The New Nishma Surveys – Wow and Whoa! (Plus an Endnote on Israeli Modern Orthodoxy)
Although the Orthodox community is the quickest growing and most Jewishly engaged segment of our people, the volume of data on Orthodox communal norms is probably the sparsest. Thanks to Nishma Research, this is becoming far less the case.
Moving further down the path of the 2017 Nishma Research Profile of American Modern Orthodox Jews, Nishma has just concluded two new research projects: The Successes, Challenges, and Future of American Modern Orthodoxy and The Journeys and Experiences of Baalei Teshuvah. Fresh off the press, these important research projects, which employed anonymous, extremely detailed online surveys of thousands of Orthodox Jews, most of whom self-identify as Modern Orthodox, provide some expected and some hugely unexpected insights into the religious practices and mindsets of the respondents.
The research, both in terms of its content and aim, has been conducted and presented in an extremely comprehensive and objective fashion, with no agenda or “spin”. While there was some animated discussion and debate among the Study Advisory Group – of which I was a member, along with a very diverse representation from across the spectrum – the data and final reports are purely factual and nonpartisan. This, with the genuinely professional and kind manner of Rabbi Mark (“Moish”) Trencher, who spearheaded and ran the project, made it an extremely worthwhile, enjoyable and substantive endeavor for all involved.
Enough for the appetizers – let’s get to the main course.
Rather than rehash the studies’ findings in my own words, I directly quote some salient portions of the Nishma press release and the reports’ summaries (with certain sections bolded by me):
Modern Orthodoxy’s worldview involves melding Jewish observance with secular knowledge and participation, and 88% experience positive interactions between their Orthodoxy and secular society – most often simply by taking advantage of opportunities to create a positive impression with non-Orthodox or non-Jews. However, interaction with secular society can create conflict, with 88% of respondents having experienced such a conflict. While half (51%) stand firm in their religious practice, a substantial minority (37%) compromise at some level – most often in areas of kashrut and Shabbat.
While more than two-thirds (68%) fully agree that MO is as Jewishly authentic as Charedi Judaism, but only one in four (24%) agree fully that MO is spiritually inspiring, and that MO Jews are quite knowledgeable about the fundamental underpinnings of their faith.
Few (15%) agree fully that religious observance in the Modern Orthodox community is where it should be, but closer to half (43%) agree fully or somewhat.
The historic near-universal attendance at Orthodox Jewish day schools seems to be slipping, as 31% say they might consider public school as an option. 55% agree that their Orthodox community school systems are successful in creating committed Orthodox Jews, while 34% disagree.
People want change, and the top issues raised by those who advocate for change are increased roles for women and acceptance of LGBTQ. But many people are opposed to change, and the areas where they do not want change are the exact same issues. Modern Orthodoxy is being stretched by what are seen as both positive and negative views and values of secular society.
There is widespread concern about people leaving Orthodoxy (63%), and even more concern that communal leaders are not adequately addressing the issue (67%).
More than one-third (34%) believe “there is no longer a single, cohesive Modern Orthodox community. Modern Orthodoxy should acknowledge this and would perhaps be better off splitting into separate camps.”
42% of Modern Orthodox identify as baalei teshuvah (becoming Orthodox at or after bar/bat mitzvah age), a number consistent with what the 2013 Pew Study had found.
The top reasons baalei teshuvah give for why they became Orthodox are intellectual attraction or curiosity (53%), seeing Orthodoxy as more authentically Jewish (52%) and more truthful (35%), and connection to Jewish roots and heritage (36%).
Half of baalei teshuvah have continued to become more observant over time, but one in four says they have become less observant and gradually more lenient. Additionally, the vast majority (83%) say that they have “held onto” things from their pre-Orthodox life, which are not commonly found in the Orthodox world, most often citing left-of-center political views (20%) and socially liberal views (12%).
About three-fourths of all Orthodox Jews see their community as very accepting of baalei teshuvah. However, baalei teshuvah’s comfort levels with davening (prayer), Jewish learning and day-to-day Orthodox living are significantly lower than those of people raised Orthodox, even after many years.
Charedi Baalei Teshuvah differs from Modern Orthodox BTs in a number of ways. They more often became Orthodox because they sought authentic Judaism and saw the Torah as truthful, and were influenced more by kiruv. They are more religiously observant and more comfortable with Orthodoxy, but they more often still view themselves as BTs.
Readers are encouraged to go through the studies and see the detailed data for themselves. What interests me are the reasons behind the results, as well as what the results mean for the future.
Cutting to the chase, it all seems to boil down to what Modern Orthodoxy is and what it is not. Is Modern Orthodoxy essentially a passionate commitment to Torah tradition, with an emphasis on navigating the modern world, along with appreciating and partaking of general society’s positive offerings, so long as they comply with and perhaps enhance one’s Torah experience? Or is Modern Orthodoxy a diluted and compromised form of Orthodoxy – the “MO Lite” brand – practiced by those who are not really interested in scrupulous adherence to the Shulchan Aruch and engagement in Torah study? Or is Modern Orthodoxy a new theology of sorts, which synthesizes Torah and secular values, and perhaps should accommodate changing societal attitudes?
The truth, I believe, is all of the above – for the simple reason that Modern Orthodoxy was never an actual denomination or movement in the first place. Rather, American Jews in the Orthodox orbit informally and pretty much coincidentally identify as Modern Orthodox for a variety of reasons, which are not really related. For example, I know people who send their children to Modern Orthodox day schools because these schools: a) harbor a serious commitment to secular studies/degree preparation (in addition to Torah studies), or b) “do not force students to be strictly religious” and often have many non-Orthodox students, or c) are Religious Zionist (e.g. they recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut and march in the Celebrate Israel parade, etc.), or d) provide a synthesis of Torah and secular ideology. Often, starkly different families send their children to the same exact Modern Orthodox school, each family for any of the above, disparate reasons. These parents, who identify as Modern Orthodox, range from not fully observant, to almost yeshivish/Charedi, to diehard hesder yeshiva types (many of whom are not fans of Western/“modern” values), to those who are not so interested in ideology but adhere to Halacha on a basic level, to Jews who proudly and devoutly espouse a “synthesis” hashkafa (and are fully observant). Modern Orthodoxy is thus more of a de facto, general descriptor than anything else; it is almost whatever one wants it to be and was never launched as an official movement (notwithstanding Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm’s 1986 formulation of Centrist Orthodoxy; I was in the audience when Rabbi Lamm orally unveiled it at YU).
