April 12, 2001
Ten Commandments for Modern Orthodoxy
While many Orthodox Jews these days are discussing what must be done to make tradition more "relevant," I believe the far more important challenge is to make tradition more valuable, more directly beneficial to individual Jews as well as the larger social order.
Modern Orthodoxy should take up this challenge: to broaden the attractiveness of tradition. To do so, the Modern Orthodox movement must audaciously articulate a clear ideological stance on issues that truly matter to most people -- issues of attitude, morals and spirit, not just ritual. Then it must promulgate its beliefs into organized curricula and manifest community conduct.
Modern Orthodoxy rightfully can claim to have forged an authentic synthesis between the world of halacha and the Western intellectual tradition. But a little more daring is required to further narrow the considerable gap between strict Jewish observance and modernity.
Here then, are 10 challenges, or commandments, for Modern Orthodoxy:
1. Emphasize Human Relations.
Modern Orthodoxy should vigorously espouse renewed devotion to the commandments governing human relations. Unfortunately, religious pride and self-confidence, themselves worthy and necessary values, often lead to condescension and arrogance. We need to teach, in an organized fashion and as a Torah priority, the centrality of humility ("Walk humbly before your God"), and the importance of love, respect, honor and peace -- what the sages called ahavat habriot, or love for all creation.
2. Teach Judaism and
They are complementary, not contradictory, value systems. Jewish law obligates us to support a Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and a knowledgeable Modern Orthodox Torah Jew should be able to demonstrate this from biblical and Talmudic sources. We must teach this principle in all schools, religious and secular.
3. Promote the Community of Israel as a Religious Concept.
Preserving the community of Israel supersedes all other values in our tradition, including the sanctity of life, and it certainly outweighs the winning of most organizational battles. At the very least, the importance of unity demands that we restrain our ideological passions and denominational dreams when these irreconcilably conflict with those of other committed Jews, including the Reform and Conservative. We know how to die for Israel and Jewish continuity, but do we know how to live for klal Yisrael?
4. Establish New Religious Para-meters on Relating to the Secular.
Because tradition casts nonobservance as an aberration, as a temporary failure, there are no formal halachic guidelines for relations with secular Jews. Today, however, secularism is an entrenched way of life. Observant Judaism cannot ignore this fact and must find a way to halachically incorporate secular Jewish commitment within klal Yisrael. Nonobservers can no longer be dismissed as malfunctioning, lost Jews.
5. Pursue Socioeconomic Justice.
The prophets postulated that care for the orphan and widow, the quest for justice and human rights, and the eradication of corruption and economic exploitation are religious priorities. Our community cannot be silent about the growing, frightening income gap between rich and poor in Israel, or the rights of foreign workers, or the pervasive corruption in government.
6. Recommit to Zionism.
For decades, Modern Orthodoxy was synonymous with religious Zionism and was a great producer of olim (new immigrants). But even the Modern Orthodox public increasingly is becoming post-Zionist and unmistakably materialistic. I say: revamp educational curricula to reignite the spirit and values of classical Zionism, including aliyah, and to reaccentuate the centrality of the State of Israel. We should lead the Jewish public in doing so.
7. Confront Science and Culture.
Despite the fact that our youth become doctors and accountants and go to movies, our schools have not yet confronted head-on the ideological challenges that astronomy, physics, art, philosophy and modern sexual permissiveness pose to traditional dogma. Modern Orthodox youth have to be formally schooled in understanding the ideological choices they confront.
8. Modernize the Study of Jewish Law, Especially Talmud.
Make Talmud study exciting and relevant using state-of-the-art teaching methodologies and reference to modern-day legal problems and precedents. Adopt strategies that teach Talmudic issues, not merely pages of Talmud. The sad truth is that Talmud is the most unpopular subject in many Orthodox schools.
9. Advance the Status of Women.
Great social change in the status of women is already underway within Orthodoxy. We must continue to develop Torah-study opportunities for women, support the assumption by women of leadership in rabbinical courts and in family law areas, and push harder to resolve problems faced by women in Judaism, such as the plight of agunot.
10. Produce More
Broadly Educated Rabbis.
Modern Orthodoxy is as good as its rabbis. None of the above developments will be possible without rabbis who possess the halachic erudition and the broad, worldly knowledge necessary to make religious law intellectually powerful and emotionally appealing. Can we produce such leaders?