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Min HaMuvhar

Re-imagining Orthodoxy

Orthodox Judaism in the ideal is very different from Orthodox Judaism as it is today.

In the ideal, Orthodoxy is a beautiful way of life that inspires an abiding spirituality and an ethical lifestyle. It links us to thousands of years of Jewish texts and traditions, to time-honored mitzvoth and customs. At the same time, it allows us—and encourages us—to develop ourselves as thinking, feeling and creative human beings. At its best, Orthodoxy provides a worldview that is intellectually vibrant, compassionate, and inclusive. Torah and mitzvoth provide us with a framework for developing ourselves as full and vibrant human beings, drawing on the wide range of our talents and propensities.

Conversion to Judaism: Halakha, Hashkafa, and Historic Challenge

The Jewish community underwent cataclysmic changes during the course of the nineteenth century. While most of world Jewry was religiously observant in 1800, a large majority were no longer devoted to halakhic tradition by 1900. Nineteenth-century Orthodox rabbinic leadership had to cope with the rise of Reform Judaism, the spread of Haskala, the breakdown of communal authority over its members, the defection of Jews from Torah and mitzvoth-and from Judaism altogether.

Emma Lazarus, Maud Nathan, and Alice Menken: Notable American Jewish Women

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel

(This article is excerpted from Marc D. Angel, Remnant of Israel: A Portrait of America’s First Jewish Congregation—Shearith Israel, Riverside Books, New York, 2004.)

The 1880s ushered in a period of mass immigration, with many hundreds of thousands of Jews among those seeking a new life in America. Some immigrants were fleeing oppression, and some were simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families. The image of America as a promised land with streets paved of gold attracted the poor and downtrodden of Europe. Between 1880 and 1900, the United States population surged 50 percent, from 50 million to 75 million.

A Menorah of Spears?

With their military victory over the Hellenistic Syrians, the Maccabees entered the Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the worship of God. According to Jewish tradition, they found one jar of pure oil with enough to last for one day. They lit the Menorah and the oil miraculously burnt for eight days, enough time to produce a new batch of pure oil.

When we tell this story year after year, we tend to imagine that the Maccabees found the beautiful gold Menorah of the Temple in its place, and they simply added the pure oil to it.

Eyes Open and Eyes Shut

Paul Gaugin, the famous 19th century French artist, commented: “When I want to see clearly, I shut my eyes.”

He was referring to two different ways of perceiving reality. With our eyes open, we see surface reality—size, shape, color etc. But with our eyes shut, we contemplate the context of things, our relationship to them, the hidden meanings.
With our eyes open, a dozen roses are 12 beautiful flowers. With our eyes shut, they may be full of memories and associations—roses given or received on our first date; roses at our wedding; roses growing in our childhood home's back yard; roses on our grandmother’s Shabbat table.

Poisoning the Soul of Judaism

I first visited Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Haim David Halevy, of blessed memory, in the summer of 1984. I was then a 15-year veteran of the American Orthodox rabbinate serving a large congregation in New York City.

At our meeting, we discussed the increasing authoritarianism and extremism that were spreading relentlessly within the Orthodox world. With sadness in his eyes, he asked me: “Have you heard of the mafia? We have a rabbinic mafia here in Israel!” A small clique was arrogating power to itself and marginalizing those who held opinions that differed with them. Instead of viewing halakha in its remarkable diversity, this clique was advocating a halakha that seemed to have only one answer to every question, one view on every issue.

Israel: A Tiny Nation, A Great Destiny

(As we rejoice at the wonderful successes of the State of Israel, our joy is dampened by the ongoing terrorism, perfidious slanders and threats lodged against Israel and the Jewish People from so many quarters. It is vital that we stay focused on the remarkable renaissance of the Jews as manifested in the re-establishment of a sovereign Jewish State after so many centuries of exile. We thank the Almighty for having granted us the privilege of living at this special time in Jewish history. We pray for the day when anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred and violence will come to an end, when all people can live happily, safely and righteously.)

This article by Rabbi Marc D. Angel is reprinted from "A Dream of Zion,"

Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Uziel: Two Posekim, Two Approaches

When addressing a halakhic question, each posek (halakhic decisor) attempts to arrive at a decision that is objectively true. The posek will study and analyze the available halakhic literature, with the goal of understanding the halakha as clearly and accurately as possible.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik: Judaism and Modernity

The modern era in the Western world has witnessed numerous assaults on the patterns of traditional religious life. Science has changed the way people think; technology has changed the way they live. Autonomous, human-centered theology has come to replace heteronomous, God-centered theology. Rationalism and positivism have constricted metaphysics. Respect for authority and hierarchies has been replaced by an emphasis on individuality and egalitarianism. The challenges of modernity are symbolized by such names as Darwin, Schleiermacher, Freud, Einstein, Ayn Rand.

Modern Orthodoxy and Halakha: An Inquiry

In his book, The Perspective of Civilization, Fernand Braudel utilizes a concept that he calls “world-time.” Braudel notes that at any given point in history, all societies are not at the same level of advancement. The leading countries exist in world-time; that is, their level of advancement is correlated to the actual date in history. However, there also are countries and civilizations which are far behind world-time, whose way of life may be centuries or even millennia behind the advanced societies. In this year of 5745, for example, the advanced technological countries exist in world-time while underdeveloped countries lag generations behind; some societies are still living as their ancestors did centuries ago.

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