It is clear to me that the Nishma data reflects a blend of unrelated levels of observance and commitment that happen to fall under the loose Modern Orthodox classification. I know people who take great liberties with the observance of Shabbos, kashrus and most other areas of Halacha, and they have told me that they conduct themselves that way because they are Modern Orthodox. I also know some incredibly frum people – frummer than most yeshivish people – who refer to themselves as Modern Orthodox, simply due to their desire to engage and gain from the outside world (educationally and professionally). The Nishma research project includes these dramatically different types and more, and its data was hence all over the place. I am confident that the Nishma data which depicts seriously compromised halachic observance and openness to sending children to public school reflects input from “MO Lite” types who participated in the study.
Quite surprisingly, almost half of those surveyed by Nishma are unenthusiastic about the Modern Orthodox day school system, and fewer than one in four respondents finds Modern Orthodoxy inspiring (!). This should send shockwaves throughout the Modern Orthodox establishment, as without a robust chinuch system and very strong commitment, retention and perpetuation, disaster will be on the horizon.
Equally alarming is a phenomenon I have observed, in which Modern Orthodox shuls contribute immense sums of money to Israeli causes, while neglecting to provide adequate day school scholarships for the children of that shul/local community itself. I am aware of one such situation, in which an extremely wealthy Modern Orthodox congregation donates millions upon millions of dollars each year to Israeli charities, while large numbers of the shul’s youth attend the local public school, due to lack of scholarship funding for the shul’s affiliated day school.
The Journeys and Experiences of Baalei Teshuvah is a fascinating read, and its data about the broad acceptance of baalei teshuva into the Orthodox community is heartwarming. I have two general observations to make about this Nishma study, even though the topic deserves its own full treatment, as there is so much to discuss.
Firstly, every baal teshuva and his circumstances are different, baalei teshuva must be viewed with utmost admiration and esteem, and no generalizations should ever be made – yet I suggest that the data regarding the “success rates” of baalei teshuva must be considered in light of the effort and determination of baalei teshuva to fulfill their religious calling. Many (and probably most) baalei teshuva are very driven, working their hardest to “catch up”, make great strides and become meticulously observant, frum Jews. On the other hand, I have also met baalei teshuva who lack this impulse and motivation, and despite being quite intelligent and capable, never quite “make it”, failing to invest the energy to learn, know and fully acclimate. These people are have made a noble and bold life choice to become baalei teshuva , but they are not the BT movement’s true success stories, and the “FFB” Orthodox community cannot really be blamed for it. I think this factor is of great weight and must be considered.
Secondly, the disparity between Modern Orthodox and Charedi baalei teshuva is immense. Among those surveyed by Nishma, 84% of Charedi baalei teshuva identify as “full-time (24/7) Orthodox Jews”, whereas only 45% of Modern Orthodox baalei teshuva identify this way. 6% of Charedi baalei teshuva are open to possibly sending their children to public school, whereas a whopping 37% of Modern Orthodox baalei teshuva are open to considering public school for their children – truly startling. This might very well indicate that although the motivation for becoming baalei teshuva among both Modern Orthodox and Charedi respondents is sincere, as carefully documented in the research, the percentage of baal teshuva success stories is dominated by the Charedi segment.
These Nishma research projects provide more than just food for thought – they MUST lead to action, before more of our brothers and sisters tragically leave the fold. It is compellingly clear that there exist major systemic problems; leadership has to act now. When we read that “There is widespread concern about (Modern Orthodox) people leaving Orthodoxy (63%), and even more concern that communal leaders are not adequately addressing the issue (67%)”, that 76% of Modern Orthodox Jews do not find their religious experience inspiring, that over a third of Modern Orthodox Jews compromise in Shabbos and kashrus observance and nearly a third might consider sending their children to public school, and that almost half of Modern Orthodox Jews feel that their schools are not succeeding to produce committed Orthodox Jews, we face an inferno.
Some Modern Orthodox rabbis and educators, aware of the sterile religious environment that is often pervasive in their institutions (albeit with many great exceptions!), have introduced Neo-Chassidus and of course rely heavily upon the “gap year in Israel” as antidotes. That is not enough and is more of a bandage after the injury; serious and substantive in-house repair and recalibration are sorely needed. (Please see this important discussion about the trajectory of Modern Orthodox education.) Schools, shuls and homes must all be part of the solution.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence manifesting considerable attrition in the Modern Orthodox community; this issue was addressed in the 2017 Nishma research study. The mere fact that new Modern Orthodox schools rarely open, unless they are in communities which attract many newcomers or “RWMO/right-wing Modern Orthodox” types (e.g. Bergen County), is a sufficient indicator, when placed in the context of Modern Orthodox birthrates. (Please also see here.)
We pray that the dire situation depicted in much of the Nishma data improves – but nothing will happen unless leadership takes decisive action.
Although Israeli Modern Orthodoxy is arguably in a far better position (notwithstanding a reportedly high attrition rate which must be robustly addressed on many levels), there is another phenomenon in Israeli Modern Orthodoxy which has not really caught the eye of many, but which threatens to overturn so much.
Dr. Adam S. Ferziger’s new article, Fluidity and Bifurcation: Critical Biblical Scholarship and Orthodox Judaism in Israel and North America, introduces a world heretofore unknown to many of us, in which numerous leading Israeli Religious Zionist rabbis are engaged in what is essentially Higher Biblical Criticism, and are in some cases challenging the historicity of the Torah, questioning the nature of the Sinaitic revelation as traditionally understood, and suggesting multiple Torah authorship theories. Other Israeli Religious Zionist rabbis featured in Dr. Ferziger’s article do not go that far, yet are involved in nontraditional Bible study methodologies that can quite possible lead to heresy. These rabbis are not affiliated with the Merkaz Ha-Rav/”Kav” Religious Zionist camp – quite the opposite.
