Jewish Journal

Modern Orthodoxy’s Parallel Universe - Rabbi Barry Gelman

by Rabbi Barry Gelman

March 3, 2010 | 5:50 am

Modern Orthodoxy’s Parallel Universe
Modern Orthodoxy’s identity crisis is manifested in compartmentalized living. It seems that many in the Modern Orthodox camp live their lives and at other times live their Jewish lives. Often the two do not resemble on another.
Here are a few examples.
In our daily lives we are committed to equality and embrace the idea that women should have all the professional and social opportunities that men have. When it comes to our Jewish life we often revert to a pre-modern approach wherein we decline to offer women religious opportunities no barred by halacha. In our secular settings we are perfectly happy to listen to a women give a lecture, but many cringe at the thought of a women delivering a Dvar Torah in shul. Consistency would demand that we either embrace the later or refrain fro listening to women speak entirely.
In our work places we interact with non Jews all the time and we accord them respect and treat them as equals. Often when talking about gentiles in the Jewish context the tone and language change and the most radical approaches to gentiles an Jewish gentile relations are accepted.
Another area is in the realm of Torah study and understanding of Jewish law. For the most part, we live a life on nuance and recognize that there is often more than one way to approach a question or solve a problem. However, when it comes to Torah study and more so when it comes to halacha, many in the Modern Orthodox community expect that there is only one approach or answer to a given question. This may stem from the growth in popularity of Daat Torah, that the great sages of the day have the single and ultimate answers to everything. Perhaps some Modern Orthodox Jews have Daat Torah envy.
The problem with this approach is that Modern Orthodoxy, at its core, recognizes that there are often a multiplicity of approaches to a given question and that more than one answer can be legitimate
These are a few examples of the parallel universes that many modern orthodox Jews live in. It seems to me that the modern orthodox lifestyle has been adopted and championed without much thought about the underlying ideals of Modern Orthodoxy. We embrace the Modern Orthodox license to watch television, attend the opera and read philosophy without coming to terms with some of the important ideological underpinnings of Modern Orthodoxy.
This “double life” cuts to the very definition of Modern Orthodoxy and raises an important question. Is Modern Orthodoxy as practiced today in America based on a series of high ideals that lead to a certain lifestyle or is Modern Orthodoxy simply the decision of Jews to live a convenient lifestyle while essentially adopting chareidi philosophical positions?

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