has been unusually heavy and heated.
No Apology Needed
I feel that Mr. Mostofsky was way too defensive in his article, parts of which read almost like an abject apology on behalf of Modern Orthodoxy. He made it seem as though the practices of Modern Orthodox Jews up to about 25 years ago were basically a series of compromises made necessary by a considerably less inclusive society. But fear not, he assures the yeshivish world, now that society has evolved, we Modern Orthodox Jews are adopting the stricter practices you always urged on us.
Nonsense, I say. The only thing Modern Orthodox Jews have to be ashamed about is the way we’ve acquiesced in the diminution of our once proud and vibrant community. No one held a gun to our heads and forced us to move further and further to the right in terms of our observance; rather, we internalized the criticism hurled at us by the haredi community and bought the notion that we were somehow lacking in our Judaism.
How did it come to this? There was a time, and it wasn’t all that long ago, when even those rebbeim who’d been educated in the great European yeshivas forcefully spoke out against the rigidity – most notably in the increasingly widespread acceptance of all manner of chumras ¡? they saw overtaking the American Torah community.
I recall that as recently as the mid-1970’s the esteemed Rav Pinchas Teitz, zt”l, railed against those who claimed glatt as the only proper standard for kashrut. In articles in The Jewish Press and other publications, Rav Teitz would painstakingly lay out the halachas of kashrut and challenge the changing public perception of what constituted halachically acceptable kosher meat. I once heard him speak on the subject and he asked his listeners: Are we saying that our fathers and grandfathers who ate non-glatt in Europe were, G-d forbid, lax in their kashrut?
The Jewish Press’s own Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, would more often than not counsel a more lenient approach within the parameters of halacha, and no serious person dared question the extent of his Orthodoxy.
I well remember the glory days of Modern Orthodoxy in America, and I’ll tell you this: In those years we didn’t have to suffer the pain and embarrassment of reading in the paper every other week of yet another scandal, another chilul Hashem, in the Orthodox community. We may have been somewhat less stringent in the practice of certain rituals and minhagim, but in terms of our ethical behavior, of our adherence to the mitzvos of ben adom l’chaveiro, of
the face we presented to the non-Orthodox and non-Jewish worlds as representatives of Hashem’s Torah – in those terms we were head and shoulders above the situation
that pertains today.
(Dr.) Irving Pollak
New York, NY
This whole discussion of Orthodox/Modern Orthodoxy totally misses the point. The bottom line is that every Jew must take a serious accounting of where he is holding religiously. Either he follows the Shulchan Aruch or he does not. Either he respects Daas Torah or he does not. As Dr. Yaakov Stern pointed out in his letter to the editor last week, Rabbi Gifter, zt”l, was only interested in being a Torah Jew.
Life really is that simple, and when we come to grips with this, all the ¡°deep¡± philosophical questions that divide the “Modern Orthodox” and the “Orthodox” will become
clear real fast.
University of Maryland
Guarding Hashem’s Torah
Rather than “Modern Orthodoxy in a Changing World,” the title of Mr. Mostofsky’s essay should have read “in a Regressing World.” We have come full circle to ancient Rome and Greece with acceptance of homosexuality, abortion, and a rapidly declining morality. More than ever, there exists a prime necessity to cling to Torah observance since the Torah, being the Will of G-d, has always existed and always will exist without change.
The first problem with the article is the label “Orthodox.” Declaring oneself “Orthodox” leaves room for acknowledging other brands of Judaism, even, chas v’shalom, Humanistic Judaism which denies the existence of G-d. Every Jewish neshama enters the world with the same 613 obligations designated by Hashem and honored with the special command to be kodesh, holy.
A much more appropriate designation for Modern Orthodoxy is “Conservadox.” It provides recognition to those who would claim a right for males to choose not to cover their heads in public, or who, for the sake of convenience, eat salad or fish in a treif establishment. It provides the right (or excuse) for women to use the mikvah only when they hope to conceive, or to not over their hair because they consider the sheitel a minhag which perhaps the husband’s family didn’t observe.
