Anyone who has been to Israel knows that there are non-haredi Orthodox Jews in all areas of life. You see men with kippot who are bus drivers, security guards, and doing every other job imaginable. Yet in the United States, Modern Orthodoxy has become largely an upper middle class phenomenon. The cost of a Modern Orthodox lifestyle, which includes expensive schools and camps, is simply beyond most people’s reach. I believe that this cost is a major reason why the Modern Orthodox camp has not picked up much in the way of ba’alei teshuvah.
I have no doubt that many of the non-Orthodox admire the Modern Orthodox lifestyle, and would be willing to try it out, before learning the cost. Many non-Orthodox would also be happy to send their kids to Modern Orthodox schools, but they are not going to sacrifice a middle class lifestyle for this. Those who grow up Modern Orthodox and remain in the community are prepared to make the financial sacrifices (as well as limiting how many children they have). But for those who are not part of the community, the entry fee is simply too high. Needless to say, there are also those among the Modern Orthodox who drift away because of the financial cost, and this drifting often begin when the first child is enrolled in public school. As I see it, the financial burden is the great Achilles’ heel of Modern Orthodoxy, and what prevents it from any real growth. By the same token, those of us in the Modern Orthodox world must recognize that one of the great strengths of the haredi community is that there is room in it for everyone, from the wealthy real estate developer to the blue-collar worker. If, as so many predict, the future of American Orthodoxy is with the haredim, money (or lack of it) will play an important role in this story.