A dozen years ago, a rabbi who was among the founders of Edah explained to me that Edah was meant to develop an ideology for Modern Orthodoxy. As he put it, the vision of Modern Orthodoxy cannot be, “I’m Modern Orthodox because I go to shul and I go to movies.”
A dozen years later, I am told that Edah, for better or for worse, no longer exists. In the meantime, Modern Orthodoxy, for many of its adherents as well as opponents, still lacks a formal ideology. And I agree with that rabbi – this movement needs an ideology.
Movies or Israel, Kashrut or Secular Education or Women’s Issues, no matter the topic, the choices which guide our lives must derive from a sound philosophy. Without such a driving engine, our religious practice, and even belief, are a function of our needs/wants rather than religious tradition and teachings, and that’s no way to run a movement.
But I think such an ideology is within reach, if we first define the term Modern Orthodox itself.
As I understand it (and some people might not even consider me Modern Orthodox in the first place, so take this with a grain of salt) "Modern Orthodoxy" describes an Orthodoxy which absorbs what we believe to be valuable in the Modern ideological world, if and only if those valuable ideas jive with our Orthodox tradition.
Or to borrow from R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s introduction to Horeb: Orthodoxy is שמעתתא and Modernity is אגדתא. Modernity provides insight into Orthodoxy, but only when it does not conflict with that Orthodoxy.
Given that definition, I would suggest that an ideology of Modern Orthodoxy should be composed of the basic primacy of Orthodoxy, as well as the ideas we have embraced from Modernity.
To illustrate, here are three modern isms which Modern Orthodoxy has embraced, having found their basis within Orthodoxy as well:
Universalism, in my usage, implies an embrace of the world as a whole, in the recognition that all human beings are created in the special image assigned to them by Gd (Tzelem Elokim).
This modern idea, rooted in Enlightenment-era philosophy, leads to the conclusion that all human beings constitute a family of some sort, and it also promotes the idea that all human beings may have some lesson to teach me.
This idea is manifest in Modern Orthodox ideas of:
equal opportunity for religious education and religious engagement;
engagement with society;
study of both Jewish and secular wisdom.
Self-Determination, here, refers to the right and responsibility of any individual or collective to determine their future path.
This modern idea, which has its roots in centuries-old political theory, teaches that if we wish to have a better lot we ought to take charge of creating that better lot for ourselves. Lack of control is the result of my own failure to create my own destiny.
This concept plays out in Modern Orthodox ideas of:
Rationalism, as defined by Vernon Bourke, is an approach in which “the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive.”
This idea is less modern than the previous two, but it has gained significant ground in the public mind in recent centuries. It demands of us that we detemine truth based upon observable reality.
This concept generates Modern Orthodox ideas of:
Serious study of Jewish tradition, from text;
Adherence to text over tradition;
Skepticism toward mysticism.
While all three of these ideas have clear antecedents in both תורה שבכתב and תורה שבעל פה (the Written and Spoken Torah), nonetheless, they are not consistent with every aspect of Torah.
Universalism runs afoul of the particularism which drives laws governing ribbit, avdut and more. It also conflicts with mystical ideas, embraced by Kuzari as well as Chassidut, of the special character of the Jewish neshamah.
Self-Determination conflicts with some applications of bitachon (trust in Gd) and the expectation that we will rely on Gd to assign us our destiny.
Rationalism, unchecked by loyalty to tradition and revelation, risks violating the basic principle that Modernity must conform with Orthodoxy.
So that's a start. Universalism, Self-Determination and Rationalism, within the context of a robust Orthodoxy, are but a few pieces of a Modern Orthodox ideology; can you identify more?