Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rabbi Dr. Lamm’s Predictions

In a recent interview in the Jerusalem Post, Yeshiva University Chancellor Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm made an incredible prediction about the future of Reform and Conservative Judaism. In predicting their demise he said:

"With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements,"

"Reform is out of the picture, because they never got into the picture, and the Conservatives are getting out of the picture,"

I tend to agree with him about Conservative and Reform Judaism. They will end up in the dustbin of history. It’s already happening – despite the protestations of their leadership. Numbers tell the story in the Conservative movment. They are decreasing. It should be no surprise to anyone with a sense of history. All ancient movements that have veered away from Halacha have gone down the path to extinction - or near extinction. That is just the nature of movements where Halacha is not binding. It never was binding in Reform. It has only become acceptable to practice as non binding in the recent past.

The Conservative movement has slowly moved away from its claim of being Halachic and now some of its leaders acknowledge and even advocate that the movement drop that claim.

No matter how much observing Halacha is advocated it will not be observed if it is considered non binding. Inconvenience and expediency will ultimately dictate observance - or lack thereof - to the majority of its members. It can only therefore ultimately be abandoned. Those Jews who are its members now are generally only nominally so.

Their children will be less so and ultimately will assimilate and intermarry out of Judaism. That is the sad truth. I used to wonder if at least in the Conservative movement whether their Solomon Schechter Schools would save them. There seemed to be an increase in attendance there.

But I think that demographic has changed and there has been a decrease in numbers. They may yet turn things around.. But I am skeptical. If parents are unobservant in the home, children will generally not veer to far from their parents - even if a school teaches otherwise. There will be exceptions. But my guess is that they will ultimately turn to Orthodoxy. As for perpetuating the movement it may just be a case of too little too late.

But what about Dr. Lamm’s other comment? He said:

"The future of American Jewry is in the hands of haredim and the modern Orthodox. We have to find ways of working together."

One of my oft stated predictions for the future of Orthodoxy is that it will be perpetuated by moderate Charedim. I say this with no great joy since I happen to believe in the tenets of a Centrist Orthodoxy. Moderate Charedim simply do not buy into Torah U’Mada – or even Torah Im Derech Eretz in its original Hirschean form.

Centrism will eventually meld into the Moderate Charedi fold - which as I’ve said many times - is the true wave of the future. The extremists in both camps will in the end become marginalized. Charedi extremists on the right cannot – must not – win. They may be strong willed and use strong armed tactics. But their ideas are weak and in the end will not prevail. Their path is suicidal. Judaism cannot and will not die.

The same is true about the left wing of modern Orthodoxy. They are strong willed too. But they are not strong armed. Their ideas will not meld into the Charedi world. Their views and actions are just too radical a departure form the norm. While their ideas may not technically violate Halacha, they are nonetheless culturally unacceptable by moderate Charedi standards or even by Centrist standards.

Additionally the left wing of modern Orthodoxy does not contain enough of a critical mass to propel themselves into the future without going ‘off the reservation’ – meaning crossing Halachic lines. Though the numbers of left wing modern Orthodox Jews is fairly large - there exists a tendency among its membership - if not its leadership - to push the envelope as far to the left as possible. I foresee an eventual crossing of lines that will take much of its membership outside of Orthodoxy. I may be wrong. But I can’t help but see it that way as the envelope is pushed further and further to the left as time goes on.

So in my view it is this new entity of Centrists and moderate Charedim that will carry Orthodoxy forward. It will be Charedi in Hashkafa. But in practice it will be a melting pot of religious Jews whose will live and look pretty much the same. In practice – if not Hashkafa - both communities influence each other. Moderate Charedim have joined the ranks as professionals via college and professional school educations. Centrists who look for a more traditional environment tend to move into moderate Charedi neighborhoods – like Flatbush in Brooklyn.

They also tend to send their children to moderate Charedi schools rather than the more liberal modern Orthodox ones like Yeshiva of Flatbush. One can easily find many black hatted Centrists with trim beards in this community making them indistinguishable from their moderate Charedi counterparts. They participate in the same Shiurim with them and even learning together B’Chavrusa.

So in essence I agree with Dr. Lamm that the future of Judaism lies in the hands of Charedim and modern Orthodoxy (in its Centrist incarnation - which is what I think he means – being a Centrist himself and actually coining the term). But I do not see it as a co-operation with separate identities. I see it as a melding of the two worlds into one. I see the ultimate demise of Centrism as a unique an independent Hashkafa.

At this point the best we Centrists can hope for is to influence Charedim as much as possible towards our views. Right now it is about respecting one another’s Hashkafos. But in the future our differences will not be so clear – as Centrists will continue to send their children to moderate Charedi schools and live their lives in those circles. This cannot but result in a subtle but steady move toward Charedi Hashkafos and away from Centrist ones.

This where public discourse and debate comes in. One of my goals here is to influence moderate Charedim to understand and accept as legitimate the Hashkafos of Centrist Orthodoxy - and hopefully to adopt as much of it as possible. I know that it is unlikely to happen to any significant degree. But one can hope. To paraphrase John Lennon ‘I may be a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.’ We may not succeed as much as we’d like. But it is important to try.