Why Orthodoxy Needs Its Left Wing

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My article in last week’s issue of The Jewish Link of New Jersey

by R. Gil Student

When I was a non-religious teenager exploring Orthodoxy, I was looking for something different. I had no need for a religion that supported the values I had absorbed from popular culture because I could get that elsewhere. However, I was not going to join a religion from another planet. I needed to be able to relate to a new community in order to join it. This common experience presents an outreach challenge to the Orthodox Jewish community. In recent decades, society’s values have moved in radical directions, sharply diverging from Torah values. How can a community actively attract newcomers while retaining its integrity?

We desperately need to teach our children traditional values, to impart to them the ageless wisdom of the Torah. Yet, values contradictory to the Torah seep into our lives from all directions. This difficulty is compounded because we believe that sometimes we can learn important lessons from secular society. When do we fight the influence and when do we embrace it? We constantly walk this tight line, praying that our children maintain the balance and continue this tradition into the next generation. The vexing problem of our day is ensuring that continuity. Part of the solution—the way I entered the Orthodox community—is through Jews on the fringes of Orthodoxy.

Some people on the fringes of Orthodoxy accept the new values of general society but observe traditional Judaism and believe its basic truth claims. They remain upstanding members of the Orthodox community yet look at the world through what I, on the right, see as secular eyes. Despite the non-traditional aspects of their value system, these Jews play an important sociological role in the Orthodox community.

A quarter century ago, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks offered a precise description of this group on the fringes. In his 1991 book “Arguments for the Sake of Heaven” (pp. 195-199), he refers to Modern Orthodoxy in a narrow sense, which he proceeds to describe and reject. If Lord Sacks rejects it, this cannot be what most people today call Modern Orthodoxy since he is widely considered one of Modern Orthodoxy’s current thought leaders. Rather, it is a movement whose “major spokesmen have been Emanuel Rackman and Eliezer Berkovits, and, more recently, Shlomo Riskin and David Hartman; more radically still, Irving Greenberg.” These thinkers “attempt to locate modern consciousness within tradition.”

Continued here: link

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

One comment

  1. Re Why Orthodoxy needs its left wing. You mention rabbis Hartman and Riskin. Of interest should be that in the early 60s there is no doubt thery were the stars of YUs Torah Leadership Seminars. How it fits into your thesis one can speculate about.

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