Non-Orthodox Judaism Disappearing?

I’ve heard other Orthodox rabbis, such as Berel Wein, say they expected non-Orthodox Judaism to be around for hundreds of years. It would be delusional to think otherwise.

Chaim Amalek emails:Isn’t that the case with all liberalizing religions in the West?  The old liberal Protestant sects (the kind that did so much to advance the rights of others in the sixties) don’t seem to be doing too well, and even the Catholics are losing ground (to Pentecostal sects in my own neighborhood).  And then there’s Islam, which has not exactly been liberalizing itself these past few decades.

Who will provide future generations with the next "Portnoy’s Complaint," if not the sons of American Reform Judaism?

Just because the grandchildren of today’s conservative Jews are not likely to be conservative Jews does not mean that conservative Judaism (or Reform, for that matter) as a movement will be finished.  If the past is any guide, there will be new blood coming their way from the ranks of the grandchildren of today’s orthodox, at least some of whom can be counted on to rebel against the faith of their fathers.  Also, if the Reform movement would but completely untether itself from "electricity is fire because we say it is" rabbinate and evangelize amongst the gentiles, it might yet emerge as the vital, world-conquering faith Judaism might have otherwise become.

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

R. Norman Lamm gave a surprisingly candid and wide-ranging interview to the Jerusalem Post on a host of issues (link):
Non-Orthodox Judaism disappearing

The Reform and Conservative Movements are disappearing, Yeshiva University Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm said over the weekend.

"With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements," said Lamm, head of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

"The Conservatives are in a mood of despondency and pessimism. They are closing schools and in general shrinking," he said.

"The Reform Movement may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK," added Lamm, referring to the Reform Movement’s policy, starting in 1983, of recognizing patrilineal descent.

NACHUM LAMM POSTS: Conservative and Reform Jews account for about 33% of all American Jews. Read the article.

Second, R’ Lamm is free to say whatever he wants about those movements. He might even be right. And he’s certainly saying it with "a countenance more in sorrow than in anger."

Third, plenty of people defend R’ Lamm. I do. Back when I was in YU, all of my fellow students had nothing but the highest respect for him. His (frequent!) talks were always packed. And that’s undergrads, with all their usual complaints, even about the President. And from talks I have today with current students, the feeling continues.

Finally, he does (and did) a hell of a lot more than give one speech. And he’s free to say whatever he wants.

DAVID POSTS: Mr. Lamm wont be saying goodbye to the liberal movements. He will be watching as many disillusioned orthodox join them. The denominations are a Jacobs ladder where some move towards more stringency and some move towards more leniency. If the Conservative movement ends, it will be replaced by another group espousing essentially the same approach. The reason is that many people want to maintain some attachment to Judaism but dont want to go whole hog (no pun intended) towards orthodoxy. Its a simple fact, Mr. Lamms wishes notwithstanding.

Y. AHARON POSTS: I don’t recall an Israeli flag being flown at any time during my 13 year tenure in Torah Vodaath in the 40s and 50s. It is posssible, however, that R’ Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz flew a flag before I arrrived in the Mesifta in ’51. He was an unconventional and perceptive thinker who had a love for Eretz Yisrael. Unfortunately, he passed away before I had the chance to benefit from his teaching and spirit. A prominent rav long associated with YU once told me how, after one of his talks, he couldn’t immediately rise from his seat after class, but continued sitting as shivers ran up and down his spine.

L. POSTS: Some people don’t seem to realize that YU Chancellor Rabbi Dr. Nochum Lamm is not that far removed from the Haredi world. Like most Modern Orthodox, he has relatives to the right of him (just like most Haredim have more moderns in their families somewhere).

He grew up in Brooklyn, lived in Williamsburg and Crown Heights, attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in his youth, where he studied under Rav AY Pam z"l. He only went to YU after high school.

His grandfather z"l was very active in Agudah Israel.

Rabbi Dr. Lamm does not fit the MO stereotype (a Litvak who is very rational and ‘cold’). He is a proud Chassid, the first Hassidic President of YU, and has written much about Hassidism. He has family ties to Belz and Sanz Hassidism.

He does not walk around with a colorful kippa seruga, actually often wears a fedora, which is considered a sign of the more RW world.

The carricature of Rabbi Lamm as a flaming liberal is just that. He is MO to be sure, but not as extreme as some of his opponents imagine. I don’t think they consider him a flaming liberal at YCT….

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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