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Will Modern Orthodoxy Survive?


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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.

Harry Maryles

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 hmaryles@yahoo.com.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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