Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Something Silly happened on the way to the Forum

Although my house-mate recently decreed an end to his Blogging about the Orthodox Forum, I have made no such promises.

The Forum is the favorite kicking post for every YU pseudo-intellectual, who simultaneously will publically disdain it while privately wishing to be invited.

Now, why is this so? Why does the Orthodox Forum invoke such wrath in some quarters?

Modern Orthodoxy at one point prided itself on having some sort of intellectual life. Now, whether it ever had a serious intellecual side is a matter of debate, but clearly these days it is basically DOA. Those who would like to think that they are thinking have whose ideas could be picked up by skimming the Anchor Bible or any light mechkar book in the Gottesman library.

All that Yeshiva University has left is the Orthodox Forum. (I tried to find link to a description of the Forum on the web and I know that someone once wrote it up, but alas it is nowhere to be found.) It has been described as a "think tank", but it is more like a private conference organized around a single topic over the course of two days. Unlike most conferences, attendees (in theory) have read all papers beforehand, so they can spend less time thinking about what the paper says than what their response to it is. Like many conferences, out of every Forum is published a book, with almost 10 having been published so far. And, unlike most Academic or other Conferences, attendees (theoretically) include a broad spectrum of academics, Rabbis, Roshei Yeshiva, educators, and communal leaders. In theory.

The most scandalous Forum so far was 1999 where Professor Tamar Ross was invited to present a paper which turned out to be considered heresy according the the artbiters of Faith. A minor scandal ensued. At some point I may blog my thoughts on that event and its aftermath.

Given that there is no other formal forum for intellectual life within Modern Orthodoxy one might hope that a serious engagement with the most relevant up to date research on any issue. Further compounding that hope is our knowledge that in almost every field there are prominent Orthodox Jews researching that area. If one attending the annual AJS (Association for Jewish Studies) conference, a significant portion of attendees are frum (nominally or otherwise). This would suggest the making of a great conferences:
1) Relevant topic
2) Money to spend on the program
3) A serious wish to confront the issues involved
4) Serious intellectuals and experts available to discuss the issues

So what went wrong? (to be continued)

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