Redeeming Modern Orthodoxy

The patient is hemorrhaging. In fact, the patient does not seem to even know who he is. It sounds pretty dire.

The patient is Modern Orthodoxy, and it in silent crisis mode, as it loses youth to assimilation on secular college campuses, some of its liberal elements have abandoned ship and migrated to the Open Orthodox/Neo-Conservative (“OONC”) denomination, and among those who have remained on board, many feel a lack of spirituality and hence subsequently disembark to the shores of Traditional Orthodoxy or Neo-Chassidus. Modern Orthodox institutions are currently gripped more than ever before with internal tension between traditional and liberal elements, and the difficulty of holding the tent together has never been more challenging.

What went wrong?

Looking back to the origins and early days of the institutions that are identified as Modern Orthodox, one detects a glaring sense of pragmatism. The writings and oratory of Rav Soloveitchik, Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel and others indicate a thrust for Orthodoxy to thrive in full traditional force, making use of general knowledge, articulation and eloquence in the vernacular, and engagement in broad society, not as catalysts toward civil integration but rather primarily as factors to either promote Orthodox life or to fulfill practical fundamental needs (notwithstanding the Rav’s vision of Adam I). The Rav and Dr. Revel never used the phrase “Modern Orthodoxy” (or any other hyphenated form of Orthodoxy), as their theology and religious identification amounted to nothing other than plain “Orthodoxy”; the pursuit of advanced secular education, support of political Zionism, involvement with larger society, and so forth, did not define Orthodoxy, but rather worked with it and buttressed its ability to impact, or were necessary undertakings geared to achieve various essential goals. (Please also see here.)

Those at YU who recalled Dr. Revel used to relate how he would approach talmidim (students) and ask, “How’s the yiras shamayim (fear of heaven)?” Dr. Revel was an illustrious graduate of the Telshe Yeshiva in Lithuania, and he structured RIETS in the shadow of Telshe, both in terms of type and caliber of staff as well as in terms of strata of shiurim (Talmud classes). Aside from the secular studies at Yeshiva College and homiletics offerings at RIETS , the yeshiva under Dr. Revel was basically indistinguishable from any other.

Reading the writings of Rav Soloveitchik, one is struck by the brilliance, eloquence, sophistication – and tradition. Liberal critics of the Rav have alleged, with great discernment, that he was largely a repackager of traditional ideas into modern lingo. Of course, tradition includes chiddush (novel insights), but in truth, nothing revolutionary, nothing that departs from Mesorah (Torah Tradition), nothing that takes Judaism in a new direction was present. What was present was immense depth, perception, orchestration and formulation of concepts, and the use of modern linguistic and philosophical tools to present ideas; what was present was breathtaking inspiration, robust, ironclad emunah (faith), and an unswerving commitment to the truth of Torah and the epistemology, interpretations, values and beliefs of previous generations of rabbinic sages; what was absent was a lessened passion for God, or the dilution, softening or modification of any Torah principle, be it in Halacha or Hashkafa (traditional Jewish thought).

Somewhere down the line, Modern Orthodoxy came to be commonly perceived and often manifest as a movement of religious compromise and a lowered sense of idealism. (This phenomenon is in large measure due to the historical identification with Modern Orthodoxy on the part of of many not fully Orthodox people.) Such has been evident not only in terms of actual observance and commitment, but also in terms of religious passion. Complaints of a totally uninspiring, sterile spiritual environment in Modern Orthodox institutions have been voiced by many of those who have opted for the world of Neo-Chassidus. Those who have remained in the normative Modern Orthodox camp have relied upon the post-high school “Israel year” to compensate for an otherwise lacking religious drive within much of Modern Orthodoxy, or have, thank God, found and sustained a relationship with a rebbe or rav with whom they continue to connect in order to stay inspired – for the system itself sadly often does not provide the inspiration.

The result of this all is a Modern Orthodoxy identity crisis. There is no defined range of clear halachic or hashkafic standards, many people “do their own thing”, and the proper role of secular endeavors and their impact on Torah observance and ideology is murky and vague.

What can be done?

