The Sea Change in American Orthodoxy

Tradition Online | August 13, 2023

Twenty-five years ago TRADITION featured a major symposium issue, edited by Hillel Goldberg (Summer 1998), asking thirty-five writers to respond to questions on Orthodoxy’s approach to other denominations, the internal relationships of various Orthodox sub-groups, and Orthodoxy’s greatest successes, failures, and threats. Concerns surrounding Jewish unity, still a perennial challenge in Israel, America, and throughout the world, were central to many of the essays, and remain (sadly) timely.

In terms of our biggest threat and our failures, many focused on different aspects of the broader world—be it materialism, secularism (Alfred Cohen), excessive individualism (Jacob J. Schacter), or the disintegration of the family (Berel Wein). Others insist we look inward at our own communities’ moral failures including how batei din function (Joel B. Wolowelsky), our attitude to gentiles (Marvin Schick), conformism (David Klinghoffer), and more. Other interesting responses range from bemoaning the dearth of Gedolim (Yitzchok Adlerstein) to lamenting the lack of Orthodox poets (Michael Wyschogrod). Several writers (David Berger, Avi Weiss, and Walter Wurzburger) advocated a more positive approach to Conservative and Reform Jews while Moshe D. Tendler advanced a harder line.

How does this symposium, a snapshot of the Orthodox world a quarter-century ago, match up to our standards and concerns in the present? What did our writers, both those still in the arena and those who have passed on, get more right or less so? What did they get wrong? What trends did they fail to predict?

Download the whole issue as a special Digital Book, including two supplementary essays

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