Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University, established an annual research conference known as the “Orthodox Forum” in 1989. Since that time, each year’s conference has been devoted to a different major issue confronting the Jewish community. Titles of past collections of papers include: Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law, Jewish Perspectives on the Experience of Suffering, Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law, Gender Relationships in Marriage and Out, and Religious Zionism Post Engagement: Future Directions. A topic is chosen by a steering committee; a number of heads of Yeshivot, community rabbis, Jewish and secular academics, Jewish educators, and Jewish professional communal workers from North America and Israel are commissioned to prepare comprehensive papers addressing various facets of the theme; and meetings are convened over the course of two days in March when the papers are presented and discussed. A wide-ranging group of individuals are invited to participate in the discussions generated by the papers, and the give-and-take that ensues has been both stimulating and deeply thought-provoking for all who have participated. Following author revisions that take into consideration many of the comments and recommendations offered at the meetings, the papers are published and the resulting volumes made available to the general public. To date, twenty-one volumes have appeared.
The nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first collections of papers in the Orthodox Forum series have now been issued, and like those preceding them, contain well-developed and important spiritual, Halachic, historical, educational, and sociological explorations of themes relevant to contemporary Jewry. Furthermore, the topic that each of these volumes focuses upon, reflect aspects of the broad range of issues that should be of interest to those actively involved in the Orthodox world. Thinking about various dimensions of how public and private Jewish communal organizations are to be financially supported in the years to come, reflecting upon how Orthodoxy can, and ought to, interact with Jews of other denominations as well as secular Jews, and directions that Modern Orthodoxy might take as ever younger individuals assume leadership roles in its organizations and institutions, are all crucial concerns for the viability of Modern Orthodoxy going forward. Personally, I first became aware of the concept and phenomenon of the “Odyssey Years” when I read three essays in The Next Generation of Modern Orthodoxy, written by Aharon Horwitz, Asher Lopatin, and Michelle Waldman Sarna, and together with additional research, this newly identified stage of human development has become an important part of my educational thinking, even playing a role in the paper that I have submitted for the upcoming Orthodox Forum conference on “From Fervor to Fanaticism.” The volume edited by Adam Mintz, The Relationship of Orthodox Jews with Other Religious Ideologies and Non-Believing Jews, represents a significant and fascinating evolution in religious culture and thought, particularly when contrasted with the second volume in the Orthodox Forum series, Jewish Tradition and the Non-Traditional Jew, edited by Jacob J. Schacter, originally appearing in 1992. And Toward a Renewed Ethic of Jewish Philanthropy, edited by Yossi Prager, presents a historical, theoretical, and immediate consideration of the dynamic of tzedaka and the Orthodox community.
While each of the papers published represents a valuable contribution to the discussion of the theme being addressed and is worthy of consideration in its own right, the multi-disciplinary approach to each of these topics that the conferences and volumes represent in their respective totalities, constitutes a true example of “Tora U’Madda” thinking. Yeshiva University prides itself on educating students to think of issues both religiously and secularly, academically and practically, simultaneously striving for excellence in as many areas of thought and life as possible. The Orthodox Forum series not only has and continues to make an outstanding contribution to the spirit of contemporary Modern Orthodoxy, but it also captures the essence of the ideal vision of Yeshiva University, and those who attend the conferences, write the papers, and read the books all very much appreciate how much these discussions and books continue to contribute to their thinking and activities.