The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Problem With Modern Orthodoxy

It occurred to me during one of my recent walks from Penn Station to work that the fundamental problem with Modern Orthodoxy is Modernity. In theory, MO could work; in today's reality, it's very difficult. Stated simply: "Leave it To Beaver" vs. "Fill in the blank with virtually any sitcom or reality show today".

I know this is no great chiddush but it became very clear during my recent walk. And, don't get me wrong; the Chareidi world is a huge mess also so I am no apologist for them.

I am in the middle of moving offices so I don't have time right now to expand, but I will next week.



  • At 1:51 PM, Blogger WD47 said…

    My Dear MoC,

    MO wasn’t in any better shape in the days of Leave it to Beaver. Just nobody complained about it. The RW wasn’t so strong, didn’t engage in triumphalism, and the total number of Orthodox Jews was small enough that we all needed each other more. Still, MO had the same problems then, just with different symptoms.

    MO is a great Haskafa. The problem is it takes a lot of work. In order to be true MO, you need to become a Talmid Chacham, and an educated, cultural person, and constantly evaluate every single situation to decide whether it furthers the individual and national goals of Yiddishkeit or not. Most of us (myself included) don’t have the strength or discipline to do this all the time. Your left with two choices. You become a slacker in one direction or the other. You can become less intense about your Yiddishkeit, welcome in much too much of the outside world without filters, and exist on whatever minimal level of Torah, Tefillah, Gemilus Chesed, etc. you can live with without guilt; or you can become less intellectually and culturally involved and concentrate on elevating your observance.

    The problem for MO communities is that the Yiddishkeit slackers stay, while the intellectual, cultural slackers leave to go RW. The MO community is left with a majority of Yiddishkeit slackers and a minority of those who really try to live the MO life. It’s been that way for 50-60 years or longer. You like to think of the good old days of Leave it to Beaver MO, but go look at the old wedding albums and the way people dressed, go talk to the old timers about carrying on Shabbos with no Eruv. They didn’t know any better and the Rabbonim were unable or unwilling to correct them. Today the community still has Tznius issues and still has problems with aspects of Shabbos observance, and still the Rabbonim are unable or unwilling to conquer these issues. The Yetzer Hara on your walk from Penn Station may be more “in your face” but it was always there.

    I don’t want to be a slacker either way, but there aren’t too many places where one can be comfortable being committed to both our Yiddishkeit and our intellectual, cultural side. Maybe that’s why we hang out where the WQ is high; we can be oddballs too.

  • At 2:37 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    Sadly, I just don't have time right now. The movers are coming tomorrow and I haven't even packed half my stuff.

    I agree with most of what you say. I will develop my thoughts next week.

  • At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Agree with some of what WD said, disagree with other aspects.

    Instead of finding fault with a specific religious philospohy, one should recognize the difficulty of adhering completely to any religious philosophy while in galus.

  • At 4:06 PM, Blogger ClooJew said…

    "MO is a great Haskafa."
    MO, lulei demistafina is not a Hashkafah; it is a milieu. Centrist Orthodoxy is a Hashkafah - one with few adherents.

    I would argue that the dominating hashkafah in America today is Contemporary Orthodoxy, which is (since I'm inventing the term) the Hirschian philosophy of Torah Im Derech Eretz. This comprises those who avoid college but go into business and those who do go to college in order to make a living. This hashkafah incorporates everyone from the right wing Modern Orthodox to the Yeshivish who don't learn in kollel. Yup, I'd say that's a good 70%.

    Centrist Orthodoxy argues for going to college in order to learn and understand mada. Even in the secular world, lulei demistafina, this is no longer the primary purpose for higher education. College today is primarily for social and economic purposes.

  • At 5:21 PM, Anonymous megapixel said…

    3 questions:
    a- what do consider MO? (i always thought it's relative- based on where somone is standing, isnt it?)
    b- i understand the mo part, what about the "chassid"
    c- what in blazes is lulei demistefina?

  • At 5:29 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…

    Megapixel. Not enough time to answer 1.

    2. The chassid part comes from where I daven. Basically, while I am not a chassid by any stretch of the imagination, I have an appreciation for Chassidus and believe that there is much that can be gained and incorporated from Chassidus, even in an MO setting.

    3. no clue

  • At 6:19 PM, Blogger DovBear said…

    Mo - what in blazes are you talking about?

  • At 8:19 AM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said…


    going into business or going to college in order to make a living isn't Torah ‘im Derekh Eretz, it's Torah uPharnasa, which is a bedi‘avad Hhareidi ideology, not a Modern/Centrist one.

    Torah ‘im Derekh Eretz believes in integration with contemporary culture because it makes you a better person, and therefore a better Jew. Not because "ya gotta make a living somehow".

  • At 9:36 AM, Anonymous dave said…

    What do you mean by culture? Brittany Spears, Survivor, Shakespeare? Just curious as to how these things make you a better person.

  • At 10:35 AM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said…


    figure it out yourself, but remember the difference between 'entertainment' (something that just makes you feel good) and 'art' (something that makes you think)

  • At 10:56 AM, Anonymous dave said…

    I'm asking an honest question. I hear this 'art' thing so often, it's a cliche already. I see plenty of people in Greenwich Village, that haven of what you would call art, and they don't quite impress me. And no, I am not Haredi either so don't go there.

    BTW, how many people do you know that have read or currently read Shaksepeare on their own and not in a school setting?

  • At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "lulei demistafina..." means something like "were i not afraid." it funcitons a bit like a less-soft version of the english "if i may be so bold...." it means that you recognize you are saying something controversial which you may or may not be qualified to say, but are going to say it anyway...

    i might suggest, if i may be so bold, that the problem with modern orthodoxy is that on a philosophical level it is about the only thing left that's "modern." everyone else seems to have moved on to post-modernity, whether via post-modernism or some amodern philosophy. it becomes an ideology, which requires one to read a specific set of ponce-current philosophers, as opposed to an approach which can tackle today's current philosophers.

  • At 6:10 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said…

    I'm asking an honest question. I hear this 'art' thing so often, it's a cliche already. I see plenty of people in Greenwich Village, that haven of what you would call art, and they don't quite impress me. And no, I am not Haredi either so don't go there.

    BTW, how many people do you know that have read or currently read Shaksepeare on their own and not in a school setting?

    First of all, i wouldn't necessarily call Greenwich Village art. I also don't care whether people are reading Shakespeare or not. I don't believe that so-called 'high culture' is more important than so-called 'folk/pop/street culture'.

    I think it's personal, it's different for each person. If Shakespeare helps you understand yourself, humanity, or Torah in some way, go for it. If a breakdancing group in the park makes you thank God for giving human beings talents and skills, and a sense of excitement, go for it.


    'modern orthodoxy' isn't modern, it's the practice of living an integrated Jewish life — and seeing that as worthwhile — that has always been around. R' Hirsch, R' Soloveitchik, R' Berman and all the rest are just expressing their particular philosophy of it. There are post-modern Orthodox Jews today as well.

  • At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There are also post-orthodox Jews today. They think their free-form pattern of observance is orthodox, only it's not.

  • At 4:16 AM, Blogger Yaro Gabriel said…

  • At 2:36 AM, Blogger Pansys Silvaz said…

  • At 5:21 AM, Blogger Yaro Gabriel said…

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