Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What is Modern Orthodox?

I love the category Modern Orthodox. It‘s a guaranteed lifetime employment for bloggers. We can talk about the interface of MO and charedi life and MO and Conservative forever and then some. After we decide on how to define the end points we can go on to discuss its essence, what it really is and what it really means. And what’s so great about the topic is everyone on either side of the divides is a maven. Not only is the category systemically misleading it depends on how it is said. When you look at the self representations they are clear enough. It’s the more formal definitions that have proven difficult. Here are some ideas what it is to be MO that are said by actual people:

It means someone who keeps all the mitzvot and loves Torah but goes to the movies, perhaps owns a TV.

Mizrachi, love of Israel, less ritualistic, no hypocrisy.

Take mitzvot seriously and do my best. I believe in the keddusha (holiness)of medinat yisrael (State of Israel) and believe that a secular education is an asset in appreciating Hashem's world.

The formal definitions are even more high brow and ideological. I myself believe the name Modern Orthodox and its various subdivisions are way too pop-sociological, theory laden and lead to endless confusion. (See as an example the Hirhurim post here, with close to 700 comments, and the ur-text in the Jewish Press here.) I think it is high time somebody returned to the circle of terms in everyday use. If you look at everyday discourse, at least in many circles, the terms that are actually used are neither the ideological beliefs that separate Modern Orthodoxy from Ultra Orthodoxy or the categories used on dating sites or on blogs. In my view, ordinary people (i.e. non-sociologists, non-bloggers, and non- internet daters) are looking at marginal, but symbolic, activities that tend to be good indicators of piety and fun. Too much piety is usually as unacceptable as too much levity. If your moniker is MO, you’re neither a total ascetic saint nor a party animal. All the other terms are used to fine tune that spread.

I would like to define the various terms in the sense of explaining them and offering more (my) plausible plain talk substitutions. Here are some terms and my suggested substitute words which I would like to see used:

MODERN Orthodox = Halachic laxness or compromise with halacha to suit oneself and the pace of modern society. I would substitute ‘You call THAT Orthodox ?’ If that label is a mouthful, maybe, ‘‘Shakes hands with women’’ or ‘Eats hot- milchig out Orthodox’. I’ll go with 'Eats fish out Orthodox'.

Modern ORTHODOX = Keeping up with the times Orthodox. Very confusing since everyone integrates advances in the world with halacha. I prefer ‘With It Orthodox’ or as a friend of mine calls ‘Vit It Orthodox’ as in ‘He’s very much vit it.’

My 'being vit it' condition is to be compared with Rabbi Student’s formulation: ''You approve of exploring some or much of general culture in order to find beauty and meaning in it.'' I find the latter condition much too high minded and not at all what people are thinking. They mean stuff like going to the movies and knowing where there is a decent jazz club or not feeling very uncomfortable in a singles bar. Beauty and meaning is much too stringent and would preclude middle and low brow people from being MO.

MO Machmir = Strict adherence to Halacha and stricter than other legitimate opinions, but still vit it. I find what is a chumra (overly strict) and what not confusing. Is the base line Reb Moshe or the Chazon Ish ? Much too difficult. How about ‘a little bit fachnukt (fanatic)’ or ‘moderately farshvantzevatit (religiously extremist?)’? OK, maybe not. I prefer ''Shomer negiah (no touching opposite sex until marriage) farfrumt (overly, very frum) but vit it Orthodox.'' Chuck the modern; who are we kidding?

MO Liberal… 'Liberal' is a bad choice and should be confined to Orthodox who are on the left wing of the Democratic Party as in ''Can you believe it he’s Orthodox and a liberal. What they won’t think up next?''. I would like to call it 'Old fashioned MO before everyone lost their marbles'. Too many words. What about ‘Young Israel MO?’ Won’t do since using the reference Young Israel shows a very unvit it and somewhat older person. I would go with Edah MO, or YCT Modern Orthodox, but the term would be meaningless to the Israeli branch of MO. In Israel we have to call it ‘Shira Chadashaw Orthodox’ or maybe ’Hartmanesque Orthodox’. My replacement is ''Vit it but not farfrumt.''

We really don’t need the neologisms ‘RIGHT wing’ and ‘LEFT Wing’ which requires everyone to remember how the parties were seated in the French Assembly. Besides, the association of the right with the monarchists and fascists and the left with libertarians and communists makes everyone unhappy.

