Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Future of Denominational Judaism

Temple Menorah in Chicago is now a Chabad day school for girls
I’m not often in the same ballpark with Forward columnist Jay Michaelson on issues pertaining to Judaism. We view things a bit differently. (Example: He supports gay marriage and I do not). But when it comes to Open Orthodoxy (OO), I think he nails it. From his latest column in the Forward
Today, Open Orthodoxy has more in common with the small minority of Conservative Jews who are halachically observant than either group has with its home denomination. They may disagree about the extent of women’s leadership and the exact details of legal change, but both groups have a notion of binding-but-evolving religious law, traditional observance of Shabbat and kashrut, and the value of contemporary moral reasoning. The two groups are so marginal within their respective denominations that they really should just band together… 
This is what many of us to the right of OO have been saying for quite some time. And OO’s de-legitimization as an Orthodox movement has been formalized in a proclamation by the Agudah Moetzes.

Although that was not the main point in his column, I think it should be emphasized. OO has more in common with the Conservative Movement ideologically - than it does with Orthodoxy. Which is why anything coming out of this movement should not be seen as legitimately Orthodox either. Which makes the RCA’s rejection of its rabbis - both male and female - the right approach.

But what about the rest of Michaleson’s article. Does that have any merit? I think it does. His point being that denominational turf wars don’t matter anymore. He sees so many denominational breakdowns across the entire spectrum of Judaism - and so much overlap - that it is almost impossible to place oneself into any given category. I agree with him to a certain extent. It is true across much of heterodoxy. 

But it is also true Hashkaficly within Orthodoxy. There are a lot of different Hashkafos within it – and a lot of overlap: Sephardi Jews and Askenazi Jews; Israeli Charedim and American Charedim; Dati Leumi Jews in Israel and Modern Orthodox Jews in America… And what about Chardalim? They are Dati Leumi Jews that - but for their knitted Kipot and Religious Zionism - are as Charedi as their non (anti?) Zionist Charedi counterparts.

Are these differences really significant in how we lead our lives or raise our families? I don’t think so. Let us look at my Hashkafos. I am Modern Orthodox. But as a Centrist I probably have more in common with moderate Charedim than I do with the Modern Orthodox left wing (even before they morphed into OO). With so many differences among us - it is not always easy to find one’s denominational or Hashkafic home.

So why have labels at all? I would have preferred the pre modern appellation: Jews. We are all Jews. But are we not entitled to have different perspectives about our faith based on our individuality and background? Of course we are, so long as they are Halachic, none heretical, and fall generally within the parameters of tradition. Those that fall outside of  those walls - would be individuals. Not movements. There would be no turf wars. That’s how it used to be.

But now there are movements. Movements founded by people that wanted to divide rather than unite. I lament the advent of any movement. But now that they are here and have set up their own guidelines it is important to know which ones fall within the walls of the traditional Judaism handed down through the generations - and which don’t. Some, like the Chasidim have stayed on track. Others, like the Reform have not - veering off that track deliberately. And some (like OO and the Conservative Movement) claim to be on that track are nevertheless rejected by the mainstream.

People searching for truth need to know the differences and have a right to know how each denomination sees the other. We cannot therefore blur those distinctions.

But there are some distinctions we can do away with. At least sociologically. And it’s already happening. While there are significant Hashkafic differences between Chasidim, the Yeshiva world, and Centrists, there is a melting pot phenomenon talking place which is mainstream and becoming unified. It is the largest segment of Orthodoxy. I’ve discussed it here many times and it consists of Moderate Charedim and Centrists. 

As time passes these Hashkafic differences will become less important as our lifestyles will become more similar. There will eventually hardly be any noticeable difference in how we lead our lives. Resistance to ‘melting pot’ by the hardcore right not withstanding  - as more people from the right seek better lives for their families. Hashkafic differences won’t matter. Not that Hashklafos aren’t important. They are. But getting along as a unified Orthodoxy is far more important.

What about those Hashkafic differences? Will they exist at all? Will they have no influence in our future? I do believe they will. If I had to guess, I would say that we will all influence each other Hashkafically somewhat and perhaps arrive at a new Hashkafa that see the various truth in all Hashkafos.

This is my view of American Orthodoxy in the future. Israel is an entirely different discussion. But even there, I think things will eventually change towards a more homogeneous society since sustaining the current Charedi educational structure there is highly unlikely.

What about denominations outside of Orthodoxy? Maybe it won’t happen in my lifetime. But for reasons beyond the scope of this post - I think they will eventually become extinct. The handwriting is on the wall.  So many of their Shuls and temples are already closing - or being sold off to Orthodox groups.