by Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld in the Queens Jewish Link
Last week, the local Jewish media carried the story of a very prominent Upper East Side (Manhattan) Orthodox synagogue and its falling out with its leading candidate to succeed the current rabbi, who is 92 years old.
The candidate, hailing from Lubavitch circles in London, was very impressive to the synagogue’s membership in both character and scholarship. At some point, he addressed the membership for about an hour and had them regaled.
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However, a particular member publicly called out this rabbi for being radically anti-LGBTQ and for using a harsh name reserved for Jewish supporters of Arab terrorists. One thing led to another, and the candidate announced that he wished to be dropped from consideration as their rabbi and will head back to his community in England where he is more welcomed.
This story is incredible. Imagine a rabbi being scorched because he is vehement about one of the main prohibitions in the Torah. Or because he was too expressive about Jews who betrayed their people by siding with the enemy.
Yes, I will agree that words always must be chosen carefully, especially a rabbi’s words. But was there no room to discuss the issue over these essential matters? Especially with a candidate who was agreeably very capable and learned.
Here is another case of a Modern Orthodox community choosing Liberal/Woke values over Torah norms. Yes, this is quite a left-leaning shul, but it is not that much different from what takes place at many other shuls: the creep of today’s social values into the mainstream.
This situation is urgent. It is becoming apparent that the message of Modern Orthodoxy is increasingly sidelined by other values.
This goes a long way in explaining why there hasn’t been a popular Modern Orthodox convention in years. Think of your favorite Modern Orthodox or Religious Zionist organization. Can you name the last time they held a convention? Or any organizational gathering of more than a hundred people? Have you read any reports on their program?
Yet the Agudah holds an annual convention that attracts over a thousand people plus a live electronic audience. Tapes and reports of the convention highlights can be heard for weeks to follow.
Perhaps the Modern Orthodox movement cannot find the means to reach and inspire its adherents. Perhaps, a message is missing.
So here are some suggestions for convention topics just might pique the interest of the Modern Orthodox constituency:
Does Modern Orthodoxy have a hashkafah – a set of core values?
How can we be one homogeneous organization yet represent a “big tent”?
Do we still believe in the Religious Zionism of Rav Kook zt”l?
How do we balance the allures of secular society with belief in Torah values?
How can we reach not just the minds but the hearts of our children in our yeshivos?
Do we still believe in Torah U’Mada as a Torah principle?
How can we instill a respect for t’filah in our youth?
How can we motivate the young generation to be involved in community events?
How can we increase Torah study among today’s young marrieds?
Should Modern Orthodox organizations take a public stand on the social/political/religious issues of the day?
I believe these and other meaningful topics are not only real food for thought but will make for a much more attractive program than the milquetoast ones being offered to date.
Try it. Absolutely nothing to lose.
Originally published in the Queens Jewish Link