Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Symposium: Why People Become Orthodox VII

(continued from I, II, III, IV, V, VI)

Please note that this is the last submission that has been received. If anyone else would like to contribute, please send a submission to me within the next two weeks.

Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Klapper is Dean of The Center for Modern Torah Leadership, which develops Orthodox leaders who see the challenges of modernity as opportunities to expand and deepen Torah, and recognize all human beings as tzelem Elokim. He also serves on the Boston Beit Din and as Instructor of Rabbinics at Gann Academy, and was the Orthodox Adviser at the Harvard Hillel for ten years. Many of his shiurim and sourcesheets are available at

My experience is that adopting an Orthodox identity is often the next stage in a religious process that previously involved Conservative Judaism, and frequently involved several denominational stages of Jewish development. These people are not looking to surrender their autonomy to another human being who will "tell them what to do"; rather, autonomy is often a fundamental sticking point in their relationship with Jewish Law, and indeed commitments to certain forms of feminism, the moral equality of homosexuality with heterosexuality, or pluralism/relativism sometimes lead them back out of Orthodoxy within a few years.

Click here to read moreWhat, then, leads them to Orthodoxy? I suggest that what they are looking for is community – not for the sake of security or emotional comfort, although finding those are certainly strong factors in any decision to remain Orthodox, but rather because they want to practice Judaism in an environment that deeply values the seriousness with which they take Torah. They also feel that Orthodoxy is the community in which their children are most likely to grow up taking Torah seriously.

Orthodoxy – in all its diverse forms – regrettably, sometimes disappoints them in this regard. The cause of this disappointment may be a perceived inability to explain apparently contra-halakhic behaviors, or alternatively a perceived lack of concern about behavior and attitudes that seem to undermine values they see as core to Judaism, such as the innate worth of all human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. These perceptions may or may not be accurate.

But while Orthodoxy is not immune - no social group is - to the people of Sodom's instinctive scorn for the moral and spiritual critiques of Johnny-come-latelies, we do better when we learn to consistently see tokhachah as a spiritual opportunity.

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