Brian Burstin has been praying at Congregation Talmud Torah of Flatbush in Brooklyn since 1967, when he was 11.
Before that, his parents were members at the stately yellow brick Modern Orthodox synagogue on Coney Island Avenue, near the busy Avenue J kosher shopping strip in the Midwood section. The shul's late Rabbi Leo Landman, one of only three spiritual leaders in the synagogue's 80-year-history, performed Burstin's wedding.
Lawrence Kaplan felt he had to be here. The Judaic studies professor traveled from Montreal to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan on Sunday because he was feeling religiously isolated. He wanted to show support for a fledgling enterprise: a two-day conference on Modern Orthodoxy designed to show that the embattled liberal wing of Orthodox tradition is not an anachronism in an increasingly fundamentalist world.
"I didn't want it to be a failure," Kaplan confided.
He was not disappointed.
Several major national Orthodox rabbinical groups this week repudiated the work of a New York City rabbinical court that has gained popularity with women by “freeing” chained wives, or agunot, stuck in bad marriages.
Strongly worded statements were issued separately on Tuesday by both the rigidly Orthodox Agudath Israel of America and the increasingly right-wing National Council of Young Israel, asserting that the rabbinical court was operating outside the bounds of halacha, or Jewish law.
Setting the agenda for the third International Conference of Edah, a proudly Modern Orthodox group, Rabbi Saul Berman stressed to the 1,000 or so participants that “we are integrated fundamentalists” with a vital role to play, asserting that it is possible to believe in the absolute authority of one’s religion while also embracing diversity and tolerance.
Even as Modern Orthodox Jews see themselves as embattled and on the decline within Orthodoxy, eclipsed by the ascendancy of the haredim to the right, new demographic data offer quite a different picture.