Friday, November 27, 2009

Future World

There is a fascinating article on a website called Morethodoxy by Rabbi Asher Lopatin. Rabbi Lopatin is a brilliant modern Orthodox Rabbi in the Lakeview area of Chicago. This neighborhood is comparable to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in that it is heavily modern Orthodox and has a large population of singles.

His resume is very impressive. He was a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford University. He received Semicha from both Yeshiva University and Rav Ahron Soloveichik at Yeshivas Brisk. He was also an honoree at one of their banquets. He is a devoted protégé of Rav Ahron and when Rav Ahron was alive he was Rabbi Lopatin’s Posek.

What is fascinating about that article is Rav Ahron’s Psakim with respect to matters of abortion:

By the time I was able to spend the most time with him, the last 15 years of his life, he had developed an much more “liberal” attitude towards abortion. If a woman was raped, he would tell her to go quickly to get an abortion, and he could even see allowing her to abort in such a circumstance in the third trimester, if necessary. By his last years, when I was a rabbi already in my shul, he paskined for me on a difficult case that a woman carrying a Trisoma 18 baby, which would not live for more than a few years at most, that allowed her to abort, if she felt she was not strong enough to endure.

Another Psak that is fascinating is the following:

When we set up our community, pluralistic school, (Chicago Jewish Day School) I asked him if we could admit children of Jewish fathers, non-Jewish mothers. He said yes! Then his grandson who was there said, But Zayde, these are “goyim g’murim”! His answer was, So what? You can teach Torah to goyim as well! And he quoted the S’fornu.

I wonder which grandson it was. But I digress.

I’ll bet that Rav Ahron’s Psakim surprise a lot of people. But they shouldn’t be suprised. Rav Ahron was not afraid to Paskin L’Kula. He never looked over his shoulder when it came to Paskining. If he felt it was Halachicly correct he would go against the grain no matter who or how many Poskim disagreed.

Would he have agreed with the way left wing modern Orthodoxy pushes the envelope? I honestly don’t know. My guess is that he probably would have approved of it in certain circumstances but frowned upon it in others.

While all this is very interesting it is only a prologue to my thoughts on Orthodox demographics.

Organizations like Morethodoxy which represent the left wing of Orthodoxy are becoming much more of a reality today. This is in part due to leaders like Rabbi Avi Weiss who is determined to guide modern orthodoxy in a particular direction. He has created Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and coined the term ‘Open Orthodoxy’ as its motto. It expresses a new Hashkafa of interacting with other non Halachic Jewish denominations among other things. In doing so he has parted company with his own Rebbe, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He has not rejected Halacha in any way but in Hashkafa he is moving to the left.

Another innovation he has created is a Yeshiva that ordains Orthodox women to become in essence female rabbis. He calls them Maharat. But he is the first to concede that that for all intents and purposes his ‘Musmachim’ are really just female rabbis albeit with all the Halachic restrictions palced upon women when serving as rabbis. For example no woman may be one of the ten people that comprise a Minyan.

I tend to think that this is the wave of the future for Modern Orthodoxy. Not because they are stronger or have better Hashkafos than Modern Orthodoxy’s right. But because I don’t think right wing Modern Orthodoxy will be sustainable as an independent entity.

I base this on what I’ve written about many times. There is a melding of two worlds taking place which ultimately will produce a new entity. I’m not sure what it will be called – if anything but it is already happening. The right wing of modern Orthodoxy and the moderate wing of Charedim are combining to form one large sociological if not Hashkafic group.

They tend to live in the same neighborhoods and send their children to the same schools usually moderate Charedi ones. They tend to look and act like their moderate Charedi counterparts. They are serious about Halacha, they often have trim beards, and wear black hats and are Koveah Itim – setting aside time daily for learning Torah . The differences between them Hashkaficly are real but do not really enter into their relationships with each other.

For their part moderate Charedim have already taken upon themselves the modern Orthodox modality of going to colleges or professional schools for Parnassa purposes. They now stand side by side in all the professions with their modern Orthodox counterparts. And they will more or less participate in the general culture with them at various different levels.

I believe that this new grouping will be the new mainstream for Orthodox Jewry. It will almost certainly be the largest.

So there is going to be a realignment so to speak of Orthodox demographics. The new Orthodox mainstream and its demographic center will be this new integrated entity.

To their right there will be the right wing Charedim of the Yeshiva world that sees the Israel Charedi model as its inspiration and goal. They reject formal secular studies and try to stay in learning full time. If and when the time ever comes they seek employment without the benefit of a college or professional school education. Some may try their hand at businesses and succeed. But the vast majority will struggle just to make ends meet. In my view this model is not sustainable in its current numbers and will eventually diminish in size. But they will always comprise a significant segment. Especially for those who can somehow support themselves in that world or are willing to live their entire lives in poverty.

And then on the left we will have the new left wing modern orthodox world. They will eventually become the new modern Orthodox as the right wing ceases to be a separate entity and melds into the new mainstream.

A word about Chasidim. They most certainly comprise a very large portion of Orthodox Jewry. And if any group’s numbers are growing exponentially - theirs are. They certainly cannot be discounted in any demographic trends. But Chasidim are not really subject to integrative trends. They will grow internally and remain strong. But as big as they are I do not see them as mainstream.

Will they eventually outnumber the rest of the Orthodox world? I doubt it. The new mainstream will be the largest demographic and along with the non Chasidic right wing will grow as quickly in my view. I further believe that the insularity of the Chasidic world will lose some of their youth via attrition - as will the right wing Charedi world. That will impact negatively upon their growth.

This is how I see the future of Orthodoxy -at least in the near term. Of course many things can happen to change this dynamic. But based on my observation I do see this as the near term future of Orthodoxy. Only the future will tell if I am right.