Guest post by “Moish”
Apologies in advance to readers who must by now have tired of the 'painful saga', but an article in this week's JC underscores an aspect of the ensuing fallout that has yet to be fully appreciated. It demonstrates the seismic shifts taking place in frum London, if not the UK, effected in large measure by this very saga.
For the first time in living memory, a spokesman for the United Synagogue (and not merely individual dayonim acting in their capacity as 'NW London rabbonim') has gone on record criticizing the UOHC. The significance of this cannot be overestimated, especially as the criticism relates not to the UOHC's financial probity, general accountability or its (lack of) democratic mandate but on issues of chupa and kidushin. The US lecturing the Stamford Hill establishment on yiddishkeit may not be quite like North Korea lecturing the USA on human rights but in the Adath’s eyes it must come scarily close.
The story of Orthodoxy, if not Judaism, in the UK, as well as the world over, during the last few decades has been to a large extent the seemingly inexorable ascendancy of the Charedim. Their growing numbers have been accompanied by an increasing confidence not only in expressing their views, but in policing the limits of acceptable rabbinic thought and behaviour amongst those to their left. UOHC rabbonim alongside their stable mates up north have been frenetically ferreting out the slightest whiff of heresy in their backsliding 'mainstream' counterparts. Whippers-in like good old Joe have made it their job of propping up the rear (where many of their heads are firmly ensconced) from his perch in Anglo Orthodoxy's organ and through the presidiums and presidencies that have fallen his way.
Whether it was the near-career-ending furore over the mischievous leaking of the Chief Rabbi's letter to the late R. Padwa over Hugo Gryn's memorial service or the auto-da-fe that ensued over the Chief's 'Dignity of Difference', God's self-proclaimed inquisitors were always on the case. In halachic matters too, from the brouhaha over the NW London eruv to the excoriation of Dayan Lopian for his overly liberal approach to yom tov sheni, any overt deviation from the Stamford Hill cum Bnei Brak line was swiftly and harshly condemned and without the adjudication of an ad hoc Beis Din.
Although this condemnation did not always lead to a retraction on the part of the offending party, the bearded bearers of 'Torah True' principles became the force to be reckoned with on Judaic matters. This self perception of the 'Adath' rabbonim was widely in accordance with how they were viewed by the Jewish public at large: uncompromising adherents to unchanging principles.
And it is here where the tectonic shifts are taking place. Without repeating the sordid allegations of 'the curious incident of the rov in the night-time' with which readers of this blog will be well versed, it can safely be said that the reputation of the UOHC rabbinic leadership has taken a pounding. It will take a long time if ever before anyone outside their insular citadels will look to them for guidance or authority on anything, never mind issues pertaining to the status of women, sanctity, marriage or education. In the immortal words of Rav Padwa, "the solution doesn't lie with the police," and it definitely does not lie with the self-appointed UOHC religious and modesty cops.
It is no coincidence that the UOHC has chosen to keep its counsel while mainstream Anglo Orthodoxy has been undergoing a mini-revolution of its own. From the appointment of a 'yoetzet halacha' in Kinloss to the election of women onto the boards of Federation shuls and as presidents of several United Synagogues; from the expansion in the number of women's megilla readings to increased contact with rabbinic personalities from New York's Yeshiva University, a not-so-subtle snub of Charedi norms has been gaining traction while the guardian angels have been looking less than beatific.
Of course this has not all come about as a result of the UOHC's recent failures and the LBD is still firmly ensconced in black-hat territory. What has changed, however, is the deterrent factor the UOHC and its allies once represented. Whereas in the past, R. Sacks felt the need to offer an abasing response when he was called to account by the late Rav Padwa, a similar demand from the current UOHC Head (were it not to be retracted on the same day) would likely be greeted with a mixture of scorn and bemusement.
Rather than cowering in fear as they may once have done when facing an attack from their exposed right flank, mainstream Orthodox leaders would more likely be on the floor in fits of laughter. It will be a long time indeed before the rabbis of the United Synagogue are prepared to take lessons from their Charedi counterparts on what should be considered a 'deviation' from our sacred mesorah.
And it is not just external forces that are weakening the UOHC. It may be imploding internally too as their predominance on their home turf is being eroded and they concentrate their efforts on modesty squads and the like. While In the past hell would erupt at the change of hechsher of a mere yoghurt supplier, nary a peep has been heard from Kedassia officialdom in response to the tanks of a rival butcher shop parked firmly on their lawn. Since the ba'alei machshirim are a Stamford Hill Rov with the backing of a large kehilo and an ex-Stamford Hiller in out-of-reach Edgware, there is every reason to believe that the eyes and direction of the newbies are firmly set east. Were Belz to establish its own meat in Stamford Hill Satmar would have no option but to follow suit. The absence of the revenue provided by a profitable meat production would mark the practical end of the UOHC.
It would be a mistake to attribute the decline in the Union’s ‘footprint’ solely to recent events. If Rav Padwa's inaugratory address on a decapitated calf didn't raise doubts on the leadership quality of the victor at the funeral power grab, then by the time of his incoherent discourse on nobody-quite-knows-what at the Siyum Hashas, he had richly earned his nickname as the 'Moro D'saster'. This latest saga has however metamorphasised the headless calf into a headless chicken and shown the emperor to have no bekitshe and barely a loin cloth. And for this they have a certain resident of Bridge Lane to thank.