A Heretic in the Church – I

So I noticed a news item in the latest Forward reporting that the important-sounding Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, whose job it is, apparently, to plan policy for all the Jews, has relented to the “intense pressure from Jewish communal leaders” to include more women on its board, after the Institute excluded women entirely from a brainstorming meeting of leaders of major Jewish organizations.

Institute leaders said the addition of the female board members is “meant to signal a dedication to eliminating gender imbalance within its ranks.” Notice that the move was but a “signal” of “dedication to eliminate” gender imbalance. Read: this was a desperate attempt to get enraged feminists off their backs for the time being and hopefully buy the ole boys’ network a few more years of cigar-smoking and off-color jokes in relative (and now less so) comfort in the organizational lockerroom.

All of this goes to show, for those who didn’t yet know, that the secular Jewish bigwigs are every bit as misogynistic as the Orthos supposedly are. The only difference between the two being that getting the former to buckle is as easy as having 55 influential leaders — read: zillionaires –send letters, whereas those stubborn Orthos, acting on their silly principles, just never give in (which infuriates the others, which is why whenever there’s a perceived crack in the wall of principle, the secular Jewish media trumpets it to the heavens, even if they have to contrive the crack, as in the case of the “breakthrough” woman “Orthodox rabbi” at “halachic” Cong. Orach Noam Eliezer.)

As for what the agitators are really demanding, the article quotes Shifra B., an organizational consultant who “led the charge” to add female members, as calling the additions “tremendous progress,” but added that “women become completely integrated into a group once they comprise a full third of its makeup.” The reporter goes on to soberly note that, with the new distaff staff, four of the sixteen board members are women, “short of the one-third threshhold” that the oracle had deigned Ms. B. had described. So, if you happen to see a news item describing a woman in thirds (and a similarly fractional man nearby), with no perpetrator in sight and the cops confounded, at least you’ll know who dunnit: the feminists!

But I digress. This report got me musing. Imagine, I thought, if the Jewish People (biiiiig “P”) Policy Planner people (little “p”) were actually able to find within themselves the bigness, the maturity, to do something not just uncomfortable, like including more women, but something really daring: inviting strongly Orthodox individuals, even — gasp! — fervently Orthodox ones, to join in the deliberations over their shared nation’s future.

I say “strongly Orthodox,” because the secular Jewish organizations always find room at the table for the favored kind of Orthodox, the lefties close or on the fringe (or over . . . ) who don’t ruffle feathers and whose views, to the contrary, give the others strength because they show one can be Orthodox and still pluralistic, anti-intensive Torah learning, etc., etc. The gentiles, once upon a time, had their kept Jews and the Jews now have their own, to adorn their letterheads and trot out at their conclaves.

The unfavored or “strong” Ortho, by contrast, need not be of the fervent variety. He or she might even have all the duly sanctioned views on a whole host of issues such as attitudes toward secular learning and culture, Zionism, etc., but has, nonetheless, one fatal flaw: a strong, proudly affirmed and coherently stated belief in the fundamentals of authentic Jewish belief. The natural and logically dictated by-product of this is a concomitant rejection of pluralism and the heterodox movements, and it is this that is the ultimate unpardonable sin for which one must necessarily be quarantined.

Pluralism of the “multiple truths” sort (as distinct from the “tolerate the deluded” or “live and let live” sorts), is in essence, after all, such an incoherent notion that all it takes for an intellectually honest person to reject it is to merely hold a belief — any belief — firmly. This is why it is as disingenuous for a doctrinaire Reform individual to claim he is pluralistic as it is unthinkable for a doctrinaire Orthodox one to do so.

Interestingly, that which the heterodox and secular establishments struggle with, and generally fail at, nowadays — taking their self-stated allegiance to pluralism to its logical conclusion by granting the Orthodox every right to reject pluralism, rather than ostracizing them for it — is a problem with a pedigree. Histories of the Enlightenment speak of how its early thinkers grappled with precisely this issue vis a vis the Jews, i.e., how to reconcile their newly-embraced pluralistic commitment to an enlightened concept of intellectual freedom with their refusal to grant the Jews and their rejectionist biblical religious views legitimacy. It was a quandary those thinkers don’t appear to have satisfactorily resolved, and it has been reincarnated in recent times in, ironically, an intra-Jewish context.

