Friday, September 23, 2011
Rampant Obesity and Celebrating Ten Years of Idolatry: Ami at a Crossroads (Part I)
In this month's edition of Ami magazine, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein has an article, "Modern Orthodoxy at a Crossroads," on the challenge posed to Orthodoxy by Rabbi Avi Weiss and his attempt to ordain women. I respect Rabbi Adlerstein as a usually thoughtful Haredi perspective and he deserves credit for presenting Modern Orthodox Jews as human beings and serious Jews. That being said, this article is an exercise in the sort of self-congratulatory sanctimoniousness whose only purpose is to pat the author, and by extension the reader who agrees with him, on the back, while completely ignoring the issues at hand and inhibiting any actual discussion.
In Rabbi Adlerstein's narrative, a small click of supposedly "Orthodox" rabbis have conspired to undermine elements of Jewish tradition, such as having a solely male clergy and not calling women up to the Torah. These "extreme radical leftists" present themselves to the secular media as Orthodox mavericks challenging the status quo, putting pressure on more "moderate" Orthodox rabbis to go along.
As I have written previously, I am not interested in debating the issue of how Orthodoxy should respond to the social and political changes in the status women over the past century. I do not have a set solution to the problem. My concern is not over whether or not women will be ordained (I assume though that it will happen whether I like it or not) or what title they will be given. I only insist that whoever makes these decisions does so based both on traditional sources and an awareness of the social realities on the ground that brought these issues to the table. For example, it is a non-option to tell women to stick to children, kitchen and synagogue (behind the mechitza).
What concerns me about Rabbi Adlerstein is that he is someone involved in making these decisions yet he clearly does not grasp the social realities behind the issues. Just an example of how out of touch with reality he is. He dismisses the Los Angeles Jewish Journal as being "read almost exclusively by the non-Orthodox." I read it and know other Orthodox Jews who do. It should be axiomatic to him that the Jewish Journal's readers are precisely the people that Orthodoxy needs to reach out to; those Jews who care enough about Judaism to read a Jewish magazine, but for "some strange reason" are not reading Ami. Nowhere in the article does Rabbi Adlerstein consider the possibility that his opponents, instead of "plotting" to hoist "politically correct" values on an unsuspecting Jewish community, are on the front lines of trying to save Orthodox Judaism and are having to make some hard decisions. The fact that Rabbi Adlerstein's community does not yet have to deal with these issues, should be cause for thanks to be expressed by thoughtful planning for the moment the crisis comes to have acceptable options. (I imagine that a Haredi leadership that spends the next twenty years convincing its own members that it honestly cares about women might be able to hold off on women rabbis when Haredi women decide they might want to be rabbis.) It should not be an opening for sanctimonious judgment as to who is "Orthodox."
Rabbi Adlerstein de facto eliminates any consideration of social issues by specifically knocking Modern Orthodox rabbis for their lack of source skills, while saying nothing about whether Haredi rabbis are qualified to comment about an issue regarding liberalism, without a deep understanding of liberalism and actual liberals. Education is a zero-sum game. You cannot talk about rabbis needing to be more knowledgeable about Jewish texts without also implicitly saying that they do not also need an understanding of political theory, history and a little bit about the sort of actual real life people they are going to be offering spiritual guidance to.
(To be continued ...)