Modern Orthodox Star Trek:“To Boldly Go Where No Modern Orthodox Person Has Gone Before”

א  וַיְהִי הָעָם כְּמִתְאֹנְנִים, רַע בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוָה; וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה, וַיִּחַר אַפּוֹ, וַתִּבְעַר-בָּם אֵשׁ יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל בִּקְצֵה הַמַּחֲנֶה.

1 And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and devoured in the uttermost part of the camp.

What exactly were Bnei Yisrael murmuring about and why was it considered “evil in the eyes of the Lord.”? By leaving the source of the discord undefined, the Torah opens the stage for many suggestions.

 According to Ramban, there was a very specific concern that Bnei Yisrael were expressing.


“The correct interpretation appears to me to be that as they got further way from Mount Sinai, which was near an inhabitable settlement, and entered “the great and dreadful wilderness” in their journey, they became upset and said: What she we do? How shall we live in the wilderness? What shall we eat and what shall we drink?”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson ob”m points out the mistake of this approach. A desert is defined by 2 things, 1) lack of inhabitants and 2) lack of food. The fact that the Jewish people were in the desert, accompanied by the well of water and the manna turned the desert into a “Yishuv” an inhabited place. Bnei Yisrael’s inability to perceive the reality of their situation was considered evil in God’s eyes.

Rabbi Schneerson extends this to the spiritual realm. One may think the place they are in is a spiritual desert and that staying there is dangerous to their soul – so they leave. To this the Torah answers that by being their and being a positive influence on one’s surroundings, the spiritual desert can be transformed into a spiritual Yishuv. The inability to recognize ones power to positively influence a situation is evil in the eyes of God.


What does this have to do with Modern Orthodoxy? A great deal! Modern Orthodoxy seems to be allergic to those so called spiritual deserts. We have a hard time placing rabbis in small towns and we have almost no “frontier” modern orthodox shuls where the Jewish amenities are not what they are in NY and LA.  In the process we are ignoring our responsibility to God, the Torah and the Jewish People.


Modern Orthodoxy needs chalutzim – pioneers who are willing to go to the so called spiritual deserts of America and teach Judaism according to principals of Modern Orthodoxy! I suggest that our product is the most marketable to the vast numbers of American Jews. Modern Orthodoxy will not ask the masses to give up valuing modernity. At the same time we can offer approaches and answers to life’s big questions. We have the tools to illustrate the relevance of Judaism in the modern world.

By limiting ourselves to the strong Jewish centers we are relegating ourselves to “preaching to the choir” and wasting resources.

We need modern orthodox philanthropists to step forward to accomplish this. We need people of vision willing to invest to turn the deserts into outposts of modern orthodoxy.


Here is my challenge – for any Jewish philanthropist willing to take accept it – and in the process change the face of America Jewry – I will find the rabbi and I will find the town. It will be the best money you ever invested! (I put the price tag as approx. $200,000 per year –all in – including facility and rabbi.. All we need to do is find the Jews!). The goal is for the program to be self sufficient after 3 years. Of course you will be so enamored by this that you will move on to fund the seeding of similar programs.


Modern Orthodoxy will be strengthened in numbers as well as in terms of our self respect. When our community sees modern orthodoxy spreading there will be an instant injection of pride – we only spread that which we truly believe in.

 It is our turn to explore the “Final Frontier.”….to seek out new (Jewish) life and new (Jewish) civilizations; to boldly go where no (MO) man has gone before.”

7 Responses to Modern Orthodox Star Trek:“To Boldly Go Where No Modern Orthodox Person Has Gone Before”

  1. Asher Lopatin says:

    Excellent point Rav Barry. There are at least three neighborhoods in Chicago that desperately need a rabbi – help! But I think we could even work with 100k a year.

  2. Mark says:

    Chabad has done a fantastic job of franchising, as it were. Just like Col. Sanders, almost any place is KFC–Kosher for Chabad to open a outlet. Montana, Yiwu (no, I never heard of it, either) and 5 other places in China, 4 places in India, Iowa City, Quebec City and so on. While one may not agree with all they do, the marketing plan is clearly successful.

    You say the goal is to “turn the deserts into outposts of modern orthodoxy.” There’s a central question: Are you looking to create outposts of MO, or just plain outposts of Judaism–that is, Orthodox synagogues where non-Orthodox Jews feel at home.

    Would MO rabbis and philanthropists see the latter as a worthwhile project?

    • Barry Gelman says:

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! My goal is to spread judaism. I do strongly believe that MO has a unique perspective that is more inclusive and can have a far ranging impact. There is no escaping thatt rabbis has hashkafot and would teach according to their particular hashkafa. As for the philanthropists (I hope you are one of them) – generally peopel contribute to pple (not necc. causes) they believe in.
      Rabbi Gelman

  3. Hyim Shafner says:

    Indeed the Jewish people are thirsty for the word of God but it must be offered to them in a more organic way than Jewish “outreach” organizations do. Orthodoxy has an important voice for the Jewish people, but among the masses of Jews, since we are not accessible, it is not heard.

    • Barry Gelman says:

      I think the way you and I tech is organic and can have ggreat appeal.
      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Rabbi Shafner,
    I was wondering what you meant by a more organic way of Jewish community building. Thanks!

  5. Hyim Shafner says:

    It seems the culture of some, if not many Jewish Kiruv (outreach) organizations is such that the person who is “being mikareved,” (as such organizations usually refer to it), may be perceived as an object for whom there is a preconceived agenda rather than a subject with their own (infinitely) valuable history, personality and worldview. Offering Judaism in a more organic way, as I see it, means recognizing and respecting every individual as a whole being, with their deeply individualized personality, background, and family. These things are important not only for them as people but for the Jewish life they will lead and should not be jettisoned.

    In communities which value communal conformity in such a strong way as to push aside personal autonomy, individualized ways of thinking, and God given talents, in favor of looking, talking and acting solely in a common cultural pattern of the community, the person’s tzelem elokim (individualized image of God) can be lost. At Bais Abraham, as I’m sure other shuls (but not all), we try hard to offer Torah without pressuring people in any way to let go of their past, but rather to organically interweave Torah into who they are.

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