Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy
Published in Tradition, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer 1994).
The author asserts that contemporary Orthodox Jewish religion and practice has undergone a major and profound change in nature during his lifetime. Where observance of Jewish law was once organic and transmitted through family tradition as much as by text and rabbinic literature, it has now become disconnected from family practice and connected only to the written word, the author explains. He explores the contours, sources and implications of this shift as pertains to Jewish (especially Orthodox Jewish) culture, philosophy, spirituality, education and relationship to the surrounding world.
This essay is an attempt to understand the developments that have occurred within my lifetime in the community in which I live. The orthodoxy in which I, and other people my age, were raised scarcely exists anymore. This change is often described as “the swing to the Right.” In one sense, this is an accurate description. Many practices, especially the new rigor in religious observance now current among the younger modern orthodox community, did indeed originate in what is called “the Right.”
Yet, in another sense, the description seems a misnomer. A generation ago, two things primarily separated Modern Orthodoxy from, what was then called, “ultra-Orthodoxy” or “the Right.” First, the attitude to Western culture, that is, secular education; second, the relation to political nationalism, i.e. Zionism and the state of Israel. Little, however, has changed in these areas. Modern Orthodoxy still attends college, albeit with somewhat less enthusiasm than before, and is more strongly Zionist than ever. The “ultra-orthodox,” or what is now called the “haredi” camp is still opposed to higher secular education, though the form that the opposition now takes has local nuance.
In Israel, the opposition remains total; in America, the utility, even the necessity of a college degree is conceded by most, and various arrangements are made to enable many haredi youths to obtain it. However, the value of a secular education, of Western culture generally, is still denigrated. And the haredi camp remains strongly anti-Zionist, at the very least, emotionally distant and unidentified with the Zionist enterprise. The ideological differences over the posture towards modernity remain on the whole unabated, in theory certainly, in practice generally.
Yet so much has changed, and irrecognizably so. Most of the fundamental changes, however, have been across the board. What had been a stringency peculiar to the “Right” in 1960, a “Lakewood or Bnei Brak humra,” as—to take an example that we shall later discuss shiurim (minimal requisite quantities), had become, in the 1990’s, a widespread practice in modern orthodox circles, and among its younger members, an axiomatic one.
The phenomena were, indeed, most advanced among the haredim and were to be found there in a more intensive form. However, most of these developments swiftly manifested themselves among their co-religionists to their left. The time gap between developments in the haredi world and the emerging modern orthodox one was some fifteen years, at most. It seemed to me to that what had changed radically was the very texture of religious life and the entire religious atmosphere.
the full article is here http://www.lookstein.org/links/orthodoxy.htm
Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik teaches Jewish history and thought in the Bernard Revel Graduate School and Stern College for Woman at Yeshiva University