I am beginning to wonder whether Modern Orthodoxy (MO) is already a thing of the past. At least in Israel. Although MO schools in America are not exactly the same thing as Dati Leumi (DL) or Religious Zionist (RZ) schools in Israel, they are in many ways similar.
DL schools generally reflect a more modern outlook similar to MO schools in the US. Mamlachti Dati government supported religious schools are part of the overall educational system in Israel with the same educational standards as their secular schools.
Graduates tend to do army service – some going into Hesder programs; then they go into the work force; and blend quite seamlessly into the culture while remaining religious. By the same token MO Jews in America tend to be religious Zionists as well – many of whom end up making Aliyah.
According to an article in the Times of Israel, RZ schools are about to adopt Tznius standards that mimic those of the most right wing Charedi schools in Israel. From the article:
According to a Maariv report on Monday, six-year-old girls must wear shirts that cover their elbows “even when raising their hands” and skirts that cover their knees “even when sitting.” The little girls must also wear long and loose pants during physical education classes. Girls with long hair must tie it back, while their fathers’ haircuts must abide by the “spirit of the school.” Boys and girls, who are ordinarily learn in gender-segregated classes starting in elementary school, are reportedly now required to remain segregated during recess and after school. Parents applying to have their children enroll in several religious Zionist schools in Israel have reportedly been asked to fill out questionnaires concerning their personal level of religious observance, the level of religious observance in the home, and the presence of a television or Internet connection in the home.
The article goes on to say that this phenomenon is only reflective of a minority of RZ schools. I would add that this is certainly not the case in any Modern Orthodox schools in the US. I don’t think that even most Charedi schools – at least moderate ones – require this standard. Yet. But as has been the case for decades now the move to the right continues unabated.
Why is this happening? I’m not exactly sure. But let us examine the facts as I understand them.
There is a group of Religious Zionist Jews in Israel called Chardalim. These are RZs who retain the overall ideals of Religious Zionism. Which primarily means supporting the State, serving in the army, and settling the land. Otherwise they have adopted most if not all of the strictures of Charedim. Hence the name Chardalim. Which combines the word Charedi with the letters ‘D’ and ‘L’ – the initials of Dati Leumi. Coincidently the word Chardal (singular form of the word Chardalim) means mustard seed, which has nothing to do with their Hashkafos as far as I can tell.
Chardalim feel they must chase down all the Chumros of the right. I tend to believe that the Chardal influence is behind these new rules. I also expect this trend to continue and to spread. Before you know it, “Chardalism” will become the defining mode of Religious Zionism. Modern Orthdodxy as we know it will become obsolete in Israel.
Religious Zionist parents who do not want to adopt these strictures will be marginalized – ultimately not having any place to send their children for a religious education! I know that is not the case now. But the way things seem to be going – who knows?!
One might argue that becoming “more religious” is a good thing. Why complain about a movement trying to adopt stricter standards of observance?
Fact is there is of course nothing wrong with raising standards of religious observance. As long as it is voluntary. But when schools start making new demands along those lines, they completely ignore individual choice. Being Machmir should be an individual choice and not forced upon anyone. These strictrures have nothing to do with basic Halacha. They have to do with image.
I can’t prove it, but I can’t help believing that much of this “move to the right” is being done for that reason. Serious RZs are tired of being looked down upon by the right (i.e. Charedim) for not being Frum enough. That Charedim look down on DL is a fact. I think it’s because there are many DLs that are comparable to what I have called MO-Lite. Meaning their observance is more peer and lifestyle directed than it is religion directed.
This is true of many Charedim as well. But “Lite” Charedim hide it better by their ‘look’ and by the fact that they buy their TVs in air conditioner boxes. DLs tend to dress in more modern clothing and buy their TVs openly. They are more open about their level of observance and public about their attitudes.
I have mentioned the following anecdote before with respect to the RW Yeshiva worlds mimicking the Chumros of Chasidim. I think the same thing is happening here.
When Telshe first moved to Chicago in the realy 60s, their banquets had mixed seating. But when a new day school opened up a bit later under the guidance of the Veitziner Rebbe (Satmar) their banquets were separate seating. Shortly after that Telshe started having separate seating at their banquets. They were not going to let the Chasidim “out-Frum” them.
Fast forward to the 90s. The daughter of a close friend of mine became engaged to one of their former students. My friend had discussed having mixed seating at the wedding with his daughter and future son in law and all agreed that based on family’s needs, the wedding dinner would be mixed – allowing for some “rabbi” tables to be separate.
Somehow Telshe became aware this. It was unacceptable to them that one of their Bachurim strongly recognized as a Telzer was going to have a mixed seating wedding. Long story short, they applied tremendous pressure to prevent that. My friend relented. He was pretty upset by it but he told me that after a while he just got tired of fighting them. The wedding was separate seating. And so were all the subsequent weddings of his children.
I believe there is a similar dynamic going on in Religious Zionist circles in Israel now. They will not be “out-Frummed” by the right! And they are going to do whatever it takes to rectify that. If past is prologue, they will succeed.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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