My categories work so much better than the older terms. The shadchenta suggests a bochur. She knows the family is MO, and says, ‘Very fine boy, college graduate, on his way to becoming a perodontist. Wonderful family. OK, I admit a little challenged in the height department, but a very sweet guy’. The family armed with my terms counterattacks…''You say MO, tell us how vit it is he? Looking down people’s throats might make him a few shekels, but our daughter is very modern, and she won’t take a farchnukte, farfrumt guy.'' ''No, no,'' says the shadchente, ''He’s very vit it. He goes to plays, movies, the works.'' Our family can now come back with a pinpoint second strike. ''Broadway or Off Broadway, studio or indies. Our Pesha Kimberly wants only a guy who likes indy films.'' The shadchante recovers, but barely. ‘’I promise, he chalishes for indy films. When he’s not working on teeth, he’s at Sundance waiting for the festival.'' The family sees through the ruse. ''No, no, no'' they say, ''this bochur won’t do at all. Our daughter is, in the end, a heimish girl. Hanging around Sundance, gutenu…you call that Orthodox? Next thing you are going to tell us he air kisses movie stars. In our family we draw the line …eating fish out, not so aye,yai yai, but we understand. Kiss, kiss definitely not. Maybe at YCT its ok, but our daughter wants someone more farfrumt than those YCT guys.’’

Have I solved the problem or what?


At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very funny dialogue with the shadchen at the end. The thing with the term MO is when normal people(not gil or steve brizel) use the term, they mean coming from a certain background. Having gone to certain schools, certain camps, certain yeshivas in israel. Many MO people will know each other, whether farfrumt or totally vit it, because they tend to stay within the same institutions. Just like its rare for somebody from Chaim Berlin to goto Kerem B'yavneh, its rare for somebody from Rambam to goto Ner Yisroel. Even though these yeshivas are all more similar then different, people stay with the familiar.

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It can get crazier. A MO acquaintance, dual career, one being an ordained Orthodox rabbi has 5 children, 3 girls, two boys, living in a comfortable environment in a comfortable NJ city. He has been supporting two sons, both bearded and studying in Israel and has married his daughters off to bochurs from Monsey so he supports the sons in law. His wife lost her job and he borrowed heavily to pay for the last wedding. with the financial burden, he asked his oldest son to come home and help in solving the financial problems, one of them being that he pays for everyone's cell phones. His son's solution--he's staying in Israel and all the problems will be solved if the father takes time from his tow jobs and gets involved in a daf yomi group. That of course fulfills the mitzvah of kibud av.

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Ploney said...

Shaking hands with women is hardly a Halachic compromise on the level of 'Eats fish out Orthodox'. Depending on the circumstances, anyway.

At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi all!


At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Steve brizel said...

It is a funny post, but hardly what I would call "modern" or "pluralistic."IMO, they are redolent with urban myths and stereotypes that really ignore the reality of at least one committed Jew. Rambam grads go to KBY and then NIRC and YU. FWIW, I would not consider myself within any of the criteria posted except for the fact that my main points of origin are NCSY, YU, RYBS and his Talmidim Muvhakim.Other than that, I subscribe to a much more complex POV.

While I believe that a college education is important,it is by no means equivalent to or a prerequisite for Gadlus in Torah, deserving of being called a Cheftzah Shel Torah in any way or absolutely necessary for an appreciation cutting edge halachic issues as proven by the CI,RMF and RSZA, to list only a few examples.Of course, there are some halachic writings that show the converse, but that is irrelevant for the purpose of this post.

As far as RZ is concerned,I certainly believe that supporting Israel and learning or living in EY is important-BUT not because the state constitutes some sort of metaphysical entity that gives it a license to violate Shabbos or disposess citizens from their homes.I believe that learning in EY should be seen as a mandatory 13th year in developing textual literacy as well as exploring what role that a young man or woman will contribute to Klal Yisrael-whether in full time learning, klei kodesh or chesed while raising a family that is the product of a relatively young marriage-with an outside age of the end of graduate school. I simply do not see the MO community in its schools and families as focusing on these issues or even valuing their importance with their preoccupations with the Ivies, material success and delay of marriage that has resulted in the creation of singles ghettos where the term "singles crisis" is abhorred.The notion that a MO education combined with a year or two in Israel will keep someone from going off the derech at an Ivy League college has now been exposed as the wishful pipe dream of parents and administrators by none other than two MO graduates themselves. Yet, the mark of the penguins to these schools continues on an annual basis.

While the RZ movement once offered a means of bridging Torah and the secular Zionist world, it focussed on Yishuv EY to such an extent that fall off and drop outs from observance have become common as its promises of eternal settlements, etc have created a movement whereby the other 612 mitzvos pale in respect and importance to Yishuv EY, an admittedly important mitzvah. I never thought that I would experience more kavanah while davening in a small sefarim store in Meah Shearim than in a nicely furbished DL shul, but that was exactly what I have experienced during a recent trip to EY.

