Just as there are different stages of moral development or cognitive development, there are also stages of development in Jewish pluralism. These stages characterize organizations and communities (I'm not mentioning any specific organizations, so classifying them is left as an exercise to the reader), but can also characterize individuals. Just as a 1st-grade teacher would become frustrated if s/he taught on the assumption that his/her students were at the formal-operational stage, it is difficult to bring people into Stage 3 pluralism if Stage 1 is still a stretch for them.
I don't think that all Jewish organizations/communities should be fully pluralistic (in the sense of accommodating everyone); there is also a need for organizations/communities that advocate a particular ideology. In fact, true pluralism is impossible if the participants do not have the opportunity to refine their own ideologies and identities. Therefore, this taxonomy should not be seen as an attack on non-pluralistic Jewish communities. However, it should perhaps be seen as a prod for communities that seek to be pluralistic but are underdeveloped in that regard.
Each of these stages represents not a particular solution to the pluralism question, but a way of framing the debate. Within each stage, many different solutions can arise, but the discourse rests on a particular set of assumptions.
Stage 1: "Frummest common denominator". In this stage, Orthodox practice is the standard for the whole community, and is believed to be the most inclusive. E.g. if some people can only have a man leading birkat hamazon, and other people can have a man or a woman, then the answer is to have a man lead birkat hamazon.
The problem with this approach is not only that Orthodox practice is accepted as the communal standard, but that Orthodox cognitive frames (forbidden/permitted/required) are accepted as the communal meta-standard. Those who can claim that egalitarianism is a halachic imperative for them have some success arguing against these policies, but those liberal Jews who hold a different understanding of Judaism (and therefore don't hold the trump cards of saying that something is forbidden/required for them) are simply silenced. Some might be "uncomfortable", which leads us into Stage 2.
Stage 2: "Let's make everyone comfortable." I wrote the following to an email list a few months ago (and the discussion on that list was specifically about prayer, but this can be applied to other areas):
Where I think the emphasis on "comfort" comes from:Many of us have strongly-held beliefs that translate into forms of communal davening, whether we believe in the equality of people without regard to gender, or in a form of halacha that draws sharp distinctions based on gender. But the pluralism conversation rarely focuses on the merits of these beliefs (and probably shouldn't), for two reasons:
1) Saying "I think your deeply-held beliefs are wrong" isn't a productive way to open a conversation. By having the conversation in the first place, we've implicitly agreed to disagree on some of these things.2) Everyone realizes that they're not going to be struck by lightning if they daven once in a manner that wouldn't have been their first choice, and thus can't convincingly say that they can't daven that way -- especially those who are egalitarian (who can thus have no problem in principle with a man leading, since in their ideal world, men would be leading 50% of the time anyway, not that anyone would be counting) and those who recently became Orthodox ("Dude, what do you mean you can't daven egal? You davened egal last month!").
So instead, we use the language of "comfort": "I'm not comfortable with X, but would be more comfortable with Y." "How can we find a solution that makes everyone comfortable?" I think this is bad for several reasons:
- "Comfort" is a vague term that elides the distinction between comfort mamash (like sitting in a recliner) and deep convictions. "I'm uncomfortable in this itchy sweater" vs. "I'm uncomfortable with our government sitting back while the AIDS epidemic decimates Africa's population."
- This elevates comfort mamash, and encourages people to stay in boxes, and boxes to stay firm. Innovation and creativity are sacrificed on the altar of comfort. "This is how i'm comfortable davening" = "This is what I'm most familiar with" = "This is how I must daven every time".
- Conversely, this denigrates deep convictions, because if deep convictions are nothing more than "comfort", then they are open to the criticism of "everyone should leave their comfort zone and try something new", with no qualitative distinction made between singing unfamiliar melodies and doing something which one believes to be a violation of halacha, human dignity, etc.
Stage 3: The dialogue focuses not on forbidden/permitted/required, and not on comfort, but on identity. I can visit someone else's community and participate in something that I wouldn't have chosen for myself, and it's not the end of the world for me, but at the same time I'm quite conscious that it is not my community. Therefore, the questions for the pluralistic community are: How can we (as a community) respect the identities of everyone in our community? How can we (as individuals) respect the identities of everyone in our community? How can we form a community that all of us identify with as our community? How can we (as individuals) make sure that our communities reflect our identities?
In order to make this kind of pluralism possible, it is necessary for the various Jewish identities to be robust and confident. The insecurity and ignorance in some parts of the Jewish world would make those parts be swallowed alive under this model, which is one reason that this stage is not so widespread yet. We don't yet know what pluralistic communities will look like when more of them enter Stage 3; this is a story that we still have to write.