“The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Invention of a Tradition”
Published in The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era, Ed. Jack Wertheimer
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
Another story : “The War on Vegetables”, The Forward, Leah Koenigh
On a related subject see Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy: 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.
If one wants to become a Noahide and a friend to the Jewish people at large, it would be advisable to learn about the historical development of Judaism’s oral law, and how it is the basis of how all denominations read our Bible; and learn about the wide range of theological and social beliefs that historically have existed within the Jewish community.
Hmmm…provocative ideas. On his blog, Alan Brill writes:
At a recent conference, a speaker noted as a forgone conclusion that Chabad was the only force shaping the last decade of American Jewry. Prof Adam Ferziger responded strongly and loaded with data that the Yeshivish world has had a great influence in shaping the current American reality. His latest work Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism, examines this claim and in addition offers several other essays where he investigates the changes in American Orthodoxy of the last two decades.
….In his prior work, Exclusion and Hierarchy (excerpt here.) , Ferziger shows how 19th century German Orthodoxy evolved two different approaches toward the non-Orthodox majority. In the initial approach, that became associated with Ultra-Orthodox, the non-Orthodox Jews were simply excluded from the purview of the minority community.
In the predominant approach, which emerged in the context of Neo-Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy created space for the nonobservant but spawned a hierarchical culture in which some were seen as keeping the tradition better than others, and as such more “authentic” Jews than others. Hence only the top of the hierarchy could have public religious roles.
In his latest work, Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism, Ferziger arrives at the binary conclusion that American Haredi movements such as community kollels have been socially outgoing, pragmatically protean, and concerned with outreach.
In contrast, Modern Orthodoxy – once the pioneering Orthodox movement that engages the spectrum of American – has gravitated toward an inward looking, boundary drawing religious style , and is focused more on raising its own education level.
In short, the former has recast itself as outward and outreach oriented, while the later has become more centripetal focused on its own narrow enclaves.
The first part of the book is a collection of Ferziger’s articles on a wide range of topics in American Orthodoxy: Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Grunwald , the Lookstein dynasty, and the SSSJ- Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.
The second part of the book is a theme and variations on the current approaches to sectarianism of American Orthodoxy. In 1965, Charles S. Liebman published a study dividing Orthodoxy into two groups, modern Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy. Liebman based this division on the sociological distinction between a “church” group that seeks to be open and broad, as opposed to a “sectarian” group that is only concerned for its own members. Ferziger traces a narrowing of the gap between the two Orthodox trends and ultimately a realignment of American Orthodox Judaism.
Ferziger shows that significant elements within Haredi Orthodoxy have abandoned certain strict and seemingly uncontested norms. He shows how Yeshivish Haredi Jews in the United States are outward looking, non-sectarian, college educated and acculturated in American life. Much of the discussion focuses on the emergence of outreach to nonobservant Jews as a central priority for Haredi Orthodoxy pushing even its core population to new attitudes.
In his focus on Centrism, Ferziger has a long essay, first published a few years ago, on Rabbi Hershel Schachter’s creation of a social boundary by labeling feminism as heresy. Centrism [the right-wing of Modern Orthodoxy] uses this heresy boundary to police its own sect by hunting down violators.
He also shows how Rabbi Schachter created an entire historical vision and criteria for authority based on his own newly minted ideas of mesorah….
On a related topic see Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy