Download Jewish World

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Yeshiva wikipedia , lookup

Index of Jewish history-related articles wikipedia , lookup

Independent minyan wikipedia , lookup

The Reform Jewish cantorate during the 19th century wikipedia , lookup

Jonathan Sacks wikipedia , lookup

Interfaith marriage in Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Ritual washing in Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Haredim and Zionism wikipedia , lookup

Origins of Rabbinic Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Rabbi wikipedia , lookup

Sally Priesand wikipedia , lookup

Jewish feminism wikipedia , lookup

Conversion to Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Jewish religious movements wikipedia , lookup

Halakha wikipedia , lookup

Conservative Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Hamburg Temple disputes wikipedia , lookup

Schism in Hungarian Jewry wikipedia , lookup

Homosexuality and Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Conservative halakha wikipedia , lookup

Orthodox Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Jewish views on religious pluralism wikipedia , lookup

Neolog Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Jewish views on evolution wikipedia , lookup

Modern Orthodox Judaism wikipedia , lookup

Jewish schisms wikipedia , lookup

Jewish World
Satmar Hasidim in the Yetev Lev D’Satmar synagogue
in the town of Kiryas Joel, New York
A struggle is on between those
who wish to minimize the ideological
spectrum of Orthodoxy and the
modernizers who wish to push
the boundaries By Elliot Jager
Jewish World
ostmodernism’s disdain for absolute
truths notwithstanding, Orthodoxy
is a surprisingly vibrant force in 21st
century Judaism. The burning question is how to delineate the boundaries of
Orthodox Judaism.
Judaism is tribal, fragmented and heterodox. There is no agreement on who is a Jew,
what Judaism demands of its adherents, or
even what constitutes apostasy. Does playing
golf on Shabbat or skepticism about divine
reward and retribution rob someone of their
Jewishness? Most Jews would say no, according to the Pew Research center.
Sectarian divisions between the Orthodox,
Conservative and Reform streams of Judaism are nothing new. According to the Pew
Research Center, of the roughly 5.4 million
Jews in the U.S., 35 percent are Reform, 18
percent Conservative, 30 percent are “none
of the above” (another six percent or so said
they didn’t know) and 10 percent are Orthodox.
Yet, it is the flourishing minority Orthodox that appears ascendant. It may also be
the branch of Judaism that is hardest to pigeonhole and the most unstructured. Unlike
Reform’s Central Conference of American
Rabbis or the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, no one clerical group
guides Orthodox Judaism.
For all the problems they face, the Reform
and Conservative movements enjoy organizational and – compared to Orthodoxy –
theological coherence. While there is much
religious cross-pollination among the Orthodox, the movement is fragmented among
Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Hasidic, and Mitnagid
branches. They do not necessarily accept
each other’s kashrut standards, approve of
each other’s garb, or easily intermarry. The
idea that there could be a single authorized
Orthodox prayer book is risible.
Among the American Orthodox, 62 percent
belong to Haredi (or ultra-Orthodox) groups
whose most telling characteristic is insularity – which itself runs the gamut, from thoroughly blinkered to hardly limited at all – and
the remainder identify as modern Orthodox.
Overall, 84 percent of the Orthodox, compared to 27 percent of other Jews, say they
mostly socialize with other Jewish people.
Sociologists see Orthodox Judaism as being on the rise because of its intellectual vibrancy and prodigious fertility rates. And yet,
projecting what American Jewry in general
might look like in 50 or 100 years is an iffy
Certainly, 70 years ago anyone studying
Jewish population figures might have concluded that the Orthodox stream in America
was on its last legs. Its base was aging, numbers shrinking, and its Old-World philosophy
unappealing to acculturating Jewish Americans, according to historian Howard Sachar.
Reform and Conservative seemed to be the
wave of the future.
The Orthodox got a boost between 19471952 when 100,000 Holocaust survivors
were permitted to immigrate to the US. More
would follow in the early 1960s. About half
were from Hasidic backgrounds and led by
charismatic rebbes.
Projecting what
American Jewry in
general might look like
in 50 or 100 years is an
iffy venture
As moral relativism replaced moral certainty in the public square, Orthodox Judaism
– with its insistence on fundamental truths –
nevertheless thrived.
Today, indeed, demographic trends seem to
project a hopeful future for Orthodoxy. The
median age of Orthodox adults is 40 years
old compared to 52 for all others. Some 67
percent of Orthodox adults are married in
contrast to 49 percent of other Jewish adults.
The average Orthodox family has 4.1 children versus 1.7 children (below the replacement rate) for the non-Orthodox, according
to the Pew Research Center. The children of
the Orthodox tend to receive a more solid religious education, are apt to be Jewishly literate, and are unlikely to marry out.
Overall, the Orthodox world seems to be
shifting rightward socially and religiously.
There is greater emphasis on separating the
sexes and ramping up – sometimes to what
seems the point of absurdity – stringencies
about food, culture and ritual. In the 1950s,
for instance, ultra-Orthodox, non-Hasidic,
rabbis sat with their wives at yeshiva fundraisers. Now, Orthodox rabbis prefer gender-segregated dinners.
And yet, summing up what Orthodoxy
stands for and where it is heading is not
straightforward. Adam Ferziger, a professor
of Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University and
author of “Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism”
has been calling attention to the many shades
of Orthodoxy.
For instance, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan
Theological Seminary, or RIETS, (founded
in 1886 and later to become part of Yeshiva University), once the flagship rabbinical
academy of modern Orthodoxy, has taken a
decidedly old-school turn. The pastoral role
that once animated the modern Orthodox
pulpit rabbi has been de-emphasized. These
days, RIETS divinity students seem to be
dressing in the monochrome clothing of Lithuanian Haredim, exchanging the crocheted
yarmulke for the black felt variety, Ferziger
tells The Jerusalem Report.
A recent letter writer to a British Haredi
magazine bemoaned the numbers of young
people showing up in synagogue sans black
EVEN AS some of the “modern” are becom-
ing “ultra,” Haredi elements are assuming
characteristics previously the reserve of the
modern Orthodox. Orthodox philanthropists
have made significant investments in training
Haredi-leaning rabbis in kiruv – recruiting
non-Orthodox young people to the Orthodox
way of life. They’ve financed the outreach
activities of Chabad-Lubavitch, Aish HaTorah, and the Orthodox Union’s NCSY, among
others, notes Ferziger.
Tactically, Haredi leaders normally committed to stringency and insularity have
shown a willingness to allow designated and
vetted rabbis to operate outreach programs
without, for example, making a fuss over
how strictly the sexes are separated during
prayer or communal dining.
As it climbs, Orthodoxy finds itself pushed
and pulled in opposing directions: Should it
basically adhere to insularity and seek out
the strictest possible approach to religious
practice as the Haredim advocate, or should
it pursue engagement with the gentile world
and interpret Jewish law in as broadminded a
manner that is compatible with Halakha, as
perceived by the modern Orthodox?
Modern Orthodoxy is emphatically not
rooted in the idea of being less fussy about
fulfilling Halakha. On basic theology, there is
no difference between modern Orthodox and
Haredi Judaism. Neither embraces moral relativism or a laissez-faire attitude toward sexual behavior. Both believe that the Torah in
its present form was given by God at Mount
Sinai; that interpretation of Jewish law must
be based on prevailing majority-held Orthodox rabbinic precedents; that mitzvot such as
three daily prayers, Shabbat and family purity must be scrupulously observed.
To be Orthodox is also correlated with faith
in God. Surveys show that 89 percent of the
Orthodox believe in God. Only a minority of
Conservative (41 percent) and Reform (29
percent) Jews believe in God — and then
with less certainty.
Foremost, the Haredi-modern Orthodox
debate plays out over the issue of women’s
rights in the synagogue. Indeed, the Haredi
world is unabashedly patriarchal; Haredi media outlets portray rabbis as celebrities. There
is an obsession over rabbinical tête-à-têtes;
fundraisers, weddings and ceremonies are
richly documented. Women are often, though
not always, airbrushed out. A typical engagement notice might not reference the mothers
of the bride and groom.
Rabbi Dr. Michael Harris, author of “Faith
Without Fear” and rabbi of London’s Hampstead Synagogue (part of the UK’s Orthodox
United Synagogue movement), has written
that when the modern Orthodox give their
imprimatur to a less restricted role for women they are not lowering Orthodox religious
standards, merely reflecting a different “meta-Halakhic” sensibility. The Judaism he
champions is no less frum (or committed to
