Tuesday, November 03, 2015

What is Open Orthodoxy?

They are the new Hasidim.

I keep hearing people say this about Open Orthodoxy, and while I admit the analogy has its appeal, I am not sure its accurate.

The comparison rests on the understanding that the original Hasidim came not to destroy or undermine traditional, rabbinic Judaism but to revitalize it. The original Hasidim saw themselves as marginalized outsiders, with their religious needs left unfulfilled by the establishment insiders. When someone says that the OO are like the Hasidim, they are likely thinking of how the first Hasidim made Judaism accessible and meaningful for unschooled peasants. In their eyes, OO is attempting something similar when it reshapes Orthodoxy so that it can offer more to 21st century women.

The crucial difference, however, is that the original Hasidim were unquestionably operating from within a rabbinic context, and their most radical ideas could be sourced - however speciously - to an unquestionable authority (the Ari) and an unquestionably authoritative book (the Zohar). Meanwhile OO, in its most threatening expressions, looks like nothing more than a Jewish flavor of feminism. While rabbis of the 18th century may have been slow/unwilling to attack the Ari, the rabbis of our day have no such compunctions about attacking Gloria Steinem.

I don't know how to pinpoint the difference between a reformer and a revitalizer. Every reformer - from Jan Huss to Abraham Geiger - thinks he's fixing something old, rather than creating something new. And the opponents of reform, always say "what we have is just fine, by fixing it you're actually breaking it." We don't know yet how OO will be viewed in the light of history. If they are remembered as reviterlizers they are indeed the new Hasidim; however, I think its far more likely they will be remembered as reformers. Time will tell.

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