The Orthodox Union, the central institution of the Modern Orthodox movement in the United States, has tapped for its new executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer, who has served at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion congregation in Baltimore for 25 years. He succeeds Allen Fagin, who is retiring. Rabbi Hauer, who has been active working with at-risk children in the Baltimore area, will take over in the fall.
Rabbi Hauer will be the OU’s “professional religious and policy leader,” while another person will take on the responsibilities of a “chief executive officer,” according to the OU.
The rabbi received his ordination from Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore, and a master’s degree in engineering from Johns Hopkins University.
The Jewish Week interviewed Rabbi Hauer by email. This is an edited transcript:
Q: What does the OU’s decision to split up the responsibilities of its top leadership indicate about the Modern Orthodox movement’s education of its rabbinical leaders?
A: The OU’s decision recognizes that given its current and growing size and scope, the OU is better served by bifurcating the role into two separate areas. By doing so, each senior professional will be able to focus appropriately on specific areas of responsibility.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the Modern Orthodox movement?
The Orthodox community … is playing an increasingly significant role both in the broader Jewish community and in American society. This growth creates various practical challenges, including the affordability of our lifestyle and the need to strategically plan for the infrastructure needs of our growing communities. We also need to work on our relationships beyond the confines of our community, and to consistently promote the value of internal unity.
One frequently hears that the Modern Orthodox community is “moving to the right,” looking over its shoulder at the charedi world. How do you maintain a distinct Modern Orthodox perspective without becoming a clone of charedi life?
As a community, we have an absolute commitment to the broad range of Torah values that are our God-given responsibility. Our community expresses this commitment by engaging with the world around us, as well as with all members of Klal Yisrael [the Jewish community] … and by addressing every modern issue and contemporary challenge from within the value system of Torah. We undertake all of these responsibilities while also completely dedicating ourselves to a growing engagement in Torah study, prayer and halachic observance.
Modern Orthodox leaders frequently speak of a crisis of faith among young Orthodox Jews, who affiliate with the movement but lack the beliefs and convictions of previous generations. How do you make your movement relevant, and how do you make believers out of people who are going through the motions?
There is a significant and broadly recognized need for our community to “reintroduce itself” to God. We must strengthen the language of faith by seeing God’s presence and guiding hand in our lives, both in the national destiny of our people, and in our individual lives. Our aspiration is for prayer to be appreciated as our opportunity to speak with God, and for Torah study to be experienced as our opportunity to hear God speaking to us.
Orthodox Jews have come under heavy criticism from the rest of the Jewish community the last few years for their support of Donald Trump and his administration. Is this political stance likely to harm the movement’s relations with the rest of the Jewish community? By endorsing Trump, whom many people in the Jewish community find at odds with traditional Jewish values, is the OU conceding its moral authority?
The OU does not endorse political candidates or elected officials. We are, however, grateful for the efforts of elected officials who help our community and strengthen the State of Israel.
In Baltimore, you had to balance the conflicting demands of community members who came down on opposite sides of various issues, such as vaccinations for children, or people urging an outspoken approach against accused sexual abusers versus those who would defend the Orthodox community against such accusations. How can you handle these disagreements on a national level in a Modern Orthodox community that often pits its liberal wing against a growing charedi influence?
When balancing conflicting approaches, it is the responsibility of leadership to identify the halachic stance appropriate to the particular issue, informed by Torah values and by the halachic and Torah-based commitment to the health and safety of every person. This is the framework from which all our decisions must consistently flow.
The OU last year appeared to be walking a tightrope on women’s issues, making opportunities for women’s advanced Torah study but shutting the door on the ordination of women. How will the Modern Orthodox community satisfy women who demand a larger share in synagogues’ leadership positions?
The Orthodox Union is completely committed to maximizing — within the framework of halacha — the engagement of Jewish women in every aspect of Jewish life. This is an organizational and communal priority towards which we are and will continue to be dedicating significant energy and resources. And we are continuing to engage in this effort outstanding women who are both communal leaders and dedicated volunteers, and who are bringing great strength to our community as a whole.
How did your years in a pulpit position prepare you for an executive position?
The Orthodox Union sought an executive vice president who would help develop and represent the vision, mission and values of the organization; who would bring together for those purposes all those involved in and benefitting from the organization; and to help ensure that the organization’s priorities and activities are consistent with those purposes. These very functions — albeit on a smaller scale — are the essence of the work of a communal rabbi.