Last Thursday, I received notice about three events that will define modern Orthodoxy more than things that people are shouting about. A Mekhon Hadar lecture on Halakhah, Aliza Hausman on Memoirs of a Jewminicana, and Orthodox outreach as fun.
The first email I received was that Mekhon Hadar was webcasting the shiurim of Rabbi Ethan Tucker on the core issues of Halakhah. According to my reliable inside source, more women from the Stern learning program (GPATS) are attending or involved with Hadar than with Maharat.. Women don’t need to be debated about they can just opt out. Hadar does not worry about the Agudah or about the RCA or the RA nor even about blogs. The question will be how many men, especially graduates of the new hesder programs they will attract. How many gen y’s will find this the answer for our times?
The first lecture was all about the need for commitment to halakhah but without sectarianism. Tucker said regardless of who was appropriate for the nineteenth century, in our age we should choose Rav Bamberger over Rabbi S.R. Hirsch in working with the entire Jewish community instead of creating a sectarian enclave. We already survived the onslaught of modernity, we do not need to be sectarian anymore. He gave three reasons for giving up sectarianism: (1) It creates a distorted halakhah, shielded from the lives of real people. It considers the lives of real people strange and answers questions that fewer and fewer care about. (2) It writes off most Jews. It does not trust their natural intuitions and there is major gap between the people and an idealized halakhah. [This should probably be broken into two reasons- AB]. (3) lt lets secular Jews off the hook. But in real life, even the secular have a stake in the halkhah through marriage, conversion, and fluidity of lives.
Halakhah must be real life not ideal projection or ideal people. The Rabbis of the Talmud recognized the big gap between an ideal and after the fact-bidieved. This is in contrast to the second temple sectarians. We need to avoid constructing a halakhah that can only be followed by a small group. We should not glibly write people out. Short term sectarian success will lead to long term irrelevance
The question is how many will opt out of the modern orthodox debates in order to join this approach.
The second was about the Teaneck performance of Aliza Hausman, Memoirs of a Jewminicana as a women’s only Rosh Hodesh group (I know it was not really Rosh Hodesh) at the local reform Temple. Outside of East Coast enclaves, modern orthodoxy has large numbers of Jews by choice, people who affiliate from diverse ethnic backgrounds, couples where one of the spouses converted, and people who discover their Judaism after long and interesting journeys. The question is how much will these diverse eclectic orthodox communities see themselves as separate from the provincial enclaves and how much will the provincial enclaves reject the actual demographics of the community? As I told someone who is a macher at one of the local orthodox shuls and who agreed with my question because his Midwest hometown has this eclectic demographic- So why did your NJ shul not sponsor the evening? and he said your right we need to start.
The third item that came to my attention on Thursday morning was the WSJ article on the new YU Rabbi doing outreach in the bay area. What stuck out was the emphasis on fun, fun, fun. I have noticed that quite a bit in recent modern orthodox shul and kiruv events, we are fun. They are not promising meaning in life or Torah, but fun. Will modern orthodoxy take on the persona of Southern Methodist University, football, cheerleaders, and tailgate parties, God and beer? I have seen posters that say we not like the others that are no fun, we are the fun group. Will those who want learning seek it elsewhere? Will this approach lead to success of places like Hadar for those who want learning? The article states “there is room for having fun.” The next day, she joined about 50 people who watched the Super Bowl on the synagogue’s 110-inch screen. Super Bowl parties, a Chanukah gathering with a keg for adults
The new rabbi also adopts elements from the Chabad and Aish playbook: “he had put together a beginners’ service for the High Holidays. Last fall, he opened a preschool across the street from the synagogue to help bring in families.” And like Chabad and Aish he envisions our Judaism as practiced today as the same way as Moshe practiced his Judaism.. “It’s an ambitious mission trying to bridge the gaps between the outside world and making the religion—the way it was practiced 3,000 years ago—more relevant.”
Time will tell how these elements define the community. But they are some of the current issues.
Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved