In Defense of Modern Orthodoxy

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Is it just me, or is every article about Orthodoxy these days either glorifying it or attacking the very existence of Orthodox Jews? Somewhere in between the (valid) claim that wearing a wig or a big black beard doesn’t justify you to harvest organs or rip out a living animal’s trachea and the (invalid) claim that every Orthodox person is a right-wing anti-womyn fanatic who enjoys killing kittens, it’s hard to remember that there’s a wide range of diversity that exists in the community. So many of my fellow liberals slam Orthodoxy for being close-minded that sometimes, it’s hard to remember that the most frequently-banned book in the world is the Bible.

And that’s why it’s so weird — and so refreshing — to hear a proclamation of Modern Orthodoxy from an unexpected place: Hasidic ultra-Orthodoxy.

rabbi shmuley


In his new article, “No Holds Barred: Modern Orthodoxy Offers Alternatives to Reactionary Judaism,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach — who, despite his TV show and clientele, discussed with us how he himself is a devout and sheltered Hasidic Jew — lives in an “integrated Orthodox” neighborhood and sends his three oldest children to a Modern Orthodox school.

I am increasingly turning to Modern Orthodoxy. This year I will have three children studying at Yeshiva University in New York. The institution is a miracle, a place of academic learning committed to Jewish life, observance, and influence.

…The Jewish community subdivides, in general, to three camps. There is the assimilated-secular, the insular-observant, and the modern-committed. The vast majority of those halachic Jews who comprise the third camp call themselves Modern-Orthodox – Jews who thrive in secular society. But the only way the model can work is if it is grounded not only in Jewish commitment, but in Jewish self-respect.

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The article somewhat awkwardly concludes with a rebuttal to the Noah Feldman story, rehashing the dangers of embracing the secular academic system in lieu of the system of Jewish learning that brought you there.

But Boteach’s point also serves as a testament to the fragile balance that Modern Orthodoxy demands between immersion in the secular world and the ever-present need to remember God in everyday life. At the heart of the article is an equally valid question that deserves to keep being asked, by Modern Orthodox people — but, really, by everyone: How do we stay mindful (of God, and of our own limits) within the greater chaos of our everyday lives?

The rockin’ image is from Heeb Magazine.

Posted on August 11, 2009

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