Within Modern Orthodoxy, a woman can find the “right” to be a feminist wearing tallis and tefillin, attending “prayer groups” while hoping that eventually she’ll be counted in a minyan and called to the Torah.
While mixed dancing may no longer exist at Modern Orthodox functions, dancing without a mechitzah is accepted, as is mixed seating at functions where there is no davening. The Modern Orthodox community places a financial burden on those who observe chalav Yisrael,
insisting that they trust the government and ignoring the stipulation that where chalav Yisrael is available, it should be used.
While I have observed many children from young Israel households becoming more observant than their parents, those children are often confronted with the same family problems as those who become observant and are criticized by non-frum relatives.
Perhaps I am most sensitive to these issues because I am a ger who chose to live by Torah and now guards it jealously for Hashem. After I spent the first 28 years of my life as a devout Catholic, Hashem has blessed me with 37 additional years as a Torah Jew, although leading me first through Conservative Judaism, which allowed me to experience life among those who chose to observe as they pleased. (After five years, I sought halachic conversion because I wanted to be bound eternally with the Torah of Hashem.)
In order to fulfill the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow Jew, I must state that I do not fault those Jews who involve themselves in these movements. It is the fault of the so-called “rabbis” who tell gentiles they are Jews when they are in fact still gentiles, and those who soothe the conscience of non-observant Jews by condoning their non-Torah observance with unofficial heterim to violate the sacred halacha for convenience.
May we merit to see the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days, and witness the time when all shall believe only in Hashem, observing the seven Noahide Laws for gentiles and the 613 mitzvos for Jews.
Jocelyn Ruth Krieger
Adjusting To Rightward Shift
It was a pleasure to read Shlomo Mostofsky’s article as well as some of the responses to it. I would like to add some of my views on the subject.
The halachas were the same years ago as they are today; it’s just that today more people are willing to accept them, due to a larger yeshiva-educated population. Not all of us, however, are able to make an immediate 180-degree turn-around. It takes time and patience for many of us, especially the older folks.
Mr. Mostofsky mentioned that he was born in 1957. I was born in 1942, and from my perspective the move to the right in Orthodoxy today is even more pronounced than it is from his. Although I went to a frum, boys-only yeshiva through high school, I was raised in a Young Israel-type environment and went to co-ed Orthodox camps. Adjusting to chumras in kashrus such as kemach yoshon or chalav Yisrael is not a problem for me. Other things, such as sheitels, kol isha, and asking a woman to wear stockings and long sleeves on a humid 95-plus degree summer weekday is going to take additional effort and considerably more time.
What bothers me is when people try to enact additional chumras that are not mandated by halacha but more by minhag. I am referring specifically to the forced separation of men and women in other than religious settings. I am now 60 years old and in five years I will be looking to join a senior citizen center. The existing Orthodox senior centers here in Monsey are run under the auspices of chassidic organizations. As a result, social and recreational activities are run for the women only, while the men are conveniently parked in front of a Gemara all day, in a separate room.
If I want to learn Gemara all day, there are, baruch Hashem, many botei midrashim here in Monsey that are open 24 hours a day for this purpose. I should not be forced into it. Because of the existing situation, many Orthodox seniors go to the local Rockland JCC YMHA and take their own food along, because the YMHA kitchen is not glatt. However, they are not really comfortable there. The lectures are presented by Reform or Conservative clergymen and the vast majority of the seniors are not at all concerned with religious values.
It is very important that when people of my generation reach our golden years we have a Young Israel-type of senior center where we will feel comfortable. Folks such as myself may be dinosaurs, but as long as we are still here on this earth, our needs must be taken into
Let’s Respect Each Other
The controversy engendered by Mr. Mostofsky’s essay on Modern Orthodoxy is disturbing. Perhaps the following story will help some people obtain a different perspective on the issues involved.