For those who have migrated to the Open Orthodox/Neo-Conservative denomination, there may unfortunately be little hope for return, as that denomination’s leadership continues to reject Orthodoxy in ways that could not have been heretofore imagined. (One OONC rabbinic leader just announced his desire to “revamp the entire liturgy”, while another recently advocated the “manipulation” of Halacha to conform with moral intuition.) However, for those who still identify with normative Modern Orthodoxy, the solution is within reach.

This solution is the return of Modern Orthodoxy to its true roots. Rather than sterile, softened, or uninspiring Hashkafa (the current adjectival catchphrase “nuanced” is often defensively applied thereto by proponents), Modern Orthodoxy must turn to and recapture the original religious approaches of its founders – approaches that came straight from the greatest of European yeshivos, with all of the energy, intensity, and enrapture, (yes, these concepts do exist outside of Chassidus), and with great depth and sophistication. Optimal, unwavering halachic observance should be emphasized, with standards and solid expectations. Modern Orthodox Jews can remain fully engaged in the broader world and its educational and cultural offerings, they can dress in contemporary Western style, speak with enlightened articulation, and so forth, while identifying with a rich, demanding, enthralling and comprehensive Orthodoxy that forms the base and totality of their spiritual lives and personal identities.

This all would take time, but it is attainable. Just as a generation of more halachically scrupulous Modern Orthodox Jews emerged largely as a result of the “Israel year” and other phenomena, an exhaustive program to refortify and redirect Modern Orthodoxy toward tradition is within reach.


You may also like...

38 Responses

  1. micha berger says:

    “The writings and oratory of Rav Soloveitchik, Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel and others indicate a thrust for Orthodoxy to thrive in full traditional force, making use of general knowledge, articulation and eloquence in the vernacular, and engagement in broad society, not as catalysts toward civil integration but rather primarily as factors to either promote Orthodox life or to fulfill practical fundamental needs (notwithstanding the Rav’s vision of Adam I).”

    This is a GROSS misrepresentation of the Rav’s position. He pushed students to go for that PhD. Not “practical fundamental needs” but an actual belief in the value of secular knowledge in-and-of-itself. Aside from Coginitive Man and Adam I, there are the twin peaks of Ramatayim Tzofim. What Rabbi Lamm later termed “Torah uMada”.

    In any case, I think what went wrong was far simpler… There developed a disconnect between high culture and general life in Western Society. Meanwhile America (and consequently the West) went from the self-image of a “Melting Pot” to that of a “Glorious Mosaic”. Being a “normal” Westerner no longer gives one any more access to “mada”, because both the westerner and the fellow in the yeshivish uniform and Judeo-English accent are mere visitors to the realm.

    Modern Orthodoxy is a strategy to be holy within a context that no longer exists.

    Add to that the promotion of Aliyah creating an idealist drain to the Religious Zionist community of Israel, and of course American MO is losing its idealism.

  2. Avrohom Gordimer says:

    Rabbi Berger: I do not take issue with you. My intent was that worldly pursuits did not redefine the Rav’s Yiddishkeit – despite their import, as evidenced by Adam I. Functionally, worldly pursuits were utilized by the Rav primarily for expression and to bolster one’s avodas Hashem, but not to dilute it. This was what I meant.

    • micha berger says:

      By the way, someone who didn’t get enough spirituality at home and is finally turned on to Yahadus in Israel is effectively taught to be chareidi. After all, he first “gets it” by retreating from modernity, not engaging with it.

      (Speaking of which, this formulation also underplays the Rav’s whole advance vs retreat model.)

  3. ben dov says:

    Maybe it’s true but I would like more substantiation for these assertions. Is the defection rate really greater than before? Of those who drop observance during college, how many stay that way? Should neo-chasidus really to be deplored, or are these people an asset to the modern orthodox community? While this article gives a vague idea of what a healthy modern orthodoxy would look like, it is not clear what is the objective as opposed to the means to the objective.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    There is much anecdotal evidence that many MO adolescents either drop observance in the current atmosphere of the secular college atmosphere or find the Charedi world far more spiritually appealing, even if many hashkafic questions are avoided therein. The bottom line remains-Mo parents must see themselves as transmitters of a tradition of Torah Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim in their own lives and impart that tradition to their children as opposed to viewing themselves as paying for a private school education with Judaic studies and looking either for the gap year or a flip to the right as an insurance policy.

