“…the internalization of the idea that haredi Judaism represents the touchstone and arbiter of Orthodox authenticity” has “placed Modern Orthodoxy on the defensive…”

Since the passing of Rabbi Soloveitchik from the scene some 30 years ago, the Yeshiva University world has lacked an authoritative figure who personifies for the broader public the synthesis proclaimed in YU’s motto of Torah u’madda. Meanwhile, a neo-haredi group of roshei yeshiva—the term, often translated as deans of talmudic academies, more accurately connotes advanced teachers of rabbinic texts—has planted its flag at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Rabbinical Seminary (RIETS), which educates, ordains, and shapes the religious and halakhic worldview of Modern Orthodox rabbis. In addition, Modern Orthodox day schools often employ haredi teachers who likewise communicate their ideology to impressionable students and may encourage them after graduation to attend an Israeli yeshiva or girls’ seminary where neo-harediperspectives predominate. Of late, some long-time Modern Orthodox synagogues have also taken to hiring haredi or neo-haredi rabbis to fill their pulpits. And the community as a whole has become dependent on haredim who fill certain ritually critical roles, including as scribes who write Torah scrolls and other religious documents, kosher slaughterers, and supervisors of kosher food production.

Most subversive of all has been the internalization of the idea that haredi Judaism represents the touchstone and arbiter of Orthodox authenticity, period. This has placed Modern Orthodoxy on the defensive, handcuffing it to a way of thinking at odds with its founding assumptions. Willy-nilly, by absorbing the resistant mindset, important sectors of the movement have thereby undermined Modern Orthodoxy’s accommodative ideology and, worse, have made it more difficult to help their members navigate as observant Jews who embrace modern culture.

Jack Wertheimer, “Can Modern Orthodoxy Survive?”, Mosaic (August 2014) [http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2014/08/can-modern-orthodoxy-survive/]