Nevertheless, it is the combined fault of both the secular Zionist world and the entire Torah world that the secular Zionist world is detached and hostile to the most fundamental concepts of Torah Judaism. In a way ,R EE Schach ZTL was correct because R Shach ZTL viewed Chillul Shabbos outside of Bnei Brak as the fault of someone who did not keep Shabbos properly.

OTOH, the MO world has much to learn from the Charedi world in terms of a 24/7 willingness to learn Torah and chesed, to rescue lost mitzvos as kiruv, bikur cholim, hatzalas Nefashos and Pikuach nefesh ( Hatzalah), shatnez and to go into chinuch, especially in MO schools. OTOH, I part company with its hashkafic intransigence on many issues such as Zionism, Torah and science and lack of acknowledgement that RYBS was a Gadol and that RIETS is a world class Makom Torah.

We have a TV but it collects dust and I can't recall the last time that I saw a movie. While I am a lawyer by profession, I learn every morning before I go to work,try to learn enroute to and from work and as much as possible in my free time, inclusive of blogging on issues of hashkafah.Having been an avid reader of Commentary Magazine for years, I bemoan the fact that the Torah world from the Charedi to the MO world has no printed media of a similar quality.

IIRC, learning as much as possible in one's spare time and maximizing one's spare time for learning is certainly a valid definition of the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah as formulated by many Rishonim. I particularly enjoy a weekly Gemara Chabura on various sugyos in Shabbos, Rishonim and Poskim.I also like to help organize shiurim in my neighborhood, but I have zero patience for the lack of mutual appreciation between the entities that purport to represent the Charedi and MO worlds. I don';t see "eating fish" out as having any halachic justification and our daughter's recent chasunah was separate seating. I do believe that true pluralism means that I can learn from such disparate views as R AYH Kook,RSRH, RYBS, the CI , the Satmar Rav and R Wolbe Zecer Tzadikim Livrahca and many other Gdolim within the Mesorah. I firmly believe that one should learn from the best of both the Charedi and MO worlds and simply reject their excesses. IMO, one can easily reject the messianist elements of Chabad, NK and YCT on that basis alone-they lack any authenticity or roots with any Mesorah except for a self created ideology.

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

I would like to advance a different term in this discussion. Anyone can be either meikil or machmir without really thinking any halachic or hashkafic issue thru with its ramifications, etc. OTOH, it is far more difficult to be precise or mdakek bmitzvos uhashkafah because that requires precision in sweating the details as to halacha and hashkafa and getting some basic grip on whether that was assur or mutar 20 years ago remains assur or mutar or perhaps there has been a change in the facts that requires a change in the psak and realizing that the absence of a critical detail can render one's performance of a wonderful mitzvah and all of the hashkafah behind it ( i.e. Shabbos, Tefilin, Tzitis, Kashrus) a halachic nullity. It is just as easy to eat fish out as it is to only buy from a heimishe merchant who appears to be the epitome of a Ben Torah but who in reality is selling all kinds of tarfus. OTOH, checking out the kashrus of ingredients, etc requires precision and sweating the details.

At 5:04 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

steve brizel...In a way you are doubling up on your position of yesterday. Each successive comment becomes more specific of your particular hashkafah. Admirable as your hashkafah is, and well thought out as it is, the way you present it has an exclusionary feel to it. I am worried that your hashkafah excludes at least half of people who think of themselves as Orthodox or even as MO. Are these people supposed to just change their lives and ideas on a dime because you think they are not worthy of being called MO? Just to cite some examples. I am more than happy to be understanding of the situation of young MO who have relations with non-married women who haven’t gone to the mikvah; I am not in the ’you call THAT Orthodox’ camp. I would extend the same understanding to NSFO’s in general. I see the limitations of charedim but it wouldn’t occur to me that the charedi world ought to change because I don’t approve of this or that. Similarly, I find the YCT people serving a vital and interesting community to the left of YU and to the right of Conservatives, and do not understand why one would want to exclude them. I have seen when the Agudah belittled RYBS and YU it hurt you deeply. Why do onto others what you hate when done to you?

In general, I differ from you in putting my desire for understanding way ahead of stating my haskafah. I don’t think of bloggers as rabbis pushing people around, paskening on their ways of life. I think it makes for poor social analysis. And I think it becomes quickly ineffective. As you undoubtedly know, people when excluded and shamed quickly become defensive.