  5. DF says:

    I question the premises of this article, particularly when I see modern orthodox schools bursting at the seams, and modern orthodox young people making aliyah in record numbers. More importantly, the article leaves a very bad taste in the mouth, as equally serious or worse charges can be leveled at the charedi yeshivah world [which, I suppose, is what “traditional orthodoxy” means in this article, even though it is anything but.] It is in rather poor taste for R. Gordimer to write this article under the tiresome defense of “I’m just trying to help”, when his own house is in such disarray. Lest R. Gordimer trot out his RCA membership card to prove his modern orthodox bona fides, I think its quite obvious to the readers, if not to R. Gordimer himself, that his allegiances shifted long ago. Undoubtedly we will hear some sort of “don’t shoot the messenger” response, but unfortunately, the messenger is just as important as the message, and usually colors the message. As it took a Nixon to open the door to China, and a Begin to make peace with Egypt, it will take someone else to address the problems of modern orthodoxy, whatever they may be. R. Gordimer, in the meantime, if he wants to do some good, has no shortage of problems to address within the yeshivah world.

    • micha berger says:

      Ah, yeah. Chareidism is more of a counter-reformation than an authentic continuation of the past. As in any reconstruction of the past, simply because one is trying to live like some earlier era rather than naturally being part of that time, the attitude toward the religion HAS to differ from the original. Wearing black-and-white is new. Lithuanian Yeshiva students wore fedoras because they were the fashion, not to create a subculture with its own fashion.

      (Simple litmus test: How do people who think they’re the legacy of the Lithuanian Yeshiva wish eachother a “Good Yontef” rather than a “Gutt Yeintif”? The accent change from Litta to Poilin is a tiny thing, but it illustrates the fundamental discontinuity.)

      Actually, the Eastern Europe they’re trying to recreate didn’t really have the MO – yeshivish line yet. Volozhin was led by the Netziv, a Zionist, with R’ Chaim Brisker as assistant Rosh Yeshiva, and yet the latter was staunchly anti-Zionist. Telzhe had secular studies in their HS. (For that matter, so did Volozhin, as well as Mendelsohn’s “Biur, but I would not assume that was a willing choice rather than compromising with gov’t fiat.) Slabodka did not have secular studies, but it was taken for granted that a student would pick up psychology and western philosophy on their own. For most students; the Alter of Slabodka highly customized his treatment of each student to match what he saw in them.

      We lost everything because of WWI. The original plan for the Agudah’s first Kenesiah Gedolah would have been far broader. R’ AY Kook was invited, and the war stranded him in Switzerland. When they finally rescheduled the Kenesiah in 1923, no Zionists allowed.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      I think that R Gordimer was talking about MO in the US. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence on the ground about MO teens losing their committment on the contemporary secular college campus and as protracted singlehood takes its effect

    • Steve Brizel says:

      I suspect that many of us have attended simchas of someone’s child who , after 12 years and more of Jewish education, is no longer even remotely observant. A lot has been written on the cause of this phenomenon-IMO, the cause is when you abdicate your role as a parent in transmitting a tradition of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim to educators because you view yeshiva education as providing “Judaic studies” and a secular education as opposed to providing the tools to enable you, as a parent, in the transmission of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.

  6. mycroft says:

    Modern Orthodoxy has decreased somewhat not in the US but not in Israel -in great part due to what Dr Tovah Lichtenstein wrote “What is the long-term infl uence of my father, the Rov, almost two decades after his passing and two and a half decades after his voice was last
    heard in public? I believe there is increasing interest in Israel and a decline in his influence in the United States….In the United States, I believe that the influence of my father, the Rov, is on the decline, and part of the community which he taught and directed, is moving in other directions…. And yet, there are former students,
    notable among them a number of faculty members or former faculty
    members at RIETS, who have not only turned their backs on the complex worldview the Rov espoused but are anxious to claim that the Rov himself turned his back on this view. It has even been claimed that “Whatever he (the Rov) did aside from learning Torah came to him coincidentally.”It is, indeed, preposterous to think that his major philosophical essays, which interweave general philosophy and science, are “coincidental.” ”
    Given the at least 3 decades since the Rav was active at Yeshiva-the vast majority of mechanchim,Rabbonim are not students of the Rav but but students of as Dr Lichtenstein described those who “turned their backs on the complex worldview the Rov espoused but are anxious to claim that the Rov himself turned his back on this view”
    For descriptive purposes referring to the Ravs hashkafa as centre that of current RIETS right made an opening for YCT on the left.
    My last statement should not meant to imply that IMO the Rav would have been agreed in general with YCT-merely a sociological statement. Without teachers being produced who believe in MO one can’t expect students to believe in it. Of course, a far worse result may occur when students see teachers who don’t believe what their parents believe-they’ll reject both viewpoints. Frequent occurrence the minyan that I attend in the morning often has two teachers in MO schools whose children go to very chareidi schools.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Mycroft-despite your assertions to the contrary-there is simply no evidence that RYBS encouraged all of his talmidim to obtain Phds and viewed the same as the Ikar and being a Talmid Chacham devoted to spreading the adherence to Torah Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim as Tafel.