the observance of Jewish religious law), but
it is open to “critical engagement” with the
modern world.
One US-based Haredi rabbi, who spoke
on condition of anonymity, says that talk
of meta-Halakhic sensibilities is essentially double-talk for “post-Halakhic” Judaism
and recalls “the ‎sort of misleading language
that the Conservative movement used ‎in the
1950s, when it sought only, it said, to “‘conserve’ Judaism, n‎ ot change it.”
AN EXAMPLE of a meta-Halakhic dif-
ference within Orthodoxy is the concept of
da’as Torah under which Haredi rabbis are
consulted on important life-cycle matters,
including marriage, medical procedures and
business decisions, on the grounds that their
knowledge of the Torah illuminates everything else.
Harris offers several other tenets that he
says distinguish modern Orthodoxy from the
Haredi version: An open embrace of political
Zionism; a commitment to boosting the place
of women in the religion; a positive embrace
of social science and the humanities; “an
emphasis on the universalistic dimensions of
Judaism over the particularistic;” a readiness
to grapple with science rather than simply ignoring it; and an emphasis on personal autonomy on issues that are outside the Halakhic
The power of demography: An ultraOrthodox woman with her children in
Crown Heights, Brooklyn
“Modern Orthodoxy can be defined as the
attempt to combine full commitment to Orthodox Judaism with openness to the modern
world,” writes Harris.
The boundaries of modern Orthodoxy
are in dispute. The epicenter of the struggle
between progressives and traditionalists of
various stripes plays out over a subset within
modern Orthodoxy known as “Open Orthodoxy.”
Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel of
America, a Haredi public affairs organization, questions whether Open Orthodoxy
accepts absolutely the “historicity of the Jewish exodus from Egypt” or “the fact that the
Torah, both written and oral, was bequeathed
to our ancestors at Sinai” and that “Abraham
and Isaac and Jacob actually existed.”
These concerns have been echoed by Rabbi
Avrohom Gordimer, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America who has argued
that Open Orthodoxy is a divergence from
modern Orthodoxy – that its rabbis have
ordained “students who reject some of the
Jewish World
fundamentals of Torah belief and practice”
such as “the cardinal Torah principles of an
omnipotent and perfect God.”
Arguably, though, Judaism has never been
stagnant or unvarying. The 1905 “Jewish
Encyclopedia” offered no separate entry for
Orthodox Judaism but noted that “Judaism
presents two streams or currents of thought
ever running parallel to each other: the one
conservative, the other progressive and liberal; the one accentuating the national and
ritualistic, the other the cosmopolitan and
spiritual elements.”
Likewise, writing in the 1938 edition of
“Valentine’s Jewish Encyclopedia,” Herbert
Loewe, a University of Cambridge scholar
of rabbinics, made the argument that while
varieties within Judaism existed, actually labeling the distinctions goes “against the spirit
of Catholic Judaism.”
He argued that “Judaism demands blind
faith only in the existence of God,” but beyond that Jewish civilization “has striven to
maintain an equipoise between tradition and
But as the structure and organization of
Judaism’s streams took shape, labeling became unavoidable. The Union of Orthodox
Jewish Congregations in the US was founded in 1898. A separate group, Agudas HaRabonim (Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the
US and Canada), was established in 1902 and
mandated to battle progressive Judaism.
By the late 1920s, the OU insignia was appearing on various products certifying that
they were kosher, according to Saul Bernstein’s authorized history of the group. In the
1950s, the OU redlined progressive Orthodox congregations because they had allowed
family-style seating.
Orthodoxy’s US network was significantly
bolstered by the establishment, early in the
20th century, of yeshivas such as Rabbi Jacob
Joseph and Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem on
Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Brooklyn’s
Torah Vodaas. Rabbis Moshe Feinstein, Yaakov Kamenetsky and Yitzchok Ruderman arrived in the 1930s. Aharon Kotler joined the
constellation o‎ f prominent European scholars
transplanted to America in 1941.
Spearheaded by Kotler, Agudas Israel lobbied against cooperation with Reform and
Conservative rabbis, according to Orthodox
historian and rabbi Beryl Wein’s “Echoes of
Glory.” Kotler, who died in 1962, established
the Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey, encouraging his students to be full-time Torah
scholars even after marriage, according to
Wein. This begot the “black hat” Lithuanian
