Once a loose term for those at the most liberal edge of American Orthodoxy, “Open Orthodoxy” has increasingly taken on the trappings of a movement, particularly since its leaders began training and ordaining female clergy. Zev Eleff seeks to draw lessons from two developments in the history of 20th-century American Judaism: the schism of Conservative Judaism from Orthodoxy, and the non-schism of Modern Orthodoxy from the rest of Orthodoxy:
In the post-World War II era, Conservative Judaism routinely looked to its Committee for Jewish Law and Standards [formed by rabbis of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1929] to justify and prescribe [what had become acceptable] Sabbath behavior (riding in automobiles), oblige a widely accepted solution to the agunah crisis [the problem of the “chained” wife unable to obtain a divorce from her husband], and defend [certain controversial] dietary practices (e.g., eating swordfish). Accordingly, it was the institutionalization of a particular brand of halakhah that finally separated the Conservative movement from its Orthodox [counterpart]. . . .
[In the 1960s], Norman Lamm, [a founding figure of Modern Orthodoxy], recognized a great value in religious labels and encouraged his colleagues and congregants to assume an unabashedly “Modern Orthodox” identity. What propelled him, [however], was not a need to establish a certain kind of Orthodox Judaism. Rather, Lamm wished to offer a suitable agenda for the thousands of university-trained Orthodox Jews in the suburbs and in high-end urban neighborhoods who could no longer relate to the Judaism of their parents or their older rabbis. . . . Yet Lamm made it clear that his intention was not to isolate this younger and more “modern” cohort from other Orthodox Jews. . . .
The best way to describe Rabbi Lamm’s creation is as a “sub-movement” within Orthodox Judaism. There were, of course, important distinctions between Modern Orthodox Judaism and the Orthodox right. . . . Still, the common ground was large enough for Modern Orthodox exponents to maintain strong bonds and coexist with the Orthodox right within the larger traditionalist camp. In large measure, unity was maintained because of Modern Orthodoxy’s reluctance to found a firm halakhic body unto itself.
As for Open Orthodoxy, writes Eleff, it has moved from the latter model toward the former, but only time will tell if a complete schism is in the offing.