Orthodox Jews Ride Different Buses– Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz

I have been asked recently if the advent of women in positions of Orthodox rabbinic leadership will cause a denominational split of the Orthodox movement.

My response:

I think there may be a split in the making, but it won’t be solely because of the advancement of women’s roles within certain Orthodox communities. There are many differences between the Haredim and the Modern Orthodox – attitudes towards the conversion process, attempts to resolve the agunah issue, embracing secular education, just to name a few.

Not to mention a new policy in certain Haredi areas of Israel where women are now banished to sit at the back of the bus, lest men have immodest thoughts.

The point is, the Haredi and Modern Orthodox communities are already at odds on so many issues, and a formal split between the movements may be inevitable.  And this may not be a bad thing.

It was not until 1818 that the Orthodox movement had to define itself in contradistinction to the newly formed Reform movement in Germany.  Until then, there were religious Jews and secular Jews.  However, when the Reform movement emerged (and about 70 years later, in 1886, with the appearance of the Conservative movement) Jews suddenly had a defined choice of how to practice their religion.  Rather than alienate Jews who could not conform to the strictures of religious Judaism, alternative movements provided Jews with spiritual outlets.  And, in turn, the Orthodox movement was able to define itself more clearly as well.  Thus, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch introduced the revolutionary and valuable concept of Torah and Derech Eretz in 1840 as a polemic against the Reform movement on one side, and the more right wing isolationists on the other side.

A critique I often hear about the Modern Orthodox world is its supposed dearth of leaders and leadership.  I actually think there are many leading voices within the Modern Orthodox community; however, some of those voices are often hushed in fear of retribution and ostracism from Haredi Jews.  Thus, some leaders from the Modern Orthodox camp who may want to come out in support of women in spiritual leadership or a decentralized approach to conversions may be reticent to publicly voice opinions lest they alienate our brothers and sisters on the right.

But imagine how liberating it would be if some of our Modern Orthodox leaders were not fearful of the reaction to the right.  Imagine if our leaders were able to embrace and teach Modern Orthodox ideals based on equality and spiritual growth, all while still grounded in a deep understanding of halakha.  Then, Haredi and Modern Orthodox Jews can acknowledge our differences without trying to “save” the other from falling into the abyss of secularism or fanaticism.  Those who ascribe to separatism will ride their buses, with men in front and women in the back without having to defend their ideals.  And those who embrace modernity while remaining grounded in halakha will celebrate equality, and continue to ride their own bus, without looking over their right shoulders.

And just maybe we should affirmatively define and channel our Modern Orthodox values and practices into a proud and distinct movement – so that others don’t do it for us and banish us to the back of the bus.

8 Responses to Orthodox Jews Ride Different Buses– Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz

  1. If left wing Modern Orthodoxy was as intense and deep in its learning as the Chareidim were, then you might be right.

    But without the Chareidi anchor, if left wing Modern Orthodoxy splits from the rest of the observant world, it will quickly spin into the arms of right wing Conservatism. Oh sure, it’ll continue to call itself Orthodox but heck, there’s no patent on the term. Even the Greek church uses the name.

  2. Larry Engelhart says:

    Yitz Greenberg, in an article he wrote several decades ago, explained that whenever 2 adjectives precede a noun (Modern Orthodox Judaism)it’s ambiguous whether the first adjective describes the second or the noun.

    Frankly, I think that expression, or it’s 3-adjective version (Centrist Modern Orthodox Jew) are inherently misleading.

    “Orthodox” implies a rigidity.
    Whereas I think the people who practice MOJ really are striving for a fluidity, actually an evolutionary understanding of what God wants of us as transmitted through His Torah, and informed by our expanding understanding of His universe.

    MOJ is more challenging than static Judaism because it DEMANDS that we be informed of the latest that Science, Business, Society, and Technology teach us and DEMANDS that we integrate that knowledge with our understanding of the lessons of Torah, in it’s expansive form (Torah, Talmud, Commentaries, etc)

    Static Judaism, due to it’s relatively unchanging nature, is able to be more familiar to its adherents wherever they may be. Their uniformity enables instant recognition and identification (and hence some social comfort).

    MOJ, on the other hand, is more amoeba-like in that its borders are constantly changing and it is constantly moving and taking new shapes, as it becomes informed in new ways. This may lead to an evolving non-familiarity and lack-of universal group identification.

    The persuit of integrity & honesty in re-understanding Torah in a “modern” context may create a dis-unity in the MOJ group as different understandings lead to different behaviors and group norms. This is part of the challenge of MOJ.

    The analogy of riding different buses misses the point that we are probably on different roads and will end up in different destinations.

  3. 1) If this type of stuff is centrist, then who is to the left of you? I mean Orthodox-wise?

    2) Chareidi Judaism is not, stereotypes to the contrary, static. Who are the more authoritative poskim in the world in medical ethics? Chareidim. How about financial law? Chareidim. Oh, oh, how about science and techonology? Who runs that institute in Yerushalayim where they make all sorts of gramma devices so people can use electronics on Shabbos and not be in violation? Chareidim. There are Chareidi doctors, laywers, psychologist, engineers…

    And who whinges a lot and claims to be the up-to-date group? Modern Orthodoxy.

