Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Far Left - Modern Orthodoxy at Risk

One of the things I have been pretty upset about is the extremes taken by the far left of Modern Orthodoxy. I have been highly critical of things like the ordination of female rabbis; women serving as cantors for Kabbolas Shabbos; eliminating a standardized Bracha because of the current feminist zeitgeist… and other things that push the envelope of even Halacha.

However, no matter how critical I have been I have never said that those advocating new innovations that do not violate actual Halacha should be thrown out of Orthodoxy. (My understanding has always been that deleting a bracha is a violation of Halacha - but at this point I am not sure if it is. There may be precedent in the Rishonim and Achronim for that. The point is where to draw the line with respect to Orthodoxy accepting or rejecting the far left. For me Orthodoxy means no compromise on Halacha.)

In an article on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Michael Broyde has written a masterful review of Modern Orthodox principles - and a rebuttal to Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein’s position that Modern Orthodoxy must excise the far left. It must do so he says even if it remains Halachic - if it wants to retain its credentials with the right. He says it is vital that Charedi rabbinic leaders do not reject us. And since they are so adamant in their rejection of the far left it behooves us to excise them.

I certainly do not want to alienate the right. When I preach Elu V’Elu for ourselves, I preach it for them too - even as I sometimes disagree. But I will not go so far as agreeing that Halachic Jews ought to be thrown out of Orthodoxy – no matter how far askew they go from normative Judaism. However, I also consider it vital that we not be rejected by them. The question remains however – at what price do we hold true to our principles? What if it costs us such a rejection?

I pray that never happens. But I agree with Rabbi Broyde that we should not sacrifice our principles. If we believe something is Emes - it shouldn’t matter how some on the right react to our beliefs. Rabbi Broyde elaborates on this theme.

I wish I could define and articulate the positions of Modern Orthodoxy with the skill and knowledge that Rabbi Broyde brings to the table. I am truly in awe of his ability to do that.

An interesting part of his rebuttal is that he actually agrees with Rav Adlerstein that MO ought to set up its own Moetzes and suggests names that would qualify for those positions: Rabbis Hershel Schachter, Gedalia Schwartz, and Mordechai Willig.

I certainly agree with those choices. But I also agree with Rabbi Broyde. It would be an egregious error to leave out the names of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm. And personally I would add Rabbi Broyde’s name to any ‘roster’ of an MO Moetzes.

I have to say that while I understand Rabbi Adlerstein’s concerns and agree that we should do whatever we can to keep the trust of the Charedi side of the Orthodox spectrum, I agree that we should remain a big tent and seek unity among all of Orthodoxy - as long as Halacha is not breached. We need to have integrity on this issue.

This does not mean that we cannot be critical of both the far left and the far right. I do that all the time here. But at the same time it behooves us to seek unity among ourselves as Orthodox Jews. Rabbi Broyde points out about himself and Rabbi Adlerstein that there is more that unites them than divides them. So too is this true for all of Orthodoxy. Unity ought to prevail. Differences no matter how great ought to be respected even as they are criticized. Even severely.

We may not like what is happening on the fringes of the Orthodox spectrum. We may even believe – as I suspect – that there may be a point in time where some on the far left will break away and cross the line of Halacha. That will make this a horse of an entirely different color. But they have not done that yet. Hopefully they never will.

It may also be true that they will eventually separate themselves from the rest of mainstream Orthodoxy because of the shrill rejection by the far right… or even because of the vast differences in lifestyle that the non normative behavior of such a community entails – even if it is within the bounds of Halacha. I have in fact predicted as much. Be that as it may we must be true to our principles. They may eventually separate from the mainstream of Modern Orthodoxy. But Modern Orthodoxy should never separate from them.