In his Dec. 17 letter, Joel Wadler attempted to counter the claim that Orthodoxy causes most of the disunity in the Jewish community. He asserted that Orthodoxy is the branch of Judaism that most “hold[s] the line against assimilation and intermarriage.” That’s mixing apples and oranges.
Yes, it seems that fewer Orthodox Jews assimilate or intermarry than non-Orthodox Jews. Perhaps this is because Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jews engage more with non-Jews, open their minds and hearts to new ideas and causes within the larger sphere of American life. This openness feeds creativity, engagement in civil society, and social justice. The down side is that some Jews, but certainly not most, leave their Jewish roots behind. Most Jews want to fuse their Jewish and American identities in various legitimate ways. Indeed, Reform Judaism remains the largest segment of American Jewry today.
However, none of this addresses the question of disunity in the American Jewish community, which, I submit, stems largely from an Orthodox stance that delegitimizes other branches of Judaism. How else can we understand that Orthodox rabbis reportedly will not share a pulpit with non-Orthodox rabbis, that in Israel people converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis are not considered Jews, that Israeli marriages may only be performed by Orthodox rabbis, etc., etc., etc.?
Judaism is not a static religion. It has been subject to interpretation and responsa in every age. For example, the Torah accepted slavery; modern Jewry does not. In that same sense, equality of women in religious life can also be a legitimate modification of halachic restrictions. One can find in the Torah citations to support both sides of many arguments. Of course, Orthodox Jews are free to observe whatever halachic rules and restrictions they interpret as critical to their way of life. However, until they can accept the right of other Jews to enrich Jewish observance in their own way, Orthodoxy must bear the brunt of disunity within the Jewish community.