Iâ€™ve been thinking a lot about the impending schism in Orthodox Judaism in America. Iâ€™ll be perfectly honest and tell you flat out Iâ€™m pro-schism: Whether the moguls of the Orthodox world like it or not, itâ€™s coming, and personally, Iâ€™d like to help bring it on. Where to start? Easy: the National Council of Young Israel.
I remember how outraged I was back when the NCYI banned women and converts from holding the presidency in its member synagogues (among other things). In retrospect, Iâ€™m disappointed at the lack of action taken in response. I definitely was not alone in my resentment toward the NCYI; this feature article from The Commentator, YUâ€™s student newspaper, exposes a great deal of the hostility felt back in 2007 soon after Young Israel made its notorious decision (as does this interestingâ€”and somewhat comicalâ€”blog post on Jewcy from January 2008).
Individuals and communities alike were ready to act; people were ready to rebel against the institution that could once define itself as modern Orthodoxyâ€™s future but now threatened to monopolize all streams of Orthodox Jewish thought around the country.
What happened to that?
I donâ€™t know. But I think itâ€™s time to bring it back.
Orthodox Judaism will not survive the way it has over the past generation. This much is clear. Considering the prevalence and success of Orthodox-affiliated (and otherwise/non-affiliated) independent minyanim that invite women to participate as leaders (a concept thatâ€”surprise!â€”contradicts the ideology behind the NCYIâ€™s decision to outright ban womenâ€™s prayer services), Iâ€™m beginning to wonder whether the vast portion of the American Jewish population raised by the Orthodox day school system will continue to join and support NCYI synagogues. These people, who have different spiritual interests than their predecessors and tend to think out of the box when they choose their preferred religious experiences, probably arenâ€™t looking for an ambiguous right-wing authority that disqualifies half the members of its religious group as eligible communal leaders. I know Iâ€™m not.
Itâ€™s a wonder to me how the NCYI can describe itself with a phrase like â€œa Young Israel synagogue represents the definition of Orthodoxy which we share in commonâ€ with a straight face.
Communities in America are changing, each struggling to define and live â€œmodern Orthodoxâ€ in its own unique way. Orthodox Judaism cannot and should not be limited by an institution that seeks to implement a single way of living an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle in America. Such an ideological monopoly in the Orthodox world is not productive, desired, or appropriate.
To say that all Young Israel synagogue members agree with the NCYIâ€™s implicit rejection of rabbis graduated from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and its restraining of womenâ€™s roles and converts would be horribly inaccurate (according to the Commentator article, which has great details on all of the NCYIâ€™s 2007 decisions). These actions of the NCYI seem to reflect a more political agenda. But the Orthodox community doesnâ€™t need a dictator. Speaking as a member of such a community, all we need is a comfortable place to observe our ritual and tradition; a place that we, together with friends and family, build ourselves to suit both our communal and our individual spiritual needs, with the guidance of a rabbi we feel comfortable with.Â The NCYIâ€™s sweeping right-leaning moves do nothing to help Orthodox communities tackle the religious and political challenges of the 21st century.
The time has come. Young Israel has got to go.