Fall 2011: Responses
For the questions, click here.
It is with much hope that we present to the public this introductory issue of Klal Perspectives.
It is an undeniable fact that increasing numbers from across the spectrum of Orthodoxy feel no meaningful connection to Hashem, to His Torah, or even to His People. We know many of the factors that contribute to our growing attrition rate but, without knowing more precisely the extent to which they do so, it is difficult to devise a coherent communal response. Perhaps the first order of business ought to be some solid empirical research.
Timeless values and goals may dictate particular communal strategies, but such strategies must nevertheless be reevaluated periodically, as changing circumstances tend to cause even successful strategies of one era to become counter-productive in the next. Moreover, even the most wholly compelling and successful strategies often impart unintended, negative consequences. Reevaluation is therefore always necessary to identify how byproducts of earlier strategies may be expressing themselves in subsequent periods.
Our community is lacking direction because we have abandoned the most important gift Hashem gave us – the power of individual creative thinking. We have no creative solutions because we have deep-sixed creativity, stifled initiative, suppressed thinking out of the box. We have eviscerated our classic survival tools in favor of uniformity and discipline. We have stifled debate and the exchange of ideas through which solutions could come.
The greatest threat to American Orthodoxy today is the loss of souls in the midst of great communal growth. Our highest priority must be to provide every member of our community, children and adults alike, with the means to attain the simchas hachaim that reflects true, inner strength. An important step in the search for communal solutions would be to create a think tank, both to generate hypotheses and to test various approaches.
A Jew whose life is defined by Torah should without a doubt be a model of goodness, responsibility, integrity and sensitivity – a great human being who is an ideal spouse, parent and child. Yet it seems to me – admittedly without empirical data to support this contention – that while we may be ahead of the larger society on these fronts, we are not as ahead as we used to be. What can we do to produce greater people and stronger families?
The challenges facing American Orthodoxy are to some extent an outgrowth of tensions between different Torah values. Three of the primary challenges relate to (1) relations between husbands and wives in their respective roles; (2) the burden of parnassah facing an ever increasing percentage of families within the community; and (3) the problem of drop-outs from the community, as well as those who remain within but in an extremely disaffected state.
On the one hand, every aspect of Jewish living has been rendered progressively easier, more comfortable and requiring of less sacrifice. Yet, at the same time, living a richly spiritual and meaningful Jewish life that is inspired by an authentic sense of yiras shamayim and ahavas Hashem is growing increasingly more difficult and challenging.
This essay addresses some of the universal issues related to increasing affluence within our communities, as well as issues associated with the broader community. These include maintaining honesty, sustaining Jewish education, the effects of cell phones and new technologies on our children and families, the effects of the internet on rabbinic leadership and continuing shtiebelization, as well as the problems of excessive drinking and the weakening of tznius.
The Orthodox Jewish community must work to reestablish city-wide kehillos which will centralize all aspects of Jewish life around Torah law on a stronger and broader basis.
Despite all the success that we enjoy, we are today a splintered group with no clarity of direction and without a strong sense of a tzibbur following gedolim. Our rapidly increasing population has led to a new set of challenges that did not exist when our numbers were smaller, and addressing them will require organizational structures that must be developed.
At one time, every community had an Av Beis Din or Shtot Rav, “the” rabbi responsible for upholding justice in the community, who was empowered by the community to do so. Creating such positions in today’s communities may seem impossible, but it is the only solution to a host of social problems, and it is time to begin consciousness-raising to lay the groundwork for its eventual success.