Modern Orthodoxy Vs Traditional Orthodoxy

Shula Cohen writes on Hirhurim: "Every time that Modern Orthodoxy bows to Hareidi Judaism, even implicitly, as being more authentic, it damages itself. If Modern Orthodoxy is to thrive it must defend itself…arguing…why it is a superior form of Judaism…" JLan
Prof. Marc Shapiro (of the Univ. of Scranton and YCT) has recognized that "a sizable number of religiously serious Modern Orthodox youngsters turn toward the ultra-Orthodox vision, which they consider a more authentic approach…A significant number of the more committed make aliyah to Israel [and] abandon their parents’ style of Orthodoxy, adopting a more rigid and more spiritually uplifting kind."

A careful examination of Prof. Shapiro’s words proves insightful [and I can only wonder if he himself recognized the import of the words that he chose]. (1) The "religiously serious" M.O. youngster who, discerning the inauthenticity of the movement in which he or she was raised, moves into hareidi circles for its more "authentic approach" and (2) hareidi Judaism provides these youngsters with a "more spiritually uplifting" experience.

The implications are obvious: only those less serious about their Yiddishkeit will be satisfied with M.O.’s lack of authenticity, and that Modern Orthodoxy cannot possibly provide the same spiritually uplifting experience as can be found in the Yeshivishe world. In other words, committed M.O. Jews are themselves rejecting jeans, sports arenas and rabbis named Scott and Todd because these manifestations within Judaism just don’t FEEL authentic to them. Could it be that when something doesn’t feel authentic it most probably isn’t? Or as Prof. Shapiro alludes, it’s a "vision" thing.

The bottom line is that to the Modern Orthodox youngster who takes Torah seriously, there is nothing left to "defend," let alone crow about as being "ideal" or "superior." So when "Modern Orthodoxy bows to Hareidi Judaism" it must recognize the possibility that it is bowing to an authenticity that the M.O. derech simply does not possess. It needs to do so in order to hold on to the next generation and discourage it from defecting to the right.

Many years ago at Lincoln Square Synagogue I heard R’ Shlomo Riskin opine (a year or two after having made Aliyah) that Modern Orthodoxy was pretty much doomed in America. Peopled by less than serious Jews, M.O. adherents would continue to allow the pursuit of a secular lifestyle to swamp an ever diminishing residue of authentic Yiddishkeit (in the same manner as did Conservativism). Rabbi Riskin’s prognostication elicited gasps from the audience and an eruption of sotto voce conversation. (I don’t know if he believes the same today).

ANON POSTS: By that token, most Jews implicitly intuit that Chassidism is the most "authentic" form of Judaism. How can you compete with shaved heads, buttoning shirts the wrong way, thinking and speaking in Yiddish and passing gefilte fish and kigel by hand? The yeshivishe oylam wears ties, trims their peyos and beards, and there are basketball hoops on the roof of the Mirrer Yeshiva. Check mate.

JLAN POSTS: In fact, Hareidi Judaism is far more inauthentic religiously and historically than Modern Orthodox Judaism. The rejection of the outside world is something that was not held by the Rishonim or early Acharonim and only developed as a response to the Enlightenment. The "authenticity" of Hareidi Judaism is a farce, perpetuated by the same ideas that push the shtetl as the golden age of Judaism.

I certainly do acknowledge your point about Modern Orthodoxy, though it has changed significantly since R’ Riskin made aliyah (he left in 1983; we’re an entire generation removed from the speech you mention at this point). And indeed, MO Judaism has moved to the right, but in an inauthentic sort of way- rather than maintain its intellectual roots while promoting increased adherence to halacha, it has promoted increased adherence towards Hareidi norms. It needs to continue this adherence to halacha, while at the same time engaging deeply with the outside world; it should have a goal of showing how Judaism can reflect philosophy, science and social science even as philosophy, science and social science reflect Judaism.

Of course, doing all this would require something of a revamped curriculum, with, at the very least, the normal classes demonstrating the engagement of Judaism and the world. Jewish medical ethics presented in biology, Jewish engagement with intellectual history presented in history, Jewish engagement with literary devices in English, and of course real world examples in Gemara and halacha are all necessary for a continued Modern Orthodox existance.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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