      • mycroft says:

        “Mycroft-despite your assertions to the contrary-there is simply no evidence that RYBS encouraged all of his talmidim to obtain Phds ”
        I certainly don’t believe that the Rav encouraged “all” of his talmidim to obtain a Phd-but that does not mean that the Rav did not encourage some of his talmidim to study for a Phd. The record is clear that he encouraged at least some of his students to obtain Phds. BTW I am not aware of having ever stated that the Rav encouraged “all” of his talmidim to obtain a Phd.

        “and viewed the same as the Ikar and being a Talmid Chacham devoted to spreading the adherence to Torah Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim as Tafel”
        Another incorrect assertion even those who are most pro secular studies would never state that Torah is secondary to secular studies.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        So why bemoan the fact that some of RYBS’s talmidim don’t have PhDs?

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Mycroft wrote in part-“Frequent occurrence the minyan that I attend in the morning often has two teachers in MO schools whose children go to very chareidi schools.”

      Perhaps, the reason for such a “frequent occurence” is that the teachers in question simply decided that the “very charedi aschools” suit their purpose as parents -the enthusiastic transmisssion of a set of values rooted in Torah, Avodah Gmilus Chasadim as opposed to a private school with some Judaic studies with the unrealistic hope that the student will “choose” to become a Shomer Torah Umitzvos.

      • mycroft says:

        Whatever the reason for teachers preferring chareidi schools rather than hashkafot of the schools that employ them-the result for their students is the same they are exposed to teachers who the students know do not believe in the message that the school claims to believe in.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I think that you are expecting every rebbe and morah in a MO school to be teaching Kiergegaard as opposed to the basic tools of Torah Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that one of R Gordimer’s points needs to be stressed-there is no excuse for anyone not opening a sefer and learning today-there are excellent sefarim Lashon Kodesh, great editions of almost classical sefer, and a great variety of superb English Halachic and Hashkafic works. All it takes is the willingness to open the sefer.

  8. Raymond says:

    I am no expert in such matters, so I can define Modern Orthodox Judaism only according to my admittedly limited understanding. One of its elements, as far as I can tell, is that one follows Jewish law, without feeling the need to take on extra stringencies. One sticks to the letter of the law more than the spirit of the law, as a way of maintaining one’s religiosity, while fully immersing oneself in secular culture. Just to give one’s clothing as an example of what I mean, the Modern Orthodox Jewish man does not feel the need to wear a suit every moment that he appears in public. One can dress respectfully even without wearing that suit, which is quite a practical approach, especially in warmer climates. One does not shave the corner’s of one’s face, nor use a razor, but that does not mean that one has to have excessively long sideburns, or a long, thick beard, or really a visible beard at all. On a more practical level, one can learn whatever skills and education is necessary, to make a living such that one is economically self-sufficient, and not dependent on other people’s charity or, even worse, dependent on government welfare. One can be open to embracing secular culture, just as long as one first immerses oneself in Torah study, at least enough such that one always looks at the world through Torah eyes. It seems to me that what I am describing here, is a rational, sane, practical approach to living a Torah life, and as such, does not have to be on life support, but can be a lifestyle taken on by a majority of Orthodox Jews.

