Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Modern Orthodox

The truth is, it's tough to post about something that you aren't really sure what the definition is. I've heard it called "MO", "Modox", or simply "Modern". Some people may say that it's a level of frumkeit and say that they don't do so-and-so or wear such-and-such because they are Modern Orthodox. I tend to think of it less of a level of frumkeit and more a level of integration into the society that surrounds us. I think that if we imagine what life was like back in Europe, we imagine small communities heavily saturated with Jews (oh wait, I live in one of those), whose population went to the Jewish butcher, Jewish blacksmith, etc. I think Modern Orthodoxy speaks to the increase in individuals integrating themselves with the world and society around them. But, maybe I'm wrong.

While I think it's hard to post about MO because I'm not sure exactly what it means, I feel as though I can post about it because I know what it isn't. "Modern Orthodox" is not an excuse to do things against halacha, nor is it an excuse to not do things in accordance with halacha. I've heard people say, "Oh, I eat dairy out because I'm Modern Orthodox". A friend recently told me of a scene in NY which is loaded with singles, and he said that a good number of them go back to their apartments at night with a member of the opposite sex, and wake up the next morning and put Tefillin dates. I thought Tefillin dates were just something you heard about; apparently they really happen. Ahhhh, but they're MODERN, so it must be OK. No! In ordered to be considered MO, there needs to be an O. Maybe this gets in to a much greater question of what exactly "orthodoxy" is, but I think we would all agree that eating at a non-kosher restaurant or shtupping before marriage goes against whatever definition you have.

If we rationalize that which we know to be wrong because we're Modern Orthodoxy, then where does it stop? Where's the line between still being able to attach that O to the end of MO? I'd imagine that 500 years ago the overwhelming majority of Jews couldn't fathom eating at a non-kosher restaurant. Well, these are the times that we live in. We need to be careful, as the things that we could never fathom being associated with orthodoxy may, in a couple of hundred years, be the norm.

Listen, I do things that I shouldn't. We all do things we shouldn't. We all pick and choose, to a certain extent. But I'm not going to lie to myself and say that it's OK because I'm MO. No, I do things that I shouldn't, and that's that - I don't make myself believe that it's OK. By telling onesself that what they are doing is OK because they are MO, they risk the title of "MO" one day turning into a lonely M.


Blogger Ralphie said...

This is exactly the kind of thing that makes MO rabbis - and others who take MO seriously - crazy.

As for integrating with society, I think going to a non-Jewish (or at least non-Kosher) butcher would take out the O, and going to a blacksmith of any sort would take out the M.

12:43 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Thanks for the comment, Ralphie. I would imagine that not all Rabbis who believe that integrating into society are considered crazy. A couple of Rabbis of MO shuls here in town, who many may consider to be MO themselves, are pretty frum dudes that wouldn't compromise halacha for anything.

That being said, you clearly have a different definition of what MO is. Perhaps MO to you means, by definition, that one justifies what he/she does.

12:51 PM, September 19, 2006

Anonymous aishel said...

Like you said, I think its important to first define 'orthodox' before getting into modern. Most people agree that keeping Shabbos, Taharas Mishpacha, and Kosher are the Big Three regarding Orthodoxy itself. Not sure about modern orthodox myself.

1:41 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger Ralphie said...

Sorry for not communicating clearly - what I meant was the following: When people use the label "Modern Orthodoxy" as a fig leaf for justifying their non-halachic behavior, it drives Modern Orthodox rabbis (and anyone else -like me- who takes the movement seriously) crazy.

As for my second point, I was mainly trying to make a joke about going to blacksmiths in this day and age...

1:58 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Aishel - right, that's why I specifically gave the Kashrus example. And while those big 3 may be the bare minimum, failure to do other things that one knows is right on the grounds that they are MO is still ridiculous.

Ralphie-I got your joke :)

3:19 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger Ahuva said...

