…although Modern Orthodoxy has produced many brilliant and dedicated leaders and laymen, it has yet to cultivate younger figures possessing the authority and broad appeal of its founding fathers. That earlier leadership, whose emblematic presence on the American scene was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), embodied the ideal of the halakhic Jew in full engagement with the surrounding world.
In the absence of such figures, negotiating the contest between traditionalism and secular modernity requires a strategy. But there is no specific Modern Orthodox credo, no statement of Jewish values, no formalized rubric through which adherents are encouraged to think about issues other than those related to ritual practice. The movement grounds itself, properly, in the halakhic tradition, which, while well equipped with majority and minority views, arguments, loopholes, and exceptions, features no centralized authority and few universally acknowledged experts, even among rabbis.
This lack of definition can lead to rich debate and to a religious vibrancy that evolves with the Jewish people. And so it did for centuries, prizing gradualism and consensus and allowing for change in halakhah either through broad-based rabbinic agreement or through slow organic transitions at the communal level that over the course of time, would force a re-evaluation of existing law in the light of what was needed to ensure the continuity of the tradition.
But the advent of modernity, and the radically new challenges to traditional Judaism posed by Reform and other, overtly secularizing movements, called for new formations. One of them came to be known as Orthodoxy: a response that willy-nilly came increasingly to replace flexibility with a reliance on codified law. (The classic essay on this phenomenon is Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik’s “Rupture and Reconstruction”.) More than it used to, perhaps, the old halakhic ideal of consensual and organic decision-making has found itself vying, not always successfully, with the felt need for creed.
Aylana Meisel, “Why Did American Orthodox Rabbis Just Ban Something They’ve Already Banned Before?”, Mosaic (10 November 2015) [http://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/2015/11/why-did-american-orthodox-rabbis-just-ban-something-theyve-already-banned-before/]