Modern Orthodox or Chassidic?

Last week, I was asked to make a shidduch (dating) enquiry, something that occurs on a very regular basis. For the uninitiated, a shidduch enquiry happens after someone I advise has been proposed a date by a friend or matchmaker. Before helping the person to decide whether to proceed, I contact the ‘suggestee’s’ references to check that he or she is stable, pleasant, solvent, etc.

The particular man under consideration (who had been suggested for a woman I know well) had declared his outlook as ‘Modern Orthodox’ on a dating website for religious singles. In the course of my phone conversation with a very helpful rabbi, I asked him to describe the fellow’s religious outlook. Without hesitating, he said ‘Chassidic’. Assuming that I’d misheard, I asked him again; this time he said, ‘well quite open and engaged in the modern world, but definitely ultra-Orthodox’. I continued the enquiries for a while and then steered the conversation back to his outlook. I asked him again, ‘when you say that he is Chassidic, is he affiliated with group X?’ to which he responded in the affirmative, noting that he had also studied in their educational institutions.

As an aside, the entire system works on trust: it is reasonable to assume that the information supplied is accurate. It would be frustrating, to say the least, to discover that a man who describes himself as 26, six four and athletic, is actually 43, five three and heavy-set. While of course, this is an extreme and unrealistic example, ‘massaging’ the truth in these matters is not unknown!

Returning to my phone conversation, I then asked the rabbi to explain why, if the fellow is ‘Chassidic’, he might choose to describe himself as ‘Modern Orthodox’. His answer is what I want to share with the readership of Cross-Currents: ‘well, he needs to give himself a broad range of options to ensure he actually gets to meet someone’. What do you think of this? Please tell me in the comments to this article.

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23 Responses

  1. anonymous, London says:

    I think the guy should call himself the label he feels most comfortable with and which will help him find his future happiness in the most dignified and speedy way. I wish him luck. It’s a sad inevitability that sometimes – when it comes to an elevator style shidduch pitch – labels like this are all we have.

    But personally, I am so over labels. Surely, we’re entering a post denominational time, aren’t we? … can’t we?

    I think meeting someone in person or through a personal recommendation is far more preferable, human and warmer. Can I suggest that anyone reading this should try the following (- if the thought makes you squirm just think of it as either a huge mitzvah or a social experiment or both):

    1. Pick up your mobile phone
    2. Think of a single friend
    3. Select your contact list and begin scrolling down
    4. Choose two contacts you feel comfortable calling to ask a favour
    5. Tell them about your friend and say you were just wondering if they can think of anyone your friend should meet
    6. Feel great about yourself for doing a practical act of kindess. You never know where it may lead.

    Good luck and tizku lemitzvot.

    CEA, London

  2. Moshe says:

    Sometimes people actually see themselves as “Modern Orthodox” because they disagree with the mentality of the ultra orthodox community. I have a friend who grew up in Haredi Yeshivos, yet describes himself as right wing modern orthodox as his hashkafos are very far from those of the yeshiva world.

    He still wears a black velvet yarmulka, white shirts and dark pants, but once someone starts a conversation with him they will quickly see that he is not a charedi. He is a Maimonidean intellectual, who does not think that secular studies are evil or that we need to separate ourselves from the rest of the world.

    What do you think? Does MO/Charedi refer to dress or hashkafos?

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Belovski,

    Do you know if “the particular man under consideration” had also described himself as Modern Orthodox in any conversations with shadchanim, reference people, interested families, etc.—or only on the “dating website” ?

    Was your shidduch enquiry undertaken based in part on someone’s prior impression that he was Modern Orthodox?

  4. Yossi says:

    I’m a little surprised at your shock- This is a very old issue. Take a look at the Frumster website, and you’ll immediately notice that a few lines after one selects a “sect” within Judaism, one is asked to explain how he/ she defines that term.

    I have seen “Modern Orthodox” women who wouldn’t even consider not wearing a complete shaitel, and “Chassidic” women who wear slacks and go dancing, plus many more permutations that defy understanding.

    Sadly, given the inflationary language and behavior that has affected the Orthodox world, nothing can be taken for granted any more.
    There is at least one openly-gay “Orthodox” Rabbi, Kosher tours offer Kabbalat HaTorah in the Caribbean, and the Federal Penitentiary has a minyan and a sukkah.