I know MO folks who would say that it's the "big two," not the big three. It's not necessarily that they're justifying things that they know to be wrong. They're not taught that, for example, they have to keep Taharat Mishpacha. They're not taught that there might be an issue with short sleeves, etc.

5:15 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Ahuva - YIKES.

5:23 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger SephardiLady said...

I consider myself Modern Orthodox, but others are surprised I would label myself as such. Like you, I consider the label to have less to do with observance level (although I have plenty of weaknesses) and more to do with integration in the Modern world.

5:24 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger Ralphie said...

To be fair, I am pretty sure that short sleeves do not fall under the category of taharat mishpacha...

(um, does it?)

7:04 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


it doesn't. different cultures have different minhagim when it comes to applying the rules of tzeni‘ut.

8:02 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger Almost Yeshivish said...

In general, the (self proclaimed) MO world is totally corrupt. Obviously labels are problematic, but what I have finally decided to consider MO is the community that believe in all laws of the Torah as true, but disregard or find their way around whatever is too hard to keep. Everyone else, I consider plain "frum" or some variation of the word (with additions?). Frum organizations/people which consider themselves MO have obviously not spent much time around anyone aged 12-44 that is truly "MO". Otherwise they'd find a widespread complete disregard of halachic and hashkafic principals.

9:55 PM, September 19, 2006

Blogger Danny the Manny said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:36 PM, September 19, 2006

Anonymous a human being said...

I think there is a segment of people who consider MO to be a distinct movement within Judaism, but I think those people are really standard Orthodox people who aren't black hat. I think most people who consider themselves MO are people who basically were brought up frum but for whatever reasons don't keep certain things. They're Orthodox relative to Conservative or Reform, but modern in the sense that they don't conform to classic Orthodox behavior.

10:43 AM, September 20, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

AHB - I don't believe we're Orthodox because of what other people don't do (in relation to Reform and Conservative). I believe we're orthodox because of what we do.

10:46 AM, September 20, 2006

Blogger SephardiLady said...

A Human Being-I think you are sorely mistaken.

3:49 PM, September 20, 2006

Anonymous a human being said...

sephardilady - In what way? You mention that people are surprised that you consider yourself MO. I assume that is b/c they view you as more religious than their definition of MO. So, there are plenty of people who define MO similarly to the way I did.

Go to frumster. All the people who call themselves MO-Machmir are people who think MO is a distinct philosphy/ branch of Judaism. All the people who call themselves MO-liberal are people who are basically religious but don't observe various things for whatever reason.

12:45 PM, September 21, 2006

Blogger SephardiLady said...

I think most people who consider themselves MO are people who basically were brought up frum but for whatever reasons don't keep certain things.

I was commenting on many things, but this in particular. There are plenty of people in the MO camp from traditional or non-frum backgrounds.

3:41 PM, September 21, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a difference in the definitio9n of MO in Israel and in AMerica?

7:10 AM, September 22, 2006

Anonymous Dani said...

A human being-

Just because I call myself the best basketball player alive, doesn't mean I am. These people may be calling themselves "MO" but if they choose to disregard certain aspects of halacha because it "doesn't make sense to them", they are not any type of orthodox.

1:00 PM, September 29, 2006

Blogger Tomer said...

Reople should spend less time worrying about what kind of labels people frivolously toss about. Either you're Jewish or you're not. Either you're observant or you're not. Orthodox implies a dogmatic adherence to a set of doctrines, which is not even remotely how _any_ kind of Judaism was prior to the Enlightenment. Instead of classifying people on the basis of whether or not they're "Orthodox" or "My kind of Orthodox" or "Not Orthodox, and therefore worse than Goyim", a better way to spend people's time would be in tiqun within the community and qiruv outside. Less backstabbing and self-righteous rock-beating and more rushing to extend a friendly gesture to complete strangers. In other words, less Moshe more Avraham.

10:49 PM, January 29, 2007


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