  9. David Ohsie says:

    I have no idea whether the “Modern Orthodox” are in crisis or not, but the arguments presented here appear weak. Two examples:

    Those who have remained in the normative Modern Orthodox camp have relied upon the post-high school “Israel year” to compensate for an otherwise lacking religious drive within much of Modern Orthodoxy, or have, thank God, found and sustained a relationship with a rebbe or rav with whom they continue to connect in order to stay inspired – for the system itself sadly often does not provide the inspiration.

    All of the camps utilize the “Israel year” and a sustained relationship with a Rebbe or Rav (doesn’t the Talmud tell you do to this?). How is this evidence of sterility?

    Liberal critics of the Rav have alleged, with great discernment, that he was largely a repackager of traditional ideas into modern lingo. Of course, tradition includes chiddush (novel insights), but in truth, nothing revolutionary, nothing that departs from Mesorah (Torah Tradition), nothing that takes Judaism in a new direction was present.

    And the right wing rejected the Rav entirely as putting himself outside the fold. Is that evidence that, “with great discernment”, they realized that his world-view was not traditional and perhaps heretical? Certainly he opined that his liberal views on secular education, women’s education and Israel fit into the tradition. Everyone thinks that their view can be fit into tradition including the MO. What of it?

  10. Yehudah Mirsky says:

    At the outset, I have to say that I am always glad to see mention of Rabbi Dr. Revel, a man I have long revered, even though he passed away decades before I was born. Indeed, my late uncle Rabbi Dr. Gersion Appel used to tell me about his yiras shamayim question, and it has been a mussar haskel for me.
    I hesitate to join in the fray, but can’t refrain from observing that Rabbi Gordimer seems to be conflating social Orthodoxy/lax observance, with Open Orthodoxy (which say what you will, is regularly intense and ideologically-driven), with “Modern Orthodoxy” more generally, as well as alleging large numbers of OTD without giving any real evidence (other than the “unpublished study” mentioned on the log to which he links. He oddly seeks to defend the legacy of Rav Soloveitchik by asserting that he was indeed as unoriginal as unnamed liberal critics of him allege (I read a lot of Jewish theology and don’t know who he has in mind). Rather than see the renewed interest in Chasidus as a potential source of vitality and a new configuration of avodah alongside others he views it as entirely negative. In addition, it hardly seems to me that for the Rov and R’ Dr. Revel, secular studies were a mere aesthetic appendage. Indeed, their Haredi critics then and now certainly didn’t see matters that way. And I submit that study of their works will lead to the same conclusion.
    Rabbi Gordimer is, of course, entitled to disapprove of some things and seek to promote others — and we all seek to live Torah as best we can. But this mixing of different phenomena and insufficiently careful reading of history does not in the end, I think, move us forward.

  11. David K says:

    I’m a chozeir b’tshuvah who has never really fully identified as either charedi or ‘modern’. In addition to the the wonderful physical rav I’ve made myself (who is part of the ‘charedi’ world), the other rav I’ve made for myself is Rav Shampshon Raphael Hirsch. I haven’t seen him mentioned in the article and discussion here. I think it’s impossible to read his writings without feeling, and being enveloped in, the intensity of his feelings, thoughts and vision which must guide the “modern” Jew. Unfortunately, I’ve seen uninspired charedi Jews as well as uninspired charedi Jews. Trying to follow the path of Rav Hirsch will, iy’H, help ensure my, and my children’s, strong connection to Hashem and His Torah.

  12. dr.bill says:

    I will not repeat the important points Yehudah Mirsky, DF and Mycroft made, below. I would only add that calling chareidim traditional orthodoxy, is using the word “traditional” in a rather innovative way, unless of course you think Rashi wore a shtreimel and vayse zocken.
    Let me address the issue raised and how it might be dissected. There are two separable issues: 1) the survival of modern orthodoxy and 2) the attrition of the children and grandchildren of people who currently identify as modern orthodox. As to the former issue, I believe antecedents to what is called modern orthodoxy have existed going back to Talmudic times, and have been subject to dispute throughout history. Somehow, modern orthodoxy (and its earlier incarnations) has picked up enough adherents to flourish; like overall Jewish survival it does not concern me that much.
    With respect to the later issue, each epoch, is faced with different issues which traditional (what you call “modern” orthodox) Jews had to address. We must address today’s challenges, challenges Rabbi Revel ztl never faced and the Rav ztl did not encounter throughout his formative years. For example, determinism has challenged religious beliefs in free will for over 2000 years; its challenge went from philosophical, to scientific, to biological to psychological. Answers provided by gedolim of previous generations were not sufficient as the details of the challenge evolved.

    Let’s turn to some current sources of losses within modern orthodoxy. One large category is the slide to the right, a real issue, but a topic for a different day. A second area is Aliyah, certainly not an area of concern. A third area is homosexuality. Until 30 – 40 years ago, (open) homosexuality was unacceptable in almost all parts of society; I grew up not knowing what the term “confirmed bachelor” even meant. Today, most segments of society accept homosexuals; groups who have as yet dealt inadequately with the problem, can expect around 5% attrition. I have observed this issue impacting many friends and family. It will take a while before rabbis and other professionals find a way forward. A fourth area is sexuality. I don’t believe our society is just more promiscuous, but it also has become less private and tolerant about what is occurring. That in turn encourages more promiscuity, particularly impacting those attending secular universities. As long as parents deal with their young adults, many return to more traditional behavior as married adults. A fifth area, are intellectual rebels, for whom traditional beliefs are challenged. I am not sure if this is always the reason as opposed to a justification for a different cause of disaffection. In any case, despite the fact that this group, in my observation, includes some of the best and brightest, I do not think pointing to practicing Jews whose beliefs are viewed as heretical, is, in and of itself, sufficient to address this issue. I wonder if wider embrace of Wissenschaft des Judentums (and less mythology about our past) might help.
    I am unsure about the relative size of these categories of defection, and there are probably more. But at the end of the day, outside the right wing of the OO, what Gush produces in Israel is sorely needed in the US. Or perhaps it’s is God’s plan to encourage Aliyah to a place where a growing number of Rabbis and professors are addressing current challenges, as opposed to hiding behind gedolim of the past.

  13. Ben Bradley says:

    This analysis is deeply flawed IMHO. The idea that that Rav Soloveichik’s philosophy is merely new packaging is quite wrong. It’s clear that his views on Zionism and and secular studies would have been deeply at odds with those of R Chaim Brisker, for example. His chiddushim were not only in lomdus. So much so that I have trouble reconciling his philosophy with a range of other machshava. Notwithstanding that even his closest talmidim have greatly differing opinions about his views.

    Quite apart from that, while I’m no expert on American orthodox sociology, I very much doubt that the presentation and contrast of MO society past and present is accurate. My understanding is that there’s always been movement from within MO to the right and left, inevitably. ‘Frei-ing out’ at university is hardly new. My understanding from those who grow up in MO of the fifties and sixties is that careful commitment to every halacha in the book was never part of the mentality or social norm.
    My perception from a distance is that there is still a healthily committed centrist movement in the school of thought of Rav Soloveichik and that YU was never homogenous.
    Modern Orthodoxy has no ‘true roots’. It is a sociological cohort which developed amongst American Jewry which was effectively guided by R Soloveichik. It was not created by him though nor did it start at one point in time. Nor is it synonomous with YU or RIETS. It has always had different voices and a range wthin its ideology.

    I think that neither the diagnosis nor the remedy is accurate. Sorry doctor.

  14. Y. Ben-David says:

    I think this piece shows gross overgeneralizations and a form of triumphalism (“look how big we are, we must be right!).
    First of all, does MO lose some of its youth? No doubt, there are certainly those who drop observance, or who remain observant but never “open a sefer”. But aren’t there people who outwardly identify as Haredi by their dress and the jargon they use but also never open a sefer? The difference is that the MO who never opens a sefer is more visually identifiable than the Haredi who never opens one.
    Secondly, the pull of the left-wing “social justice” agenda which advocates radical feminism, homosexual “marriage”, exaggerated concern about trendy issues like global warming, “sustainable agriculture” and the rest (I am not saying there are reasons for concern, but I am talking about liberals/progressives who declaim concern for these things out of a feeling of identification with the liberal/progressive agenda rather than actually investigating these matters scientifically) seems to be penetrating deeply into the Open Orthodox group, but it must be admitted that many Haredi leaders have open alliances with liberal/progressive politicians who advocate the same policies out of a feeling that “people who are liberal on homosexual marriage will also be liberal on tolerance towards religious Jews” or the fact that these politicians may be bigger advocates of social welfare spending that many Haredi have become more and more dependent on, rather than conservative politicians who may be closer to Jewish values on social issues. By granting legitimacy to these political trends out of a simple concern for self-interest, they can inadvertantly signalling to their followers that the other issues these politicians are pushing are legitimate for religious Jews.
    Thirdly, triumphalism is a very shaky form of self-justification. The fact is that large majority of Jew born into religious families in the last half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th abandoned religious observance for various reasons. Who is to say it couldn’t happen again?