I know a baal t’shuva who has spoken to me about this rivalry we see eating away at the Torah community. He tells me that when he was first becoming religious some 30 years ago, he was fortunate to meet dozens of Jews across the broad spectrum of Orthodox observance who were kind enough to help facilitate his entry into our culture.
Every so often, some of these people would try to explain to him what to them were very bright distinctions between the different groups that made up Orthodox life. Now, my friend is not a stupid person but he remembers that for a good number of years he could not understand what these people were getting at. For a long time all he saw were just individual Jews practicing the same religion a little differently. Some ate g’brokts and some didn’t. Some put on two types of tefillin and others one. Some wore hats all the time but a good many others chose not to. He thought that this was wonderful. He could appreciate a belief system that saw so many ways to do the right thing.
Given Judaism’s emphasis on ahavat Yisrael, he found it strange and very sad that his mentors would sometimes denigrate the practices and the people of those groups to which they thought they did not belong but which he could not really see as separate at all.
He heard the nasty and sometimes hateful things we all say about each other in our jealousy and guilt and competition for the title of G-d’s favorite. It seldom angered him, but it did always hurt him.
He told me that after many years he finally began to see that there were indeed different groups with different philosophies in Orthodox life and that he had been exposed to all of them over time. Looking back, he remembers that none of them had a monopoly on virtue. He found people in each group who were charitable and others who were stingy; people who were very spiritual and people who were very materialistic; people who were very committed
to learning and others less so. I got the point.
My friend today davens in an Agudah shul but eschews a black hat. He still reads seforim and articles written by rabbis and laymen from a variety of different strains of Orthodox opinion and finds enlightenment in all of them. He still feels that the greatest strength of Torah Judaism
is that people of very different temperaments and mindsets can all feel quite comfortable within its embrace.
If we must judge other religious Jews – and sometimes this is not only advisable but also necessary and even mandatory – please let us look at individuals, and try not to attribute their personal failings or idiosyncrasies to the movements we assume they belong to.
If we need to critique another group’s philosophy or practices, let us do so fairly, intellectually and unemotionally – and without lashon hara. Let us always remember that each group is, despite its detractors’ rhetoric, committed to halacha, and can usually find good sources for its points of view.
On the whole, why not just try to accept other Orthodox Jews the way they are? We all have faults.
Mark Ian Binsky
Taking Issue With Dr. Stern’s Diagnosis Of Modern Orthodoxy
No Fear Of Worldly Knowledge
The condescending tone of Dr. Yaakov Stern’s letter to the editor in last week’s Jewish Press
compels me to respond. I try to maintain a civil tongue when dealing with my fellow Orthodox
Jews who like to play their “frummer than thou” games, but it’s really time for the more right-wing elements among us to learn a little respect and a whole lot of derech eretz.
I’m convinced that the denigration constantly heaped on Modern Orthodoxy in haredi circles
stems mainly from a profound ignorance of history. For example, how many of your readers are aware that at Lithuania’s renowned Slobodka yeshiva, talmidim were expected to read a newspaper each and every day?
No, Dr. Stern, Torah Judaism doesn’t mean building a fortress of chumras in order to isolate
oneself from the outside world. Rambam and the other Sephardic Torah giants were men of vast “secular” learning, as was the Vilna Gaon and other European misnagdish leaders.
It would be instructive to consider the prescience of Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, author of S’ridei Aish, who in his later years (he died in 1966) bemoaned what he viewed as the
encroaching extremism in Orthodoxy. To quote from his biographer, Marc Shapiro:
“Weinberg believed that while religious extremism was always harmful, with its anti-Zionism and opposition to secular studies it was now even more dangerous, for it threatened to cripple positive religious development in the newly created State of Israel. Extremist Orthodoxy,
which he regarded as entirely lacking in originality of thought, would never be able to present an alternative to the secular vision and would prevent Orthodox Judaism itself from experiencing a rebirth.”
