Sunday, January 18, 2009

(Modern) Orthodox Survey

This is a question for Modern (/Centrist/etc.) Orthodox Jews:

How old were you when you realized that to many people in the Non-Modern Orthodox world, "Modern Orthodox" is not a subcategory within Orthodoxy, but is actually a separate, Non-'Torah-True' movement?

I finally realized this in my mid-20's, not that long after I realized that growing up Modern Orthodox, I had/have no idea what Non-Modern Orthodox communities' religious standards, lifestyles and cultural norms are. Sometimes it's still surprising, though.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In high school, when I had a left-wing Haredi rebbi who explained this to us.

1/18/2009 12:52 PM  
Blogger Daniel Saunders said...

In my early to mid-twenties (i.e. just a few years ago), and like you I still get surprised by it at times.

That said, my subjective experience of the Jewish community here in the UK is that the boundary between the Modern Orthodox and the Charedi worlds is more blurred than in the USA and in Israel. My shul is mainly Modern Orthodox in outlook and behaviour, but we have a Lubavitch rabbi, for example.

1/18/2009 1:17 PM  
Blogger Kylopod said...

I'm not sure how to answer your question, since I wasn't exactly raised Modern Orthodox.

My parents are baalei teshuva who love movies and support college education. They embraced Orthodoxy while students at Georgetown, without seeing any conflict between their secular pursuits and their religion. Many frummies today, hearing a description of them, would box them into the "Modern Orthodox" category. Yet they never thought of themselves as Modern Orthodox, and they raised me and my brother in the fairly yeshivish environment of Baltimore.

Growing up, I knew numerous people like this. Actually, it's striking to me, though I never realized it at the time, that most of my childhood friends were the children of baalei teshuva or gerim. Our mothers wore shaitels, our fathers would wear a black hat on Shabbos. They watched movies during the week and prepped us for college education and a lucrative career.

A few of the families I knew did not own televisions. The schools I attended occasionally conveyed anti-secular messages, which I compartmentalized. The most extreme positions I encountered were that secular pursuits are bidieved. Many Baltimore frummies view TV and movies and pop culture sort of like candy, as something that can be tolerated, but that isn't especially healthy.

My parents sent me to a Modern Orthodox day school from sixth to eighth grade, and I realize now that one of the reasons I did not think of myself as MO for so long is that I had so much trouble fitting into the social crowd there. I had it drilled in my head that dating girls was forbidden until I reached marriageable age, and I blamed some of my bad experiences at this school on this restriction, even though in retrospect I realize that a lot of the problem was that I was just an awkward nerd.

Nevertheless, I was a voracious reader and movie buff and intellectual who could barely fathom the idea of cutting myself off from the outside culture and devoting my life to Torah study. I also was bothered by the backwards, parochial attitudes I saw among many frummies, their attitudes toward women, blacks, Arabs, homosexuals, and democracy.

In the terms used on these blogs, I would certainly fit more into the MO mold than the Haredi mold. Understand, however, that I did not grow up with any perception of these differences. I have felt increasingly alienated from the Haredi world, especially after all the bans and lunacy, but my basic values have not changed from when I was young. There's a part of me that still considers labels like Modern and Haredi simplistic, artificial boundaries that fail to adequately describe either my beliefs or the beliefs of many people I know.

The pertinent question is when I realized that my values do not fit those of the right-wing community surrounding me. That was gradual. I sensed it as a teenager, but lacked the courage to articulate it openly.

Since I am by my nature an introvert and nonconformist, this situation doesn't bother me as much as it would for some other people. I would be a little "different" in any community, and I actually don't mind that so much. What disturbs me more is the idea that the Orthodox community is in the process of breaking apart, and the unity that has existed for the last couple of generations is an illusion. If the different branches of Orthodoxy really begin to view each other in the same light as they view Conservative and Reform Judaism, it will eventually reach a point when people have to choose: Are you Modern or are you Haredi? The effect this will have for those on the fence, which includes a lot more people than is generally acknowledged, will not be pretty.

1/18/2009 10:21 PM  
Blogger Lion of Zion said...


how did you not realize until you were in your 20s? you never exprienced any cognitive dissonance from the very different environments of the neighborhood in which you lived and the high school in which you studied?

1/19/2009 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Taiyo said...

I had my suspicions by my mid-20's, but the realization didn't fully kick in until the Slifkin ban happened.

1/19/2009 10:46 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Thanks for all of your responses! Glad to see i'm not the only one out there.

Lion of Zion:

i knew that the two communities were different, but i assumed that we all saw each other as different varieties of "Orthodox". i never had any run-ins with intolerant people in BP who would have informed me otherwise.

1/19/2009 11:22 PM  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Even as I was BTing (starting about 8 years ago) I was being told that I was joining a dying movement. "Will the last MO Jew please turn off the lights" was a common expression.

I think I learned that not only was I a member of a dying submovement, but that I wasn't really Orthodox at all as soon as I joined the blogosphere - say 5 years ago.

I still retain an odd feeling of O unity, perhaps because I had no exposure to right wing C. I tell people the difference between the most left wing MO shul in town and the local Agudath Israel seems smaller to me than the gap between that MO shul and the C shuls I've been a member of. Most people look at me as though I was crazy, or at least like the information is irrelevant - the gap is still huge and important.

1/20/2009 12:23 PM  
Blogger BZ said...

(Disclaimer: I'm not MO or any other O.)

A few years ago I went to a training meeting for Limmud NY volunteers, and someone was talking about inclusivity and Jewish diversity, and they had PowerPoint slides listing different types of diversity, and one said something like "...including Reform, Orthodox, secular, Reconstructionist, Conservative, ..."

Someone (who I don't think was haredi) responded "That's not even fully inclusive, since you didn't include Modern Orthodox!"

This struck me as odd because I had thought that Modern Orthodox was included within Orthodox. Are there MO folks who would feel excluded by the language above?

1/25/2009 10:48 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I don't think anyone MO would feel excluded by that.

1/25/2009 5:57 PM  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Are there MO folks who would feel excluded by the language above?
Not me.

1/26/2009 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you think this view is more common among Orthodox Jews or non-Orthodox Jew?

2/12/2009 3:05 PM  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Orthodox Jews, definitely. For non-Os if you daven in a shul with a mechitza you are Orthodox.

2/12/2009 3:29 PM  

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