Living Up to Your Ideals

There has been a lot of discussion about Modern Orthodoxy of late. Which begs the question, ‘What is Modern Orthodoxy?’ I guess it depends who you ask. The following is my view.

Modern Orthodoxy adheres to all the basic tenets of Orthodox Judaism — same as Charedim do. Which include the fundamentals of belief; meticulous adherence to Halacha; and adherence to the Mesorah — traditions of our forefather’s handed down generationally — changing it only reluctantly as existential circumstances dictate. In this Modern Orthodoxy is identical to Charedim.

What sets Modern Orthodoxy apart from Charedim is how it sees the study of Torah; how it sees Mada (which I define on both educational and cultural levels); and the actual approach to Mitzvah observance.

The importance of Torah study is paramount in both Hashkafos. But Charedim tend see it as the full time endeavor of first choice for every male Jew. Other endeavors are to be sought only if one cannot ‘make it’ in this field for a variety of reasons — usually having to do with supporting a family.

Modern Orthodoxy does not see full time Torah study for everyone. It sees instead that every Jew has his own unique talents and abilities that they should be encouraged to pursue in service of God. Only the elite — those whose true talents lie in Torah study — should pursue it full time.

Charedim see secular knowledge as utilitarian to be studied and utilized as needed.  Attending university for career purposes in fine.  Attending it to gain pure secular knowledge for its own sake is a waste of time.  The cultural aspect of Mada is to be avoided completely. Charedim might participate in such cultural activity but would not see it as positive.  They might see it as a distraction their Avodas HaShem to (for example) spend time at a ball game or even watching even a ‘Kosher’ TV program like those of the 50s and early sixties.

Modern Orthodoxy on the other hand views attaining secular knowledge favorably — beyond its utilitarian need. There are, however, many interpretations within MO of this that differ from each other. One example of this (without getting into details) is how Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) sees secular knowledge as beneficial  only when it enhances our Avodas HaShem.  Torah U’Mada (TuM) agrees with that, but sees Mada as an independent value as well.

Then there is the approach to Mitzvah observance. Charedim tend to be Choshesh  for the Daas HaMachmir (the more stringint opinion) far more often than Modern Orthodox Jew do. While it is true that there are people in both segments that do  that, the general trend among Charedim is to ‘do the Mitzvah in the best way possible’ — taking into consideration all Halachic opinions on the matter. Modern Orthodox Jews tend not to  worry too much about that and will more often rely on legitimate lenient opinions.

An illustration of this is Chalav Yisroel. Without getting into details, the most widely respected posek of the 20th century ruled that we may rely on non Chalav Yisroel milk in our day since the FDA is so strict in its own supervision of milk, that there is no possibility of mixing milk from no Kosher animals. Most MO Jews rely on this ‘Heter’ and use non Chalav Yisroel products. (I don’t know what I would do without Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.) Charedim choose not to rely on that leniency and tend to use only Chalav Yisroel products, only. This approach is reflected in other areas as well — like mixed seating at weddings. Or how much public exposure there should be for women.

This is a bit of an oversimplification and may not be exact, but I think it reflects the essential differences Charedim and MO Jews.

I was sent a link to a post by someone who clearly identifies as Modern Orthodox and yet struggles with it.  His problem seems to be in how each segment lives their  particular Hashkafos:

The trouble is that many, if not most, non-Chareidim make far more compromises due to convenience than due to the fact that they truly believe that it is the “Torah-true” way. And this is if these people are even educated enough to have any idea what a “Torah-true” perspective might be. Take a look at a typical “Modern Orthodox” home and you tell me that everything that they are doing that appears to be a “compromise” they are doing because they believe that is what the Torah wants from them. That’s a joke.

He does note however that there is an ‘ideal’ and a ‘real’. The ideal of Modern Orthodoxy should be not be viewed as a compromise — the way most Charedim view it. It should be viewed as the ideal it claims to be, despite how it is practiced by so many people that identify as MO. He even sees MO as the more correct approach to Judaism. But as it is practiced – he feels leaves a lot to be desired.

I agree that in many typical MO homes one might see a lot of laxity. It is the nature of the embrace of the outside culture to fall prey to compromise. It takes real commitment to resist it. But that does not make the Hashkafa any less legitimate.

The Charedi Hashkafa of minimizing interaction with the culture does have the benefit of lessening the chance of compromise. But it comes at a cost. One that fosters an environment of unfair disdain for the non Jew. Which is a natural reaction to seeing their culture in a negative light. That results in some cases seeing Modern Orthodox Jews in almost the same negative light.

This is how I see Modern Orthodoxy. It is important for Modern Orthodox Jews to work on living its true values and not fall into patterns of laxity. Difficult though that may be — it is my belief that if we really lived up to our ideals it would make a far greater impression on all of Orthodox Jewry. It’s time to once and for all eliminate the perception that Modern Orthodoxy is just laxity in observance.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.