The recent RCA convention will be remembered as one of the most significant ones in recent history. Although people don't always realize this, the RCA is the counterpart of the Agudah in the Modern Orthodox community. However, while the Agudah plays a prominent role in its communities, the RCA is seen by the MO's as a more benign organization, one that sets some standards that people might want to hold by and provides a good drug plans for its rabbinical employees.
If anything, this convention seems to have changed that. Among the main matters discussed were those of how to deal with child abuse and the role of women's ordination into the Rabbinate. For the former, it is no surprise that the RCA came out in favour of opposing the culture of secrecy and circling the wagons that so characterizes the Agudah's response to the issue. No, it wasn't the "hang 'em all up by their testicles" approach that some might have favoured but it is a comprehensive head-on approach to the problem.
The issue of women's ordination also came up. This has been a more festering issue for the Modern Orthodox community because, unlike child abuse, it is not a simple issue of right and wrong. Over the last several decades the Modern Orthodox have encouraged women to learn Torah, often on an equal footing with men. Participation in public and community life has also been pushed and it was inevitable that questions regarding the final frontiers of difference between men and women would come into controvery.
Certainly those in favour of bringing elements of Conservatism into the Orthodox world were sure of their position. It wasn't so long ago that Rabbi Avi Weiss had his hand slapped by the RCA for moving too fast to upgrade Sara Hurwitz' "semichah" from maharat to rabba. With all the conviction of people who know that they are right for the right reasons, the YCT gang came to the convention with a "can't lose" strategy. If women's ordination was accepted, they would carry the day. If it didn't they could label the RCA as backwards and unaware of the realities of modern society.
What is most telling, and why it is important that the forces of tradition won, is in the approach both sides used to present their opinions. As Rav Yitzchak Adlerstein notes:
Before the vote, the delegates heard a shiur by Rav Hershel Schachter, shlit”a, who said that there were two reasons lehalachah that women could not be ordained. He saw such ordination as a violation of the issur of serarah, citing an Avnei Nezer that modern semichah is invested with power.
In contrast, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky's two blog pieces on the subject (linked above) are completely devoid of any halachic reasoning. Again and again the underlying reason for permitting women's ordination relies on two arguments:
a) There is no out and out prohibition found in Shulchan Aruch
b) It's the "right" thing to do
However the "right" thing to do, while sounding nice, is not a basis for law making in any serious legal culture. Consistency with previous legal opinions, consistency with the constitution of the legal system, consistency with the overall principles of that system are the basis for law making regardless of what the population perceives to be "right". Rav Herschel Schechter clearly understood this by basing his entire presention not on "right" and "wrong" as seen through contemporary liberal lenses but on halacha, the only acceptable method of adapting Jewish law to novel circumstances. Rabbi Kanesky's blog response, on the other hand, sounded more like a pouting child who was sure that he deserved chocolate ice cream and just knew that his parents were wrong for not getting him some.
This convention just may become the "put up or shut up" moment for left wing Modern Orthodoxy. Until now they have continued to use the word "Orthodox" to describe themselves even as they moved further and further into the Conservative form of worship. The RCA has now thrown down the gauntlet to better define what Modern Orthodoxy is and what it isn't.
In the end, the YCT gang will spin left and merge with UTJ. Despite this they may continue to call themselves Orthodox, just as the Conservatives still call themselves traditional. Those within the real Modern Orthodox community will no longer be fooled.