Nov 28, 2016
Asserting that its vision “remains vital, relevant, and effective for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities,” the membership of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the leading organization of Orthodox rabbis in North America, has formally adopted a resolution, “Raising the Banner of Modern Orthodoxy,” setting forth distinguishing highlights of its worldview.
Calling upon all “Jews to embrace its unifying outlook with passion and pride,” the 1000-member organization uses a similar set of points to vet rabbis
seeking to join its ranks.
While there is much that all Orthodox Jews across the spectrum share in common—in theology and in religious practice—the resolution highlights some unique attitudes towards important issues that help to define the Modern Orthodox community. The resolution calls attention to some of the fundamental elements of Modern Orthodox life: religious observance, rabbinic authority, general education, gender roles and opportunities, the religious value of the State of Israel, and the concern for factionalism and division.
The rabbis advocate “pursuing knowledge of the sciences and humanities in order to know God’s Creation, and in order to join the rest of His children in pursuing our mutual welfare through common civic, scientific, and political undertakings.” This contrasts with other approaches common with the Orthodox Jewish world.
Noting that some assert that “the Modern Orthodox community is facing a serious schism about the proper parameters and limits” of engaging with “secular wisdom and culture,” the rabbis urge “constructive religious debate that is ‘for the sake of heaven’ by defending our opponents’ honor and motives; by emphasizing points of accord as much as areas of dissent; and, by seeking truth with grace, civility, and love.”
In keeping with their embrace of participation in general society, the rabbis emphasize that Jewish law requires all Jews to be “loyal citizens of modern countries” and to “punctiliously comply” with all “non-discriminatory civil legislation.” Jews transgress Jewish law when they violate civil law in order to advance what they perceive to be religious values, or when they rationalize such violations by invoking halachic texts.
The resolution insists on the “complete observance of Jewish law” as interpreted by leading, recognized rabbinic decisors.
While reaffirming traditional practices in the synagogue, it calls for “fostering a diversity of halachically and communally appropriate opportunities for women's lay and professional involvement in Jewish life.” Aware of the efforts by some to advance ritual change in Orthodox setting by creating ‘facts on the ground,’ the RCA urges all Jews to adhere to “the millennia-old Jewish practice of innovating and/or modifying halachic practice only after substantive consultation with authoritative rabbis.”
It emphasizes “the essential spiritual equality of every Jewish person before God, and seeking, in that light, to maximize his or her religious expression, observance, and growth in private and public.”