The Rela­tion­ship of Ortho­dox Jews with Oth­er Reli­gious Ide­olo­gies and Non-Believ­ing Jews

Adam Mintz, ed.; Robert Hirt, series ed.
  • Review
By – June 12, 2013

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.

Addi­tion­al Titles Fea­tured in Review

Yaakov (Jack) Biel­er was the found­ing Rab­bi of the Kemp Mill Syn­a­gogue in Sil­ver Spring, MD until his retire­ment in 2015. He has been asso­ci­at­ed with Jew­ish day school edu­ca­tion for over thir­ty years. R. Biel­er served as a men­tor for the Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty Look­stein Cen­ter Prin­ci­pals’ Sem­i­nar and he has pub­lished and lec­tured exten­sive­ly on the phi­los­o­phy of Mod­ern Ortho­dox education.

Discussion Questions