Thursday, February 11, 2010

Towards a Definition of Post-Orthodoxy

I'd like to take another stab at moving towards a definition of the term Post-Orthodox. Previous attempts led to little discussion because of the people busy being offended. Let's see if we can do better this time.

Dr. Alan Brill has a few new posts on this subject: I, II, III. I'd like to go in a different direction, based on ideas raised (by me and others) in e-mail exchanges, and then circle back to Dr. Brill's latest post.

Click here to read moreUsually, when you use the prefix "post", you refer to something beyond the term's subject, something that assumes the subject is either wrong or right and wishes to move on. In that sense, Post-Orthodox refers to Jews who have concluded that Orthodox Judaism is wrong. I don't think that accurately defines the phenomenon we are witnessing. Many within the group we are calling Post-Orthodox believe and behave unquestionably within the boundaries of what is conventionally considered acceptable in the Orthodox community.

Rather than abandoning Orthodox belief and practice, they reject the focuses of the Orthodox establishment. They assume that the Orthodox community has misplaced values and they seek to move beyond this. They are Post-Orthodox in terms of emphasis. The Orthodox community, they believe, is overly stale, authoritarian, unspiritual and entrenched. It focuses too much on sustaining its institutions and defining boundaries. The Post-Orthodox reject all that. They emphasize social justice, equality, and spiritual and intellectual honesty. This leads to personal experimentation in theology and practice, sometimes going beyond the bounds of acceptability within the Orthodox community. But that is a symptom of Post-Orthodoxy, not a cause.

In Dr. Brill's latest post (link), he argues that what members of the so-called Generation-Y are doing is not Post-Orthodox but Do-It-Yourself Judaism. I suggest that these terms are essentially synonymous. Someone who comes from the Orthodox community and adopts the attitudes of Do-It-Yourself Judaism is precisely Post-Orthodox.

Post-Orthodoxy is not a set of beliefs or practices but an attitude towards religion. It is a trend, a feeling. Some take that feeling too far, as defined by the Orthodox community. But breaking such boundaries is by no means inherent to the term.

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