Monday, June 14, 2004

Orthodox Forum II

I promised months ago (which is something like years in blogger-time; one blog month = 1 doggie year or something like that), that I would conclude my discussion about the Orthodox Forum. So when we left off, we were discussing the Orthodox Forum & what it was meant to accomplish.
So what went wrong? If Modern Orthodoxy prides itself, nay defines itself by its intellectual discourse, what happened to the last forum for such discourse?
The answers are many & complicated:
1) The Forum became too YU-Centric. Even when non-YU academics attend, (from outside the cultural circles of YU), they * their papers tended to be ignored. (Rabbi Lamm actually walked out before a session when two non-YU although excellent Jewish Historian presented.)
2) Ground Rules were never established for what the Forum is & isn't. Meaning, is it an academic conference? Are the papers evaluated as academic papers? Is this a religious council (ala the Catholic Church)? The basic Undanas (assumptions) were never lay down.
3) The Forum has a habit of continually re-inventing the wheel. Meaning, topics are returned to year after year, with the same people taking the same positions. Among the questions asked are: Does Halakha determine our values or do our values determine our Halakha? What do we do with problematic texts, halakhot, & narratives? What is the limits of Orthodox theology?
4) The papers presents (between 10 & 15) tend to be a hodgepodge loosely connected to a single topic. For example, War & Peace (including whatever fits in that category). Egalitarianism (including but not limited to: homosexuality, feminism, 19th Cen France, and experience of Jewish university students on secular campuses). It also includes theoretical, practical, educational papers all thrown together. Even though the papers are distributed beforehand, it is virtually impossible for a gathering of Rabbis, Roshei Yeshiva, Academics, teachers, Baal Habaatim, students, & administrators, etc. and to seriously discuss a complicated and relevant topic in two days.
5) The whole Forum is too secret. No one knows about it, unless they want to (therefore it is self-selecting). The books are expensive and hard to come by. And the Forum itself does not have a website.

So why do I care? Shouldn't I just say that this is a problem that I have nothing to do with & let it be.
Because in order to have a proper intellectual life and intellectual discourse, you need proper funding and resources. It takes times, effort, motivation, infrastructure, and, most importantly, money. There are few institutions which have the resources to put together a high level of intellectual discourse. Among them is Edah, the RCA (just look at the back page of every issue), YU, and RIETS. If they are investing resources, those resources are being misused, then there is no place else to find what I am looking for.

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