Taking a Critical View at Modern Orthodoxy, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Rabbi Asher Lopatin calls for Modern Orthodoxy to embrace Torah halachic rigor and fidelity to tradition as the third pillar of contemporary Orthodox Judaism.


A few weeks ago I started outlining what I see as five pillars of contemporary Orthodox Judaism. I am not trying to displace the Maimonidian 13 principles of faith, nor the four principles of Rav Yosef Albo. I’m just trying to point out what I think are the key ingredients in being an Orthodox Jew today – and in maintaining our way of life for the future. The past few weeks have been particularly difficult, at least in the media, for our Chareidi brothers and sisters, and I have certainly done my share to point out the challenges I believe they face in working to sanctify God’s name. However, we Morethodox Jews have to look inwards as well, and I think the third pillar of Orthodoxy might serve also as a critique of Modern Orthodox Jews – at least in the way we normally see ourselves. The other two principles, Torah from Sinai and Innovation (Chiddush) from Sinai, are great rallying cries for Modern Orthodoxy. But now #3:

Intellectual and halachic rigor and discipline: When we closely observe our detailed laws of Kashrut, of davening, coming to minyan and making sure there is a minyan in our communities, of kavana (concentration, focus) in our davening , of the Shabbat, as it is expressed in its myriad of rituals and ethical aspects, of family purity in its own ritual and social aspects, the laws of gossiping and loving our fellow Jews and respecting our fellow human beings, then we become the vessels through which Torah can be interpreted and even rethought. The Netziv puts it in terms of the two words: “Lishmor ve’la’asot” – from Parshat Va’etchanan: We need to first be the preservers of the Torah and practice we inherit from the previous generation, then we can move on to relooking at everything with fresh, innovative eyes, and understand Torah for our generation. When we are preservers of Torah and Torah practice, then we become safe space for God’s infinite word – we become the rightful heirs of the tradition which we are obliged to re-examine for ourselves. Only through this rigor and commitment to Halacha, minhag (custom) and tradition can our lives reflect the living Torah which God gave us at Sinai.

Do we as Modern Orthodox Jews have this religious rigor in our lives? Do we have the passion? I think we see it in the Chareidi and Yeshivish world, but we need to see it in our world. MOREthodox – we have to be the one that are not only innovative, creative and responsive to our generation’s needs, we also have to be the ones that people can look to for all the strength that has come down to us from Moshe and Sinai.

I know that is an area that I work on, and perhaps in Israel our Modern Orthodox brothers and sisters do it better. But we have to make sure that Modern Orthodoxy is not lazy Orthodoxy. If it is, we will lose our right to be the innovators of Torah and we will lose our right to redefine what a Torah Jew is in 2009.

Let’s go to work!

Asher Lopatin

7 Responses to Taking a Critical View at Modern Orthodoxy, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  1. BZL says:

    “Five Pillars?” Our foundations of belief are from the TOrah, not Islam (Shahada, Salah, Zakah, Saum and Hajj).

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      Cute about the 5 pillars of Islam. Many in Islam add “Jihad” as a sixth pillar.

      Asher Lopatin

  2. ilanadavita says:

    Stimulating post.

  3. eddie says:

    Reb Asher,
    This doesn’t, chas v’shalom, have any connection to the 5 pillars of Islam, does it?

  4. KB says:

    I think this is misheadlined. The closest you come to critical in this article is saying saying “I think we see it in the Chareidi and Yeshivish world, but we need to see it in our world,” a statement which is totally unclear as to whether or not you actually do see rigor in the modern orthodox world.

  5. MC says:

    Why the labels? Orthodoxy is a term used to describe the church. Why can’t we just use more traditional terms such as Yehudim or Shomrei Torah U Mitzvot?
    Rabbi Asher I respectfully think you miss the point.
    Charedi and Morthodxy or whatever you want to call it are simply social constructs. These are no longer active progressive movements or keepers of a tradition. Value statements, “pillars of faith” al l of that you speak of are peripheral at best and are largely irrelevant to the reality of these communities. There is not a real motivation to follow these creeds or beliefs. The reality is you have a social network of people who participate in these groups for the perceived benefits of being part of an elite team. Let’s face it, these groups are filled more with ego than Yiras Shomyim, more of politics and corruption than Ahavas Yisroel and more of image than substance. Charedim can wear their garb or dip into a Mikve to feel pure, MO can preach their beliefs, but do either really work on becoming better people? Rarely.

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