I first heard the term post-orthodox in the mid 1980’s. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s some people chose to attend the new resurgent Orthodox institutions and pick Orthodoxy as their religious choice. They were part of a small elite group that first attended the new after HS year in Israel programs, first learned to speak of a halakhic universe, and first accepted Torah uMadda. Whereas many of their peers still thought of Orthodoxy as the urban ethnic traditionalism that still looked backwards to a Yiddish orthodoxy, they were a new vanguard of an upper-middle class educated triumphalist Orthodoxy.
By the mid-1980’s, however, there was already a minority group that went oops!! What did we do? They wanted out. The word post-orthodox meant that in the sorting hat of the 1980’s they chose to be orthodox and they were already over that ill fated decision. The term did not catch on because most people who used the term, with time, left orthodoxy for other denominations. A variety of authors used the term post-orthodox in the late 1980’s But only a very small number of tortured souls kept the drama going for decades. The most famous of those who kept the drama going for years is Rebecca Goldstein, who even moved to Teaneck and then to Highland Park before checking out. There is a review of her new book in Today’s NYT.
Seltzer’s rebellions — rejecting Orthodox Judaism, shrugging off the influence of a controlling mentor, and coming up with a theory for the meaning of life and love that excludes supernatural agency — mirror Goldstein’s own. These preoccupations recur throughout her work. In her 1983 novel “The Mind-Body Problem,” she wrote of a dishy lapsed Modern Orthodox Jewish philosophy student who ditched faith for scholarship, then tried to acquire genius by marrying one.
Even in her nonfiction, like “Betraying Spinoza” (2006), a study of the famous philosopher who was ejected from Amsterdam’s Jewish community for his heretical views, she merged her personal history with her idol’s. Now almost 60, Goldstein remains fascinated by the codes and beliefs she absorbed in her Orthodox girlhood and continues to transmit her defiance and doubts to her characters.
Goldstein shows that philosophers and scholars may construct as many proofs or disproofs of divinity as they like. But to people of faith such questions remain as inarguable as the persistence of kugel.
Her 1983 novel “The Mind-Body Problem” presented most of her frustrations with Orthodoxy and her fantasies of life outside of Orthodoxy. Yet, since Orthodoxy was still growing in institutional strength and social capital, her critiques were waved off as bad personal experience. Or at best, it offered glimpse into some of the more risqué parts of Upper West Side Modern Orthodox life. – the occasional sin, libidinal encounters, and philosophic doubt was socially within the bounds of a society created by collective Shabbat meals. But the term post-orthodoxy disappeared because either one chose to move to an orthodox neighborhood or one did not. Religion was in vogue for the next 25 years. and why gripe about things when all is going well?
As an aside, in the 1990’s, the term had a brief life when those who had been trained as Orthodox and who taught Kabbalah and Hasidut gravitated to the Renewal movement and New Age worlds. They could claim to offer the best of the “secrets” of the Kabbalah but in a freer, eclectic, non-traditional, post-Orthodox way.
In both of these cases it referred to isolated individuals, not to a mood or social change, and certainly not to anything in liberal modern Orthodoxy.
Update- But neither of these two prior uses has much to do with the current sense that seems, at least to me, as similar to the phrase post-evangelical. A moment that will have diverse sociological implications. In the current version there is a sense that the last 25 years are over, and that for those of gen y – millennials orthodoxy has lost its former coolness, people are seeking to create new definitions and/or ignoring current ones, and that the last 25 years is treated in a more limited and humble way accepting its strengths and faults. Time will tell what it brings in all directions. But I dont see it as connected to baby-boomer liberalism. Even among the Evangelicals, it is used by diverse groups including those who have opted out, those who have created the more spirit driven Emergent Church, those mainline Evangelicals who have started new projects, and as a name for a new era that would also include the opposition. And now back to philosophy. I will report on Habermas and Theology next week.
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