Friday, February 14, 2014

Will Modern Orthodoxy Survive?

Flagship School of MO
DovBear has an interesting guest post that generated a lot of responses (260 comments as of this writing). I admit I haven’t read the comments. But I do have some thoughts on the very legitimate question posed:  Modern Orthodoxy: Are we witnessing its death throes?

The truth is that I have already given my opinion on this matter. Many Times. To review I predict that Charedim will win. But only in the form of moderate Charedism. Which is sociologically very closely aligned with the right wing of Modern Orthodoxy (RWMO). Integrated communities of moderate Charedim and RWMO already exist and are growing. The Haskafos are somewhat different but the values and lifestyles are very similar.

The problem for RWMOs is that there is a dearth of RWMO day schools and high schools. So that in most cases, RWMO parents will send their children to a moderate Charedi day school and high school that has a good secular studies department. That is far more preferable to a RWMO than would be a LWMO day school that for example allows its female students to wear Tefillin during Davening

Because of that, I’m not sure how the Centrist Hashkafos of RWMO will survive in any great numbers. The only saving grace is Yeshiva University (YU). They actually espouse the values of Modern Orthodoxy. But unless a RWMO family is very strong in espousing and living its values and is able to transmit it to their children, this Hashkafa will be buried in the Charedi schools their children attend. And those children will not be likely to attend YU – choosing a moderate Charedi school like Ner Israel for example.

YU will be left to those  to left of RWMO. And those on the far left will opt for a place like YCT ...or no post high school religious education at all – preferring to pursue their education in a secular university that will advance their chosen careers.

How all this will play out in numbers per Orthodox segment remains to be seen. It is really too complex to predict.

First let us define what MO really is and what it encompasses. Put in simple terms, to be MO is to live and accept the modern world and to see it in a positive light. This doesn't mean that everything that exists in the modern world is good. But for those things which do not contradict Halacha, MO allows it and in some cases even embraces it.

This is in fact  the Hashkafa  of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch called Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE). It is a mistake not consider TIDE part of Modern Orthodox Hashkafa. Rav Hirsch embraced all elements in secular culture that enhanced Torah. Which is why he made his famous speech extolling German historian, dramatist, and poet, Friedrich von Schiller. He saw Jewish values in Schiller. This is a Modern Orthodox perspective; not a Charedi one that would not even consider looking at a word Schiller ever said, much less praise him.

TIDE is of course not the sum and substance of MO. There is a wide spectrum of Hashkafos that is in included in the broad tent of MO. Included are RWMO, LWMO, and what I call MO Lite - which I define as those who focus more on a modern lifestyle thanthey do on a religious ideology. Unfortunately this is how most Charedim see all of MO. 

But MO does not equal MO Lite. TIDE is certainly a part of MO. And it is certainly not a part of a Charedi world that rejects all of modernity and uses only those parts of it that they find absolutely necessary for their lives. Although there are many - probably the majority of - Charedim that do enjoy some of secular culture, they generally do so with a sense of guilt. MO has no guilt in partaking of that part of the culture which is permissible under Halacha.

In light of all this, let us address the points made in DovBear’s post.

1) Yes,  Modern Orthodoxy is losing some of its youth to secularism. Indeed some kids are doing half‐shabbos (although this phenomenon is not limited to MO) and some are leaving orthodoxy altogether. It is probably also true that this is partially self‐inflicted by not providing a proper religious education thereby not providing sufficient inspiration to our youth.

I don’t think this applies to RWMO education. To the extent that it exists, it provides just as intensive a Jewish education as does the moderate Charedi world… with the added benefit of instilling in their students a high value for secular subjects and a permissible attitude towards the general culture.  Unfortunately there aren’t too many schools like that. So as I said, most RWMO will choose a moderate Charedi school over a left wing MO school.

I agree, however, that to one degree or another - the rest of Modern Orthodoxy not doing a good job with respect to providing enough inspiration for our youth.

2) It is very true that MO is losing some of its youth (and some of its young couples) to Ultra‐Orthodoxy. And that this too is partially self‐inflicted by exposing our youth at their most impressionable time to Ultra‐Orthodox hashkafa and learning.

However, the unfortunate reality is that Modern Orthodoxy by its very nature does not produce that many Mechanchim. They produce knowledgeable Baalei Batim who choose more lucrative careers outside of Jewish education.  So, as I said, most RWMO professionals feel they have no choice but to enroll their children into good moderate Charedi schools and subject them to that Hashkafa.

3) Yes, YU is in desperate straits. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, the news of YU’s death is greatly exaggerated. I do not see it closing its doors any time soon.

4) Although some of its leaders have some Charedi tendencies, most of them are nevertheless in the RWMO camp. Although I’m sure they don’t like being put in any camp.

5) What impact will the obscene and constantly increasing costs of Jewish education have on the future of MO? I don’t know but the current situation is unsustainable. My guess is that new schools will pop up that will have less frills and lower tuition. But this is more of an issue for the left where those tuitions are indeed obscenely high. As I said,RWMO will opt for the somewhat less expensive moderate Charedi schools.

6) That LWMO is pushing the envelope of Orthodoxy so far is certainly a disturbing development. In my view they have not as of yet crossed a line that would put them outside the pale. My hope is that they never will. But if they do, they will no longer be in the MO tent.

So are we in the death throes? I wouldn’t say that. RWMO will evolve together with moderate Charedim and both will constitute mainstream Orthodoxy. I call this new entity the 'new centrists'. They are the wave of the future. Does it really matter whether they are called MO or not?