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Is it the end of the road for progressive Orthodoxy?

With female clergy now a reality, it's time to leave the battlefield and focus on creating religious vibrancy
Rabba Sara Hurwitz (YouTube screenshot)
Rabba Sara Hurwitz (YouTube screenshot)

Have the intra-denominational battles run their course? I think so. There does not seem to be much left to fight for-in the arena of ideas-religiously, socially or communally.

Outside the arena of ideas there is still a lot that needs to be done. Rabbis, lay leaders, Jewish professionals, and progressive Orthodox institutions still need to work hard nourishing and scaffolding the progressive project of comprehensive reconciliation between halakha and modernity. Academically, however, the project has run its course.

With female clergy now a (albeit reluctant) reality, progressive Orthodoxy conquered all it is able to conquer and can now afford to retreat: abandon the battlefield, and reorient its energies towards creating a religiously vibrant home front. Continued presence on the war-front will not bring any new victories.

The war is over!

Halakha has been stretched to its outer progressive limits, it cannot become more progressive than it already is. And that, frankly, is how it was always supposed to be. Halakha was never destined to be optimally inclusive or perfectly egalitarian. There was always going to remain a whiff of discrimination (descriptively speaking) which is innate to the system and could never be eliminated. Coupling halakha with modernity was never meant to be the perfect elixir, completely eradicating the existential pain of the modern-and-observant Jew. That is impossible. It can only minimize that pain. Now that the pain has been reduced to is non-negotiable point, there is nothing left to fight for.

The cessation of the intellectual fisticuffs is a great opportunity and is in fact cause for communal celebration. We need to seize that opportunity.

The drive for a more sensitive Orthodoxy was not cheap. Enormous strides have been made, but at a steep intellectual and emotional price. Change is emotionally demanding and tends to sap communal energy. The end of the intra-denominational battles will, therefore, return an inordinate amount of intellectual heft and emotional vitality into our communal coffers. That intellectual and emotional currency can now be spent on comprehensive internal transformation.

The list of communal improvements possible with this newfound mental and academic energy is endless; whether it is significantly extending our Intellectual reach, comprehensively enhancing our spiritual depth, or aggressively increasing opportunities for meaningful religious engagement; everything is possible.

As R. Yochanan said to Reish Lakish, his murderous (soon to be) brother-in-law: חילך לאוריתא; the recipe for existential happiness is to channel one’s murderous fervor from the (physical or intellectual) battlefield to the beit midrash.

Let us start doing that. Now!

About the Author
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is the Chair of the Talmud department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and the director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies there. He received ordination in 1986 from Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, dayan of UTA Satmer. Rabbi Katz studied in Brisk and in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, Navaradok for more ten years, and is a graduate of the HaSha'ar Program for Jewish Educators, Rabbi Katz taught at the Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and SAR High School, and gave a popular daf yomi class in Brooklyn for more than eight years.
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