Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 14 March 2014

Is The Real Modern Orthodoxy Standing Up?

One of the shows I've recently gotten into is The Newsroom.  No, not the Canadian version from 1996 but the current American version starring Jeff Daniels as an idealistic news anchor interested in educating and civilizing the American public through his televised programs.
Jeff Daniels' character, Will MacEvoy, is a classic example of the lack of imagination of liberal Hollywood writers.  Possibly in order to change things up from his previous hit series, The West Wing, creator Aaron Sorkin has cast MacEvoy as an admitted Republican.  However, he's a Republican that seems to be indistinguishable from any Democrats you might meet, sharing all their important values and worshipping the same political heroes as them.  Sorkin seems to believe that a Republican who actually believes in Republican values couldn't successfully be portrayed as a nice guy and heroic figure on television.
In a few ways this is the way some in the non-religious Jewish community want Orthodoxy to be portrayed.  They're okay with the idea of Orthodoxy, you understand.  The idea that people worship on a regular basis, keep a specific diet and don't watch television one day a week is something they can live with.  However, when it comes to the really important things like egalitarianism in religious practice, accepting homosexual marriage as normative or encouraging abortion as a form of birth control they become quite irritated when told that Orthodox Judaism does not accept any of these things, actually holds values opposed to them and no, there's no room for compromise or acceptance, thanks for asking.
In other words, they're okay with the Orthodox who aren't really Orthodox.  The ones who are can't be portrayed as nice guys or heroes.
We've seen lots of statements to this effect throughout the Jewish blogosphere since two Modern Orthodox schools decided to allow their female students to start wearing tefillin during prayer services.  The statements all basically follow the same format: if these girls want to wear tefillin not only should they be allowed but Orthodoxy should change to make this regular practice.  In other words, be Orthodox but don't let your Orthodoxy conflict with secular liberal values.
For those who are worried about what this will do to the Modern Orthodox community I would respond positively.  For decades Modern Orthodoxy has been drifting between two opposed forces.  Modern Orthodoxy is not Reformative, on one hand, and not Chareidi on the other.  Despite the various attempts mades by luminaries of the movement there has been little to define it any more than that.  I believe that the challenge of Morethodoxy and its ongoing attempts to introduce secular liberal values into its worship and belief system will change that.  It will force Modern Orthodoxy to define itself.
Now some of this definition will be based on a poor reasons: MO's don't want their Chareidi brethren openly laughing at them (quietly laughing at them behind their backs, on the other hand, seems to be fine).  Modern Orthodoxy's leaders will be pressed to better define what they stand for and what their expectations are from their laity if only to save face during interactions with their Chareidi counterparts. 
On the other hand, the actions of Morethodoxy will be defining because they will raise specific questions people will have to answer.  Questions like "Who is qualified to make a major change in Jewish tradition?"  The Morethodox answer seems to be "Anyone with a Bar Ilan USB stick" and the sincerest of intentions.  The more traditional answer, "highly qualified and experience poskim" will come to define Modern Orthodoxy. 
This will have another overall effect as well.  As noted above, Modern Orthodoxy has been defined as "Not here nor there".  With Morethodoxy working more and more towards breaking away from its Orthodox veneer this will leave the community left behind more homogenous.  Not homogenous as in the Chareidi definition of the word (I'm not going out to buy a black hat any time soon) but with a greater understanding of Rabbinic authority and its role in Jewish practice.  As Rav Avrohom Gordimer notes in his latest piece on Cross Currents, it's a Modern Orthodoxy that once again recognizes that the halachic decision making process is not one of anarchy but a well-structured approach that results in consistent leadership.
Unfortunately it will leave Modern Orthodoxy as a diminished community in size for certainly many bright and talented people will leave with Rabbi Avi Weiss and his band of merry men and maharats.  They will do so for the most genuine and sincerest of reasons, convinced they are truly doing God's will and are still Orthodox but they will leave behind a Modern Orthodoxy that at least has a better sense of what it is and what is stands for.


Law mom said...

Do you have a link to the school statements regarding tefillin wearing by girls?

I found this article in the forward which quotes school officials, but I always like having the original statements in case a reporter misquotes someone.

From what I read in the Forward article, the school wasn't making tefillin wearing by girls a normative practice or saying that girls are obligated to do it. They were simply permitting 2 girls to do it, saying that it was not prohibited by halacha.

Lisa said...

Leading a second school to pre-emptively say that they'd allow it. That's making it normative.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Law mom, from what I say your description is what happened. The girls wanted to do it, the principal said there was no reason al pi halacha they couldn't.

Mr. Cohen said...

Rabbi Avigdor Miller (a popular Chareidi Rabbi, born 1908 CE, died 2001 CE) delivered a free public lecture in the last year of his life, in which he taught that Jews should pray for the Israeli Army.
I personally witnessed this; I was there.

When a Jew recites Tefilat Shemoneh Esrei, he is permitted to add his own personal prayer requests in the middle of the final paragraph, which begins with Elokai Netzor Leshoni MeiRa.

I recently began adding the prayer for the Israeli Army in that part. I know this is not the way it is normally recited, but it is permitted, and I can say it that way in any synagogue.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck NJ told me that I can recite it even on Shabbat and Yom Tov, because it is a communal tefillah, not a private bakashah.