    Jewish anarchy? Or should we just be more open-minded?

    The talmudic “ain apitropus” comes to mind, expanded now to cover every area of Jewish behavior!

  5. Fern says:

    If a person’s goal is to be open to a “broad range of options to ensure he actually gets to meet someone” then isn’t any categorization of his religious beliefs limiting? Why would he think that labeling himself “Modern Orthodox” would open him up to meeting more young women from all backgrounds than labeling himself “Chassidic?” I would seem logical that if a young woman is seeking a Chassidic husband, she would discount someone who labeled himself Modern Orthodox, and vice versa. “Modern Orthodox” is not a generic term for “Orthodox Jew.” It’s just as descriptive as “Chassidic.”

    I guess what I am saying is that I don’t find the Rabbi’s explanation very persuasive. It seems slightly disingenuous to call oneself “Modern Orthodox” if one has Chassidic minhagim and a Chassidic hashkafa. Even if he is a Chasid who is immersed in the modern world (let’s call him a “Modern Chasid”), that’s not the same as being Modern Orthodox. Especially from the young woman’s perspective, since she would presumably be adopting some of her future husband’s minhagim.

  6. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    My wife and I met a bit more than three years ago in They have a hashgafa category in which all members are supposed to check one of several categories. I had checked “modern orthodox — liberal” because I clearly wasn’t “chasidic” or “yeshivish” or “sefardic traditional” and I felt “modern orthodox — machmir” reminded me of the stereotypical baal tshuvah who is obsessive about taking on every chumrah he/she hears about. But that was the category my wife had checked — she associated “modern orthodox — liberal” with people who kept Shabat and kashrut and little else, and might not even be that diligent regarding those. But it turned out that our levels of observance and our philosophies were almost identical! Furthermore, both of us had had close relationships with rabbis from charedi backgrounds.
    I am profoundly grateful that we did not restrict our possible shidduch candidates only to those who had checked the same box.

    And in our success story, posted on the frumster site, we advised singles not to take the categories too seriously. There *are* hashgafic issues that do really matter, such as what kind of education one wants for his/her children, whether one wants to make aliyah soon, etc. But IMNSHO what is much more important than dress or chumrot or even self-identity is a commitment to spiritual growth though torah, and to being willing to respect the others’ values when the inevitable disagreements do appear.

  7. mb says:

    Although clearly misleading, whomever he meets may decide that it is not that relevant, get married and live happily ever after. She can then tell her grandchildren that story, with a smile.

  8. Ori says:

    Wouldn’t Chassidic women would be turned off by the Modern Orthodox label, as much as Modern Orthodox women would be turned off by the Chassidic label? Unless that is not the case, or the young man thinks the dating website has a lot more Modern Orthodox women than Chassidic ones, this doesn’t make sense.

    I have two theories:

    1. The young man’s understanding of what Modern Orthodox means is different than yours or the other Rabbi’s.

    2. The young man wants to become Modern Orthodox, despite having been raised Chassidic. He might not want to reveal that to a Rabbi who knows him and his family quite yet.

  9. Josh M. says:

    One can consider it a ritual slaughter of the sacred cow of labels. Why can’t one be both Modern Orthodox and Chassidic?

  10. Aaron says:

    Midvar sheker tirchak.

    We aren’t commanded to cross the street if we walked past someone’s yard grilling pork ribs. We aren’t commanded to leave the room of a business meeting if the person sitting next to us is eating a ham and cheese sandwich. If a gentile was wearing shatnez, we don’t care. But there seems to be a positive command to distance ourselves from falsehood.

    The guy in your example is free to be vague or to omit info but to state outright that he’s X when he’s really Y is a sign that his trustworthiness is suspect.

    Better my kids marry smokers than tax cheats. One is a legal character flaw. The other is breaking the law and clearly a violation of dina k’malchuta dina.

    The Chasidic fellow should simply write “Yes, my background is chasidic but I’m very open to meeting modern orthodox women”. That way he could be frank about his background AND that he’s open minded about shidduchim.

  11. David N. Friedman says:

    This is problematic at the least and a poor thing to do. It is all well and good to indicate that one is a Chassid and in search of a Jewish woman in a much broader context. To misrepresent the facts and declare oneself as MO could attract someone betting on the representation who would be sorely disappointed when the truth is discovered.