Rabbi Weinberg, writes Shapiro, saw the creation of Israel as a momentous miracle, even the
inauguration of the messianic process, and stated that only those whose hearts were “completely frozen” could fail to recognize the Hand of G-d in the restoration of the Jews to their land.
In one of his letters Rabbi Weinberg wrote that it was solely due to the glory of the State of
Israel that he found the strength to persevere; in another letter he called the establishment of Israel “the joy of my life.”
Imagine that, Dr. Stern – a yeshivish European rabbi, a recognized Torah intellect, who valued secular knowledge and saw Zionism as the working out of Hashem’s redemptive plan for His
people. There were others like him, Dr. Stern, others whom you’d know about if only you made an attempt to broaden your horizons. A Torah man, Dr. Stern, one who arms himself with faith and discernment, need have no fear of the world and its knowledge.
(Rabbi) Lev Rosenzweig
Throwing Stones From Glass Houses
Dr. Yaakov Stern’s description of Modern Orthodoxy is slanderous and irrational. He claims
that Modern Orthodox Jews resent ultra-Orthodoxy and therefore make specious accusations against it. However, his accusations that Modern Orthodoxy is materialistic and spiritually bankrupt show his resentment for Modern Orthodoxy and are totally hypocritical.
I am part of the “right wing,” but have always admired the Modern Orthodox for their sincerity
and ability to retain their Torah principles while being exposed to the secular world.
The Modern Orthodox are too materialistic? Anybody who takes a walk through Boro Park sees overdone multi-million dollar homes with luxury cars in the driveway. Everyone knows that in the right-wing world shidduchim are based on money – boys are constantly advised to learn at “such and such a yeshiva” so that they might land a wealthy father-in-law. Huge, extravagant weddings are the norm (necessitating a takanah that no one seems to be following).
The Modern Orthodox are spiritually bankrupt? There has been scandal after scandal of
fraud and embezzlement in the right-wing community, each one constituting a tremendous
chillul Hashem. When we see the perpetrators of these crimes in the media, they never look Modern Orthodox. The minyanim at the federal prisons invariably are comprised mostly of right-wing Jews, not Modern Orthodox Jews. There are also special drug and alcohol addiction centers geared specifically for the haredi community. The list could go on and on. Dr. Stern should understand that those like him who engage in irrational diatribes against others often are motivated by their own feelings of inferiority.
Modern Orthodoxy is a vibrant Torah movement with many of its own talmidei chachamim and gedolim. Does Dr. Stern think these great rabbis are spiritually bankrupt? Are the boys learning in hesder yeshivas who put their lives on the line defending their fellow Jews spiritually bankrupt?
Dr. Stern really ought to get out of his ivory tower and take off his blindfold before he engages
in ill-conceived triumphalist exhortations which are tantamount to lashon hara against a tzibbur
consisting of other Torah Orthodox Jews.
How Does One Measure?
I read with interest the response from Dr. Yaakov Stern to the article by Shlomo Mostofsky.
Dr. Stern says that Modern Orthodoxy is spiritually bankrupt and essentially irrelevant. Dr.
Stern, do you have a machine that measures spirituality in a person? How do you differentiate
between a Jew who is Modern Orthodox and one who is yeshivish or chassidic? Can you tell how much kavanah they put into their davening? Is there any difference between someone who never misses a minyan and davens in the Young Israel and someone who never misses a minyan and davens in a yeshiva? (Maybe the yeshivish or chassidic guy “shuckels” a little more.)
I commend you, Dr. Stern – you have spoken like a true fanatic. You, like Hashem, search the
heart of everyone. I have no doubt that if an anti-Semite were to come across your article he
would be very proud of you. You and him both seek to cause dissension among Jews.
By the way, to whom is the modern Orthodox Jew irrelevant? To Hashem? No, not to Hashem. Our sages said, “Every Jew has a share in the world to come.” Every Jew. Thank G-d that Dr. Stern is not the ultimate judge of the Jewish people; if he were, they would all be found wanting.
