Hi. I’m Eitan. I’m a normal Modern Orthodox kid, who goes to a normal Modern Orthodox school, growing up in a mainstream Modern Orthodox world, and I’ve got a big problem with Modern Orthodoxy and where it’s heading.
Growing up in a Modern Orthodox world has been a lot of fun. I’ve been able to follow sports, watch movies and learn secular studies like any American kid. I’ve also been able to learn what it means to be a Jew, study Torah, and go through life’s struggles, spiritually and anti-semitically, like any member of the Jewish faith. But as I grow up and I’m exposed more to how members of the Modern Orthodox community, old and young, act, I realize that there is glaring hypocrisy and internal contradiction.
Living in a Modern Orthodox world is like letting an alcoholic shop by himself in a supermarket. The supermarket has many sections filled with healthy foods, but it also has a section dedicated to wine and other alcoholic beverages. Being that he is addicted to alcohol and feels that he cannot live without it, chances are that he will not be able to get out of the store without approaching the section.
While my friends and I grew up, we were presented with challenges by our Modern Orthodox world which made it just as hard to remain loyal to Judaism as it is for the alcoholic to stay away from the alcohol. Modern Orthodoxy provides many opportunities for positive effects on our lives, like the healthy foods have on a person. But it also hasn’t put up enough boundaries for us to avoid the alcohol, or evils, that the secular world has to offer.
As kids, we are proactively exposed to media and entertainment that is anti-religious and contrary to Halacha. Is it realistic to assume that a teenager’s value system will not be corroded by the endless subtle and not so subtle attacks on Torah true values?
Aside from the challenge of not letting the modern world negatively affect our inner world, the supposed balance between religious values and secular values seems to be much more weighted towards the secular than the religious.
Modern Orthodox teenagers can tell you who Kobe, Jay Z, or even Shakespeare is, but very few will know R’ Chaim Kanievsky or R’ Herschel Shachter. We’ll know the history of America in depth, but won’t know how the State of Israel was established. We’ll know how to solve complex math equations, but wouldn’t be able to read a simple mishnah. We are infested with American culture, and forget our past. We care about world values, and neglect our own. We care more about Western morals than the true morals of the Torah. We are high school students before talmidim. We are aspiring sports players before yearning Talmud scholars. We are college graduates before yeshiva bachurim. We are Modern before Orthodox.
Many in our communities take up the attitude that G-d’s laws are a burden (or even immoral in certain cases) so they simply write off areas of Halacha as if they don’t apply. Of course, their kids get the message and proceed to pick and choose whatever is comfortable for them as well. And for the laws that are being kept, we treat them as if they are a checklist — Say Modeh Ani, check. Wash hands, check. Then go to davening, look on my phone and wrap my Tefillin before Aleinu because I’m so eager to get on with my day, but it still counts because I said Shema and Shemonah Esrei, right? Check.
We are so addicted to the secular world that Hashem is never given a chance.
Here are a couple of suggestions I believe can help Modern Orthodoxy strengthen its status as a Halachic movement that inspires teenagers to appreciate, enjoy and be proud of living a Torah-true Jewish life.
Firstly, Modern Orthodoxy tries to create a balance that, at the moment, cannot work because we have no drive to be with Hashem and lack the philosophical and hashkafic perspective to articulate why we should be Jewish in a world with an assortment of other options. Therefore, we need to take a fresh look at education and schooling. There needs to be an emphasis on the truth of the tenets of Judaism, as well as an inspirational approach that creates a yearning and desire in the student to be closer to Hashem.
Schools and parents need to work together and be in the same place when teaching children what is right and wrong. And taking on mitzvot must be done incrementally from a young age. By teaching Halachic standards and making them the norm in our schools and families at a young age, a child becomes more acclimated to that way of life, and with the proper education and approach, he or she hopefully comes to see these standards as freeing him or her from being controlled by the yezter hara and wasteful secular values and culture.
In the home, parents must be on board and truly want their children to be ovdei Hashem. That means ensuring that they themselves feel a true connection and are particular about fulfilling the Halachot, and filtering out aspects of the secular culture that indoctrinate us with messages and viewpoints that are antithetical to true Jewish values. This is the only way they can be sincere and successful in giving over the mesorah to the next generation.
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When I tried to publish this essay at a local Jewish newspaper they said “We can’t publish this piece, it’s too much for us. Plus you’re only a senior in high school, so you don’t have the authority to have a say in the current situation.” Although they were against putting this essay to print, the head of the paper still agreed with me, “Modern Orthodoxy has major flaws and everyone knows it.”
If “everyone knows it,” but no one does anything then it must be that they think Modern Orthodoxy is too big to change. Of course, an entire sect of Judaism cannot be changed overnight. It will be a long and gradual process to change the mentality and the educational system. Although it may be an arduous and ambitious undertaking, we must create a new Modern Orthodoxy that values and focuses on Torah and spirituality. There have been too many cases of kids my age living an uninspired robotic Judaism, or falling off the derech altogether in the recent years to be oblivious to the fact that our lack of boundaries, respect for Halacha, and love for Hashem are major causatives in this crisis.
Therefore, for the future of Modern Orthodoxy, I implore with all my passion and strength that the G-d fearing members of our communities take a stand and push for change in the current situation so that the future generations will be zocheh from an early age to appreciate Hashem and welcome His laws with a genuine affirmation that they were made out of love and caring for us, His children.