Rabbi Soloveitchik used to say that the reason that the weekly Torah portion before Shavuot is Parashat Bamidbar (in which the tribal encampments around the mishkan are mapped out) is that the sanctity of the camp, kedushat ha mahanot, must precede the giving of the Law.
His insight underscores two different foci of religion and the relationship between them; the public and institutional on the one hand and the personal encounter with God on the other. William James drew a sharp distinction between the two, attributing the term “religion” to the personal realm alone. The Rav’s insight is faithful to the Jewish ethos that religion is active in both the personal relationship with God and the public arena.
I believe that Belda Lindenbaum understood this in her bones.
She was driven by the vision that the Torah must be fully engaged with the modern world and expressed through religious and political institutions. She did not follow those who, when they became disillusioned from the religious establishment, retreated inwards to fashion a privatized Judaism for themselves. She refused to cede the public domain, the reshut harabim, to lethargy and indifference. She understood that for the Torah to be religiously relevant it must be just, fair and honest and perceived as such.
Through her ability to imagine that which did not yet exist along with her tenacity and wisdom she managed to reshape Modern Orthodoxy for women as well as men. Belda’s impact is clearly apparent in even the more traditionalist circles of Orthodox Judaism. Her vision has also prepared the ground for propelling the Torah beyond traditional denominational boundaries.
All lovers of the Torah owe Belda Lindenbaum a profound debt. We can only hope to repay it by continuing her legacy.