Individual autonomy vs. Orthodoxy

Individual autonomy vs. Orthodoxy

Gary Rosenblatt ends his Between the Lines column, “‘Huge’ moment for advocates of Orthodox women rabbis” (Oct. 12), with a quote from Jonathan Sarna: “‘the issue of women has long been a lightning rod’” in Jewish life, and it has become ‘the decisive issue in America today.’” 

I would submit that the decisive issue today in American-Jewish Orthodox life is not women, but rather the more basic issue of how does Orthodoxy reconcile Western, liberal society’s primary focus on individual autonomy (i.e., the “right” to decide for oneself to pursue a course of action rather than heeding instructions of others) with the traditional Orthodox Jewish primary focus on the obligations of the individual to the community? 

I highly recommend reading Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” (Vintage, 2013). Those whose strong sympathies lean toward women Orthodox “rabbis” may well be basing their judgements on the liberal notion that caring and fairness are the most important moral receptors. 

While Orthodox Judaism recognizes those priorities, they don’t automatically outweigh, and more often are subservient to, the other three moral receptors identified by Jonathan Haidt — loyalty, authority, and sanctity. 

There’s much more to discuss concerning how more than 90 percent of what seems to be desired could have been attained without the pushback, but that’s for another time. In the words of Hillel, the rest is commentary.

Joel Rich
West Orange

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