Before proceeding further, I must emphatically note that Dr. Ferziger’s article addresses the role of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l in allegedly enabling this phenomenon to take root. I have nothing but deep respect for Rav Lichtenstein, who was a tzaddik and a defender of tradition. In no way do I invoke this article in order to imply criticism of this great and towering man, who was obviously very complex and probably understood by extremely few.
Many, if not all, of the contemporary Israeli rabbis cited in Dr. Ferziger’s article have affiliations with America’s Open Orthodox movement – the only group self-identifying as Orthodox whose leaders have at times tolerated and/or endorsed the promotion of theories challenging the Torah’s historicity, its singular divine authorship, and the traditional understanding of the Revelation at Sinai. The difference is that whereas Open Orthodoxy is not really part of the American Modern Orthodox establishment, many of the rabbis cited by Dr. Ferziger and the institutions they lead are quite prominent and influential in some segments of Israeli Modern Orthodox society. The phenomenon documented by Dr. Ferziger can result in immense damage to Torah belief and observance in the Israeli Modern Orthodox community – perhaps far more than realized at this point.
We have all heard stories about Israeli Dati Leumi youth who finish school, complete their army service, travel to the Far East to “chill and clear their minds”, and return essentially nonobservant to their homeland. (I fear that a recent Orthodox attempt to pursue spirituality in the East might do more harm than good, by encouraging more extensive exploration of Eastern religions on the part of young Jews.) Now, there is a new force threatening Dati Leumi commitment to traditional Torah belief, but this time, it is coming from leading rabbis in parts of the Dati Leumi community rather than from irreligious or non-Jewish sources. It is alarming.
Action is needed, and now. But more than action, we need tefilla and siyata di-shmaya, for the tasks before us are immense, and we cannot be absolved or in denial.
the eatout/pants/nohaircover/nominyan/nokoveaitim segment has always expected their kids to remain in the same lane. that seems to have been wishful thinking — and if they are calling for ‘solutions’, they aren’t going to be open to any of the answers…..
I suspect their children move in both directions from the way their parents behave. in my rather modern MO circle, most children do not behave like their parents; the vast majority are to varying degrees to the so-called right.
Children go both ways from their parents. We need data,FWIW I just discussed issue about changes both directions with an expert . Discussing well known studies showing huge losses from Israeli MO community, and he thought we don’t talk enough about how great our losses are from US MO community and causes of it. There are many causes including lack of consistent messaging from school and home. Often school teacher give a message different than parents and sad aspect is often children follow neither. Need consistency.
There are other reasons for losses but sadly there are very frequent. Chareidi world has losses too, much tougher to find out those because to a greater extent those who leave are shunned more and thus little record.
Just sad analysis see birth rates in various segments of Orhodox community and compare sizes of day school attendance in past sixty years in various subgroups,not a great picture.
In my minyan most children have roughly followed parents but sadly far more have left than have made a serious change to the right. I wait to ten years or so after return from gap year in Israel. There is a short term change among many after returning. Must wait there rew try and a few years to see lasting impact.
Well, in the feel good department, I’m really enjoying shiurim from the YUTorah.org app on my kosher phone.
you might find the weekly audio roundup helpful in your selection process
[B]aalei teshuvah’s comfort levels with davening (prayer), Jewish learning and day-to-day Orthodox living are significantly lower than those of people raised Orthodox, even after many years.
In my experience, baalei teshuvah who live in large Orthodox communities with myriad learning and modeling opportunities integrate much faster and easier. As opposed to smaller out-of-town cities when the choices are a mix of Chabad and a weaker MO. Fortunately, my BT mentor advised me to move to a major metropolitan area years ago, and this has made all the difference in my frum life.
There may be truth to what you say, but the survey results did not show this. We asked baalei teshuvah : “How religiously comfortable are you with Day-to-day Orthodox living?” Among those in larger communities (200,000+ Orthodox Jews), 67.9% said they are fully or mostly comfortable. Among those in smaller communities, 67.3% said they are fully or mostly comfortable. The difference is not statistically significant.
Possibly those BTs are comfortable where they are but if a small-town BT moved elsewhere he/she may discover what a gap there is in their practice and knowledge.
This could also explain why the smaller MO communities today seem more at risk for incorporating YCT and OO philosophies.
There are certainly exceptions. I was recently in San Jose, CA which has an impressive Rav, strong minyanim, and many shiurim.
The term Modern Orthodox or modern Orthodox has meant drastically different things to different people for decades. Is the term modern an adjective or a noun? The term has been used sadly by both an Orthodox lite practitioner and also by those totally committed to Halacha..
What confuses people is that sociologically the Orthodox lite group finds it easier to belong to a MO instruction which is committed to Halacha than a Chareidi institution.
Re nontraditional Bible scholarship which I am not sure what you mean by the term, there has been for centuries great Rabbonim who would interpret pshat in the Chumash differently than what appears to be mesorah. Of interest, is that those who often had the most aggressive pshat were the most traditional in psak Halacha see eg Rashbam and Ibn Ezra. Saadiah Gaon and Rambam could have nontraditional pshat on Chumash but certainly were very traditional in psak.
Ibn Ezra rejects the proposed interpretation of the Karaim quite forcefully and although Ramban criticizes Ibn Ezra at times Ramban never wrote that ibn Ezra was beyond the parole of Parshanut .Rashbam in both Parshas Pekudei and in Parshas Vatikra refers the student of Chumash to Rashi.Rambam in the Yad often disagrees with the Gaonim and presents a view that generates further commentary on why and what purpose Rambam presented a comment in that manner. One can find many Mitzvos thatChazal view as a Tikun for a particular transgression that do so suggested well before Eambam wrote the MN
Show us contemporaries of each of the above referenced Mefarshim who wrote that the above mentioned Mefarshim did not subscribe to Torah Min HaShamayim of both Torah Shebicsav and TSBP as opposed to some of the individuals mentioned in the Ferziger article. Advocating “aggressive phat” should not be confused with denying Torah Min HaShamayim
Nontraditional interpretations can take two forms (and their mixtures):
1. New insights consistent with our Mesorah
2. Subversive assertions contrary to our Mesorah
Minim over millennia have found ways to twist our sacred texts, words, and concepts to fit their own ideas
minim often chose a literal interpretation over the rabbinic interpretation. if you have any interest in debating a min, get his viewpoint understood accurately.
i doubt most orthodox rabbis could debate a min successfully. hazal did not advice dah ma she-tashuv because it is effortless.
minim often chose a literal interpretation over the rabbinic interpretation.
Not sure that modern day minim do that.
In any event, the short answer is that God, who wrote the Torah, is not a five year old. He is quite capable of writing a text with multiple layers of meaning and metaphoric content.
I’ll have to check out the newest survey. Sounds interesting enough, although the previous version had a number of methodological issues in my careful reading of the fine print, and that’s part of what I do for a living.
agreed-especially the response bias (i.e. who chooses to take the time to fill out the survey)
See the detailed Method Statement on page 4. We are in the early years of serious research in the Orthodox and MO community. Resources do not exist yet to either do opt-out studies or to apply stratified sampling weights to results. Don’t let “the perfect” get in the way of “the good” … progress in an area needing more.
To Mark Trencher below:
Credible research also needs to clearly stipulate limitations, and not simply bury them within a methodological footnote. If one is to make statements about “modern Orthodox Jews”, one needs to know on what basis one can generalize from the given sample to the larger population. This needs to be included in any press statements and the like.
This is not to say that the studies are not without merit, and certainly the qualitative aspects of these studies can be appreciated without having this particular methodological consideration factor into the analysis.
Finally, the first things I always tell my students whenever they assess any research report are:
Who wrote it?
Who funded it?
This is particularly a relevant if both the researcher and the funder are the same entity.
The studies do not make clear what the entity called Nishmat Research is. Where did it come from? What is its stated agenda? Who or what funds it? To whom or what is it accountable for its findings?
Ethical considerations in research demand no less.
Hi Reb Yid,
Your questions (methodology, what Nishma Research is, funding, etc.) are largely answered in the report. See also Rabbi Gordimer’s intro comments in his article and Steve Brizel’s “testimonial” (thanks, Steve). Nishma Research is my “retirement project” and labor of love. My goal is to provide quality, transparent independent research to the community, and at least 50% is done on a pro bono basis. If you contact me through my website I’d love to chat with you. BTW, I am a professional survey researcher, statistician (professor as well) and analyst with 40+ years professional experience in the field in numerous capacities.
WRT to the endnote about the situation here in EY, there is a decades-long discussion if there ever was one Dati-Leumi community and if there was such a thing- does it still exist.
The correct way to learn Tanakh is certainly one of the main flashpoints.
The modern orthodox community faces a continuous challenge that living in this world presents. The Haredi world faces the ever-present danger of cataclysmic change that ( attempting, partial) separation from the world entails.
In the US the differences are significant, but not overwhelming; in Israel, they are much more significant for both internal and external reasons. A long term Torah umnasoh Derech threatens both the overall economy and certainly the sustainability of Hareidom. Growing strands of what approximates MO in Israel does not have the separation of a different religion provides in the US. Furthermore, with more advanced and more prevalent academic Jewish studies, fundamental beliefs are undergoing overwhelming challenges.
In both cases, Artzainu Ha’Kedoshah, will lead the way, wherever it might lead. Going to Israel in a few weeks, I look forward to shiurim largely unavailable in the US.
if they are recorded please let me know
If you read the Charedi media that is geared towards the American Yeshivish and Charedi worlds, and have any interaction via friends or relatives in those worlds, you will discover that while many subscribe to Torah Umnasah, many work as well. That would explain how and why my former neck of the woods is the summer capital of the Yeshivish and Charedi worlds with summer homes, not bungalows and a Walmart and a major shopping area within driving distance
What MO communities need is more passion towards Limud HaTorah. Like it or not Limud HaTorah on a daily basis in some form rooted to a Daf or a daily or weekly chavrusa by a husband and father sets the tone for the family in terms of what is considered important. On a more elementary and rudimentary level, going to Avos UBanim ( and events for Hashchalas Mishnayos and Gemara) not just by fathers but by grandfathers is one of the best means of showing a grandson the transmission of Torah and the values of Torah to the next generation.Obviously, if a community has similar programs for mothers and daughters, the message is the same-how you spend your spare time with your children and grandchildren sends a message.
As far as Israel is concerned, I strongly recommend anything written by Yeshohua Pfeiifer who champions economic integration of the Charedi world without any diminution of the Charedi view on how one is a Ben or Bas Torah. Like it or not, Charedim seriously believe that Limud HaTorah has as much if not more so to do with the survival of Am Yisrael than the IDF and the inability of the secular world and many in the RZ world to acknowledge that religious view and reality cannot be dismissed as an improper belief or basis for their view of the world.
Academic Jewish studies only present challenges to those whose Emunah in “fundemental beliefs” is not strong in the first place, which Rashi describes as “Kalei Emunah” regardless of their external attire, and when read on a sustained basis , are just another example of a self contained echo chamber that present data in a way so so as to justify their POV. Again, it bears repeating Academic Jewish studies per se deserve to be critiqued as not being Torah Lishmah.
The fascinating irony of the linked article at the end of R Gordimer’s thread is that the same was authored by a member of that echo chamber who in a sense of “The Emperor Has No Clothes” now submits well documented proof as to the dubious origins, and very problematic beliefs of many of the leading teachers of a means of learning Tanach that IMO in the search for Pshat and literary parallels has detached the learning of Chumash from TS BP. and the Gdoelei Mefarshim. This has led to the state that many in the RZ and MO world are ignorant of or disdain the Ikarei Emunah that are only found in a careful study of the Gdolei Mefarshim .It is tragic that a RY in hesder yeshiva has to write a book that attempts to work out a TUM like synthesis of Torah and Buddism That is what happens when you emphasize Pshat only at the expense of knowledge of the Gdoleui Mefarshim and the Ikarei HaEmunah contained therein.
I prefer to think that a story of two Yidden who were complete strangers reviewing the daf in an American airport despite their external differences is a great example s of Achdus.
The picture in Israel differs largely because of the military draft.
The draft is important, but I think that there are many other factors, which influence the amny differences between the RZ community and the MO communities in America . (e.g. secular studies. There are RZ yeshivot ktanot with no secular studies, something that you can’t find in the American RWMO community. Kal vakhomer WRT RZ yrdhivot gevohot and kollelim)
meaning what? that the army causes OTD ? that haredim live their lifestyle to dodge the draft? what did you mean?
Lacosta, I meant that some men who are better suited for the work force nevertheless stay in full-time learning to avoid what they or their leaders see as a threat of assimilation posed by military service.
Dr. Bill- B’rukhim HaBaim!
I hope that you will choosa to stay and make Aliya
not yet, but the desire is there. i hope to up my time in Israel to about 2 months.
not recorded. sorry
diversity exists in all segments in the US and Israel. in general, Hasidim in both places have never really adopted torah umnasoh en masse.
I’ve read pieces in the OU’s Jewish Action and elsewhere calling attention to the need for more passionate commitment and involvement within the MO communities. Wistfully, they look at black-hatters who show these qualities. Could it be that greater commitment stems from greater clarity about Judaism? Imaginative programming, fiery speakers, empathetic teachers and leaders, and whatnot do help, but clarity is the big fundamental need. Indiscriminate engagement with today’s degraded secular world and its ideas, starting in one’s youth, can undermine clarity.
nuance is always harder to sell imho, but that doesn’t make simplicity right
There’s nuance and then there’s nuance. Clarity needs supporting detail, which can be complex. Complex but not confused!
and yet the OTD rates are considered equal in all sectors from satmar to MO [ i won’t include OO , since that may be definitionally OTD]
Can you please provide sources for that assertion? From what I have read, the MO community has substantially more people who leave them.
Thank you Rabbi Gordimer for an excellent analysis. You are absolutely right that MO is diverse and includes all of the types you reference. MO does face many challenges. First steps are understanding and discussion, and the hope is that people will take these steps.
For whatever my stance on such subjects is worth, I have long had the position that all forms of Judaism are valid, as long as they are some form of Orthodox Judaism. I will admit, though, that the extreme Left of Modern Orthodoxy as well as the extreme Right of the Chareidim (eg Satmar), leave a lot to be desired in my mind. Still, even the extremes represent Torah-true Judaism.
Also speaking only for myself, the kinds of Orthodox Judaism that has the most appeal to me are the Modern Orthodox and Chabad variations of Torah Judaism. Perhaps i can include the Breslovers in there as well. When it comes to Modern Orthodox, I do not care for the more liberal end of it. Thus when they call women things like Rabanit, or wear colorful knitted kippot (I prefer my kippah to be black velvet), or otherwise try to introduce similar innovations, I don’t exactly reject any of that, yet want no part of it. I prefer the more traditional wing of Modern Orthodoxy. Actually what I have in mind when I say this, may not be considered Modern Orthodox at all, as it is the stance advocated by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. To my mind at least, he really nailed it in getting things exactly correct. I think it is a healthy thing to be open to the secular, even non-Jewish world, to take the best of it that it has to offer, yet to always make sure to do so through Jewish eyes. Just to give an example of what I mean, if I am at a Shabbat table, I don’t mind it at all if the conversation turns political. In fact, for better or for worse, I myself am very political, so I probably relish it. What i do mind, though, is if the discussion remains political without any reference to the Torah or at least something Jewish about it. Discussing the Federal Budget in such circumstances does not make for a satisfying Shabbat experience. But if people there are talking about which political leaders have Israel’s back, or which political leaders’ thoughts most have echoes of Torah thoughts (as rare as that admittedly is!), or how America’s Founding Fathers were strongly influenced by our Torah, then I am all for it. Plus I believe in getting a good secular education, just as long as it is understood, and put into practice, that the most important thing to be educated in is our Torah.
And as for where Chabad fits into all this, well, as much as I gravitate toward Modern Orthodox Judaism, I have to admit that by itself, it can leave one with a feeling of spiritual emptiness. One’s quest to embrace the whole world, even though seen through Jewish eyes, doesn’t really satisfy our Jewish souls. Where’s the Spiritual Beef? so to speak. Chabad (and Breslov) can fill that vacuum, as they are unapologetically spiritual, yet in their lifestyle, almost in spite of themselves, are open to, or at least exposed to, the secular world, with their outreach efforts. Basically I think it is a source of embarrassment if our people are not familiar with the important figures of Western Civilization. If one can hold his or her own discussing Aristotle and Shakespeare as well as the ideas of America’s Founding Fathers, for example, while still being a fully or at least aspiring observant student of the Torah, well, that is what i hold to be the ideal way for a Jew to be.
It’s tough to be in outreach because ideas and values can pass in both directions. Those who reach out don’t need to be professionals at it, but do need enough preparation to avoid “going native”.
Mark Trencher November 5, 2019 at 9:28 am
See the detailed Method Statement on page 4. We are in the early years of serious research in the Orthodox and MO community. Resources do not exist yet to either do opt-out studies or to apply stratified sampling weights to results. Don’t let “the perfect” get in the way of “the good” … progress in an area needing more.
Agreed-unfortunately it seems we’d prefer to allocate big $ based on gut then spend money on getting real grounded data
Joel …. there is a lot of money being sent in the community. If I told you what the Nishma surveys cost you’d be surprised … ridiculously little. I don’t have the resources of large institutions, but I believe they are moving in the direction of doing serious research. And I believe it is the small independent researchers who are pushing them in that direction. So that’s a good thing!
All three surveys are pioneering surveys of the American Orthodox community . The panels discussing the data are all eminent individuals and the most recent panels are far more representative than the big tent studies that show a lack of interest or capability in assessing today’s Orthodox world .Dismisding thdbmessage of the survey because of the panel who discussed the data or who hired Mark Trencher who is a committed MO Person of immense integrity and a professional indicate an intellectually dishonest unwillingness to consider the data at hand
To Steve Brizel:
There is, to be sure, much that is positive about these recent studies.
However, I am also very familiar with previous studies of American Orthodoxy and with many who conducted these studies. It is folly to criticize them on the basis of the institutions that supported the research and the researchers who conducted the studies. These were/are committed researchers. The desire, which presumably is the same here, is/was to understand Orthodoxy. No-one is/was out to “get” Orthodoxy, which seems to be what your statement implies.
Looking at the Advisory Board of these current studies, there is not a single sociologist included let alone any sociologist with methodological expertise. I know a number of the individuals listed and while they are reputable scholars with integrity, they are not equipped to engage in sophisticated methodological vetting.
no negative criticism was intended. just an actuary wishing for leadership to realize that this would be money well spent if there is a willingness to look ourselves in the mirror no matter what we end up seeing
Sadly, too many organizations would not want to cooperate with steps necessary to get good data.
While it is interesting to collect data on various sociological phenomena, including Baalei Teshuvah, the fact that the Orthodox Jewish community still defines people as Baalei Teshuvah after decades of observance (when 43% of the population is BT) says a lot about the true acceptance of BT by the other 57%. Why not refer to everyone as a BT in some sense, or assume that FFB’s are just as imperfect as role models?
I have nothing but deep respect for Rav Lichtenstein, who was a tzaddik and a defender of tradition. In no way do I invoke this article in order to imply criticism of this great and towering man, who was obviously very complex and probably understood by extremely few.
Complex and understood by few is apologetics.
What some call apologetics, the Torah calls a chiyuv to be dan lekaf zechus – especially in the case of a massive talmid chacham.
Being Mlamed Zcus for massive Talmidei Chachamim can be found on any Daf in Shas.
Steven Cohen Sylvia Barack Fishman and Steven Bayme are all well known in both the academic world and have all written on these issues for years
Cohen is indeed a sociologist. However, he is not listed as part of the Advisory Panel (nor would he be as he is in cherem). Bayme and Fishman are not sociologists, reputable as they are.
I don’t know when or who put Cohen in cherem but AFAIK one could easily argue that those portions of the Jewish community who disliked his findings on continuity in R and CJ were pleased with his resignation as a Me Too Casualty whose schiolarship was never challenged as to his accuracy and findings
Other than resigning from the faculty of HUC which Beis Din placed Cohen in Cherem? Regardless of his conduct his studies were viewed as excellent studies of where RJ and CJ failed to inculcate any sense of Jewish continuity in the next generation
I think that WADR your track record here is one of string discomfort with todays Orthodoxy and you are grasping at straws to dismiss ground breaking reports in an area where demographers have overlooked either due to their ignorance hostility or belief in the big tent of Jewish identity
To Steve Brizel:
My sole intent is for there to be quality research so that American Jews and the American Jewish community can understand itself better and make more informed decisions moving forward.
Whatever personal values researchers bring to the table (and we all have them) need to be checked at the door when wearing our research hats. If afterwards we then want to take these reports and advocate for a particular approach, then we can put on our community organizer hats or whatever other hats we have in our bedroom and do with it as we like.
I have personally worked with Cohen and have benefited from doing so, but understand that there are serious ethical violations which happened (none of which I knew about). The Jewish community as well as the academic Jewish studies community are no longer associating with him or allowing him to perform any work for their organizations.
Prof. Steven M. Cohen advised on Nishma’s first two surveys (2016-2017). He was not on the advisory group for the two released this week, but he had in the past provided advice that was helpful now in the methodology and design. And, by the way, Prof. Sylvia Barack Fishman is indeed a sociologist, and Dr. Bayme has expertise in this area. I have an advanced degree in research and as a statistician, with 40 years in survey work.
Please do need negate the findings … learn from the research and let’s move forward. We are learning …. I hope you can do that as well.
To Mark Trencher:
First–and if I have not made this clear–the research you are doing is important. I agree with the clear majority of its substance.
SMC’s training is 100% in sociology. He knows the field backwards and forwards….theory, methods, content. And as a practitioner, unmatched in AJ studies in its sheer volume.
SBF’s works on contemporary Jewish life tend to be much more synthethic, drawing from a variety of fields and disciplines. This is because, in part, she is not a trained sociologist (her doctorate is in literature, not sociology). She learned a lot on the fly in her career. However, when non-sociologists like her, Jack Wertheimer and numerous other respected scholars in American Jewish studies have needed serious sociological analysis to be done in their own works, they have outsourced that task to others.
Part of why I’m writing is because when I see surveys or studies of the US Jewish population, or subgroups within it, at times there is extreme criticism within the popular Jewish media and sometimes there’s almost no criticism at all. What we should aim for is dispassionate criticism (as opposed to grandstanding) as well as detailed transparency by researchers themselves (which, if more frequent, would negate the need to draw attention to study limitations by others).
Like you, I’m doing this l’shem shamayim. Looking forward to seeing future pursuits in this area.
Reb Yid …. thank you. Very informative. I’d love to continue our discussion offline, as I want to do the highest quality research. Are you up for that? My email is [email protected] and I’d love to hear from you.
Jack Wertheimers most recent survey of American Judaism was done on his own .It is unmatched in intellectual honesty and courage as to what are the facts on the ground which the demographers ignore either because of their big tent orientation or lack of interest in exploring today’s Orthodox and heterodox communities
The link to the Furziger article on academia.org seems no longer to work. Is it still available?
I will send a pdf to R Adlerstein and R Menken
This is an excellent article by R’ Gordimer. I feel the need to quibble with one line:
“to diehard hesder yeshiva types (many of whom are not fans of Western/“modern” values),”
First, calling them “hesder yeshiva types” betrays an American-centered (or American Yeshiva/yeshiva-centered) mindset. No one would call them that in Israel, if only because the vast majority of religious Israelis don’t even go through hesder (or any other special religious program) for their military service. I think you’re thinking of what Israelis call Hardali, which itself comes in a number of different permutations (Kook, Kahane, Kav, and many others).
But here’s the important part: It is overly simplistic to say they are “not fans of Western/’modern’ values.” There is all-important difference between modern and “modern,” of course, as you hinted. They- and, in my opinion, any Orthodox Jew- should be quite suspicious of contemporary “values” and post-modernism. But modern/Western is a different story. As R’ Schiller likes to say, Torah U’Madda is about Mozart and Shakespeare, not rap music and romance novels. And hardalim definitely have a thing for modern and Western culture- everything Israeli, of course, including secular, but much more. Just today, my daughter’s very right-wing ganenet decorated the gan with quotes (in Hebrew) about educating children by Shlomo Carlebach and…Pablo Picasso and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And that is how it mote be.
There are many types of hardalim. In our yishuv, the gananot would never dream of doing so. Perhaps that is one on the main differences between Gav HaHar and Gush Etzion…
Many different types is my point. I live in Jerusalem, by the way, and the ganenet in question is from Givat Mordechai and wears a wig. (She has a Persian last name, but I’m not sure if she’s Persian or only married to one.)
