Post-orthodoxy and the end of the Twentieth Century –part II

Continued from part one on Stern’s MA here.
I will now deal with some of the specifics that Nechemia Stern thinks created this.

Back in 2004, a group of young Rabbis were discussing the various halakhic controversies including filtering water and Indian hair. I was asked what I thought and I commented that I thought it was just a structural shift of the new generation of poskim coming into their own, I assumed there would be several more such plate tectonic changes and then it would settle down. Moshe Shoshan asked in a comment, Isnt all this a structural change? Yes I agree. But Nechmeia Stern attributes considers it a vortex of controversy.

So here is my amendment to Stern, even using Stern’s premises. Stern makes it sound as if these legal decisions are based on the vortex of change. They are not. The Poskim gave their decisions based on what they thought. The vortex was created by the echo chamber world of controversy, op-eds, bloggers, and pizza place gossip.

Stern writes “I believe it is possible to point to various historical and social influences that have inspired the questions and difficulties that have led to the ‘post Orthodox’ shift.”
Stern attributes this world to the division created by Chabad messianism, 9/11 framing Orthodoxy as another fundamentalism, the Edah-YCT backlash against right, and the disengagement from Gaza.
I am skeptical if this is indeed the list of causes or if this is the list I am not sure they are being defined correctly.

Stern notes the blurring of denominations based on Jeremy Stolow’s book on Artscroll. Artscroll blurred the lines of Ultra-Orthodoxy and Centrism and it blurred the lines of right wing Conservative and Orthodoxy. He also relies on Stolow for seeing the end of the use of the word Orthodoxy and its replacement by “Torah observant.”

The transformative categories of Judaica are excellent examples of the move towards post Orthodoxy. Indeed Stolow documents: As liberal Orthodox, synagogues (or Conservative synagogues) change their texts to the Artscroll, “new relationships are being forged across and around what were once taken to behardened lines of communal affiliation, leading to an increasingly blurred division between the “right wing” of Conservative Judaism and Orthodoxy, or the “right”and “center” of orthodoxy itself (Stolow, 2007. 310).
‘Torah observant Judaism (or Jew)’is becoming increasingly popular as an alternate means of religious identification. Indeed it is very reminiscent (purposefully so) of the Artscroll’s ‘Torah perspective’.

Stern discusses the anxiety over the flipping out of kids in Israel by their parents. Stern points out that for the parents there are clear lines between Modern Orthodox and Haredim, two different dress codes, two different cultural realms. But for the kids, they have no problem wearing a black hat and still having modern interests. They will still become proper modern suburbanites even with their black hats. They were not transformed, they just crossed the parents conceptions.

Where ‘us’ represented the Modern Orthodox, and ‘them’ represented
the Haredim. I began to realize that the parents – who were educated within a field of relatively well defined denominational boundaries – simply could not grasp the ways in which their children’s religious boundaries could be so quickly transformed after only one year.
For these students, the black hat does not necessarily imply a change towards Haredism, as much as it denotes a particular kind of religio-social transformation. The students returning have not changed denominations so much as they have transcended them. They
are not ‘Modern Orthodox, nor are they ideologically Haredi. I would say that these students are ‘post-Orthodox’. In so doing they have gone beyond the bounded denominational differences that were readily apparent in their parent’s generation, and have created new theological and social divisions.

Another case for Stern is those people who cross back and forth between movements.

Rabbi Gold received his rabbinic ordination from a Conservative institution. However, he also spent two years in Israel studying in an Orthodox religious seminary that espoused a pluralistic perspective. At this time, he received certification as a Kosher
butcher from an Orthodox Rabbi.

So in these chapters, Nechmia Stern defines post-Orthodox as caused by (1) the creation of the controversy vortex (2) the use of Artscroll by everyone from traditional Conservative to modern Orthodox to Yeshivish (3) The younger generation who do not stick to their parents conceptions (4) those who cross between movements.

Stern has given us food for thought but no polished description or causes.
And I do not feel he has captured his experience within the community.

I was certainly not prepared however, for the zealous and almost fanatical response I received. After twelve years of an orthodox education, I did not consider my views heretical, and certainly not equivalent to the denial of God.

Any thoughts?

2 responses to “Post-orthodoxy and the end of the Twentieth Century –part II

  1. I think that 1985 may be the key year for emergence of these trends.
    It was in this year that JTS ordained its first female rabbi. The decision to do so was a direct response to the passing of Saul Leiberman. This event marks the transformation of Conservative Judaism into an egalitarian, essentialy post-Halachic (at least from an Orthodox perspective) movement that no longer really abutted Orthodoxy.

    1985 is also the year that the REITS Rashei Yeshiva published their Teshuva on Women’s Tefilah Groups. This marked the end of the era of Rav’s halachic dominance in MO community. (The Rav, opposed womens Tefilah groups by this point, but also opposed the teshuva- his opinion had so little impact that it was not widely known until the Frimer publicized it many years later) This Teshuva also signaed that the younger generation of Rashei Yeshiva were not going to engage moderninity with the sophistication or sensitivity of the Rav. This left a sizable segment of the MO community disenfranchised from high level rabbinic/halachic leadership.

    These two opposite pendulum swings left a vacuum between the Orthodox and Conservative worlds. It was this vacuum that, Edah, JOFA, Drisha, YCT, R. Halivni in several of his incarnations, Mechon Hadar etc. have sought to fill.

    1985 is also around the time that the Artscroll siddur began to make serious inroads into MO shuls. This would blur the line between the other elements of the MO and the Yeshivish world.

  2. I think it is important to note the ability for a term to facilitate the contours of a inchoate socio-cultural trend as opposed to merely seeing ‘post-orthodoxy’ as a term added on to a pre-semantic socio-cultural entity (in an Ian Hackings and Arnold Davidson sense). In other words, why are some people who grew up orthodox identifying as ‘independent’ (as per many people in Hadar or non-egal minyanim that dont affiliate with a denomination) while others as post-orthodox. My sense from the ground is that ‘post-orthodox’ is a term used by folks who are already settled (marred, single…) in an orthodox community-shul but feel themselves slightly alienated, and hence can employ the term post-orthodox to remain situated in their community while given their sense of otherness an objectified label. The degree then that ‘post-orthodox’ precludes the wider cultural extensions and structural innovations found in ‘independent’ contexts since most persons identifying as such are predominately (and here of course mirco-cultures, hybrid cultures, internet all complicate things) embedded in orthodox social structures (minyan, day school, artscroll…) should be significantly noted. B’kitzur: I would be very surprised if in the next few years a shul or school identified itself as post-orthodox, given my above thoughts.
    [These comments may be slightly off-topic in regards to Stern since he seems to be referring to ‘post-orthodox’ as a second tier anthropological term that designates a historical shift rather than a circulated identity used by people today.]

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