    Face it, Modern Orthodoxy is up-to-date in knowing which pop celebrity has died this week and what movie was number 1 at the box office last week. That does not carry a lot of Jewish currency to it.

  4. Benjamin Fleischer says:

    I actually find the relationship between MO and Hareidi a little difficult to understand as the approaches to torah, involvement in the secular world, and science are quite different. Yet, MO Jews often have haredi teachers in their schools and send their kids to hareidi yeshivot in Israel (not sure about summer camps or NCSY). This has let to the “black hatification of Teaneck” for example, that kids come home “more frum” than their parents.

    Mind you, most Jews in America are probably between a kind of rock and hard place with regards to a Jewish education without much content or one that is philosophically much more conservative (hareidi) than the students’ families. This leads so such silly things as children who think that the Torah says Og went on the Ark and that the Hebrews in Egypt really did have 6 kids at a time, where in the MO community people should have a more scientific approach to the tradition, IMHO.

    Blogs such as dovbear and frumsatire often call attention to these issues.

  5. Benjamin Fleischer says:

    Also, left wing Modern Orthodoxy seems to me to often be what the Conservative movement was supposed to be (observant and traditional in mindset) but there’s a mechitza and women can’t lead services. To some extent, this functions to ensure a distinction between to two movements (though less so with the non-egal branch of CJ and the Union for Traditional Judaism). In that respect, I’m very curious how the efforts of respected leaders such as R’ Weiss will play out.

  6. Larry Engelhart says:

    Garnel raises some good points … in fact, I think the people he’s talking about are “modern” even if they are Chareidi.

    I used the word “static” because some people are resistant to amalgamating the current world with their world-view of Hashkafa. I didn’t use the term Chareidi because I thought it unfair to stereotype.

    There are societal pressures which place a behavioral Mechitza between the “modern” way some “frum” people act in their professional lives and how they act, speak, and think back in the shteeble, however.

    It’s interesting to note how many of these “enlightened” people don’t expect, encourage, or allow (select one or more) their kids to become equally educated and integrative.

  7. Sam says:

    I have heard a lot about Sara so I thought I would read some of what she wrote. I have to say I am disapointed – she is super articulate and says a lot of smart things….but what about just being a religious role model and bas Torah? The writing feels too critical, too politcal.

  8. pierre says:

    I see a split coming, w/modern orthodoxy decidedly on the losing end – charedim rabbonim that are recognized as sages of standing and renown by virtually all spheres of Torah Jewry (including the ‘Modern’) have ALREADY openly stated the no-longer-orthodox status of MO (charedi laity aside – because so many of them openly speak this way about MO);

    http://harherem.blogspot.com/2008/07/now-about-modern-orthodoxy.html

    And STILL the Modern Orthodox leadership speaks laudingly and easily with them, refusing to respond to what isn’t even a challenge…what is clear derision. I AM NOT saying there’s any place for rudeness or blind derision of THEM by ‘us’ – but HKBH, Grant Modern Orthodoxy some spine!!! And the MO leaders?…;

    http://harherem.blogspot.com/2008/08/argument-ad-naseum-never-more-for-sake.html

    http://harherem.blogspot.com/2009/04/rav-lichtenstein-and-segue-from-chardal.html

    http://harherem.blogspot.com/2009/04/seque-ii-more-respectful.html

    But so much of this situation we have only “ourselves” to blame (I can’t consider myself MO – as I lack the yichus as well as the religious & secular education);
    http://harherem.blogspot.com/2008/08/now-about-modern-orthodoxy-ii-somewhat.html

    Granted; the lack of necessary ‘bio-diversity’ has EVERYTHING to do with the outrageous costs of a Jewish life…but think about who else MO communities are spending on besides their kids schools and the kosher butcher…Charedim run and (more importantly) teach in many of the MO schools, and are willing to sacrifice for the privilege of predating (hashgafically), on your children in both college (“campus” outreach, Maor, etc) and yeshivot in Israel. They are willing to live off community doles to access Jewish souls, where MO parents sacrifice money as professionals to pay for both the children being predated on, and to pay the predators themselves. The ideologically/religious committed MO kids make Aliyah – because thats a core principle of Modern Orthodoxy; the end result is that communities b’chutz have decreasing population that remains outside Israel – seats in pews then be dominated (by meme-replication and gene-replication – outbreeding in ideology and biology), with charedim and communities with charedi institutions (“Community” kollelim which reflect only a sliver of the ‘community’)…Of course, a good number of the OTHER olim are Charedi “dati leumi”, anti-democratic and closet Kakhniks, glad to enter Israeli political life and dominate the Rabbinut!;

    http://harherem.blogspot.com/2009/03/my-conspiracy-theory-1in-under-10-years.html

    Besieged from all sides the planet over.

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