At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve: I understand that some Rambam students goto NIRC, my point was that I think in reality its easier and more accurate to define people according to the community they belong to then by there beliefs or practice. And you would define community, by what schools, yeshivas, camps shuls(though that is more problematic) etc. A women who went to bruriah then stern then married, no matter what her practices currently are is going to be defined as MO (no matter what she calls herself) unless she conciously leaves these MO institutions and starts belonging to a different community. Its all about which community you belong to. Now defining each community, well thats a whole other question. This whole desire to plug in an equation to each hashkafa as to what they keep and don't keep halachically, is pretty useless, and seems to point to a self-conciousness that people have with there own hashkafas or communities.

At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Steve: I understand that some Rambam students goto NIRC, my point was that I think in reality its easier and more accurate to define people according to the community they belong to then by there beliefs or practice."

I agree. What are you going to do with a chassidiche rav who says it's OK to shake a woman's hand if she extends it. Decide he's MO?

At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brizel: Remind me not to sit next to you in Olam Habah--the odor of sanctimoniousness will make me cough.....

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evanston Jew,

you stated, "I find the YCT people serving a vital and interesting community to the left of YU and to the right of Conservatives, and do not understand why one would want to exclude them."

I don't agree. See http://OpenOrthodoxy.blogspot.com

At 12:37 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

anonymous 11:11...I’ve had occasion to read your blog in recent weeks. I believe I understand what you are trying to get at. As you well know, the issue is large and complicated, and everyone has very strong opinions. I am making a small comment about the debate, a sort of “supply meets demand” point. There are all these Jews who are NSFO who are looking for congregations and rabbis. There are these rabbis and seminaries who are willing to satisfy this demand. My feeling is: if they won’t, somebody else will, namely Conservatives. I have no opinion as to whether the RCA should admit YCT graduates as members. I urge readers, who have not discovered your blog and are interested in the question of the new YCT seminary and related issues, to read what you have to say.

At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

I am sorry for the tone of my last post. WADR, I reacted to a series of posts that set me on edge.

Yet, I do believe that an honest discussion of what ails MO and its future direction and tone is far more preferable than pretending that MO is the wave of the future.I really believe that this issue calls for serious analyis and discussion of the aims of MO and how it views the average product of its social and educational framework. As far as the Charedi-MO dynamic is concerned, I believe that even small baby steps towards mutual appreciation as opposed to fantasies of mutual approval should be the approach. If RYSE and RHS can be photographed learning and talking Torah together, we owe ourselves no less an obligation than to try by even the smallest steps to create an atmoshere of mutual appreciation.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

anonymous 11:11...Actually I want to say something a bit stronger without hopefully involving myself in the ongoing controversy.YCT came to Chicago recently on a road show and spoke around town. They made a favorable impression on me in their sincerity and devotion to tradition. I am too far removed from the individual issues you and others have raised to comment intelligently. There is a principle that I would defend...no single institution own a space. The Conservative Movement does not own the space between Orthodoxy and Reform. Analogously, Iwould argue YU and the RCA do not own the space between Ultra-Orthodox and Conservatives. In principle there can be a bunch of different groups, seminaries and synagogues, some more religious, some less so in each of these spaces.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Baruch Horowitz said...

"As far as the Charedi-MO dynamic is concerned, I believe that even small baby steps towards mutual appreciation as opposed to fantasies of mutual approval should be the approach."

I agree as well. In general, the way to change most things is throgh evolution, rather than revolution.

At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

EJ-Take a look at YCT's website and some of the blogs of its students and what its graduates have done in St.Louis and Phoenix. Then, ask yourself whether your observation is accurate. I will not comment further on this issue in the absence of any further observations in your usually astute manner.In fact, please feel free to email me off the blog if you wish to discuss this matter further.

At 2:46 AM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

EJ-one more comment re YCT. I would also suggest that you look in a link that was posted here-http//Open Orthodoxy.blogspot.I will rest my case re YCT until you have read and analyzed the links contained therein.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

anonymous 9:47 (first anonymous)...rereading the comments I find much to agree with in what you said. My apologies for not acknowledging this sooner. There might not be an essence with external signposts;there might just be the signposts. We certainly know how to recognize each other without giving exams on hashkafah.At the same time it is also true certain beliefs are typical of each group, for example attitudes to Zionism and womens participation in the study of Torah.I am not clear how to model or understand the relationship of the simanim to the ideologies.

One thought I am working on is to differentiate between those 'who stay home'and those who travel. There is a type of charedi, maybe less today than years ago, who positively enjoys stretching his wings. One foot in the yeshiva world the other foot in kishniv.I don't know enough to say if this type is also important in MO.

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous link said...

EJ, You have linked to the entire November archive of hirhurim. If you want to link to one particular post, click on the timestamp of that particular post (10:40 pm in this case).


PS - If you would change your timestamp to record which day the comments were made, it would be appreciated.


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