    I have encountered many in the frum community ready and willing to date and marry Jewish women with a different background–why not simply state the truth? At worst–the guy could have simply said “traditional” and not distorted the truth.

  12. nachum klafter says:

    Very interesting story. I do not see his mixed identity as dishonest at all.

    At one time I was affiliated with Habad Lubavitch. I could have accurately said about myself that I considered myself both a Hassid and also Modern Orthodox. I felt that I was a Hassid because of three things: (1) Study of hassidus and being deeply impacted by it (though always through a rationalist perspective), (2) Inspiration by and loyalty to the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, and (3) identifying with the Lubavitcher community. (I have since disaffiliated over messianism, though I still admire the work of anti-messianist shlichim and scholarship of some anti-messianist talmidei chachamim in their community.)

    However, at the same time, I definitely also felt that I was Modern Orthodox (though on the right wing) because of the following beliefs: (1) For ordinary people, good secualr education is essential to understanding Torah properly (2) The Modern State of Israel has religious and Jewish historical significance, (3) In our era, it is necessary for women to have a Jewish education which will allow them to be proficient in studying texts, (4) In our era, it is necessary for women to be included in communal leadership roles to the extent that the halakha allows for (5) That ancient science and ancient metaphysics from Gentile sources in the gemara, midrash, and kabbalistic texts needs to be acknolwedged as antiquated, and considered with sophistication (6) A rationalist view of the tranformative power of the mitzvot; (7) Limits on the role of rabbinical authority in political/military questions for the state of Israel.

    If the holy Piazetzner Rebbe, ZY”A VHY”D were alive today, I would definitely consider myself his Hassid and Modern Orthodox. If I were in the market for a shidduch, I would prefer M.O. So, I can easily understand how this man can define himself as a Hasid and Modern Orthodox. Good luck setting him up.

  13. Mordechai says:

    Although I (obviously) don’t know the young man in question,
    I would still suggest a much more obvious answer:

    People don’t feel that they fit into boxes –
    and especially regarding labels – it is extremely hard to say that only one label fits a particular individual. Just one example might be:

    If a gentleman attended a secular college (and maybe even followed it with law school or the like) and then came to learn in the Yeshiva of “Chassidus X” for 4 years – and afterwards continues to attend the events of this particular Chassidic group and dress like them and ask their Rebbe for advice, while becoming a professional in the secular field which he studied in college – and that same gentleman is Kovai’a Eeteem to learn Torah with a Chavroosoh every morning before Shachris and every night after Maariv – then many people who know him will be inclined to describe him as “ultra-orthodox” or “chassidish” but he may be equally justified in describing himself as “modern-orthodox” just because of his secular profession (and knowledge) alone.
    This may be even more true if he sometimes eats from non-chassidic Shechitoh (KAJ or OU) or in any other way diverges from following his Chassidus’ approach “in dotting every i and crossing every t”.

    He may have chosen the “modern-orthodox” label because he genuinely believes it – since his secular knowledge and profession mark him as essentially more modern than his fellow chassidim – and more modern than his own parents or grandparents – if they were chassidish. Or he may (as I implied earlier) feel that both labels are correct and (as the Rov whom you spoke to was trying to convey) he needed to indicate his openness to marrying someone who does not share his belief that this particular Rebbe and his Sheetos are the only correct path in the Torah.

    A look at the multitudinous (and often confusing) labels (including Seven! branches of Orthodoxy) found on numerous religious dating-websites is just an invitation (for the same very honest people who would never deceive you about their age or appearance) to interpret the labels as they see fit – and even to choose for themselves different labels (on different websites – or just from week to week). And this is done by many honest people because they genuinely feel that multiple labels apply to them. (I was reading the religious dating-websites for “too long” – so I have noticed this many times. And I am writing to defend this practice – even though I myself never did it, as there is only one label which correctly applies to me.)

    It is true that in this way they can more easily be found by a more diverse group from the opposite gender – but they are Not guilty of bending the truth – because of the multiple factors.

