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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Who Speaks for Modern Orthodoxy?


Clearly, the Modern Orthodoxy envisioned and informed by the teachings of the great Torah leader Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, has been gradually disappearing before our eyes.

Clearly, the Modern Orthodoxy envisioned and informed by the teachings of the great Torah leader Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, has been gradually disappearing before our eyes.
Photo Credit: YU News

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Last week’s announcement by two prominent Modern Orthodox yeshivas that they will permit female students to put on tefillin is just the latest indication of a widening schism among Modern Orthodox Jews. For a concise overview of recent developments, see Uriel Heilman’s article, Tefillin Controversy Latest Sign of Emerging Orthodox Schism.

And while debate over halachic permissibility has been the focus of this newest controversy, the issue itself has brought to the fore a crisis facing the Modern Orthodox movement. Briefly, there seem to be few universally accepted standards as to precisely what constitutes Modern Orthodoxy and, perhaps more significantly, a crisis of leadership has become apparent.

The movement’s outliers, apparently intent on defying consensus and going where none have gone before, are rarely confronted, at least publicly, by mainstream Modern Orthodox leaders. Thus the new becomes the norm and the movement changes by accretion. Clearly, the Modern Orthodoxy envisioned and informed by the teachings of the great Torah leader Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, ztl, has been gradually disappearing before our eyes.

We are not unmindful of the many social pressures – particularly those emanating from Orthodox feminist circles – that drive the outliers. But for the community of the Ribbono Shel Olam, which believes in the centrality and transcendence of halacha, the questions of who decides for us and by what process are on a par with what is decided.

Halachic decisions affecting the community are not properly made by self-appointed agents of a popular movement. That is a function of those with the greatest erudition in the Talmud and halachic sources, and even within that august grouping consensus building is central.

And so, in the face of this latest assault on the Modern Orthodoxy envisioned by the Rav, we find disheartening the relative silence of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the roshei yeshiva of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Only these institutions and individuals, as the flagships of Modern Orthodoxy, have the standing and influence to stanch the movement’s creeping leftward drift.

As the old maxim has it, shtikah kehoda’ah – silence is assent.

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13 Responses to “Who Speaks for Modern Orthodoxy?”

  1. Israel Man says:

    Those who keep silent know in their heart that the leading forces of modernity are correct. Yes, halachically correct, but they have no guts to join in. There is no halachic base to keep women out of the Synagogue. There is historical evidence of great women who put on Tefillin. Keeping modernity out will send poeple out of the camp too. Only a generation ago women were discouraged from learning Torah and look at the women's yeshivot today. Pulling Orthodoxy toward extremism and rejection of modernity will be its demise.

  2. Larry Rosen says:

    With all due respect, I know what I think, and you are totally wrong. I respect the Rabbeim that I grew up with, who I learn with today and that's what is "IN MY HEART'. I know what's in my heart – you don't.

  3. It is worth at least noting that most of the participants in the lively debate that *has* been taking place in Modern Orthodox circles about this question are students (or grand-students) of Rabbi Soloveitchik.

  4. Daniel Schwartz says:

    I don't know who does, but the Jewish Press doesn't.

  5. Shimon Chaim Ben Michael says:

    Really, 'Israel Man', what 'historical evidence of great women who put on Tefillin' would you like to share with us?

  6. Samuel Heilman says:

    I had no idea that modern orthodoxy was "the community of the ribono shel haolom." I thought as Isaiah said (41:10) fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;

  7. Reb Yid says:

    And Moshe Rabbeinu's descendant worshipped avodah zara.

  8. Israel Man says:

    Shimon Chaim Ben Michael
    Bruria, rabbi Meirs wife and Rashi's daughters.

  9. Shimon Chaim Ben Michael says:

    Israel Man oh dear, a peddlar of fairy tales… http://www.ou.org/torah/article/tzarich_iyun_rashis_daughters#.Uuq2PPl_uX8

  10. Rabinic bullies hiding their misogyny in a barrage of halachic jargon.

  11. What could be more true than the subtitle: "Clearly, the Modern Orthodoxy envisioned and informed by the teachings of the great Torah leader Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, has been gradually disappearing before our eyes" – of course it is disappearing, since so much of the world we know is different than the world he knew. The Rav created a great movement – in the middle of the last century. Since than we have lived through "post-modernity" and "post-post-modernity". In mystical terms – "the breaking of the vessels". See Rabbi Shegar.

    The past is very important, but cannot be the sole determinant of the present or the future. Has "Modern Orthodoxy" succeeded in bringing people back to observance? Or only in preserving the members of Modern-Orthodox families? How many of the "new orthodox" [over 110,000 in the USA according to PEW] – are Modern Orthodox, how many Hareidi? The movement of the Rav has split into "more Hareidi" and "less Hareidi" than in the time of the Rav, in Israel and in the US. Changing society is a fact – and an opportunity. Nostalgia will not enable us to make the best of the opportunity.

  12. Motti Inbari says:

    they are afraid Orthodoxy would lean to the left. Come on – the left?! Don't worry, it won't happen.

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