Noah Feldman’s “Orthodox Paradox,” an article published in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, is a shanda fer da goyim, a skewed and distasteful takedown that invites non-Jews to gawk at the internal problems of a modern Orthodox Jewish community. Or maybe it’s a poignant and brave discussion of the challenges of bringing a traditional faith into modern life, written by a man who cherishes his people. Either way, it’s kicked up a storm of impassioned chatter throughout the interweb, where you can find both these judgments and many more.
“Orthodox Paradox” hits on themes close to Jewcy's editorial heart, what with Feldman trying to figure out what a cosmopolitan Jew’s to do with this bewildering, antiquated faith that we just can't seem to leave behind. So we had to pick his brain a bit. Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School who was raised modern Orthodox, agreed to answer my questions via e-mail.
These are issues I've been thinking about for a long time, and that have recurred again and again in my work on the U.S. and the Muslim world. My thinking on those topics is influenced by my education in the modern Orthodox world, and I came to think that others might be engaged with similar issues.
You were surprised when Maimonides—the yeshiva from which you graduated—removed* you and your (non-Jewish) wife from a photo published in the alumni newsletter. Your surprise struck many readers as rather strange, since the community makes no secret of its rejection of intermarriage. It’s a bit as if you’d pulled out a bag of pork rinds, devoured them with relish throughout the evening, and then expressed bewilderment when someone asked you if you'd set them aside until later. What are your critics missing here?
My classmates are great. As it happens, the reunion was lots of fun and we were all warm towards one another, as one would hope. What is troubling about the view you describe—which I never sensed from my classmates—is its implication that somehow modern Orthodox people should be protected from my living my life as I choose. As if choice of life partner were as trivial as a snack. Going to a reunion is a perfectly normal part of life, and choosing not to attend, in order to shield people from my life, would be absurd. People who are comfortable with their own life choices don't get "offended" when others choose differently.