Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Schism in Modern Orthodoxy

Yeshiva University (Algemeiner)
It’s inevitable. In fact not only is the schism in modern Orthodoxy ‘brewing’, it’s already here and I believe insurmountable. 

This is not really news. I have discussed the issues involved many times. My views have not changed. But an op-ed in the Algemeiner by Irit Tratt illustrates  the phenomenon in somewhat more detail.  

The short definition of Modern Orthodoxy is having a positive view about a secular education (that goes beyond being a means to a Parnasa (income); and a having a positive view of – and participating in the general culture as long as it does not violate Halacha. As I have also said many times, based on that definition, the lifestyles of moderate Charedim and Centrists are very similar and we integrate well socially. Even though we value them differently both groups receive a secular studies education and participate in the general culture. 

But modern Orthodoxy itself is divided into 2 distinct groupings. One of which is Centrist and the other is liberal. Which for purposes of this post I will call Open Orthodox (OO). 

Centrists tend to accept the traditional approach to observance and resist changes to it. OO is - on the the hand - quick to abandon tradition when cultural change becomes pervasive. In some cases bordering on violations of Halacha. As Tratt notes: 

A contested issue under consideration is the ordination of women. While the (Centrist) Orthodox Union (OU), the umbrella body for Orthodox synagogues, prohibits such practice, there are approximately 70 female Orthodox clergy today, many of whom were trained and granted rabbinic degrees by Yeshivat Maharat (OO), founded in 2009 and located in Riverdale, New York. 

As an alternative to the traditional (Centrist) Yeshiva University, (OO) Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) opened its doors in 1999. YCT seeks to “set the standard” in rabbinic leadership by creating “more ritual opportunities for women” while also “shaping an orthodoxy other denominations can relate to.” 

Tratt provides another example of this trend by what has taken place in Salanter Akiva Riverdale Aademy (SAR) - a modern Orthodox high school where girls are permitted to wear Tefilin and has a variety of ‘prayer service options, including a meditation minyan and an alternative service focused on current events.’

The trend by OO to liberalize modern Orthodoxy has given birth to more liberal attitudes about the State of Israel, too. The more liberal one is about traditional Judaism,  the more liberal their politics, and more critical of Israel they might be:

A  2017 study of Modern Orthodox Americans by Nishma Research underscores how, in recent years, there is ebbing support for Israel among young adults…   

Last March, Democrat Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY) addressed SAR’s middle school. The topic of Israel was broached only towards the end of Bowman’s remarks, where he successfully deflected criticism surrounding his position on BDS and Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination policy. 

Following his appearance, in an effort to live up to its stated mission of “connection to Medinat Yisrael,” SAR sent an open letter to Bowman expressing its disapproval over the Congressman’s co-sponsorship of Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s (D-MN)  bill restricting aid to Israel. Yet this dramatization of fidelity to the Jewish state, while necessary, occurred following hundreds of students witnessing an anti-Israel lawmaker, whose attacks against Israel preceded his support of HR 2590, receive a hearty welcome by their yeshiva. 

As I said at the outset, I think the schism in modern Orthodoxy already exists. The only question is, how far apart it will eventually become. I fear that we have not yet seen the end of this slippery slope. Which makes me very sad. Modern Orthodox Jews have so much in common, it is a shame that a breach like this will tear us apart. 

Even if OO manages to somehow stay on the right side of Halacha, our differences are incompatible. I do not for example see these two communities living together as one and having the same lifestyle. There is no way I can see any Centrist sending their children to a school that allows their female students to wear Tefillin. I do not see any possibility of a Centrist accepting a female rabbi in their Shul. I do not see the kind of tolerance OO seems to have for BDS supporters. I cannot imagine hundreds of Centrists students ‘witnessing anti Israel lawmakers’ without strongly protesting them. 

In those areas Centrists are far more like Charedim. At least the moderate ones.