Monday, August 10, 2009

Home for Serious Jews

[Modern] Orthodoxy.

So many of the children and descendants of the leaders of the heterodox movements have found a home in Modern Orthodoxy. Is it that they've become Baalei Teshuvah, or is it that Conservative and Reform have become inhospitable places for people serious about their Judaism?

In 18th-century Germany, intellectual rabbis watched their children leave the faith, possibly becoming Reform etc., but today the pendulum swings back, and we see some children of Conservative and Reform rabbis moving into Modern Orthodoxy.

Mind you, I'm not talking about BTs, who will generally move into whatever variety of Orthodoxy made them more religious. I'm talking about Jews who are Serious Jews, which to my mind, coming from a heterodox thinker like Prager, means Jews who are serious about halacha and hashkafa who come from within the heterodox movements, and want to live up to the more observant varieties of the movements.

One can be Conservative and fully observant; in fact, it is a Conservative ideal - to follow the Shulchan Aruch as modified by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. 99.99% the same as Orthodox observance. One can be Reform and fully observant - if one's autonomous position is that full observance is necessary to one's Judaism. It goes without saying that Jews raised Orthodox and continuing so, are Serious (leaving aside the phenomena of MO-Lite and Charedi-Lite).

So why move to Modern Orthodoxy?

Perhaps it's because, as both Reform and Conservative move to more and more liberal positions, the only place for Serious Jews is Modern Orthodoxy. Dennis Prager coined the term over 20 years ago. He summarizes it in "Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism:" "A serious Jew takes Jewish law seriously. It, along with ethical monotheism, is Judaism's greatest achievement, and its observance is the only insurance of Jewish survival." The children of even heterodox rabbis tend to be serious Jews. By the same token, though, they tend to be college-educated, perhaps professionals, certainly involved in the secular work world. So Modern Orthodoxy would be the most likely fit.

- An old childhood friend, whose father was a Reform ordinee with a Conservative synagogue, found himself in Modern Orthodoxy, at LSS and now in Westchester.

- A daughter of the former head of JTSA, davened with us regularly at the Orthodox synagogue in Park Slope.

- A great-grandson of R' Mordechai Kaplan went to Ramaz and davened at LSS, and is still modern Orthodox in his new home (where he has been since college).

- And in Sunday's NY Times, the daughter of R' Eric Yoffie, head of the Union for Reform Judaism for the past several years, married another Jewish fellow, with an Orthodox rabbi, in West Orange NJ, a Modern Orthodox stronghold. They're solidly in the world - Yale, Harvard and Princeton, he a lawyer, she a professor to be.

These people were all raised as Serious Jews in the heterodox movements, but can no longer find a home as a Serious Jew in them, outside the rabbinate. So they come to Modern Orthodoxy. My cousin & his wife, she a Conservative rabbi - they're completely shomer mitzvot, AFAIK, she dresses modestly, they keep Shabbos, don't travel on Shabbos, etc. But they go to a modern Orthodox synagogue, because Conservative isn't really a good fit for a Serious Jew any more. Sad, but true.

UPDATED: clarify who I class as "Serious Jews".