Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I would like to commend Avi Ciment on his articulate and thoughtful series of articles regarding the Modern Orthodox conundrum. In one of his articles, he refers to a prior article he wrote some years ago about texting on Shabbos. At the time I remember being shocked that this was happening and I actually wrote an article about it that I never submitted because, since I did not have a Modern Orthodox education, I felt I had no right to weigh in on the topic. I would, however, at this juncture like to add a little to this conversation as someone who received a Bais Yaakov education but is not yeshivish.

A generation ago, yeshivas were not as homogenous as they are now. My elementary school class consisted of girls from many different walks of life. Our fathers were professionals, blue-collar workers and rebbeim. We were Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and many of us, including, myself had strong chassidish roots. When I was in fifth grade, the school took in three girls who had immigrated from Russia and were not observant, in the hope that we would be a good influence on them. Sleep away camp as well was a melting pot; my bunkmates were Bobov, Litvish and yekkish. Later when I switched to a more progressive Bais Yaakov for high school, I was introduced to girls who were ‘modern,’ a shamefully petty term we used for those who listened to secular music and wore short socks. Being exposed to girls from different backgrounds taught me a lot. It taught me that “frum” could look many ways. It taught me tolerance. And when I chose a path post-high school that was different from most of the other girls, it taught me that it was possible to change lanes on the frumkeit highway and still be okay.


What does this have to do with anything? Our yeshivas nowadays, especially those “in town,” are cubbyholes. If you don’t fit into the cubby, you can’t go to that yeshiva. If your mom wears a lace front sheitel or sandals or the color green, you’re out; it’s irrelevant that your kid would do great in that yeshiva. And so like attracts like, and if a yeshivish kid struggles with his frumkeit and looks around, all he sees are clones of the thing he can’t seem to live up to, and maybe he goes off the derech because he doesn’t know that there is any other way to be. And conversely, the Modern Orthodox kids are also only exposed to each other and it’s easy to let some things slip, after all, everyone else is doing it. How great it would be to tear down the cubby walls, just a little bit, and give the kids the latitude to gravitate towards the center instead of polarizing right and left. But the center is eroding, cracking into two disparate parts – and the only way to prevent falling into the abyss is to take hold of one of the sides, right or left.

Another point that I feel is important to make is that in the MO world that Mr. Ciment describes, the kids are overtly not observing halacha; we can physically see with our own eyes that there is a problem. Problems in the yeshivish and chassidish communities exist as well, but they are more covert, and possibly even more insidious because they are hidden so well. Imagine a kid who grew up in a yeshivish household. Davening and Shabbos and all the minutiae of observance are so physically ingrained that it’s like breathing. How do we know what he’s thinking?

One of the things I wrote in my unshared article mentioned above is that never in a million years would I have been mechalel Shabbos with an electronic device because I honestly thought that if I did something like that a lightning bolt would come out of the sky and strike me dead. Faulty, dangerous thinking, but I would hazard to say I was not the only one who thought that way. And so a kid on the right end of the spectrum who has doubts or questions or anger or apathy can hide very well under his black hat or her long skirt and no one will be the wiser. Just because a problem is invisible doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

My husband and I have a couple of parenting mantras. One of them (as Mr. Ciment mentions as well) is that hashkafa begins at home. Ultimately the school’s job is to teach our children facts, our job as parents is to pass on the mesorah; right and wrong; how to lead a meaningful life. At the first whiff of hypocrisy, the beautiful house you thought you built collapses like a house of cards, and you’re left with nothing but an empty, vapid shell.

Someone asked me last week if I considered myself Modern Orthodox. Maybe. I’m not sure. Sometimes. When my daughter filled out her profile for YU Connects, she had to choose a cubbyhole to shove herself into. She agonized over left-wing yeshivish and Modern Orthodox machmir. One wrong click of the mouse and she would be branded forever with whatever label she chose. This is kind of crazy. What have we done? We have segregated and separated ourselves so well that we no longer embody the spirit of one man, one heart. We know that the Torah has seventy faces, yet we only acknowledge the one that looks most like us. When I started reading this series of articles, I felt a tiny initial flicker of “this is not my problem.” Absolutely this is my problem, and so unlike years ago when I shied away from the texting on Shabbos discussion, here I am, adding my two (or three) cents.

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Dr. Chani Miller is an optometrist and writer who lives in Highland Park, N.J., with her family. She is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.