Do We Believe That Children Are the Future? Institutional Alienation in Orthodox Judaism

In an age of unprecedented social media, it has become a familiar trope that man is ironically more isolated and disconnected from his neighbor than ever before. This post is not going to be one of many expressions of idyllic nostalgia, insisting on the existence of a "good old days" characterized by a "Leave it to Beaver"-esque society of warm relationships and lively dinner table discussions (as if such a time ever existed). However, I would like to point to a uniquely "Millennial" problem propagated by the widened avenues of media consumption- namely, the constant barrage of institutionally alienating messages.

Amazingly, Orthodox Jewish institutions have been surprisingly ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing technologically innovative platforms and media. The Rabbinical Council of America has an active Facebook page, the Orthodox Union utilizes a frequently updated Twitter account, Yeshiva University maintains a downloadable streaming service for Torah recordings, and, perhaps most fascinatingly, Chabad's official website unabashedly praises the virtue of Snapchat. One would think that such technological awareness would be indicative of a close relationship with, and a deep understanding of the "younger" generation. One would be wrong. Instead, these various platforms are utilized to ensure that the average 20-something year old Orthodox Jew is hyper-aware of these institutions' many questionable positions and are constantly accosted to take a stand on politically and religiously divisive issues.

While all of the above platforms (except for Snapchat as far as I know...) have been used destructively, I'll limit myself to just two example. This summer I received an email from the Orthodox Union urging me to "Stand Against a Nuclear Iran," and attend a protest in Washington D.C. against President Obama's Iran deal. This email ended with easy-access links to "Share this message on Facebook or Twitter." Regardless of one's position on this undoubtedly political issue, two facts remain undeniable: 1) Supporting, or in this case, not actively protesting against, a complex international treaty does not violate any of the basic axioms of faith that could theoretically disqualify one from legitimately claiming an Orthodox identity. 2) There exist many Orthodox Jews (a disproportionate percentage of whom are of younger generations) who politically support this deal, or, at the very least, deem it inappropriate to actively protest it. Acknowledging these facts on the ground, one must then ask how these aforementioned Orthodox Jews should relate to their primary religious institution, which allegedly represents them, pushing a position they do not identify with. How can one help but feel alienated in such a position?

That isn't to say that the OU should not offer the option of facilitating political organization because some in Orthodoxy may disagree with a certain position. There are few political positions that any sizable demographic of people, much less Orthodox Jews, would unanimously support, and to strip the Orthodox Union of its power as a tool for politically like-minded Orthodox Jews to organize would be an undeniable shame. However, the usage of email, Facebook, and Twitter to publicly adopt and disseminate one particular political position to the exclusion of any other is alienating and harmful to Orthodoxy. Were the OU to offer multiple political options- perhaps an anti-Iran deal rally on one day and pro-Iran deal discussion on another day- it would still be able to mechanize its resources for a political end without making an alienating statement. But more than that, even if I am forced to acknowledge that this hope of political pluralism is outside the realm of realistic possibility for an old and historically conservative institution, at the very least, I can expect a certain level of sensitivity to the diversity of opinion that does exist. At the very least, the OU should be aware of the character of the different audiences it is reaching through its various platforms of communications. Keep the advertisement for D.C. rallies to ads in conservative magazines, newspapers, and the like, and leave the basic fiber of modern communication- email, Facebook, and Twitter- as a "safe space." The current reality, however, widens both the generational gap and the "left-right" rift present within Orthodoxy.

To just mention another example without engaging with the complexity of the issue itself, one finds a similar lack of awareness and sensitivity in this past month's flavor of Orthodox unrest- the RCA's statement about female rabbis. Again, irrespective of one's feelings towards the substance of the statement, it seems undeniable now that the mass dissemination of the statement led to an unnecessary furthering of an already present rift in Orthodoxy. While for some it is an unfortunate reality, and for others it is an empirical argument, the fact remains that, as of today, there does not exist a notable mass of clergy-educated women in Orthodoxy pushing for rabbinic recognition. What does exist is a select handful of trained women, coming from no more than two or three institutions, who would have been anyways unlikely to have found a job at a synagogue or institution that cares enough about the RCA's positions to enforce this newest declaration. In other words, even if the RCA really thought the sentiments expressed in their statement were true, there were so few parties actually affected by the statement that it hardly makes sense that it should have been expressed as a widely disseminated statement. And yet, one finds that a statement was made, posted to the RCA website, shared on Facebook, defended on Blogs, and generally plunged deeply into the heart of daily discourse. While I'm not advocating for the RCA to withhold its positions or secretly harbor them behind the public's backs, I am asking for a certain level of sensitivity to be considered when formulating and deciding how to disseminate undoubtedly divisive positions.

My intention is not to make demands of nor undermine the institutions that shape and facilitate my day-to-day religious life. I am endlessly grateful to these Orthodox institutions for enabling my ongoing Jewish education, defending my right to religious security, and even facilitating my exclusively-Kosher diet. I want to feel close to these institutions and proudly boast that they are an integral part of my identity. I want to- but honestly, I'm struggling. All I'm asking for is some help.