Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Haredization of Orthodoxy VI

Menachem Butler, in his now defunct AJHistory blog, recently directed readers to an exchange in the 2005 issue of Contemporary Jewry (link). Samuel Heilman wrote an article about Modern Orthodoxy shifting to the right. You know, his regular material. I'm amazed how many articles -- and even a book -- he can turn that same material into. His article then received responses from David Ellenson and Marc Shapiro. The former doesn't seem to have much to say. The latter, however, does. His article can be found here (PDF). As someone living in the Modern Orthodox community and keenly observing, he presumably has a good deal of insight into it. Yet I found a lot of things in the article with which I disagreed.

1. Shapiro oddly states that Modern Orthodox students who adopt black hats and yeshivish dress do not do so in Israel but in Yeshiva University. In my experience, that is the exception (myself included) and the opposite is the general rule.

2. In the second paragraph, Shapiro defines Modern Orthodox as "people who go to college and are professionals." My friends and neighbors from Torah Vodaas and Chaim Berlin fall within that definition of Modern Orthodox, which leads me to suspect that it is overly broad.

3. In the third paragraph, Shapiro suggests that the right-wing Orthodox adopt stringencies in order to distinguish themselves from the Modern Orthodox. Now that the Modern Orthodox are being fairly strict, the right-wing has to become even stricter. I find that suggestion to be farfetched. The right-wing generally does not even realize that the Modern Orthodox community has become more strict, as can be seen in the still prevalent usage of outdated stereotypes about the Modern Orthodox.

4. Shapiro notes that even the Modern Orthodox who have adopted the haredi style of dress are still Modern Orthodox in many of their views. I find this to be a very perceptive and accurate observation. Many of my friends think they are yeshivish but are not. They just don't realize how deeply they have been influenced and that what they consider "normal" is just Modern Orthodox. (See this post by Joe Schick for just one of many examples.)

5. Shapiro writes: "There are now two types of modern Orthodox Jews: the old-fashioned type and the new type, which is modern in ideology but doesn't cut corners when it comes to halachah." I think his dichotomy is correct but that this is not a new phenomenon. In Avodah/Areivim-world, we refer to the MO and the MO-lite. The MO are the ideological Modern Orthodox and the MO-lite are members of the Modern Orthodox community who are lax in their observance. Similarly, there is the UO and the UO-lite referring to those who are Ultra Orthodox and members of that community who are lax in their observance. There have always been MO and MO-lite. It is just that recently the proportion of the MO vs. MO-lite has changed and the MO make up a larger part of the community.

6. Shapiro notes: "[T]here are no modern Orthodox works of practical halachah. This realm has been ceded to the haredim." This is not entirely accurate (e.g. I, II), but close enough. That could change, if I have my way.

7. Shapiro then proceeds to argue that the OU and other kosher supervision agencies have overly extreme standards. I find his portrayal to be exaggerated and laced with apparent Abadi influence.

8. Shapiro's example about the use of medicines on Passover is not a good one, because the right-wing Orthodox community is not in agreement on this. It is just that those who are strict advertise (literally) their positions while those who are lenient do not. Although even this is changing (I, II).

9. Shapiro agrees with Heilman's statement that Haredim are the main teachers in Modern Orthodox schools. I'm not denying this, but I'll just say that this was not at all the case in my high school.

10. Shapiro writes: "Modern Orthodoxy currently has no gadol, or authority figure. That means that halachic guidance comes from the haredim." I found that surprising. I grew up in Teaneck and visit for Shabbos on occasion. Not only is Rav Soloveitchik regularly cited as the top halakhic authority, but R. Hershel Schachter and R. Mordechai Willig are also frequently quoted. They are certainly the authorities with whom my rabbinic friends regularly consult.

11. Shapiro states that the various Ba'al Teshuvah movements are all Haredi dominated. I just don't know what he's talking about. Maybe he means that a lot of the outreach professionals are Haredi. OK, maybe. But dominated? Certainly not the Ba'alei Teshuvah themselves.

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