Haredi lifestyle, which emphasizes scholarship and insularity over participation in the
work force.
In place of
streams and factions,
it’s possible nowadays
to think of a spectrum
of observant Jewry
Women were not ignored but their prospects were severely constrained. In 1938,
Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan (1913-1986) set
up the first Bais Yaakov school for girls in
Brooklyn (an idea adapted from World War
I-era Poland) along with a teacher’s seminary
for young women.
WEIN PRESENTS the establishment of
Young Israel as, arguably, the first modern
Orthodox synagogue group. Founded in
1912, it “served as a lifeline to tradition” in
that its rabbis spoke English and its synagogues offered more informal and accessible services. Today, Young Israel is simply
an association of 150 autonomous Orthodox
Orthodoxy’s organizational base was
further thickened by the formation of the
Rabbinical Council of America (1942), a
membership and placement group whose
prestige was enhanced by the participation of
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993).
A towering exponent of modern Orthodoxy,
Soloveitchik held a PhD in philosophy and
his wife, Tonya Lewit, a doctorate in education.
Today, the RCA appears to have drifted
rightward and has, for instance, denounced
Open Orthodoxy’s efforts to ordain women.
Ironically, though, in 2013 the Haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate of Israel challenged
conversion to Judaism rituals carried out by a
number of member rabbis of the RCA.
‎However, a Haredi critic tells The Report
that Soloveitchik would not have gone as far
as supporting Open Orthodoxy. “He was an
unabashed rejectionist of non-Orthodox t‎heologies” and would not ‎have sanctioned any
change in women’s roles or synagogue p‎ articipation.”
The rift between modern and Haredi
Orthodoxy is manifested most clearly over
the place of women, says Sharon WeissGreenberg, executive director of the Jewish
Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), which
lobbies for change “within the framework of
Today’s observant women tend to be comparatively learned in canon, text and ritual,
and resist being shunted to the “ladies gallery” as observers. Leaders of Open Orthodoxy have been championing “partnership
minyans,” which have sprung up, among other places, in London, New York, Jerusalem,
Melbourne and Toronto. Typically, such minyans have a more informal, less cloistered
feel although men and women sit separately.
At Jerusalem’s Kehilat Shira Hadasha,
which was established in 2002 and is widely regarded as a pioneering community with
regard to women in Orthodox ritual, services
don’t start until 10 women are present in
addition to the required quorum of 10 men.
Waiting for a tenth woman is symbolically,
albeit not halakhically, a way to embrace the
egalitarian ideal. Partnership minyans invite
women to take leading roles in any part of
the service that is not halakhically “obligatory for men” and that is non-mandatory for
This translates into women leading portions
of the service, including as Torah readers.
Partnership minyans generally offer aliyot
to women to offer blessings during the Torah
reading part of the service. Weiss-Greenberg
notes that a number of rabbis have written
teshuvot (responsa) providing halakhic ways
for women’s participation in this manner.
She tells The Report that while some Orthodox women may be uncomfortable being
labeled feminists, many nonetheless embrace
JOFA’s ideals. Women like herself, who are
totally committed to Orthodoxy’s worldview,
can’t simply transfer their allegiance to one
of the progressive streams where egalitarianism is, purportedly, taken for granted.
“Orthodoxy is my home. We are Orthodox
feminists because we are constantly thinking about the role of women and where the
red lines ought to be within Orthodoxy,”
Weiss-Greenberg says.
ONE INSTITUTION that has provided the
intellectual underpinning for a reinvigorated modern Orthodoxy is Chovevei Torah
Rabbinical School, based in Riverdale, New
York. Founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss, who is
credited with coining the term “Open Orthodoxy,” the faculty of rabbinic scholars includes Dov Linzer. Weiss’s Maharat Yeshiva
is the first to have ordained women as Orthodox clergy – among them Lila Kagedan, who
is serving in the title of rabbi at the Mount
Freedom Jewish Center in New Jersey.
Linzer has authored Halakhic responsa
that determined that women may lead certain
portions of the pre-High Holy Day selichot
services as long as they do so with a minyan
of men present, and from the female side of
the mechitza (room divider). Elsewhere, and
within defined boundaries, he permits a married couple to hold hands in public – something pretty much unthinkable in Lithuanian
