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Friday, September 09, 2005

Modern Orthodoxy

Is Modern Orthodoxy
an Endangered Species?

By Walter S. Wurzburger

Of late, there seems to be no end to articles in learned journals and the daily press lamenting the impending demise of Modern Orthodoxy Although I an fully aware that in Jewish religious circles the pendulum has swung to the right, I dismiss the prophets of doom and gloom, because I am convinced that the approach of Modern Orthodoxy will prove to be indispensable.

Actually, the shift to the extreme religious right is by no means confined to Judaism. It is well known that in Christianity as well as in Islam the more fundamentalist elements enjoy a totally unexpected resurgence, eclipsing the more liberal elements, which. had previously predominated.

This development appears to be a natural reaction to the excesses of a permissive, hedonistic culture which has undermined the moral foundation of society. Since, as it has been said, "the Jew is' like everybody else, except more so," it is readily understandable why in Jewish circles the rejection of the values of modernity has assumed extreme proportions.

This negative attitude has been reinforced by the trauma of the Holocaust, which made Jews highly suspicious of the values of Western society. After all, the horrendous outrages were perpetrated not by some primitive tribes but by one of the most "civilized" nations. It is often asked, how can one respect modern culture, if a Martin Heidegger, one of the most celebrated German philosophers, could turn into a Nazi and enthusiastically endorse Hitler's policies.

The refusal of Modern Orthodoxy to condemn all and sundry manifestations of modernity such as emphasis upon autonomy, tolerance, democracy, and human initiative in creating cultural values is widely misinterpreted as a compromise between genuine Jewish values and the "idols of the age." Since Modern Orthodoxy does not reject the values or modernity hook, line and sinker but advocates a selective approach, examining each part of the modern ethos as to its compatibility with Halakhic Judaism, it is charged with inauthenticity. Right-wing Orthodoxy argues that uncompromising authentic Judaism demands isolation from contemporary secular thought, lest one become contaminated by non-Jewish attitudes. Similarly, Modern Orthodoxy's readiness to cooperate with non-orthodox movements on issues of common concern is interpreted despite, its protestations to the contrary, as a tacit acknowledgment of the legitimacy of religious pluralism and, allegedly, demonstrates a lack of commitment to basic Orthodox tenets of faith and practice, which insist upon the binding authority of Halakhah.

What renders the position of Modern Orthodoxy even more precarious in the modern world is the perception that it condones laxity in religious observance. Unfortunately, in the popular mind, Modern Orthodoxy is seen as a "moderate" brand of religion - a compromise between the rigorous demands of strict Halakhic observance and expedient concessions to secular life-styles. Before Modern Orthodoxy can reclaim hegemony in the religious community and become a vibrant and dynamic movement, it must demonstrate its total and unconditional commitment to Halakhic norms in practice as well as in theory. No religious movement can succeed, when it is perceived as "religious tokenism," serving as a veneer to conceal a life-style preoccupied with comfort and convenience. In order to emerge as a vibrant and dynamic force, Modern Orthodoxy must demonstrate religious passion and insistence upon meticulous Halakhic observance both in matters between man and God and between man and man. In matters of religious commitment moderation is no virtue. The "extremism" of total commitment is absolutely essential to success.

I am however, convinced that the ideology of "Modern Orthodoxy" is desperately needed under contemporary conditions. In the long run, Orthodoxy cannot flourish in an atmosphere of isolation and insulation. Economic factors alone will dictate that the "Kolel" cannot be a live option for the bulk of Orthodox youth. Even now many Charedi institutions reluctantly permit their students to obtain professional training. Despite the best of intentions, there are limits to the possibility of compartmentalizion. Exposure to science is bound to affect the mentality of Charedi youth by broadening its horizons and making it far less parochial in thinking and attitudes.
What confirms my optimism for the future of Modern Orthodoxy are the developments in Israeli society. It has been noted that in Israel, far more than in America, Modern Orthodoxy is relatively popular. By the latest estimates it represents ten percent of the total Population of Israel-a considerably larger proportion than that of Modern Orthodox Jews in the American Jewish population. This is no surprise to me. Living in a Jewish state serves as a deterrent to the development of attitudes encouraging complete isolation of Jews from the surrounding culture.

A dramatic corroboration of the impact of a completely Jewish society upon. the mentality of religious Jews is provided by Yitzchak Breuer, the leading ideologist of Agudath Israel. Prior to his immigration to what was then Palestine he was a vigorous and militant advocate or secession from the non-Orthodox community. But after his Aliyah, so he recorded in his diary, he became convinced that while secession made sense in the Diaspora, this type of isolationism was untenable in the Yishuv.

I am confident that ultimately the repercussions of the resurgence of Modern Orthodoxy in Israel will be felt in America and the pendulum will swing back in a direction, which is more conducive to the ideology of Modern Orthodoxy.

Walter S. Wurzburger is an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Yeshiva University and Rabbi Emeritus of congregation Shaaray Tefila, Lawrence N.Y. He served as president of the Rabbinical Council of America and of the Synagogue Council of America. He is the author of Ethics of Responsibility and is a member of The Orthodox Caucus.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You failed to mention that he died several years ago and that his MO shul was overtaken by black hatitiude

Friday, September 09, 2005 8:10:00 AM  
Anonymous An admirer of shlomo said...

UOJ-Why dont you go back to blogging once a week? You dont have enough material to blog every day(But your blog on sunday also sucks)

Friday, September 09, 2005 9:02:00 AM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

Anonymous Putz,
You forgot to mention the day of his Yahrzeit.

Friday, September 09, 2005 1:37:00 PM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

Admirer and Shlomo,
You do have options what you do with your time, don't you?
Cartoons would be easier for you to understand!!

Friday, September 09, 2005 1:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Good Jew said...

Shut up dip shit

Friday, September 09, 2005 2:06:00 PM  
Blogger Shlomo said...

You're much less sophisticated than many cartoons Unortho. I hang around here to be m'kayim "Da mah sheteisheiv", although you don't know enough to qualify as an apikoros. Again you refer to me as a "putz". Male genitalia.... You have a serious hang up! Do you secretly admire me Unortho? Do you try to get riled up on this blog as a form of masochism? I wonder.... You're definitely twisted though.

Friday, September 09, 2005 5:47:00 PM  
Anonymous sechel said...

anonymous comment was appropriate
about his petira.I do agree with his valid points.

Saturday, September 10, 2005 5:29:00 PM  
Anonymous sechel said...

about modern orthodoxy.

Saturday, September 10, 2005 5:31:00 PM  
Blogger Schwarzmann said...

You write:
"Martin Heidegger, one of the most celebrated German philosophers, could turn into a Nazi and enthusiastically endorse Hitler's policies."

He did join the Nazi party but resigned as Rector at the University of Freiburg and was pushed out of the party because he didn't accept Nazi racial policy.

Saturday, September 10, 2005 6:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sechel, thank u 4 coming to my defense. I meant nothing negative but the blogger has a chip on his shoulder

Saturday, September 10, 2005 8:45:00 PM  

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