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Modern Orthodox Judaism

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Modern Orthodox Judaism is a philosophy that attempts to adapt Orthodox Judaism and interaction with the surrounding gentile, modern world. Modern Orthodoxy stresses that if guided by Jewish values, this interaction is in fact desirable and intellectually profitable.

Two of the founders of Modern Orthodoxy are rabbis Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) and Azriel Hildesheimer (1820-1899). Rabbi Hirsch developed the motto of Modern Orthodoxy that is still used today, Torah im Derekh Eretz, which if literally translated from the Hebrew would mean "Torah with the way of the (surrounding gentile) world". This phrase means that one should not only accept as necessary, but hold to be positive the integration of traditional Judaism with secular education. At that time Hirsch's definition of secular education included not only the basic academic topics and the sciences, but also German literature, philosophy and culture.

Modern Orthodox Jews believe that Jews should hold fast to the traditional Jewish principles of faith, and should live by a relaxed standard traditional Jewish laws and customs. They are more flexible on these points that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, but more rigid on these points than any of the admittedly non-Orthodox branches of Judaism.

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Modest reforms within Jewish practice

In early 1800s Europe, all of Judaism that differed from the strictest forms present at the time was called "Reform". Having a sermon in the vernacular language, such as German or English was "Reform". Having the bima (where the Torah is read from) in the front of the synagogue instead of near the center was a "Reform". Zionism as a political movement was considered outside of all religious Jewish practices, being rejected even by "Reform". Having ordered services with a choir was reform. All of these reforms eventually became accepted as valid within Modern Orthodoxy.

Modern forms of textual criticism

Modern Orthodox Jews may acknowledge insights provided by some tools of modern textual criticism into Judaism's sacred works and rabbinic literature. However, it also maintains that the Torah is of divine origin, and has been transmitted with almost perfect fidelity from the time of Moses until today. Modern Orthodox Jews often study academic biblical criticism but rely on traditional authorities for normative interpretation of the Torah. The documentary hypothesis is only of academic interest for observance.

Modern Orthodoxy is ambivalent, at best, about the use of academic criticism for others books of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament) because if one allows these techniques to be used here, one might then be tempted to eventually look at the Torah in this light as well. Orthodox Judaism typically rejects any form of distinction between the books of the Tanakh.

Imporant figures

Many Orthodox Jews find the intellectual engagement with the modern world as a virtue. Examples of Orthodox rabbis who promote this worldview include:

  • Joseph Dov Soloveitchik - Known as "The Rav", he was effectively the spiritual and intellectual guide of Modern Orthodoxy in American for the mid-20th century. He is the author of "The Lonely Man of Faith" and "Halakhic Man," an outspoken Zionist, an opponent of extending rabbinic authority into areas of secular expertise, and a proponent of some interdenominational cooperation, such as the Rabbinical Council of America[?] participation in the now-defunct Synagogue Council of America. He was known as a stern, even depressed, leader who stressed greatly the anguish and pain of religious life.
  • Saul Berman - director of Edah, a Modern Orthodox advocacy organization.
  • Bejamin Blech
  • Shlomo Riskin - Formerly rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, he emigrated to Israel.
  • Yehuda Amital - Affliated with Meimad, an Israeli modern Orthodox group.
  • Marc D. Angel - former president of the Rabbinical Council of America
  • Eliezer Berkovits - philosopher, author of many works including "Not In Heaven: The Nature and Function of Halakha" (Ktav, NY, 1983)
  • Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard - Director of Organizational Development at CLAL. Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard (http://www.clal.org/facbios#blanchard)
  • J. Simcha Cohen, Rav of the Melbourne, Autralia, Mizrachi community. Author of a series of Modern Orthodox response collections.
  • Shmuel Goldin, Congregation Ahavath Torah, Englewood, N.J.; Chair, Shvil Hazahav
  • Irving Greenberg - Founder of CLAL; engaged in creating a pluaralistic theology and inter-denominational cooperation.
  • Rabbi Steven Greenberg - Senior Teaching Fellow at CLAL. He received his B.A. in philosophy from Yeshiva University and his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He is the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi.
  • David Hartman - director of the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem. Working from a Maimonidean framework, and based on the works of his mentor Joseph Soloveitchik, he is engaged in creating a pluaralistic theology and inter-denominational cooperation. Author of many books including A Living Covenant: The Innovative Spirit in Traditional Judaism (Free Press, NY, 1985)
  • Donniel Hartman
  • Norman Lamm - Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva University ; Orthodox Forum; author of Torah U-Maddah. One of the leading voices for the validity and importance of Modern Orthodoxy.
  • Rabbi B. Barry Levy - former professor at Yeshiva University, now professor at McGill University. His work attempts to reconcile modern day biblical scholarship with Orthodox theology.
  • Mendell Lewittes - Author of Jewish Law: An Introduction (Jason Aronson Inc, NJ, 1987, 1994)
  • Haskel Lookstein - Congregation Kehilath Jeshrun, NY
  • Michael Melchior - Affiliated with Meimad
  • Adam J. Mintz - Rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue, New York, NY
  • Emanuel Rackman - Chancellor Bar Ilan Univ, Israel ; member of Edah; former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, and author of One Man's Judaism. A leader in defending the rights of agunot, women who are prevented from receiving a divorce under Jewish law.
  • Marc Schneier - Rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue, NY
  • Joseph Telushkin[?] - Author, teacher, lecturer.
  • Rabbi Avi Weiss[?] - Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale Brooklyn, NY. Author, teacher, lecturer, and perhaps the Jewish community's best examplar of activism.
  • Joel Wolowelsky - Yeshiva of Flatbush; Orthodox Forum
  • Michael Wyschograd - Prof. Religious Studies, Univ. of Houston

Modern Orthodox advocacy groups

There are a few organizations dedicated to furthering Modern Orthodoxy as a religious trend:

  • The largest and oldest are the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, which sponsors youth groups, kashrut supervision, and many other activities and its rabbinic counterpart, the Rabbinical Council of America and The National Council of Young Israel and its rabbinical association.
    Both the the foregoing serve a wide diversity of Modern Orthodox men, women. diaspora and Israel programs.
  • Edah: The Courage to be Modern and Orthodox (http://www.edah.org/) a non-membership advocacy operation that publicizes the ideology of Rabbi Saul Berman and his allies.
  • Meimad (http://www.meimad.org.il/meimad1/) a political/intellectual alternative to Israel's highly nationalistic religious parties or those hostile to modern secularist values
  • JOFA: The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (http://www.jofa.org/) a forum for enhancing the roles of Orthodox Jewish women within the Orthodox community, and reducing Orthodox religious disabilities against women.
  • The philosophy of Modern Orthodoxy (http://www.shma.com/feb01/berman.htm)

Criticism of Modern Orthodoxy

Modern Orthodox Rabbis have been criticised for attempting to adapt Judaism to the world. It is often compared to the beginnings of Reform Judaism in Germany.

See also: Orthodox Judaism, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Judaism



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