Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

22
A CHALLENGE TO ORTHODOXY EMANUEL RACKMAN

The problem facing Rabbi Rackman is already familiar to us. Rabbi Fasman and Professor Berkovits have already alluded to it. Rabbi Rackman clearly spells out the crisis of culture confronting American Orthodox Judaism. He further leaves no doubt that Orthodox can surmount that crisis and has the resources to turn a difficult moment into the occasion for renewal. The problem, as he sees it, is in the claim that Orthodoxy is rigid, particularly in intellectual matters. He argues, however, that the Tradition makes provision for a large measure of intellectual freedom. What is important in this argument is its method, which is wholly within the classical literature and accepted philosophies of Rabbinic Judaism.

Rabbi Rackman centers his argument upon the traits of the Tradition and what it stands for, even against the opinions of others who stand within, and claim to speak for, that same Tradition. True, he concedes, Orthodoxy is not going to find place for every opinion or every rite. But Orthodoxy makes place for divergence of opinion on virtually all central questions, and representing it as dogmatic is an error. It would be difficult to adduce more persuasive evidence of the power of contemporary Orthodox thought.

A group of Israeli Intellectuals, Orthodox in practice and commitment, addressed an inquiry to one of the world's most pious and learned of rabbis. In their work and thought they had embraced scientific theories which appeared to contradict passages of the Bible when literally interpreted. The age of the earth was one example. From another rabbi they had heard that Orthodoxy requires that one believe the earth to be only 5728 years old. Were they to be regarded as heretics because of their disagreement with this view?

The twenty-five-page reply prepared for them is not yet published. Its author (who prefers to be unnamed) sought the concurrence of three colleagues who had occasionally expressed progressive views. One declined to become involved because of advanced age and poor

-175-

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