Izzy Posen
Izzy Posen

Modern Orthodoxy must sever all ties to Charedim

Like many Jewish News readers, I’ve followed the drama surrounding Rabbi Joseph Dweck and the S&P community.

But unlike many of you, I’m neither shocked or outraged by what I read. Nor do I think the criticism of Rabbi Dweck for is position on Judaism and homosexuality is unfair.

Before you start making assumptions about my religious position or views on homosexuality, allow me to explain where I’m coming from.

I spent the first 20 years of my life in the ultra-Orthodox community in Stamford Hill.

After losing my faith I left that community to live a secular life in Jewish communities I had not even been aware existed.

Despite no longer believing in the tenets of Orthodoxy, I really liked the progressive spirit of secular Judaism – alongside a love for Judaism. I share both sentiments.

I couldn’t understand how communities as different from each other as Charedim and liberal Orthodoxy could both claim the umbrella term of “orthodoxy”.

They both profess to keeping the same halacha. They nominally believe in the same principles of faith. But boy are they different!

The orthodoxy I know from my Charedi days is austere, obsessed with legalistic and technical minutiae and narrowly inward looking.

Liberal Orthodoxy, however, is the opposite: people-oriented, relaxed, progressive and outward looking.

In an anonymous open letter addressed to Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, several self-identified orthodox rabbis threatened that if action was not taken, the Rabbi Dweck affair may split Orthodoxy.

This threat was meant to pressure modern orthodox communities into conforming to more right-wing standards of halacha and ideology, else they may be disowned by the Charedim.

A harsh threat indeed.

But what people need to realise is that modern Orthodoxy stands to benefit the most from such a development.

I studied in mainstream Charedi yeshivas and know exactly how little they care about non-Charedi orthodoxy.

Even mentioning the name “Rabbi Soloveitchik” – one of the founders of modern Orthodoxy in the USA – is problematic in Gateshead Yeshiva – the largest Charedi school in Europe.

Charedim do not recognise or understand modern orthodox movements, so why should the latter make an effort to remain in line with them?

The Dweck affair is the unfortunate result of two incompatible communities pretending to be one and the same, when they are anything but.

The Charedim are upset with Rabbi Dweck because he claims to be one of them.

Charedim are annoyed by the progressive voices within Orthodoxy and the progressives are upset with the Charedim, because no one within liberal Orthodoxy has been courageous enough to get up and articulate the obvious: “We are two different communities. We don’t need the approval of Charedi rabbis. We have our own values and will continue living by them – whether the Charedim like it or not.”

Such a bold move would not be unprecedented.

Fifty years ago, after being made to feel uncomfortable within the limits of orthodoxy, Rabbi Louis Jacobs split away and launched his own community.

He did not try to please mainstream Orthodox rabbis. Rather, he got up and created the Masorti, movement which remains vibrant, progressive and, most importantly, unhindered to this very day.

The time has come for modern orthodox Jews do the same – make their values clear and free themselves of the hindrances of a static Orthodoxy, forever stuck in time.

Rabbi Jacobs did it. They can do it, too.

About the Author
Izzy Posen is graduating with a Masters in Physics and Philosophy from the University of Bristol. He researches charedi languages.
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