Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is Orthodoxy sliding left?

Sliding to the Left?
Posted on June 23, 2011 by Alan Brill| 3 Comments
This post is FYI- so everyone can read this before it becomes the blog topic of Summer 2011.

Thirteen years ago Chaim Waxman as an Edah supporter wrote an article The Haredization of American Orthodox Jewry that the sky is falling with the impending Haredization of Orthodoxy and why Modern Orthodoxy is losing.

Now has reversed himself and put out a chatty article on the state of American Modern Orthodoxy created by interviewing more than fifty knowledgeable observers.
Yehuda Turetsky and Chaim I. Waxman, “Sliding to the Left? Contemporary American Modern Orthodoxy” Modern Judaism (2011) first published online May 25, 2011
Subscription Required: Here is the index page and here is the html.

Much of what he writes in the article is the stuff of recent blogs collated into a long op-ed, namely that we have just as much shifting to the left. His examples familiar to orthodox blog readers includes Prof. James Kugel at YU, Maharat, YCT, Hadar, JOFA, Kellner on Belief, reaction to Slifkin ban, IRF, conversion controversy, and the role of the web.
He finds more of a right-ward swing at YU than in actual pulpits. He gives a shout out to almost everything that could be found online so there will be something for everyone to discuss, argue with and pick at.

In addition, the article in its title and its content is a direct rejection of Heilman’s Sliding to the Right.
(Bear in mind that I do not like or use the entire right/ left language despite what a blog post by Eli Clark incorrectly reported and has not changed. Personally, I see both sides arguing over the same halakhot and as part of the same interpretive community.)

The question to the reader of the current article is: what happened to his data and sociology of thirteen years ago? Is this just a change of mood of the community? Of the author? If he had interviewed fifty people in the late 1990′s would the results have agreed with this article or the first one? Is this just a chance for Waxman to respond to the blogs in an organized fashion? More importantly, how much are the fifty people themselves just part of the echo chamber of people repeating what other people say on blogs?
It is also interesting for a sociologist whose academic work was specifically on the baby-boomers not to have any generational differentiation in the article.

In the past decade there has been a move to the right as reflected in many aspects of YU and communities such as Teaneck [NJ] and the Five Towns [NY]. At the same time, there has been a healthy willingness to experiment with new innovations such as yo’atzot … YCT and maybe even Yeshivat Hadar which, while not Orthodox-affiliated, attracts Orthodox students and teachers.

The “move to the right” is more pronounced at YU. I wonder if is true out there in most major shuls.

Another respondent opined that, “The number of people who feel that they are allowed to be a voice has expanded enormously. This is true in Halakhah, in meta-Halakhah, and in hashkafah [perspective].” This respondent suggested that the declining hierarchalism in Orthodoxy in general and Modern Orthodoxy in particular coincides with the passing of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, in 1986.

As indicated, very few of our interviewees perceive an exclusively right character to Modern Orthodoxy.

One possibility is that those who saw Modern Orthodoxy being overtaken by a rightward trend were incorrect. They may have been expressing their own fears without taking a broader view of what was actually happening. Also, they may have been looking at specific Orthodox localities from which, perhaps due to demographic change, more modern members may have moved away while those of a more haredi disposition have moved in. This, however, does not necessarily mean that American Modern Orthodoxy was moving to the right; only that some neighborhoods moved to the right while others, which previously may not have even been neighborhoods with an Orthodox Jewish population, now have Modern Orthodox communities.

We suggest that, though some aspects of the above may be the case, there has, in fact, been a real shift in American Modern Orthodoxy in recent years, and that this shift is the result of internal developments within Modern Orthodoxy itself as well as developments within the larger American society and culture. As discussed above, women’s prayer groups emerged in the 1960s and their numbers have grown since, indicating that the issue of women and the synagogue/prayer was a very real one

In 1997, JOFA and Edah were founded, and both held conferences which attracted wide interest. Two years later, in 1999, YCT established its rabbinical school and, despite predictions of its imminent demise, it has continued to grow.
That these communal outreach efforts have reportedly been successful suggests that there are receptive communities out there composed of varieties of perspectives, and that they have not all haredized. Indeed, this was suggested by the large number of attendees at the aforementioned JOFA and Edah conferences since their inceptions in 1997.

There are some scholars who have suggested that the “sliding to the left” in Modern Orthodoxy may result in the emergence of a new denomination, especially after the founding, in November 2009, of a new Orthodox rabbinical organization, the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF),

It was further empirically evident in the data amassed, in 2002, by Milton Heumann and David Rabinowitz in a Young Israel synagogue in the New York–New Jersey area, which found that a minority held “conservative” or “very conservative” perspectives on the eight issues presented, while an approximately two-thirds majority held “modern” to “very modern” perspectives. What has apparently changed is not so much the presence of significant numbers of Modern Orthodox with very modern values and perspectives but, rather, the readiness of those with less modern values and perspectives to engage with them.

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