What Has Changed in Thirty Years? – An Interactive Discussion
Jewish Action, the Orthodox Union’s quarterly, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with a number of articles marking the event. An Orthodox high-quality, glossy color publication was ahead of its time in 1985. It anticipated those that would follow, those that have become weekly fixtures in our homes. (In one regard, it continues to lead the pack. I am not aware of any other print publication in the Anglo Orthodox world that allows and encourages a diversity of viewpoints and opinions.)
One of the fascinating articles is a retrospective, collecting the events and trends of the last three decades that have changed Jewish life, both Orthodox and general, for the better or not. Any such list cannot attempt to be complete, and will reflect the interests and personalities of the compilers, especially since they decided to limit the number to 30, in marking the anniversary. They succeeded in capturing a good sense of the triumphs and challenges of the last decades, of showing us how much has changed while so much is the same.
Nonetheless, we can do what they couldn’t, which is to expand the list by opening up the discussion to our readership. Here, then, are the choices of the JA editorial staff (Disclosure: I was asked to provide the text for one of them). I will list them, without providing the fuller explanation that accompany them in the article. (At the time of this writing, the current issue is still not available online.)
- The shift to the GOP
- The Lieberman nomination
- Greater participation of Orthodox men and women in all levels of government
- The Teshuvah movement
- The fall of the Iron Curtain
- Peace treaty with Jordan
- Greater awareness of sexual abuse
- Three Jewish SCOTUS justices
- Growth of English-language seforim
- Depressing statistics on the state of non-Orthodox Judaism
- Black-Jewish relations deteriorate, then rebound
- Israel’s demographic growth
- The persistence of Hamas
- Proliferation of Torah study
- Decline of Conservative Judaism
- Israel as start-up nation
- Digital Torah revolution
- Explosion of Orthodox media
- Sprouting of new Orthodox communities
- Advances for Orthodox women
- Upsurge in North American aliyah
- Sensitivity to the special-needs population
- Evangelical support for Israel
- Addressing the at-risk phenomenon of Orthodox youth
- Day school tuition crisis
- Explosion of campus outreach and education
- The kollel revolution
- The shidduch crisis
What’s missing? A bit of this, and a bit of that. The good, the bad, and the stuff you hope doesn’t make it to the evening news. I will throw out the first ball with a few that I would add if we ignored the 30-item limit:
- The loss of the Torah titans of the last generation: Losing Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach not only left us bereft of a presence and gadlus that will not be replaced, but it changed the very way we do halacha, and we seek guidance.
- Malaise and skepticism: We’ve become aware of people who affiliate, but not with their hearts and souls. The Modern Orthodox community has had to reckon with the phenomenon of Social Orthodoxy, of those who follow family tradition, but don’t really believe in core values. In the haredi world, we speak of the lack of “connection,” of those who find their kesher with HKBH incomplete and unsatisfying, and privately see themselves as living on the margins. It is no longer youth who are at risk, but adults as well.
- Headline-grabbing scandals: The number of Orthodox Jews implicated in major wrongdoing rises, as does the prison population. Prisons now have kosher kitchens and Daf-Yomi shiurim
- Moving into glass houses: Fully arriving in America means that we no longer fly below the radar, as we did for centuries. Everything that we do, say, and think is open for inspection by our neighbors. Some of us still don’t get that this is not anti-Semitism, but a “privilege” accorded to every group that does things a bit differently.
- Easing into over-the-top materialism: Designer labels, upscale Pesach programs, upgrading vehicles, houses, décor, and wine lists. Our neighbors ask, “Is this what spirituality is supposed to look like?” We don’t always have an answer.
- The Internet: Gradually, the opponents of digital connection are begrudgingly realizing that they cannot prevail. (Last week Hamodia http://hamodia.com/, an arm of the Gerrer Chassidim, quietly went online with a strong and impressive web presence.) Transitioning from digitial immigrants to digital natives has created a host of challenges to the observant family, above and beyond its impact on everyone else out there.
- The shift in Orthodox demographics: The difference in birthrate between MO and haredi families means that the Modern Orthodox are now an increasingly smaller part of the Orthodox world.
- The nature of the Big Tent is in the process of changing: It is too early to tell if the schism between Open Orthodoxy and mainstream Orthodoxy will be complete and final. It does look like parts of the Orthodox far-left will go their own way, either pushed out of the Big Tent, or leaving on their own. At the same time, the parts of the Modern Orthodox world that have taken up the struggle for retention of traditional values are being treated to acceptance by the right-wing world that has not been seen for decades.
We turn the discussion over to our readers. As usual, the comments will be relatively heavily moderated.