I have read two interesting articles recently calling for increased Halakhic moderation, or maybe to put it more accurately, to have Halakha come closer to the people. The first is in the Jewish Week (thanks Meira!) where it quotes Rabbi Mark Angel:
“In the early part of my rabbinate, Orthodoxy was free, open to dialogue and discussion, and had a message for other Jews and for the world,” he said.
But during his 38 years as spiritual leader of the Upper West Side’s Congregation Shearith Israel, known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Rabbi Angel said he has seen a growing insular perspective that shuns innovative thought and relies instead on the opinions of so-called authorities.
“There’s been an increasing tendency to defer to certain authorities and of the individual rabbi or individual Jew to back off on personal responsibilities,” he told The Jewish Week. Thus, instead of answering a congregant’s question about halacha or Jewish law, many Modern Orthodox rabbis are turning to a rosh yeshiva (the head of a yeshiva) for the answer.
... “Once that intellectual dynamism is gone that’s the beginning of stultification, of cultism. There’s a very fine line between true religion and cultism. Orthodoxy to a certain extent is slipping over the line to a cultic, superstitious kind of religion,” he said. “It bothers me endlessly.”
...“I know there are plenty of good Orthodox Jews who go to the opera,” Rabbi Angel said. “How do we understand kol isha [a woman’s voice]? What are its parameters, what does it include and not include?”
A second one is an article in today's Haaretz (When I get it in English I'll post the link) which discusses the pesak of Rav Chaim David Halevy. In that article Yair Sheleg raises the question as to what causes a more moderate approach in Halakha. Worth reading.
Some of course would claim that leniecies in Halakha, such as allowing people to attend Opera, will not help bring people closer to religion or make Jews more observant. The people who observe Halakha do so because they are committed, not because it is easy or lets them do what they like. At the same time, of course, Halakha has fundamental issues to tackle. But often it is the personal approach of Rabbis that makes ALL the difference. A positive approach which offers warmth to people and makes them feel appreciated could be even more effective! In that connection, read this satirical piece from Shabbat's newspaper.