Inevitably, results will begin to arise that are inconsistent with the reigning paradigm. At first these will be dismissed and faults will be found either with the method employed or with the assumptions upon which they rest. As these bothersome findings persist and accumulate, however, a creative scientist will come forward to challenge the axioms of the paradigm and propose a new one that encompasses the “problematic” results as well in a systematic fashion. Because the old paradigm is but a human construct, it is subject to human foibles: its articulators will typically dig in their heels, and the new paradigm will gain traction only as the masters of the old one pass from the scene. New paradigms do gain influence, but only slowly
Essentially, once a theory is accepted by the scientific community, it becomes a type of dogma which can not be challenged. Those who offer such challenges are ignored and/or rejected. Only when the challenges become strong enough, does the theory change. Although we are talking about religion and not science, the comparison is instructive. Jewish theology changes with the times. Throughout our history, challenges from within Judaism or from other religions have caused Jewish theology to pivot, as it were. While traditionalists at first fought back, eventually the pressure became great enough that change occurred. Even then, the change happened slowly, and usually, almost imperceptibly.
We live in a time when belief in Jewish dogma is very challenging. In various ways, scholarly or not, there have been those who have talked of these challenges and offered new ideas. As in Kuhn’s theory, these attempts have been rebuffed. Traditionalists have dug in their heels and insisted that certain beliefs are essential and not up for debate. Still, the attempts to spell out a theological approach that works for modern sensibilities, speak to some of the angst that is felt by many in our community.
So where do we go from here? Ideally religious thinkers from Yeshiva University, the institution that for many represents Modern Orthodoxy, would step into the void and try to address some of these concerns in a theologically sophisticated manner. Sadly, this has not been the case. Many of the roshei yeshiva are firmly in the traditionalist camp, and consider certain beliefs and concepts to be inviolable. Those roshei yeshiva and professors who are more open to modern sensibilities, have, to some degree, both in recorded lectures and in writing, addressed some of these issues, but there is yet to be an attempt at spelling out a full theology from those within the walls of YU. To some degree, some of the rabbis and students from Yeshivat Chovevei HaTorah have tried to bring about a paradigm shift, but in ignoring the idea contained in Kuhn’s warning that change occurs slowly in science,a truth that applies to the world of Orthodoxy as well, these attempts have failed to gain significant traction. I would hope that the leadership of YCT would think about why a community that hungers for a sophisticated more modern approach, has not taken to their approach. In America, new attempts are coming from the likes of Michael Fishbane, while the Modern Orthodox world fails to produce works along the lines of Rav Shagar’s works, which show how Orthodoxy might deal with the challenges of Post-Modernism.
Who, if anyone, will step into this void? If Modern-Orthodoxy is to stay relevant, a work will have to be produced that shows a level of theological sophistication, while, at the same time speaks to the layman. A new paradigm is needed for those, like myself, who passionately belief in the world of Torah and Mitzvohs, while at the same time recognize the challenges of the times in which we live.