Haredi circles. Hasidic newlyweds are sometimes encouraged to hold hands as they leave
‎the wedding canopy. ‎
Open Orthodoxy proponents of partnership
minyans have faced considerable pushback
from Haredi authorities and even modern
Orthodox-leaning rabbis such as Ephraim
Mirvis, the chief rabbi of Britain’s United Synagogue. The Haredim argue that the
modernizers have embarked on a slippery
slope that will inevitability lead to theological wobbliness or worse.
Another manifestation of Open Orthodoxy
is the organic embrace of leniency within Halakha. Take for example the Shabbat eruv – a
Halakhic measure that permits carrying on
Shabbat, thereby enabling mothers to push
prams and men to carry tallit bags to synagogue. Some, though by no means all, Hare-
di-dominated Orthodox communities look
askance at the urban eruv.
A malleable approach to Halakha is not a
new-fangled innovation. Rabbis now known
as the Rishonim (round about the 11th to
15th centuries) often sought to interpret Jewish laws in ways that lessened the burden
on ordinary people. For example, Rabbeinu
Gershom (circa 1040) banned polygamy and
also required husbands to obtain the approval of their wives before filing for divorce. In
fact, one modern Orthodox New York rabbi tells The Report that the Rishonim were
by no means outliers in this regard and that
rabbinic authorities throughout the ages did
much the same.
Today’s Haredi Judaism, in contrast, shows
a penchant for stringent, austere, and rigid interpretation of halakha – an approach known
as seeking a humra. Take, for example,
hair-covering: Orthodoxy requires married
women to conceal their hair. In quest for a
humra, some Sephardi and Hasidic Haredi
rabbis oblige women to wear a hat atop their
wig lest the hairpiece be mistaken for natural
uncovered hair; other rabbis have ruled that
wigs are themselves immodest and insist on
Many Haredim will not use Shabbat elevators that stop automatically, obviating the
need to push a button on the Sabbath. This is
not a case of seeking a humra, a Haredi rabbi
tells The Report, but rather being c‎ oncerned
“about a clear Halakhic problem” with Shabbat elevators involving changes in electric
current resulting from added weight.
Unlike the Amish, the Haredi world does
not abjure the use of technology, but its media shuns voices and pictures of women in
advertising and in news coverage. Haredi educators labor to hinder access to the Internet.
Many yeshivas forbid cell phones and most
prohibit smartphones. Such insularity demands extraordinary self-discipline.
Both modern and Haredi Orthodoxy offer
warmth and rootedness, Weiss-Greenberg
In a digital age that seems to foster anomie,
dislocation and loneliness, many previously non-observant Jews have been drawn to
Orthodoxy. The strictures can prove liberating. The prohibition on driving automobiles
or using public transportation on Shabbat
forces observant Jews to live in proximity to
each other, to their synagogues and to kosher
shopping – thereby creating genuine communities.
Moreover, Haredi insularity comes with
unique positives: Members are part of tightly
knit communities; mutual aid and charity are
ubiquitous; and a regimented lifestyle provides comfort and purpose.
Materialism is not renounced, but Torah
scholarship is elevated above all, and elders
are respected. The fabric of life is enriched
even when economic circumstances are impoverished. And there is a sense of fellowship and shared loyalty in the demanding task
of keeping unwanted external cultural influences at bay.
Despite their commonalities, Orthodoxy’s
intramural argument between modernizers
and Haredim rages on.
THE HAREDI or “Torah world” – and many
within the mainstream of modern Orthodoxy,
as well – try to minimize the “ideational spectrum” of Orthodoxy; the modernizers work to
extend its boundaries. The “Haredi-modern
Orthodox mainstream core” have sought to
nail down what Orthodoxy is – thereby relegating Open Orthodoxy to a heretical corner,
according to Ferziger.
And yet for increasing numbers of observant Jews this sort of jousting is beside the
point. In the post-modern era, they see Judaism as a menu of choices making it hard to set
parameters for heresy, says Ferziger. In place
of denominations, streams and factions, it’s
possible nowadays to think of a “spectrum of
observant Jewry,” he says. Weiss-Greenberg
concurs: People have stopped being enamored with denominational labels.
In a sense, the competition for the soul of
Orthodoxy reflects a vibrancy missing from
the other streams of Judaism. It is unlikely to
end with one camp vanquishing the other. If
anything, it could herald a post-denominational Judaism, expand the mosaic of choice,
and thereby further enrich Jewish civilization. 
Elliot Jager invites you to follow him on
Twitter #Jagerfile