Monday, May 16, 2011

What is an Orthodox Shul?

I was recently invited by Rabbi Marc Shneier of The Hampton's Synagogue to view their 2011 Summer Calendar. (First, an aside. I recently heard that in order for your institution to have "gravitas", it must be "the" something. The Hampton's Synagogue. The Jewish Center. The National Synagogue. Maybe I should change the name of this blog to The Torah Blog - which I just claimed on Blogger. Or something like that. Sadly, I bet it would increase readership. Sadly, you have to be really presumptuous to make yourself "the" anything. But that's the way things are nowadays. End rant.)
Leafing through the booklet, an impressive, thirty-two page rundown of dignitaries, educators, politicians, diplomats, authors and performers, I found myself wondering: is this Orthodox?
Let me be clear: in no way am I questioning the halachic validity of the mechitzah, the rabbis, the davening, or anything ritualistic about the shul. I'm wondering about the programming.
Let's leave aside the interfaith dialogue during which clegry of other religions visit and speak.
What about the lecture given by Cokie and Steve Roberts about their book, "Our Hagaddah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families"? Is it really appropriate for an Orthodox shul to invite speakers that overtly encourage intermarriage, and finding rituals that speak to those families? (That question was rhetorical. I say no.)
What about the August 22nd showing of the "Naomi" - which is synopsized as "Ilan Ben Natan, a 58-year-old Astrophysics Professor, is obsessively in love with his young wife, Naomi. When Ilan discovers that his deepest fears have come true – Naomi has a lover – he is unable to control himself. He confronts the lover and commits a horrible act, the consequences of which will weigh heavily on his conscience." Is that really normal "shul" fare? What religious value comes from showing an Israeli film about adultery?
What about the September 3rd concert featuring The National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene presents “Rising Stars of the Yiddish Stage”. I'm pretty sure that kol isha is still on the books. Is it appropriate for a shul to publicly ignore an explicit halachah.
You could argue, "Well, you're not a member there, an no one's asked you to join." True - but I was, for some reason, emailed the brochure. Are they a member of the OU? They certainly appear on the OU website, but I can't say for certain whether they're officially a member.
So why even ask the question?
I ask because the Hampton Synagogue proudly calls itself "Modern Orthodox". I also call myself "Modern Orthodox". If we're going to call ourselves the same thing, it stands to wonder whether we actually represent the same ideals.
I ask because other shuls (and their members) see a "Modern Orthodox" shul running certain types of programs and wonder: "Hey rabbi, why can't we do that too?"
Without a doubt, the HS promotes the study of Torah. It caters to a clientelle that demands a certain standard of programming. Many of the programs offered in the brochure are excellent and exciting. But I cannot understand why a shul that calls itself Orthodox feels the need to run programs that simply counter the values and rules of Jewish law. How is that Orthodox? Why is it necessary? Do we really need to go back to the days of the Pre-Selichot Dinner-Dance"? Could they not have found other films or groups or programs that promote traditional Jewish values and adhere to halachah? Of course they could - just look at the rest of the program.
Finally, what does this brochure - and it's programs - say about Modern Orthodoxy, and how other Jews relate to it?