It seems more of us are willing to express the view that labels do not portray Jewish individuals with accuracy and often lead to false assumptions. Instead of defending labeling as an ideal system of classification, people are now rationalizing it as an imperfect system still worth using.

This is definitely progress, but perhaps we can now take the next step and demonstrate once and for all that any trifling conveniences of labeling are dwarfed by the detriments; that labeling is a destructive force in the community; that the perceived benefits of labeling are in fact illusory; and that we would be far better off as individuals and as a nation if we eliminated labels from our collective vocabulary cold turkey.


Let us give thought to some of the more popular labels. The term “Modern Orthodox” is either a badge of honor or among the worst of insults, depending on whom you survey. Referring to someone as “more modern” is often a euphemism for “less serious about halacha.” This is a way of looking down on people while feigning respect for them.

(Actually, there is nothing modern about not following halacha – Jews have been disregarding halacha for thousands of years.)

On the other hand, those who proudly refer to themselves as “Modern Orthodox” interpret the label to mean complete allegiance to Torah while incorporating the best the modern world has to offer. Lost in the shuffle is the concept that tradition itself has always supported this idea. Integrating the advances in the world around us without compromising halacha is part and parcel of Judaism, not something that needs to be noted with an additional adjective such as “modern.”

As a result of the obvious potential for misunderstanding, derivative labels have been introduced. Some people go with MODERN Orthodox or Modern ORTHODOX, intending to emphasize halachic laxness or a minimalist approach to modernity, respectively.

Then again, this little scheme implies that placing importance on modernity reflects a deviation from tradition. In addition, MODERN Orthodox uses the word “modern” to mean “compromiser of halacha to suit modern society” while Modern ORTHODOX uses “modern” to mean “up with the times.” As this sub-group of labels is both cumbersome and confusing, it never really caught on.

A more trendy approach is to refer to the “religious” class as “Modern Orthodox Machmir” and the compromisers as “Modern Orthodox Liberal.” “Machmir” presumably implies “strict adherence to halacha” – but isn’t that what “Orthodox” is supposed to mean? Is “Machmir” merely balancing out “Modern,” or is it there to demonstrate that “Modern” should be interpreted as “up with the times” and not “compromiser of halacha” (in other words, the good kind of “modern”)?

Further, “Machmir” has traditionally meant not that one is strict about halacha, but either that one is stricter than other legitimate opinions or beyond the letter of the law. Was Beis Shammai machmir? Did the individuals who comprised Beis Shammai consider themselves machmir? Did they consider Beis Hillel “modern”? What about the various times Beis Shammai took the more lenient approach?

Do those who refer to themselves as “Machmir” mean to say that they always follow the strictest halachic opinion? That would be odd indeed, as no one universally follows the strictest halachic opinion, nor is such an approach necessary or even desirable. Perhaps that is the true meaning of “Modern Orthodox Machmir” – an overly strict approach to halacha that is uniquely modern.

As for “Modern Orthodox Liberal” how could any self-respecting Jew admit to preferring a strictly liberal approach, a strictly strict approach, or anything other than an intellectually honest approach that strives for objective truth, however subjectively “lenient” or “strict” it may seem? How could Orthodoxy, which implies strict fidelity to halacha, be at the same time liberal?

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Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness and the author of seven books, including "Tovim Ha-Shenayim: A Study of the Role and Nature of Man and Woman." Many of his writings are available at He is also the director and producer of a documentary on the shidduch world, "Single Jewish Male." He can be contacted at [email protected].