Yes, yes, I know, the Orthodox ought not expect a pluralistic embrace from, say, the UJC, when they don’t contribute their fair share and instead direct their money towards their own insular needs. And, do the Orthodox even want full inclusion on multidenominational boards, panels, etc.? There’s much to debate about these matters, including the accuracy of the factual premises of some of these justifications of non-Orthodox exclusionary attitudes.

When we’re done debating, however, an honest appraisal of why the Orthodox remain what I’ve elsewhere termed the “Jews who aren’t there” — and progressively moreso as the spectrum shifts rightward — must include, at least as a partial explanation, the fact that much of the commitment to pluralism remains mere lip service. Indeed, as can be documented, every single Jewish grouping — even Sherwin Wine’s Humanists — has its dogmatic lines that cannot be crossed without casting one out of the fold, and so, as I noted above, ought it be, if they hold any beliefs at all. All I ask for is a bit more honesty when applying that standard to the attitudes of the Orthodox and of others towards them.

Unconditional validation of even those benighted souls who forthrightly reject one’s most deeply-held beliefs, including the very ideal of pluralism, is the true litmus test of the committed pluralist, and one that Jewish pluralists consistently flunk.

My posts have tended to run long, so I’ll end here and suspensefully leave some further thoughts for a second, exciting episode . . .

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7 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    This is a plot to implicate women in the poor policy-making that will follow.

  2. Larry Lennhoff says:

    What ferverently Orthodox man would consent to be a part of such discussions if
    a) women were present
    b) non-Orthodox Rabbis were present
    c) religious topics were discussed?

    The MO at least can handle the first two restrictions, but the third is a stumbling block even for them, at least so long as they continue to hold by the Rav’s rulings. And what kind of strategic policy planning for Jews could conceivably neglect religious issues?

    If you take pluralism to require that a secular Jewish organization ban women and non-Orthodox rabbis from their meetings so as to make Orthodox inclusion possible I have to say you are implementing a different defintion of that word from how it is normally used.

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    As you said, “everything goes, everybody’s right” pluralism makes no sense. The pluralism for most Heterodox Jews does not Jews for Jesus or Jews for Allah (http://www.jews-for-allah.org). It also does not include Orthodox Jews.

    At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, I think that the common factor is that all those groups have strong beliefs about what Heterodox Jews should do differently. For most Heterodox Jews, pluralism stops at that border, people who tells us we should act differently than we do.

    Maybe the term “pluralism” is inappropriate, and Heterodoxy should adopt a different term. But putting the border of acceptable at that point does make sense.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    Perhaps, if the O followed the example of R Herman Neuberger ZTL and participated in the UJV without conceding to the validity of non Torah perspectives, the above column would be unnecessary.

  5. irving says:

    Orthodox are not there because they don’t evince the skills necessary to work within the parameters of collectivity.

  6. Toby Katz says:

    The paucity of women at these meetings is easily explained by the limited plasticity of human nature.

    Women — by their own choice — seldom go for the kind of high-powered, aggressive and super-competitive careers that produce the major big bucks.

    Without that $$$ you can’t be a major player in the non-O Jewish world today.

    I don’t think there are too many Reform and Conservative rabbis among the “leaders of major Jewish organizations.” The presidents of all the major non-O organizations are surely wealthy businessmen, no?

    There are plenty of R and C lady rabbis because that’s a sweet, soft, non-competitive kind of job. But who has the real power in these organizations? Not the rabbis.


    and BTW

    Don’t ask these guys to include more of the “strongly Orthodox.” Most strongly Orthodox Jews totally reject pluralism and do not WANT to be included in these non-Torah and anti-Torah conclaves.

  7. Ahron says:

    I am still trying to absorb the awesome hubris of a self-appointed “Jewish People Policy Planning Institute”. Hmmmm….. their chairman is former US Amb. Dennis Ross. Their latest meeting featured Henry Kissinger. Well really, who wouldn’t want State Department bureaucrats with a record of failed and harmful Israel policies to now grab hold of all “policy” for Am Yisrael ? Surely they only have our best interests at heart….right?

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