Modern Orthodoxy’s “future will likely be as ambiguous and complicated as its complex, tension-filled philosophy”

Despite Rabbi Lamm’s eloquent and intellectually sophisticated elucidations of the Modern Orthodox world view, Modern Orthodoxy has failed to attract as many adherents as ultra-Orthodoxy—the American ultra-Orthodox population is currently twice as large as (and growing faster than) the Modern Orthodox population—a challenge to the movement that Eleff does not ignore. The ideology of Modern Orthodoxy, undergirded by Rabbi Soloveitchik’s distinctive blend of existentialism and neo-Kantianism, is a difficult one to grasp. Most people prefer clear lines and black-and-white differentiations to living with complexity, and it doesn’t help matters that even many of those rabbinic leaders who understand Soloveitchik’s philosophy and embody its values, such as Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, do not identify themselves as Modern Orthodox. This, combined with growing pressure from its right and left flanks, the prohibitive cost of the Modern Orthodox life (the “tuition crisis” is consistently cited as the greatest problem of religious life by Modern Orthodox Jews), widespread theological uncertainty (the 2017 Nishma survey found that only 64 percent of Modern Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah was given at Sinai), and a continuous “brain drain” in which many of the most committed American Modern Orthodox Jews leave for Israel—Modern Orthodox Jews have the highest rates of aliyah among all American Jews—means that the movement’s future will likely be as ambiguous and complicated as its complex, tension-filled philosophy.

Daniel Ross Goodman, review of Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History, by Zev Eleff, Jewish Review of Books (Fall 2018) []