The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Orthodoxy, Modernity, and Ideology: A Reevaluation

According to Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno, one of the defining features of modernity is its vulnerability to ideology. By ideology I mean, “a profile of a single and absolute form of rationality manifest in the determination of a fixed web of ideas that apparently follow with the ‘irresistible force of logic’ (Ng, 2015) even when these ideas are divorced from reality and its perpetual changes. Thus, ideologies deny the existence of their own contradictions and deny the validity of challenges to their self-evidence that emerge from new experiences or outside considerations. In their classic text, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno maintain that ideology and modernity are nearly inseparable in and through the Enlightenment`s impulse towards mastery of the world through knowledge. As well, Horkheimer and Adorno maintain that
Judaism constitutes an early impulse of Ideologiekritik since its prohibition on pronouncing the name of God constitutes a rejection of the absolute power of concepts to subjugate nature or the objective world and an awareness of the perpetual power of a contingent universe to challenge the hubristic attempt to master reality through concepts.

Nonetheless, a case can be made that contemporary Jewish communities in general and Orthodox Jewish communities in particular are vulnerable to ideological forces, specifically, those associated with late stage capitalism. This is because ideology’s chances for success rise and fall in relation to the success or failure of the common sense reasoning practices that ground the social coordination and preservation of a community. When a community’s life-world claims operate successfully, communities can appeal to social reasoning practices to make minor changes to the few claims that the community needs to hermeneutically re-habituate. However, when communities experience crises in a critical number of life-world claims, the need for these reasoning practices increases and often becomes overly burdensome. Under these circumstances, communities become vulnerable to ideological forces that seek to replace social reasoning practices and that therefore undermine the community’s own mechanisms for self-determination and self-preservation.