  15. micha berger says:

    Both the comparative health of the Israeli Religious Zionist community and American MO’s need to hire non-MO rabbeim are evidence of the idealist drain on the MO community caused by making aliyah a central ideal.

    Something not discussed so far is whether the MO drop-out rate actually is larger than that of chareidim. As far as I can tell, the draw on MO adolescents and early 20-somethings (who in today’s society are also adolescent) by the western societal ideas they are exposed to pull about as hard as overly narrow definitions of ideal roles push their chareidi peers about. Are chareidim actually faring better ideologically, or due to birth rate? Much of this post was based on assumption for which I would want to see actual statistics.

    But I do believe MO is “failing” in the sense that in my own home town, Passaic, 1/3 of the rabbis work for YU or the OU (and I do not mean “OU Kosher”) and yet you look around and you can’t see it in the complexion of the community. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing; as I wrote, the “team” I’m rooting for is those who keep Torah uMitzvos. If the MO strategy’s time has come and gone, it means little to me. There is no need to preserve the ideology beyond its usefulness. I’m all for “Centrists” in black hats or Neo-Chassidim, if those strategies are what work today.

    • lacosta says:

      the only options for ‘light’ [as in MO-lite, haredi-lite, chabad-lite] 80 yr ago was C movement . we know where that went. the question is whether there is a mo [modus operandi] for MO [the lighter end] , that will keep the next generation nominally O –even if it means an O where they are wearing shorter clothes, uncovering their hair, not going to minyan or learning tora regularly etc . if the goal is to only have ‘black hat MO’, then there can’t be a complaint if an OO develops and heads towards C…..

  16. Bob Miller says:

    How do you maintain the previous intensity of contact with general society after the latter has fallen off a moral and philosophical cliff? Modern modernity is a far cry from the old modernity that MO theoreticians were comfortable engaging. Lines have to be drawn now that were deemed unnecessary or even wrong back then. Prestigious colleges and universities, which were engines of assimilation even in the old days, may have become radically unfit for our sons and daughters. Has modern orthodoxy taken note and responded appropriately?

  17. Aharon Haber says:

    I will rephrase in my own words what some others here have already said. Lets leave the definitional question of what constitutes MO, OO, RWMO, Chareidi etc. to the polemicists, the historians and the recruiters on both sides of the right-left divide. There is no mitzvah to be Orthodox (maybe just orthodox). I dont know what MO is if it is anything or whether it is failing and I dont care. I have Shul that I am mostly comfortable with, I have schools that my children go to that are close to what I identify with, and I have access to education (religious and not) for myself that enriches my life. I do not choose what to engage with based on whether it fits into some category or definition. Modern Orthodoxy does not need to be redeemed but maybe we do.

  18. DF says:

    This very website strives to feature educated Jews, of both sexes, who are knowledgeable about and interact with the word around them, and is published on the internet. What were you saying again about the failures of modern orthodoxy?

  19. Sholom S says:

    How are “traditional” orthodox communities doing any better? Sure their numbers are growing. But are its adherents any more passionate? Do they have better values? Do they live happier lives? Do they know and understand Torah any better? We all know that the frummer population is growing much faster than modern orthodoxy. But why assume that it’s because the former is better quality? There’s a much simpler reason: Modern orthodox families have few children and give them a better education, making it relatively easy to leave. Whereas the very frum have lots of children and give them a terrible secular education, making it almost impossible to leave.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Sholom S-YOur questions are better than your answers. Like it or not, the Charedi world runs on the supremacy of Torah study. Take a look at the Charedi media every week and you will see niche like yeshivos .developinmg , especially in the Lakwood area. Yes, all roads in the Charedi world lead to Lakewood. Halevai that MO realized that YU and RIETS and its Roshei Yeshiva and talmidim were not part of a slide to the right, but part of a movement that says you can be a Ben Torah and Talmid Chacham with a college education, with the recognition that the secular world of today is far less friendly to the acceptance and tolerance of free exercise of religion and religious values in general. The notion that the hashkafic tools of the 1950s can be employed without that awareness today unfortunately is a POV that requires IMO real Cheshjbon HaNefesh as to its vitality and utility.

