EDAH , U.S. grassroots organization comprised of rabbis, laity, intellectuals, and communal leaders who joined forces to revitalize a distinctive Modern American Orthodoxy. By the late 1960s, most observers had abandoned earlier predictions of the imminent demise of American Orthodoxy. Champions of Orthodoxy, as well as more neutral observers, pointed to the growth of day schools, the strength of the Orthodox family, and the intensity of Orthodox commitments as markers of sustained vitality. Generally, however, these commentators pointed to Modern Orthodoxy as the wave of the future. Ḥaredi Orthodoxy remained in retreat and on the defensive. Israel's victory in the 1967 war signaled the ascendancy of religious Zionism. Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy, was experiencing unprecedented growth. High-profile Modern Orthodox intellectuals – notably Emanuel *Rackman, Irving *Greenberg, David *Hartman, and Eliezer *Berkovits – were eagerly probing the bold and exciting challenge of defining the shape of a Judaism that would wed modern values with the teachings of Torah.
By the end of the 1980s, much had changed. Although increasingly vibrant, American Orthodoxy seemed decreasingly modern. Some pointed to a Ḥaredi ascendancy. Others underscored the widespread Orthodox practice of attending year-long post-high school programs in Israel, which had intensified Orthodox commitment and attachment to Israel, but whose faculties loudly proclaimed the bankruptcy of Modern Orthodox culture and values. Historians pointed to a new wave of Ultra-Orthodox immigration to America. Survivors of the Holocaust, these individuals spared no effort to rebuild Ultra-Orthodoxy on American shores. Lastly, Modern Orthodox parents, unlike their Ḥaredi counterparts, generally failed to perceive Jewish education as a suitable profession fortheir children, thereby creating a vacuum that Ḥaredi educators eagerly filled.
Thus, within short order, Modern Orthodoxy appeared to be more in danger of eclipse than on the cusp of renewal. Interdenominational programs, such as the Joint Chaplaincy Board and the Synagogue Council of America, were closed down in 1987 and 1994, respectively. The very nomenclature "Modern Orthodoxy" was dropped in favor of the more neutral and less ideologically-charged "Centrist Orthodoxy," a change that Dr. Norman *Lamm, then president of Yeshiva University, for one, publicly regretted by the close of the century.
In this context, it was easily understandable that some sought to restore the "modern" in American Orthodoxy. In the late 1990s, a group of Orthodox intellectuals and lay leaders established Edah under the banner of "the courage to be modern and Orthodox." Launched initially as a grassroots initiative, with Rabbi Saul Berman as president, Edah's founding conference in February 1999 attracted over 1,500 participants. At stake were the questions on which the founders of Edah maintained that Modern Orthodoxy has ceded leadership. These included the challenge of feminism and women's equality, the hijacking of religious Zionism by *Gush Emunim, the pursuit of secular education as a value in itself rather than purely for utilitarian or instrumental reasons, and the continuing need for cooperation with the non-Orthodox religious movements and their leaders. More specifically, Edah hoped to redress women's inequality, notably in Jewish divorce law, to train a cadre of Modern Orthodox educators, to help define religious Zionism for the 21st century, and, perhaps above all, nurture an atmosphere of open dialogue and freedom of exchange that was so sorely lacking in an Orthodox world dominated by roshei yeshivah. Significantly, during these years, one of the most prominent of Yeshiva University Talmud faculty had pronounced Modern Orthodoxy to be the "Amalek of our time."
Yet Edah's hope to reclaim Yeshiva University as Modern Orthodoxy's stronghold remained unfulfilled. For one thing, notwithstanding Edah's impressive turnout of supporters and intellectual leadership, Yeshiva University faculty generally were absent. At best, Yeshiva University remained neutral towards Edah if not outright dismissive. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein wrote from Israel that he was certain that his late father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph B. *Soloveitchik, upon whose memory as Modern Orthodox scholar and communal leader Edah had sought to build, would today have little identification with Edah and its program. More generally, Yeshiva University leadership dismissed Edah as unnecessary, pointing to y.u.'s Orthodox Forum which claimed the virtue of continuing dialogue between Orthodox intellectuals and roshei yeshivah. Nonetheless, Edah, under Rabbi Berman's leadership, persisted into the 21st century. By 2005, it had held four national conferences and several regional ones. Five volumes of the Edah journal had appeared, containing impressive scholarship and dialogue on critical issues, e.g., aliyot for women, generally not found elsewhere in the Orthodox world. Other institutions, notably the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (jofa), Rabbi Avi Weiss' Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, proclaiming its commitment to an "open Orthodoxy," and, in Israel, the Lavi Conference, all loosely aligned with Edah in an effort to spearhead a Modern Orthodox renewal.
In the final analysis, however, the struggle for the Orthodox future remained open. Most observers agreed that Yeshiva University, given its enormous resources and prominence inside the Jewish community, would continue to set the tone for Modern Orthodoxy in America. To be sure, Yeshiva's direction, under the presidency of Richard Joel, who was appointed in 2003, remained unclear. Yet the purposes for which Edah had come into being in the late 1990s remained as compelling in the 21st century.
[Steven Bayme (2nd ed.)]