“In no way do I invoke this article in order to imply criticism of this great and towering man, who was obviously very complex and probably understood by extremely few. ”
In “Centrist Orthodoxy: A Spiritual Accounting”(available online), R. Lichtenstein himself wrote about the issue of complexity:
“…If I were pressed to encapsulate what I learned in graduate school, my answer would be: the complexity of experience. “The rest is commentary; go and study.” With respect to the whole range of points enumerated above, I say again that my life experience, in the States or in Eretz Yisrael, within the public or the private sphere, has only sharpened my awareness of the importance of these qualities.
These elements—particularly the last—constitute, if you will, Centrist virtues. Centrism is as much a temper as an ideology, as much a mode of sensibility as a lifestyle. It is of its very essence to shy away from simplistic and one-sided approaches, of its very fabric to strive to encompass and encounter reality in its complexity and, with that encounter, to seek the unity which transcends the diversity.”
In “Revisionism and the Rav Revisited” (available online), Prof. Lawrence Kaplan describes how a non-Jewish editor of the NYT saw the complexity of R. Soloveitchik(I would add that it is precisely because of such complexity that people differ over R. Soloveitchik’s legacy, just as people do regarding that of RSRH):
“In a eulogy for the Rav, Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, one of the Rav’s closest confidantes, related the following story. The religion editor of the New York Times once spent several hours interviewing the Rav for a feature article. After the interview Rabbi Wurzburger asked the editor for his impressions. The editor replied that he had never met another person who was able to discover such complexities in what on the surface appeared to be relatively uncomplicated matters.”
Re the postcript, I am far from a Neo-chassidiste but found these words incredibly and profoundly disconcerting: We need a Torah spirituality that gives us compassion like the Buddhists or love like the Christians and a spiritual acceptance of others It’s all well and good that once we rediscover this quality of Being, we rediscover that it was all along with Judaism, and we can return to Jewish texts. . It is sad that anyone should feel that s/he can’t discover this without tour guides like Eckhart Tolle. I would urge anyone to read or listen to Sara Yoheved Rigler on Buddhism and disconnect, as opposed to how authentic Judaism fosters connection.
Perhaps if ones study of Tanach is limited to Pshat one will trek to India and dabble in Buddhism which is AZ and realize that only the union if Torah Shebicsav snd TSBP brings the fulfillment of the last bracha of every Shemoneh Esreh for every Jew on this planet and hopefully for mankind when it realizes Malchus HaShem
Tzippi cited the following:
“We need a Torah spirituality that gives us compassion like the Buddhists or love like the Christians and a spiritual acceptance of others It’s all well and good that once we rediscover this quality of Being, we rediscover that it was all along with Judaism, and we can return to Jewish texts. ”
Aside from the antinomian views of Judaism in the above quote, perhaps participation in acts Gmilas Chesed such as Tomchei Shabbos, Bikur cholim, Chevra Kadisha, Hachasas Orchim,. Kiruv, etc would translate what is learned in the Beis Medrash into a realty without the need to explore AZ
wrt to RAL ztl and the increased levels of bible criticism in Israel. To begin with, RAL inquired of the Rav ztl, who had no objection to Rav Mordechai Breuer ztl, who in my humble opinion extended the brisker shtei dinim to explain the exact discrepancies that bible critics tend to point out. Rav Breuer was vehemently opposed to bible criticism; his methodology can easily be integrated into higher criticism. One need only read Dr. Leiman’s views on Rav Breuer to appreciate the controversy this entailed. if you have not read Pirkei Moadot, particularly on the meraglim or eved ivri, please refrain from commenting.
years later RAL wrote an intro to R. Helfgott’s sefer on Bamidbar. written by him, it articulates his nuanced position and a steadfast opposition Criticism.
All that said, the community he led has not abided by all of his strictures both wrt academic Talmud and biblical analysis.
And to make matters yet more complex, the Rav’s other SIL, the Tollner Rebbe, maintained a warm relationship with his fellow professor at Harvard, called the world’s most dangerous apikoret by the Agudah.
That Harvard professor, I believe, davened at the Talner’s shul before it shut down.
Rabbi Dr Twersky not only was very close with Prof Wolfson, but had to be one of the first to spend a year abroad at Hebrew U after establishment of State of Israel. I believe 1949 when he went had to be close to the first as a year earlier War of Independence was still ongoing. Just a simple look at the leading names in academic Judaic studies that he encountered then might surprise people. R Twersky is of course one of the many who never went to a day school, besides Harvarda student at Boston Latin School..
Presumably R D Twersky ZL did not attend a day school or yeshiva in his youth because very few existed in the America of his youth and because he received the Mesiras of Yiddishkeit an Admor
“called the world’s most dangerous apikoret by the Agudah”
Who at the Agudah called Prof. Wolfson this title, and what was the context?
R’ Herschel Schachter once pointed out to us that R’ Chaim himself had similar ideas, extending the idea of “megillot megillot” to what we would call JEPD. (That is, “JE” is Sinai, “P” is Ohel Moed, and “D” is Arvot Moav.)
Apikores, by the way- samekh at the end.
See alsoCI who writes about different mitzvos being given at Sinai Ohel Moed and Arvos Moav even though Moshe Rabbeinu received the the Torah in its entirety at Har Sinai
Steve, Baruch Hashem I had many good rebbeim who taught me that questions are OK and may not even have answers.
I read Dr Leiman’s critique of R Breuer ZL and his derech and works in an Orthodox Forum article years ago and his setting forth the limitations therein. That article is available on YU Torah for anyone’s review. That is not the issue.
That article and the lack of objection to the same by RYBS or R Helfgot’s approval by RAL ZL or which Maskilim RYBS or RYT ZL respectively knew in Boston or at HU is irrelevant to the issues raised by the Ferziger article, which anyone interested in this issue should read for a full history of the development of the Pshat only method.
