Egalitarianism v. Orthodox Judaism

Two years ago AJHistory by Menachem Butler called our attention to a book: The Orthodox Forum #13: Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, edited by Marc D. Stern.

Addressing the topic in an article in the book, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a prominent Orthodox theologian, provides some preliminary and quite cautionary guidance.

Both the heading proper and some of the accompanying material convey the impression that we are confronted by a phenomenon, ideology and movement both, which somehow casts a pall over our world and its values; which is inimical to the traditional order and constitutes a potential threat to its stability and viability; which has a subversive and a corrosive impact upon the ideational content and institutional fabric of Orthodox Jewish life...

[Our] Response... may of course vary markedly, and may include condescendingly benign stonewalling, vehemently combative opposition, or empathetic openness on the road to reorientation and reappraisal.

I am not sure how to respond here. You need of course to see the entire discussion to judge nuances of the speakers and their ideas.

At this entry point I do see two possible avenues of discourse.

Assumption 1. RAL is sincere in his characterization of the challenge of egalitarianism to Orthodoxy. This really is how he sees the threat of "egalitarianism."
  • It is a catastrophic threat that, "Casts a pall over our world and its values."
  • It is "inimical to the traditional order" which I assume is a coded way to say that it negates the Halakhah. He must be speaking of "it" -- an orderly system of law or thought or society -- since he continues ruminating that egalitarianism poses a, "Potential threat to its stability and viability." I must admit that I shake my head wondering if anyone else really read these words before committing them to print.
  • Either repeating the previous or introducing new angles: Egalitarianism has a "subversive and a corrosive impact upon the ideational content and institutional fabric of Orthodox Jewish life."

The equation then is E = TI2. Egalitarianism will equal the end of three constants via the stated mechanisms as we summarize:

  1. Traditional order <-> stability + viability
  2. Ideational content of OJL <-> subversive + corrosive impact
  3. Institutional fabric of OJL <-> subversive + corrosive impact

Okay enough of this. Let's move on to...

Assumption 2. RAL is being sarcastic. This is how he cleverly overstates what his peers (e.g. Rabbi Hershel Schachter) say are the threats of egalitarianism to the essences of Orthodox Judaism.

Let's recall that RAL has a pronounced and distinctive monotonic delivery (which I became acutely attuned to during my two years as his student). It would be "well-nigh impossible" to detect his inflection from the tone of his speech, let alone from his printed words.

Of course, I could argue that the whole debate is fraudulent. Nobody credible or even delusional has ever proposed that Judaism should equal Egalitarianism. By the way nobody credible or even delusional has ever proposed that Religion should equal Democracy. More on this later this month.

Why then are these fine folk all getting their knickers in a twist over this?

I'm just a down-home-country-blogger who has always understood that when you use the E-word you mean that you believe qualified and sincere women ought to be allowed to study Talmud in the Yeshiva next to men students, to sit in the synagogue with the menfolk, to lead the prayers and be honored to be called to the Torah during the services. [See my previous post regarding my discussion of the last issue with Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rav Lichtenstein's father-in-law.]

I cannot imagine, no matter how many calories I expend trying, how any of that would result in a catastrophe for Orthodox Judaism.

[reprint from 12/18/05]


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Egalitarianism doesn't equal mixed seating. There's the DC Minyan, after all, and i'm sure it'd be possible to have an egalitarian minyan with a mehhitza, even, as long as it was equal on both sides, with a neutral space for the bima/�amud or whatever.

Anonymous said...

RAL often opens his discussion of an issue by musing about the implications/overtones of the title given to a lecture, essay, or volume (usually by someone other than himself). In the excerpt you quoted, (...both the heading and some of the accompanying material convey the impression...) he doesn't tip his hand one way or the other.

As for what could possibly be catastrophic to OJ, I'm just an observer, but the assertion by some feminists that the very warp and woof of Halakhah is flawed by its essentially male point of view...I'd say that could be somewhat damaging.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Steg, interesting idea but not logical.

Aryeh, you are confusing feminism with egalitarianism.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Here is an interesting selection of quotes obtained by googling "egalitarian age":

In this egalitarian age, who says that only girls should know how to bake a challah?

The challenge of our egalitarian age is to shape a worthy initiation rite for
our newborn daughters.

In our egalitarian age, the idea of a ruling elite based on privileged childhood
ties seems archaic and oppressive.

In a bureaucratic age, we should celebrate individual achievement; in an egalitarian
age, praise genius.

We live in a rude age because we live in an
egalitarian age. Courtesy is inherently anti-egalitarian.

Everywhere one turns, there is the pretense of a new egalitarian age, where the lessons from all of human history have been repealed.

Reb Yudel said...

The paradox -- and it could well be that RAL is sarcasticly nailing it -- is that an Anti-egalitarian Judaism, ala R' Schachter, is as much a departure from Pre-egalitarian Judaism as is Egalitarian Judaism.

Anonymous said...

"You believe qualified and sincere women ought ... to sit in the synagogue with the menfolk"

And the unqualified and insincere women must sit by themselves?