Yesterday morning, I received by email the new issue of Bookjed. Steve Bayme of the AJC wrote a review of a book and in the middle of the review inserts the following paragraph explaining what he thinks are the limits of Modern Orthodoxy. It seemed like a ready-made argument that can apply to a lot of topics.
More generally, this small volume stands as a significant document illustrating the tenuous place Modern Orthodoxy occupies on the Jewish communal map. To invoke a metaphor, Modern Orthodox leaders frequently approach the edge of the water but fail to wade into it. The authors comprehend the significance and beauty of sexuality and articulate it quite well. They are informed by secular sources of knowledge and culture. They understand fully that there are significant points of tension between Judaic heritage and modern culture. But they appear unwilling to confront those tensions openly. I should add, in fairness to the authors, that the same might be said for Orthodox leaders with respect to questions of Biblical scholarship, cooperation with the non-Orthodox movements, Jewish gentile relations, problems of reason and faith, the meaning of revelation for moderns, and doubtless one could easily add to this list. My personal favorite concerned a leading Modern Orthodox professor of Judaic Studies, who developed a popular lecture for synagogue scholar in residence programs in which he claimed that archeological research corroborated the Biblical narrative as if there were no conflicts between archeology and Torah. One only hopes he has abandoned the lecture given the weight of recent archeological research!
Instructors willing to go beyond the book and “enter the waters” fully will be doing themselves and their students a great service. They may even create models that Modern Orthodox leaders would do well to emulate.
Steven Bayme serves as National Director, Contemporary Jewish Life Department for the American Jewish Committee (AJC)