    Another example:
    Numerous women who continue to fully cover their hair after the end of their first marriage still describe themselves as “Modern Orthodox Liberal” – on Frumster – where individuals are asked to choose between this label and “Modern Orthodox Machmir” (Is there nothing in-between?) or 5 other branches of Orthodoxy (including even 2 branches of Yeshivish). Maybe these women chose the “Modern Orthodox Liberal” label because of their own secular knowledge and profession.

    It is certainly not deceitful to do so. Why shouldn’t your gentleman in question? It is also the truth.

  14. Calev says:

    I was blessed to find my wife through a Jewish internet dating site. However, this came after spending several years using various sites to try to meet someone (as well as meeting people through shidduchim etc). Why did it take so long? Was I picky – or just plain ugly?! The reason was, actually, internal. My mental state had to catch up with my spiritual growth and aspirations. That meant that I had to look long and hard at myself to write a profile on the dating site that – as accurately and truthfully as possible – reflected who I was. It took several attempts before I composed something that I felt did the job and it was this version that led to the correspondence through which my wonderful wife and I created the foundations of our relationship. Part of the profile-writing process was the realisation that I had to be honest and frank (without flagellating myself): if a woman read what I’d written and decided I wasn’t for her then I could feel confident that we would not have worked as a couple. The process also helped to prepare me for finding a life-long partner because I had to focus on what I had to offer to a woman in every way – a cheshbon hanefesh.
    In short, anyone who feels inclined to bend the truth or omit relevant information in their search for a mate is actually undermining their prospects of finding their beshert.

  15. "Reuven" says:

    we’ve had a very spirited discussion on the Hareidi Shidduch scene from a BT parent’s perspective, over at the BeyondBT blog. Speaking as an outsider submerged too quickly into insider status, there’s problems clarifying the “true nature” of the candidates no matter how you cut it. Especially if you’re sincere. For all those who lament having to do it themselves, believe me, it’s not necsaarily easier having your parents invloved!

  16. Dr. E says:

    In today’s Orthodox world, there is such a heavy emphasis on labels and categories. Everyone has to fit into a “box”. The box represents a stereotype of how that person should act, dress, and in what he/she should believe. To a large extent, the shidduch world reinforces this very notion. Everyone needs to fit into a box and that is how guys, girls, parents, shadchanim, etc. keep things sorted out. And if an increasing number of people are “out of the box” in a certain way, then a new box needs to be created to contain them. That is why we see more and more hybrid, and often humorously absurd categories on the various dating sights. (e.g., “Carlebachian Black Hat”, “Neo-Chassidish Modern Baalei Teshuva”, etc.-I just made these labels up, but some readers can probably think of individuals who fit into them.)

    What happens often is that people who don’t fit into a particular box feel the need to play the part in order to get into the game. For example, a guy who tends to dress casual, who hasn’t worn a hat since maybe his Bar Mitzvah because it’s not part of who he is any longer, puts on the hat and suit when picking up girls on shidduch dates. Why? Because that’s “what’s done” (loosely translated as “to put on a show” or “play the game”). That’s just one example of how people try to live up to certain labels, which creates an entire cloud of sheker that must be clawed through over the course of the dating relationship to uncover the respective true personas.

    So, is what the “Modern Orthodox” Chassidishe fellow did disingenuous or misleading? In light of the above, I don’t see it as being much different. He just decided to employ a different marketing approach. (It’s not as if anyone blatantly falsified objective, verifiable information such as age, height/weight, yeshivas attended.) So, I say “so what?” no harm done. He just didn’t read the same “rules manual” that most others use and decided to play the game slightly differently.

    Who knows, perhaps this Chassidish guy will meet his true bashert online who is indeed “Modern Orthodox”. Maybe he will change for her and become more modern; maybe she will change for him and become Chassidish; or maybe both will change and become Briskers and explore the complexities of cheftza and gavra together happily ever after.

  17. Toby Katz says:

    You have to know the person to know if he was being dishonest and deliberately misrepresenting himself, or if he just had his own personal idiosyncratic, but sincere, self-definition of “modern Orthodox.”

    It is in general very difficult to talk shidduchim for people you don’t really know. Character — integrity — is the one thing most difficult to ascertain from the written facts on a resume.

  18. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    Within the last few years, I have met the following people- How would YOU fit them into standard categories like chassidic, Modern Orthodox, and the like?

