Modern Orthodoxy. Lets see now: there’s the Yiddish adage of nisht aheen v’nisht aher, there is the Israeli version of lo dubim v’lo y’ar and then there is the American version which, although slightly vulgar hits the nail on the head: s__t or get off the pot. Any one of these three would describe to a “T” the status of Modern Orthodoxy. It’s another Jewish invention like Traditional Judaism was in the 1960’s. Traditional Judaism was a “movement” of orthodox rabbis, backed and sponsored by the Hebrew Theological College with the purpose of staunching the incursion of Conservative Judaism in the Midwest. The rabbis hired by these synagogues had good intentions: to create and foster orthodox Judaism in cities and towns in the Midwest; to educate the young people in a culture that promotes orthodox values by associating with youth movements such as NCSY rather than BBYO and other liberal youth movements. To encourage young people to attend orthodox camps such as Moshava rather than the liberal camps like Ramah. These rabbis were on a mission – a noble one at that. They were deeply committed to orthodoxy and probably, had they been asked, would have defined themselves as Modern Orthodox.

The problem with these modern orthodox rabbis then as now is that they are masters of the art of compromise leaving the product half-baked. However, when it comes to ideology there should be no room for compromise. In the 1960’s those modern traditional orthodox rabbis serving traditional pulpits were presiding over synagogues with mixed seating and microphones. It took Rabbi Aron Soloveitchik to put an end to their hypocricy.

By definition Modern Orthodoxy, not being comfortable in their authentic skin, have created for themselves a series of problems. In the last few years modern orthodox rabbis have demonstrated their discomfort with the idea of exclusiveness with a unique mission, struggling with reconciling choseness with contemporary trends. Modern Orthodoxy has been obsessed with the notion of being accepted by their enlightened and to be loved by the progressive movements. They weren’t comfortable with the idea that the gay community wasn’t accepted within Orthodox Judaism, so a symposium was held at Yeshiva University to “air” the issues. And now, an activist rabbi, seeking his place in the sun wishes to ordain women rabbis and bestow upon them the title of “rabbah”.

As much as I hate to admit it, Agudas Israel is right on the mark when denouncing Rabbi Avi Weiss for his latest foray into his latest venture of attempting to liberalize Orthodox Judaism. The strength of Agudas Israel and the other right wing (conservative) groups is that they have become the party of “no”: No to watering down Jewish values, and No to caving in to trendy Jewish living. Truth be told, Rabbi Weiss ought to do the honest thing: disconnect from the RCA and modern orthodoxy-whatever that means, and form a new denomination. Call it Progressive Judaism or some variation thereof. But for heaven sake, they should stop referring to themselves as orthodox. After all, many right wing Conservative rabbis are as halachichally observant as Modern Orthodox rabbis sharing the same “hashkafah”. There is nothing orthodox about them, and that should be understood as a derisive comment.

The Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah is correct when saying that placing women in traditional rabbinic roles departs from Jewish traditional value system and can’t be called orthodox. The problem with Modern Orthodoxy is they want their cake and they want to eat it too, while the Moetzet Gedolei Hatorah isn’t interested in eating the cake, but preserving it!! And that is why they are so convincing. They talk straight, they are intellectually honest and having no reason to compromise their values on the altar of American political / social correctness.

Having said that I would find it difficult to live in a world where there weren’t the rich options available to choose from. Having to live in a Jewish world ossified by the stodgy stalwarts of conservative values would make me old before my time; casting a sepia tint on a world with otherwise innumerable possibilities and opportunities. On the other hand living in a world always looking over my right shoulder, trying always to placate, fearing a misstep, would hinder my ability to reach my full stride – and that would be awfully disappointing and frustrating.