(Rabbi) Avi Inger
I’m afraid that Dr. Yaakov Stern tipped his hand in his letter to the editor when he referred to
Mr. Mostofsky’s fellow Modern Orthodox Jews as “his [Mostofsky’s] co-religionists.” His co-religionists? Are Modern Orthodox Jews not Dr. Stern’s co-religionists as well? Is Dr. Stern
suggesting that Modern Orthodoxy is a different religion from what he considers his pure, ultra-right-wing brand of Yiddishkeit?
Based on his letters to the editor that have appeared in The Jewish Press over the past several
months, I’m afraid the answer is self-evident: In Dr. Stern’s eyes, it’s either his way or the highway; either you conform to his idea of Torah-true Judaism or he’ll cast you out of the House of Israel.
Unfortunately, this religious arrogance is by no means limited to Dr. Stern. As a Modern
Orthodox Jew who happens to wear a hat, I can “pass” among haredim who don’t know me – and the deragatory comments I constantly hear are enough to make me despair of Klal Yisrael ever achieving even a semblance of unity.
What kind of comments? Here are just a few recent examples of the lashon hara I’ve had to
endure: 1) This one’s wife doesn’t cover her hair, so just how frum can the family be? 2) That one doesn’t hold from Chalav Yisrael, so how strict is his kashrut? 3) I just found out that the lady over there sends her son to a yeshiva that marches in the Israeli parade, can you believe it? For some reason I always thought the boy went to a real yeshiva. 4) Him? He’s mechalel Shabbos, he uses the Flatbush eruv.
In each of the cases mentioned above, the individuals who were being denigrated in such an
ugly manner were sincere, devoted, Orthodox Jews. I don’t know whether I can say the same about those who were doing the slandering.
Speaking Of ‘Spiritual Bankruptcy’…
I would like to address my letter to Dr. Yaakov Stern, who wrote last week to comment on
Shlomo Mostofsky’s article on Modern Orthodoxy.
Dr. Stern, my reaction to your reply was initially one of anger, and then of great sadness. You clearly do have some sense of hakarat hatov for what came before you, for the brave pioneers
who paved the way for what is observant Jewry today. You apparently appreciate the fact that in no way would you be able to practice Yiddishkeit in this country without the Modern Orthodox movement’s early beginnings; as you say in your letter, “for this we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.” However, you go on to state that we should go on “building on their sacrifices and adopting the religious practices which were beyond their pale.”
A fine sentiment, indeed. So necessary to dispel the horrors of “spiritual bankruptcy” to
which you feel we of the Modern Orthodox movement are doomed. You cite a man sitting next to you at an audition for a ba’al tefilah and his insensitive remark about a kollel yungeleit as representative of a whole group of people you feel are “irrelevant.”
If we are going to generalize by example, let me offer the following:
¡? The young man with a hat as big as his ego who told my elderly mother, after she had just
secured a parking spot in front of a fish store in one of your neighborhoods on a busy Friday afternoon moments before he got there, that she should give up the spot to him because “You old people had your turn already, it’s my turn now.” (I can only hope his kids were in the car with him to learn from his callousness and wish him arichat yamim!) That, Dr. Stern, is spiritual bankruptcy.
* The women at my table at a simcha – all yeshivish – who, after I, an outsider, cheerfully
introduced myself, proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the night. That, Dr. Stern, is spiritual
* The shiva for one of the pillars and founders of the Boro Park community – a woman who,
along with her late husband, established the Beth El synagogue and Yeshiva Etz Chaim among many other institutions in the early part of the last century in the heart of Boro Park – where a
minyan had to be imported every day from Teaneck so my neighbor could say Kaddish for his Modern Orthodox mother. That, Dr. Stern, is spiritual bankruptcy.
Dr. Stern, I want to be a “Torah Jew” too, and I am proud to be a Modern Orthodox Jew at the same time. Let us all stop pointing fingers at each other, work a little more on our “ben adom l’chaveiro,” and maybe we will have a chance at the ultimate ge’ulah.
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