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".


micha berger said...

"[T]he only place for Serious Jews is Modern Orthodoxy..." should perhaps read "... for Serious Jews with an interest in being modern ..."


thanbo said...

Sorry. Serious Jews, coming from Prager, feels to me more like "Serious Jews in the heterodox movements." It's taken for granted that Orthodox Jews are serious (ignoring the MO-Lite and Charedi-Lite phenomena).

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

The problem is: how do you define Modern Orthodoxy?
Is it Rav Hershel Schachter's Chareidi-lite version? Or is it Rav Avi Weiss's "we're this close to being Conservative" ?

Or somewhere in between?

thanbo said...

Probably not the RHS version, unless they've had an Aish Hatorah-style BT experience. Probably closer to left or center. Note my examples: Ramaz/LSS. A number of JTS faculty sent their kids to Ramaz; there was no SSDS in NYC at the time. My cousin goes to Orach Chaim on the East Side, which is also pretty center-left, and he tells me that a number of JTS faculty also daven there.

Or Chabad, which is sui generis, but accepting of a lot of people.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

So here's the problem - RHS defines himself as MO. The YCT crowd ALSO class themselves MO.

Who's the real MO, and why?

As for Chabad, they are only superficially accepting. Yes they'll count you to a minyan and give you the occasional aliyah but if you see a potential dating partner on the other side of the mechitzah, you'll find out about how tolerant they really are.

Joe in Australia said...

As for Chabad, they are only superficially accepting. Yes they'll count you to a minyan and give you the occasional aliyah but if you see a potential dating partner on the other side of the mechitzah, you'll find out about how tolerant they really are.

Would you care to elaborate?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Sure. A guy in a knitted kippah shows up at a Chabad shadchan's door and asks for a dating service. When asked, he says he does not believe the Rebbe was Moshaich, the Nasi HaDor or a navi and the Frediker Rebbe was not Atzmus of God. He's skimmed through the Tanya but prefers Gemara.
Hmmmm, think she'll take him on?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Oh, oh, how about this one: ever notice that when a Chabadnik davens in a normal shul he insists on using nusach Ari when leading services, but if I wanted to use my nusach in a Chabad shul, I'd have to use Ari instead?
Or have you ever tried to do a regular hagbah in a Chabad shul or get one of them to do a regular hagbah in a normal shul?
And why is it my local meshullach quite conspicuously never actually davens with the congregation but rather goes into a different room later on (and way past any proper zman for shma and amidah) to daven?
Or the rule in the local larger Jewish community that all conversions have to use the Chabad mikveh, otherwise they won't recognize it?

Pierre Sogol said...

From a professor of Bible at University of Judaism (now AJU);

Many of these committed jews he describes seek a *community* that their movements are not and can no longer be; the Conservative movement USED to claim pluralism, the independence of congregations to determine their direcition, etc, but the pluralists once in power are at war with any sign of diversity within the movement. These kids seek what Ramah hinted at - lived, breathing, vital observance open to whomever wants it - and more often they ARE finding it among others *like themselves* - not only among identifying-Modern Orthodox; the "Egal minyanim", the partnership minyanim, those attending VERY mixed Orthodox-but Hillel-hosted minyanim...
environments where NON-observance is tolerated, but observance - *more than ideology* - is encouraged. The last thing I think many of them are concerned about is that the label on their new-found-'church home' is "Orthodox", any more than what they need is 'heksherim' from a national Orthodox political body or denomination. Of course, USCJ it seems is trying to either bolster their bank accounts or their demographics, by giving start-up funds to such groups - IF they identify as Conservative...and thus ultimately pay national dues, submit to the dictates of NON-pluralist pluralism. etc, etc...

Pierre Sogol said...

It is very pointed what you say that they are serious jewish products of the movements they came from - because many, despite their Modern Orthodox settings, accept positions on academic scholarship that undermine the institutions of Modern Orthodoxy - as Orthodox. Also there are still formerly-Orthodox kids going through JTS, AJU, Schechter in Israel, PARDES and Hebrew University...

Neil Harris said...

Great post. It's ironic that within the current Conservative movement there has been such a shift towards "tradition" that many have, as you observe, found a home in our camps.

thanbo said...

Fortunately, I preach an "Authentic Judaism," unlike some who like to claim they are the standard-bearers of "Authentic Judaism." (Don't know if this will help Gil's hit-count).

"Will the real Authentic Judaism please stand up? please stand up? please stand up?"

-Marshall "McGregor" Mathers
'The Mitzvos Maasiyos Grimoire Album'

(yes, I'm feeling a bit silly)

BTW, did everyone go read Harry's post taking off from my point?

micha berger said...

Lots of listings doesn't help pushing the top one down. They just make the list longer. The trick is to have a single page that more people select from a Google (or subsidiary) page, or has more links to it from other pages.