Monday, February 16, 2009

The Wave of the Future

I have been accused of not dealing with serious issues in the Modern Orthodox world. These include but are not limited to issues such as being overly influenced by western culture, the apparent laxity in observance of certain Halachos, the move to the left in some Modern Orthodox circles, Modern Orthodox dating habits, the growing Modern Orthodox singles community, and the ‘Off The Derech’ phenomenon - often for opposite reasons than those of Charedim who go OTD. Modern Orthodoxy certainly has its share of problems. Some unique to it, some interlaced with each other - and others that overlap with those plaguing Charedim.

The truth is that I have dealt with many of these issues and more. It is also a fact that I have discussed topics that are not critical in nature at all - but Hashkafic.

But it is equally true that the majority of my critical posts are about the Charedi world. Why do I do that? I have said this before. I believe that the Charedi world is the wave of the future. It will not survive in its present form, but the future of mainstream Judaism will stem from it. There are many reasons I feel this way some of which I have mentioned in the past. I will discuss those and some of the other factors here.

One important factor contributing to my prediction is that Charedim by far produce more Mechanchim than Modern Orthodoxy does. This is not to say that there aren’t many fine Modern Orthodox Mechnchim. There most definitely are. But it is not in the nature of Modern Orthodoxy to focus on producing Mechanchim as much Charedim do.

The very thing that in my view is both unique and positive about Centrism is that Torah U’Mada or Torah Im erech Eretz that characterizes it - gives students so many more career options to choose from. The Charedi world by contrast has far fewer choices available to its students. Therefore more are influenced to go into Chinuch. Additionally it is a Hashkaficly preferable option to them.

That’s why a Centrist day school like Arie Crown here in Chicago has a majority of Charedi Mechanchim . They are all excellent - Charedi and Centrist alike. But the decidedly greater influence in that school is Charedi. The same thing is true for the Hebrew Theological College (Skokie). Its high school is populated by an almost exclusive team of Charedi Rebbeim. There are also far more Charedi Yeshivos and yeshiva high schools than there are Modern Orthodox ones. Even Modern Orthodox high schools like MTA have these influences.

And then there is the post high school year in Israel. For many (but not all) high school students who study in Israel there is no doubt that they are influenced strongly to the right. These and other factors are just too over-whelming to hope for any kind of independent Centrist type community in the future. The tide is too strong - it seems to me.

But there is something else happening. It is what I like to call the ‘Rabbi Berel Wein’ phenomenon. He believes that the two worlds of Modern Orthodoxy and Charedim are merging. As I've said many times - I agree with him.

Here is a brief analysis of why.

The Modern Orthodox world is currently Hashkaficly divided between Centrists (what some might term right wing modern Orthodox) on the one hand - and the left wing Modern Orthodoxy on the other. However from a sociological perspective - the majority of Modern Orthodox is populated by what I call MO-Lite Jews. These people are not necessarily ideologues. They are culturally Modern Orthodox. Typically most were raised in Modern Orthodox homes and have gone to either Modern Orthodox day schools or public schools. Many are generally not as Jewishly knowledgeable as the ideologically Orthodox - and almost prefer it that way. Their observance is social - based mostly on peer relationships, parental concerns, or rote behavior.

As in all cases this is not black and white. There are many variations and combinations among modern Orthodox Jews. And some of this ‘Lite’ description applies to Charedim too. For the most part, however, this is how I see things generally breaking down. My prediction is that Modern Orthodoxy will eventually disappear in its current broad based form. Some of it will be absorbed into a very left wing form of modern Orthodoxy that approaches right wing Conservative Judaism.

The more Centrist oriented Modern Orthodox Jews will be absorbed into the Charedi world. Not because that is their preference - but because that is just what’s available to them. There are very few purely or mostly ideologically Centrist communities. The rabbis of these communities may be ideologically Centrist. But the community is sociologically Modern Orthodox. Not an attraction for serious ideological Centrists.

This is what Rabbi Berl Wein has predicted. He correctly observes that this is already happening. He also correctly states that many of the modalities of Centrism have already been adopted in Charedi circles as is evidence by the many Charedi professionals who have opted for college and/or professional degrees. In fact the success of Schools like Touro College and Lander are evidence of that very trend. There are plenty of Charredi doctors, lawyers, dentists, and accountants who are card carrying members of Agudah.

So there is a kind of meeting of the minds where the Hashkafic differences are not as important as the environmental influences. There are plenty of black hated Centrists who send there children to moderate Charedi Yeshivos. These new Charedi communities will become the mainstream - if they haven’t yet. The children of Centrists who send to these schools will pick up some of their parents Centrist Hashkafos but mostly those of their Mechanchim. The result will be a trend toward moderate Charedism.

That will result in the end of Centrism in one or two generations as the move to the right by Centrists will continue as will the move toward the center of mainstream Charedim. Modern Orthodoxy’s only remaining community will be the a left wing one that approaches right wing Conservative.

How Yeshiva University fits into the equation - I'm not sure. But even there there is a tendency toward the right.

This is why I harp so much about the Charedi world. It will very likely be the place my grandchildren will end up. As will the children of many other Centrists. I therefore do not want to see this community implode. I just want to see it change for the better and hope that as much of my Hashkafa will be salvaged as possible and adopted by that world. I wish I was wrong. I wish Centrist communities would grow and Centrist schools would proliferate. But I just don't see don't that happening.