Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Modern Orthodoxy at a Crossroads: OU Audio Interview of Rabbi Adlerstein

Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein of Cross Currents has furthered a discussion of Modern Orthodoxy -- what is it? What should it be? In this audio interview, though, I wonder what Rabbi Adlerstein is really asking.

Rabbi Adlerstein refers to a discussion that is on-going in the RCA Rabbinic Forum as to what should be the criteria for membership in this Rabbinic body. What I found interesting in Rabbi Adlerstein's reference, though, is what I would describe as his underlying perception of what the essence of this debate is. Is the RCA a body for all Orthodoxy rabbis and thus the debate is on the definition of Orthodoxy i.e. what makes one an Orthodox rabbi? Or is the RCA a body for a specific segment of Orthodoxy -- let us call it Modern Orthodoxy -- and thus the need is to define the criteria for membership in this group? It would seem, from certain statements that Rabbi Alderstein made during this interview, that he perceives the question to be the latter one.

The difference between these two questions is major. The first question is a theological one; the demand is to define the theological boundaries of the group. Disagreement within this context is secondary, as long as the disagreement is within the theological parameters. Given the nature of Torah and that the essence of the connection within such theological boundaries being more a matter of process than conclusion, difference in action and policy is to be expected. Strong heterogeneity would be expected.

The second question is, for want of a better word, political; the demand is to define some characteristic of the group that would allow this group to function more powerfully in promoting certain agendas. Greater homogeneity in action and policy would be expected. This connects with Rabbi Alderstein's assertion that the group should have a shared language ...yielding, from my perspective, a greater shared policy perspective.

In a certain way, I don't think there is a right or wrong answer as to how the RCA should define itself. It is really up to the RCA membership to define the type of group that it is. While I may favour a larger tent perspective, which would reflect the theological definition, that is really just my opinion. The one issue I do have with Rabbi Alderstein's presentation, though, is that while he seems to lean towards a definition that sees the RCA more as a 'political' entity, his subsequent definition seems to be more theological. He seems to say on one hand that he is not defining Orthodoxy but then what he does is define Orthodoxy. A specific focus of his is the idea of the mesorah -- that is a theological definition. It is a cross-over for him to use this term to define the parameters of the RCA and then side-step the issue of a full presentation of this subject by then maintaining that he is really defining a 'political' entity which is more defined by action than a theoretical presentation of the concept of mesorah. Its mixing apples and oranges.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

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