    1) A one-time Lakewood talmid who now wears, on shabbos, a shtreimel and the rest of the matching outfit. He has spent time in prison for fraud, and during his time there learned much of shas.
    2) A woman who defines herself as Modern Orthodox, but who covers every hair-all the time- wears baggy long clothing, has 11 kids (her sons all wear the “lvush”), and doesn’t eat in restaurants because of kashrut concerns.
    3) A couple who claim to be Orthodox, but the woman rides a bus on shabbos, (using a metrocard only, not cash, she says!)to get to the shul she likes, and the husband is a practicing Buddhist who sometimes wears tfilin.
    4)A Flatbush woman who wore a sheitel and sent her kids to yeshivas, but recently, after getting caught in traffic Friday, drove an hour into shabbos, and still stopped in to buy food after parking so she could have a nice shabbos meal.

    As the old adage has it, “labeling is disabling”. I don’t think it’s possible anymore to use such simple labels as chassidic or yeshivish, when every group has members that are there in name only, and others who are either on their way in or out of the group.

    However…why look at this as a bad thing? In all the gemaras about the Bais Hamikdash, there’s no discussion of who gave the hashgocho there, or of anyone refusing to eat the korbonos because they weren’t with two hechshers. Maybe this inability to label other Jews signifies a growing unity based on the need to now judge each individual as just that, an individual, with all the foibles and quirks that the term implies.

    Maybe this is how “Ikvesa D’meshicha” will manifest…

  19. Robert Lebovits says:

    While there may be many valid justifications for an individual to identify him/herself as having multiple group affiliations, the answer provided by the reference in the article ought to be disturbing to all of us. In effect, the prospective man was prepared to be whatever might attract interest, regardless of misrepresentation. Consider the experience of a woman accepting the offer of a shidduch meeting with this man, trusting his website profile without further investigation. Her distress could be considerable.
    Anyone actively involved in shidduchim is acutely aware of the frequent absence of honesty and integrity. Anyone involved in mental health work with couples in the Orthodox community is acutely aware of the negative impact of dishonest interactions in the shidduch experience. The two are clearly intertwined.
    There are things worse than struggling to find a shidduch and perhaps even not finding one at all (Lo Aleiynu). If the shidduch process is to have ANY merit no deception should be tolerated. Ought we assume that the Borei Olam will repair that which we have distorted when we act dishonorably in His Name?

  20. IlanaF says:

    According to a respected Rav in our community, there are 3 questions when it comes to hashkafa. How machmir are you in mitzvot, what is your view on the State of Israel and how integrated in secular society are you.
    According to these three statements, it is entirely possible to be a modern orthodox Chassid. In fact, I know of another one off the top of my head.
    If he wrote he was modern orthodox, it must be to discourage labelled ‘chassids’ as he would perceive them as too enclosed for him. If he was lying to get more girls to approve him, that’s a problem.

  21. YM says:

    Ilana’s Rav’s 3 questions are interesting, but don’t cover an important area, especially for a Baal Teshuva like I: what direction do I orient myself? What do I consider right and ideal?

    1. I am machmir in some mitzvoth, and lenient in others. I wish to do hashems will and wish I had more knowledge about the details of each mitzvoth, where I can legitmately take leniencies, etc.
    2. As a reality I am a strong supporter of Israel. Ideologically, I strongly support the Jews in Israel but I don’t consider myself a supporter of the idea of a secular state.
    3. I work in a mostly non-Jewish environment, I surf the internet, I watch movies, but I wish I didn’t. I am soothed by spending time at the beach. I want to be closer to Hashem, but there are a lot of tempations out there.
    4. I resist the label of modern orthodox because of the link between modern orthodox and the ideology of “Torah u’Maddah”, which I believe to be intellectually incorrect. I believe the hashkafa I should be striving for is to love Hashem with all of my heart, soul and resources (which doesn’t sound like Torah u’Maddah to me).
    5. I wear a black hat and wear a black suit on Shabbes. I daven at a charedi balei-batish shul.

    Ok, Ilana’s Rav – what am I? If one has a “final answer” about onself, isn’t that proof that the person is not growing?

  22. nachum klafter says:

    “Ok, Ilana’s Rav – what am I?”

    A Jew

  23. YM says:

    So Nachum, if I was in the parsha, I could list myself under all of Frumster’s Orthodox categories?

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