R D Ferziger documents in detail that the the developers and many supporters of the Pshat only method were olim openly affiliated in the US with CJ from the US who were educated at JTS who upon their aliyah affiliated with and infiltrated RZ and taught at its institutions such as Bar Ilan who simply did and do not subscribe to basic Ikarei Emunah such as Divine Authorship of the Torah, Matan Torah and Torah MinHaShamayim . In their wake, IMO,these individuals created a dry uninspiring and boring way of learning Chumash that drains the Ikarei Emunah as developed by Chazal and explicated by the Gdolei Mefarshim from any consideration in understanding Torah Shebicsav and Nach . Consequently, IMO a generation has emerged woefully ignorant both in Ikarei Emunah and textual literacy of the Gdolei Mefarshim, all along thinking by using literary analysis and techniques never used by Chazal and the Gdolei Mefarshim they think they know more RL than Chazal and the Gdolei Mefarshim . More critically,, the same generation emerges with precious little or no knowledge of basic Ikarei Hashkafa and Emunah or RL based on the vacumn of not learning the same, claims that such views are “racist”. That POV is quite similar to the au courant views in many of America’s universities where students don’t study classics in literature, but write quasi learned articles about gender race and classical writers, and or view science mathematics and history as the products of dead white males which are too difficult to be mastered so one substitutes the biased Zeitgeist of the moment in reducing classical literature, math, science and history to studies about the same, as opposed to studying the material in question.
R DFerziger should be applauded for setting forth in detail how the origins of how this derech studied , how it developed, the views of some of its most prominent practitioners, and how RAL ZL who opposed Academic Talmud and Biblical Criticism, who mentioned when asked that if he had one sefer he had to take on a deserted island it would be the commentary of Ramban on Chumash and stated that HTC contained faculty members whose views disapproved of.
“Rav Mordechai Breuer ztl, who in my humble opinion extended the brisker shtei denim”
In this vein, R. Shalom Carmy wrote a eulogy about R. Breuer in the 2017 Jewish Press titled “The Reb Chaim Brisker Of Bible Scholars” (available online).
According to Prof. Marc Shapiro’s “Is Modern Orthodoxy Moving Towards An Acceptance Of Biblical Criticism?” (Modern Judaism, 2017), there is a difference between R. Breuer’s prior views, which he is usually known for, and which agree with the 2013 “RCA Statement on Torah Min HaShamayim”, in which the RCA stated “We maintain that it is necessary not only to assert the centrality of this bedrock principle in broad terms, but also to affirm the specific belief that Moshe received the Torah from God during the sojourn in the wilderness, the critical moment being the dramatic revelation at Sinai.”
Prof. Shapiro contrasts the above with a later view in R. Breuers 2005 “Limud ha-Torah be-Shitat ha-Behinot”(p.24). According to Prof. Shapiro, in this “last work Breuer published in his lifetime he puts forth a more liberal perspective, one completely at odds with what we have just read, as here he no longer insists on any Mosaic authorship for those who cannot accept this”
I would note that there is a significant difference between saying something is acceptable to believe, versus believing in it one’s self (similar to stating a position about the theoretical position of allegorizing the Avos not being heretical, which one YU rosh yeshiva apparently did, versus actually believing such a position).
Below is the full reference to R. Breuer’s change in views from Prof. Shapiro’s “Is Modern Orthodoxy Moving Towards An Acceptance Of Biblical Criticism?” (which is not available online), including a criticism at the end by Prof. Shapiro based on the Rambam:
“The late Rabbi Mordechai Breuer is known for his unique view, accepting on the one hand the findings of modern scholarship pointing to multiple authors of the Torah, and on the other hand insisting that all of the Torah’s different styles and contradictions, which would signify multiple authors in a human book, actually originate in God’s revelation to Moses. In an appearance before the Orthodox Forum in 1991, Breuer specifically rejected the legitimacy of the view, shared by some Orthodox academics, that the Torah was authored by different prophets. Even though this suggestion preserves the divinity of the Torah, Breuer strongly rejected it on theological grounds.
He asserted: This definition of belief in the unique divinity of Torat Mosheh is the only one recognized by the Jewish people, adopted by all sages. Whoever views the Torah as an ordinary prophetic work denies its unique status…. Traditional belief means God’s revelation of the Torah through Moses. Only Moses, the worthy scribe to whom God committed the task of writing every section, verse, and letter of the Torah from his very lips…. Torah min ha-shamayim depends on Moses writing it.
Yet in the last work Breuer published in his lifetime he puts forth a more liberal perspective, one completely at odds with what we have just read, as here he no longer insists on any Mosaic authorship for those who cannot accept this:
One who is not able to believe that God gave the entire Torah to Moses, there is no [religious] reason for him to say that Moses wrote the Torah, but he is permitted to say that the documents of the Torah were written by various prophets in a development that took hundreds of years, and only at the end of the First Temple or the beginning of the Second Temple were they joined together into one book by the prophetic editor – as has already been established by the Bible Critics. This position does not do any damage to the Jewish faith, since nowhere is it stated that one who says that there is no Torah from the hands of Moses, he has no share in the World to Come. It is only stated that one who says that there is no Torah from Heaven, that he has no share in the World to Come. Indeed, these people also say that the Torah is ‘‘from Heaven’’ and was written by prophets through a spirit of prophecy!”
Prof. Shapiro writes about the last paragraph in a footnote:
“Breuer’s comment is strange, for while it is true that in the Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:8, Maimonides puts the stress on Torah from Heaven, in his famous Eighth Principle, found at the beginning of his commentary to Sanhedrin, ch. 10, he insists on complete Mosaic authorship.”
The above illustrates how RBreuer ZLs position became more problematic over the years regardless of what is written in Pirkei Moados . Clearly the fact that the Gush derech and more than a few of its its proponents and supporters can be found on s misnamed website as well as the problematic views of more than a few teachers in Herzog who also subscribe to such views should raise questions rather than self congratulatory essays about the accomplishments of the derech
>>>>Can you please provide sources for that assertion? From what I have read, the MO community has substantially more people who leave them.
—-no data for US. but here is recent data from israel that shows your thesis correct there —that barely half of DL will remain in that category and a third will wind up ‘masorti’ [ un-O extra light ]. only hilonim and haredim will maintain > 90 % of their membership . everyone else migrates towards less doxy and praxy for the most part . DL depends on higher birthrate to maintain a semblance of stability in terms of numbers….
For those interested please see the annexed linkfile:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/User/My%20Documents/Downloads/kjz013%20(8).pdf