Latest update: January 8th, 2013
From time to time, my views are challenged by both those to my right and those to my left. That happened recently in discussions about going ‘Off the Derech’(OTD).
The right constantly challenges me about why I do not discuss what they perceive to be a much larger instance of Going OTD among Modern Orthodox Jews. I am not prepared to concede the point. As many people have pointed out, there have been no studies (at least that I am aware of) that breaks the OTD phenomenon into percentages or numbers of individual groups. But I will concede that it is very possible that the MO community is the one that goes OTD is the larger of the two, at least in terms of percentages.
The Left keeps challenging my contention that I see Charedim to be the wave of the future. Again there are no studies that I am aware of that speaks to this issue.
In answer to the first question, I speak about Charedim because I believe them to be the wave of the future. Their current large numbers and exponential growth over the years would seem to confirm that belief. Lakewood Yeshiva has grown from a few hundred students in the 60s when I was in high school to over 6000 today with plans to accommodate an increase in growth to over 10,000 students.
That Charedi Mechanchim out-number MO Mechanchim is a simple fact of life which is bolstered by the fact that Charedim tend to go into Chinuch a lot more than MO Jews do. Some MO schools hire Charedi teachers in fact for lack of finding enough teachers that are MO.
Charedi family size is clearly larger on the average than that of MO Jews since they are encouraged to have as many children as they can. Nine or ten children per family is not an unusual number for Charedim. Not so for MO. The Charedi rate of growth will no doubt continue along those lines and increase exponentially with every new generation.
The only real question in my mind is what form Charedism will take.
I have expressed my views on this many times –views which were first noted by Rabbi Berl Wein. I firmly believe that Charedim will increasingly take the form of moderate Charedism. That means that Charedim will employ (and in many cases already have employed) many of the modalities of Modern Orthodoxy. Like having professional careers requiring university educations for example. That’s why places like Touro exist and flourish.
I can’t understand why anyone would deny this reality. Is there anyone who thinks that Charedim will suddenly reject the values they have been indoctrinated with and suddenly become adherents of Torah U’Mada?
That Modern Orthodox Jews have a sizable number is also true. But their rate of growth is a fraction of the Charedi rate of growth. The very nature of a more open society that is a hallmark of Modern Orthodoxy creates an environment that is more conducive to assimilation.
Those without a firm grounding in the values of observant Judaism can easily abandon it in college where the pressure to conform to the campus social life is very strong. Especially in those schools with little or no Jewish presence.
Who among MO will fall prey to these negative influences?
I believe that many MO Jews (those who I call MO-Lite of which I think there are a great many) do not provide their children with the kind of grounding that can withstand the pressures of campus life. By opting for the best university they may sacrifice a strong Jewish presence other schools might have – and hope for the best.
On the other hand committed MO Jews on either the right or the left will survive and so will their children. They will opt for YU, Touro, or a university like Penn with a strong Jewish presence.
In the Charedi world where observance and fear of outside influences infecting their Hashkafos is always the primary concern – they do not fall prey as much to assimilation because they fight it tooth and nail… preferring isolation over any exposure at all.
True, Charedim have other problems much of which is caused by that very isolationism. But even if you even leave out the attrition rate of both MO and Charedim, the exponential growth rate of Chareidim over that of Modern Orthodox Jews definitely points to their numbers increasing and comprising the lion’s share of Orthodoxy.
This does not of course mean that MO will disappear. Of course they won’t. Not as long as there is a Yeshiva University. And as well because of MO Gedolim like Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and rising stars like Rabbi Michael Broyde.
But though they will not disappear I firmly believe that they will be joining the ranks Moderate Charedim as a socially cohesive group. Those joining those ranks from among MO will be those I classify as Right Wing Modern Orthodox (RWMO). That’s’ because the values of this group are similar to those of moderate Charedim as is their choice of lifestyle. The only real difference between them will be a Hashkafic one which on a day to day basis means very little. Where it may matter is where their children might go. The RWMO will generally choose a YU whereas the moderate Charedi might choose a Touro.
MO lites whose knowledge of and commitment to Judaism is not as strong as is their other interests – will not be major contributors to this new demographic. Their children run a higher risk of assimilating for reasons I stated earlier.
Left Wing Modern Orthodox Jews (LWMO) – though sincere and committed to their beliefs – are too far out of the mainstream now in my view for them to be a serious contender for the mainstream Judaism of the future. They may be around but as they continue to interact to the point of near integration with heterodox movements …and push the envelope of Halacha as far left as it can go… I just don’t see that catching on with the majority of Jews and will not be the wave of the future.
This is why I talk so much about Charedim even though I am not Charedi. What happens to them… and what they do… affects all of us.
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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 email@example.com.
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