Some healthy O-bashing, part I
Or: Friends don't let friends wreck their train.
There's a certain sort of sermon that's regularly given these days in Conservative synagogues, judging from my experience and that of a highly non-random sample of friends and acquaintances. The rabbi explains that despite the grave errors and benighted ways of Orthodoxy, he would never think of engaging in "Orthodox bashing."
Now, there's certainly a sort of Orthodox bashing which I don't want to engage in. I love Orthodoxy. Some of my best friends, etcetera. I think it's one of many authentic sorts of Judaism. (Not every sort of Judaism is authentic -- yes, I know the very word "authentic" is problematic, but I'm not going to go into that yet.) I don't want to be nasty about Orthodoxy and I certainly don't want to accuse its practitioners of anything but the healthiest and most Jewish of motives.
But I do think that bashing, done in a good-humored, respectful, and well-foundedly productive way, can be useful both to the bashee and the basher. For the sake of accuracy, perhaps, I should use another word rather than "bash," but then I wouldn't get as many people's attention. And people who have been reading this blog for a while know that bashing is not what gets done here. I could call it instead "criticism," but that's a boring word. What's a blog for if not for the judicious use of inflammatory prose?
So I think it's high time for some well-meant, well-reasoned, not unlearned Orthodox bashing. What I'm going to try to do here, over the next few days, should put you in mind of a response in Moment magazine a few years ago to the now-infamous Conservative Judaism is Wrong article by (I think it was) Avi Shafran. A Conservative rabbi wrote that Shafran's criticism was dead on, and should be accepted by the Conservative movement (at least partially) -- but, at the same time, Orthodox institutions should receive their share of healthy criticism.
I feel compelled to engage in this sort of criticism because I see Orthodoxy tearing itself apart. Its train is about to come off the tracks and explode in a fireball -- at least, ideologically speaking. And if this won't happen, something even worse could still come to pass: namely, that Orthodoxy could enjoy further sociological success (more yeshivot, more kollel students, more blat gemore learned every day, more Orthodox Jews) while continuing to be wrong in crucial, foundational ways.
Proof to come.
Update: I'm grateful to the link from On the Main Line. If I don't have a new bashpost up before Shabbos, please forgive me. I do mean to continue very soon. One response to the comments: if you refrain from criticizing group X on the basis of its defining characteristics, you make any interesting or far-reaching criticism pretty much impossible, no? That is, I don't think it makes much sense to say, "Fine, criticize Orthodoxy as much as you like. Just don't criticize those things about Orthodoxy which make it Orthodox." I take it that one of the points of criticism is to articulate a vision of group X which is at variance with group X's view of itself. No?