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July 13, 1990 - Image 34

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-07-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Spring Glen, N.Y. (JTA) —
Orthodoxy, the oldest bran-
ch of Judaism, has enjoyed
increasing membership,
burgeoning congregations
and a renewed vitality in re-
cent years.
But with young converts
and previously non-
practicing Jews returning to
traditional Judaism, the
modern Orthodox movement
in particular has been forced
to re-examine its philosophy,
goals and ways of dealing
with halachic questions in
the 1990s.
These were some of the
issues rabbis were discuss-
ing at the annual convention
of the Rabbinical Council of
America, held recently at
the Homowack Hotel here in
the Catskill mountains. The
RCA is the largest Orthodox
rabbinic group in the world
and represents mainly
modern or centrist Orthodox
leaders.
"The Orthodox movement
has to reject every form of
triumphalism, as Orthodoxy
is on the rise today," said
Rabbi Norman Lamm, pres-
ident of Yeshiva University,
in a keynote address.
At the same time, Lamm
warned that Orthodoxy has
suffered a loss of prestige be-
cause of "Orthodox-bashing
by its detractors. The way of
moderation is open to attack
of extremists. We must not
be intimidated, nor must we
compromise on principle or
policy," he said.
With their synagogues
packed with ba'alei
teshuvah, or returnees to
tradition, rabbis at the con-
vention and in their various
synagogues are struggling
with the problem of
implementing halachic law
in the 1990s while maintain-
ing the moderate, secular
approach of modern Or-
thodoxy.
"There' can be two ap-
proaches to Halachah,"
remarked Ezra Rosenfeld,
director of Zomet Israel, in a
presentation on technology
and science. Zomet Israel is
an Israeli-based organiza-
tion that applies science and
technology to Halachah.
"One: Halachah was
meant for humans in a real
world; or two: halachah
cannot deal with modern
realities," Rosenfeld said.
"Where should the line be
drawn? Who should draw
it?"
Rosenfeld displayed a col-
lection of Zomet's "Shabbat

contraptions" — the
Shabbat telephone, a
samovar for drawing hot
water, a Shabbat oph-
thalmoscope, a gas timer for
the stove, to name a few —
that make Jewish obser-
vance easier in a modern
world.
But gadgets or no gadgets,
rabbis are still struggling
with halachic conundrums.
What does a handicapped
person dependent on an elec-
tric wheelchair do to get to
synagogue on Shabbat? Can
a woman carry her child to
shul without an eruv?
Should a woman who is the
elected chairman of the syn-
agogue board be allowed to
address the congregation
from the bimah?
These are questions that
the ba'alei teshuvah are ask-
ing and the answers they are
finding are, more often than
not, by the book.
"We're opting for absolute
truths," said Rabbi David
Staysky of Temple Beth
Jacob in Columbus, Ohio.
"Halachah has to be as true
for everyone in the 1990s as
it was in the days of the
Ba'al Shem Tov (1698-1760).
It can't be flexible and sub-
ject to the winds of change.
"We can be liberal," he
said. "But if liberalism
comes in loggerheads with
Torah, and Torah is emet
(truth) then liberalism must
bend to Torah, and not
Torah to liberalism. If you
make too many dents in the
framework, then the whole
structure would come tumbl-
ing down."
It is this reliance on the
basic framework of halachic
tradition, the rabbis say,
that has led to the success of
the modern Orthodox
movement in America.
"Orthodoxy is successful
because it has engaged
modernity and retained an
inner strength by not com-
promising its principles,"
said Rabbi Jeffrey
Bienenfeld of Young Israel
of St. Louis. "01 thodoxy has
presented a very intellec-
tually and religiously honest
approach. We know who we
are."
Rabbi Barry Freundel of
Kesher Israel in Washington
agreed. "We offer a complete
package, an entire ideology
and an entire way of life.
We're offering authentici-
ty," he said.
The recent growth of
modern Orthodoxy is a pro-
duct of our time and our ge-
neration, Staysky says. It

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