The Modern Orthodox world is in a serious state of crisis. They have reached a crossroads and are having a hard time negotiating that challenge.
As is well known, Yeshiva University is forced to come to grips with the dilemma of choosing between popular modern values and that of the Torah. As its motto of “Torah Umada” (Torah and secular knowledge, although recently modified by its former president Richard Joel) implies, Yeshiva University is dedicated to mastering both disciplines. It always prided itself in incorporating the living modern world with the world of Torah.
It was quite some time ago that Rav Soloveitchik zt”l announced publicly that the day YU declares itself a university that also offers Torah learning is the day that he will leave the institution. Unfortunately, for a variety of considerations, the administration ultimately chose to ignore the Rav’s ultimatum and did indeed declare itself a university.
Now the chickens have come home to roost. A campus club that promotes a lifestyle antithetical to Torah has sued Yeshiva University in order to gain official recognition by the YU administration. YU properly and courageously refused their application. A leftist judge, however, ruled against Yeshiva and ordered them to give immediate recognition to this group. Her reasoning was that YU is primarily a university that also offers religious courses. YU is attempting to appeal this decision, even if it means going all the way up to the Supreme Court.
One of their main arguments is that their very name – Yeshiva University – makes it plain that YU is primarily a religious school. Forcing YU to accept this group, which runs contrary to the teachings of the Torah, is to set a very troubling precedent that government can interfere with the internal decisions and policies of religious institutions
Now, there is certainly room to say that YU had it coming. After all, they did defy Rav Soloveitchik and decided to become a university. Furthermore, YU always sent mixed signals to the community in question. While they made it clear that their lifestyle was not accepted by Torah teachings, they did make them feel quite welcome as individuals on campus.
Very disturbing is the organized Modern Orthodox reaction to YU’s predicament. Our Coalition for Jewish Values, within days, signed on to the Beckett Institute’s Amicus Brief in support of YU. The Agudah, not a natural ally of YU, to its great credit issued its own Amicus Brief.
From the Modern Orthodox world, nary a word in the beginning. After a good many days, its main rabbinic organization did issue a support letter, although not widely publicized. It was also very nuanced and did not call into question the legitimacy of the group according to Torah law.
Yet, as of this writing, the large Modern Orthodox synagogue groups have said nothing on the topic. Check their websites. Shocking? Unfortunately, not.
One of the favorite policy declarations of these organizations is that “we have a big tent.” That is, we are proudly diverse and not monolithic in our thinking, so we must be considerate of all our constituents in the tent. Another favorite is: “We are working behind the scenes.” It comes with the territory of being Modern Orthodox. That is why you will rarely see these organizations take a position on anything that could remotely be deemed as controversial.
What that really is saying is that Modern Orthodoxy lately has no hashkafah, something I’ve stated before. Gone are the days when it followed the teachings of Rav Soloveitchik. Gone are the days when it followed the Religious Zionist philosophy of Rav Kook. Gone are the days when Modern Orthodoxy was the bulwark against the encroachment of the Conservative and Reform movements.
Someone recently told me that he spent Shabbos in a solidly Modern Orthodox community in the metropolitan area. He was shocked to learn how many of the Orthodox people were into “Woke” thinking.
I have spent my life serving the Modern Orthodox community, which I love, so it pains me to write these words. Modern Orthodoxy has its own waking to do. Wake up! Start making radical changes in your chinuch system. Leadership: Do what is expected of you. Lead the way! Your tent is folding.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.