      • dr. bill says:

        You write:”The notion that the hashkafic tools of the 1950s can be employed without that awareness today unfortunately is a POV that requires IMO real Cheshjbon HaNefesh as to its vitality and utility.” Absolutely correct! Hence, women achieving an expanded role in leading Jewish communities, increased appreciation for wissenschaft des judentums particularly among orthodox scholars in Israel, greater sensitivity to same-sex attraction,etc. AND the doubters of women’s talmud study, the slide to right and attempts to recast Rabbi Revel ztl or the Rav ztl, declarations that JONAH must work with infantile linkage to beliefs about God’s goodness, etc. When people realize Torah values are not time-bound but relate to EVERY society, we will all become more tolerant.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Actually, I meant not, as you suggested and implied, that we should discard Mesorah for the Zeitgesit of the times, whether in “academic Jewish learning”, Issurei Torah or in the use of Torah study by women as a platform supporting and rationalizing radial egalitarian feminist rooted change. Your suggestions IMO are indicative of when appeasement of the intellect and culture of the time prevails.

      • dr. bill says:

        I know you did not really mean what you wrote. I am not surprised that academic scholarship and unconstrained women’s Talmud do not have your support. But even for one promoting your hashkafah, including those two areas with “Issurei Torah” in one list as you do defies logic and halakha.

  20. joel rich says:

    “We” are all Modern Orthodox since we all live in modern times and are orthodox – each group interacts with modernity on some level and is impacted by the world around us. Having said that, the paucity of real data on any subgroup (besides anecdotal as in I know a guy who this happened to so it must be the general case) makes it hard for any subgroup to identify the root causes and proper responses. The lack of communal authority also makes it hard to institute any particular program.

  21. Allan Katz says:

    for sure the chareidi model would not be a good fit for most people. The question is both for all sections of the community what is going to happen now that the money is running out in the chareidi community and we will see a leveling of the playing field with most men needing to spend more time in higher secular education and working. I think the MO should not only be focusing on how to integrate all experiences and learning including secular learning into a Torah life, but as Rabbi David Lapin says – showing how the Torah has answers and solutions to the problems facing the world. This will counter a movemen tand attraction to a one dimensional secular learning experience. In a practical sense, it means that working people and especially students have access to ‘migarot’- frameworks and environments. Without structure most people struggle with learning and duvening in a minyan. A special focus should be made for enriching the spiritual lives of women – especially with learning and a focus on Tzniyut. Men have minyan, duvening and structured learning, women don’t. I don’t believe any community has all the answers

  22. Steve Brizel says:

    It is sad and unfortunate that in too many of these threads, Mesorah is disparaged. Let me offer two distinct observations:

    1) We all recite Tefilos and even perform some Mitzvos of a Rabbinic nature-of whose authorship the academic Jewish world either denies ( Unesaneh Tokef, Machnisei Rachamim) and views of dubious historic origins ( Neros Chanukah) or a legal fiction ( Eruv Tavshilin, Yom Tov sheni). Yet, these actions have been ratified by the actions of Klal Yisrael who act otherwise and have voted with their feet.

    2) Who taught Yogi Berra how to catch-Bill Dickey Who taught Jorge Posada how to catch-Yogi Berra! The transmission of Torah and mitzvos is done in the same vein by a rebbe to a talmid-not by reading a book on how to catch or on the development of the game of baseball

    • dr. bill says:

      The late prof. katz and his students have taught us much about tradition. another of his essays on Yom Tov sheni would enlighten you about one academic’s treatment. BTW, how would you judge something found in the cairo genizah versus a historic account in the Or Zerua? Or do you really think that history given by the talmud / chachmai hadorot must be taken as true? It is well known that a number of current customs have non-jewish origin; halakhic jews avoid them!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This