Where Modern Orthodoxy Came from, and Where It Might Be Going

Oct. 11 2018

In Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History, Zev Eleff for the first time has collected the source materials necessary to understand the development of a denomination that, although its adherents account for under 10 percent of affiliated American Jewry, now plays a disproportionate role in American Jewish life. Daniel Ross Goodman praises the book, while noting some serious gaps:

The history of self-consciously “modern” Orthodoxy is inseparable from the history of Yeshiva University, which is a product of the early 20th century. Eleff covers Yeshiva University’s birth, development, and evolution. . . . Of course, the book also contains several key statements from Modern Orthodoxy’s most outstanding spokesmen: the great halakhist and thinker Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, [the movement’s most prominent rabbi until his death in 1993], and Rabbi Norman Lamm, who served as the president of Yeshiva University from 1976 to 2003. . . .

Although Rabbi Lamm has been a central figure of inestimable importance to Modern Orthodoxy for nearly seven decades, graduates of Yeshiva University, and anyone even tangentially connected to the institution, are well aware of the fact that it has not been Lamm but rather Yeshiva University’s rashey yeshivah—authoritative halakhists and brilliant talmudists like Hershel Schachter, Mordechai Willig, [and others]—who have, arguably, had a more direct impact on the lives of thousands upon thousands of American Modern Orthodox Jews. It is surprising then, that a volume that features so many texts related to Yeshiva University all but completely excludes figures who can be said to have been the university’s most influential rabbis.

When it comes to Modern Orthodoxy’s present challenges, Goodman finds Eleff better attuned:

The ideology of Modern Orthodoxy, undergirded by 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, like Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, do not identify themselves as Modern Orthodox.

This, combined with growing pressure from its right and left flanks, the prohibitive cost of Modern Orthodox life, widespread theological uncertainty, 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.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Judaism, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Modern Orthodoxy, Norman Lamm, Religion & Holidays, Yeshiva University

 

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy