…and me

In case the poster wasn’t clear enough, the Begin Center, on April 1st, is going to host a morning conference exploring the future of Modern Orthodox Judaism. Along with all the great Rabbis and luminaries of the Modern Orthodox world addressing the assembled will be… me? Yes. I don’t know what kind of crazy world puts little, stupid me on the same stage as these great people but there you have it. Have podium, will talk.

While I’m not a fan of the term “Orthodox,” as it was originally coined as a derogatory term, Modern Orthodoxy is a movement that seeks to combine traditional Judaism with the world at large, thus formalizing the relationship between halachically observant Judaism and the modern world.

When my parents first came to Canada, they put me in Chabad school because it was the least expensive Jewish educational option. Soon realizing however, that our brand of Sephardic Judaism was not quite the same as the Hassidic type taught in my school, I was, thankfully moved to a Modern Orthodox institution that featured rigorous religious study in tandem with secular subjects. The approach of my new school was more in keeping with the way we practiced at home and was deemed to be in the best interest of my overall education. I thank my parents for that decision every day. Could you imagine me a Chabadnik? Even a lapsed one? Oy!

Well, it seems the decision my parents took, which made so much sense back then, is one that fewer and fewer people seem to be making – and I find this odd. Yet, while Reform and Conservative Judaism pander to modernity at the expense of tradition and/or halacha, and while Haredi Judaism offers an absolute, uncompromising and unshakable relationship with Judaism, the moderate approach offered by Modern Orthodoxy seems to be floundering. Modern Orthodox outreach is virtually non-existent. Modern Orthodoxy’s emphasis on professional and lucrative higher education often means that religious education is left to Haredi teachers and Haredi institutions, thus eroding Modern Orthodoxy’s intellectual core.

I’ll be talking about all that and how it manifests itself on the Interwebs. Fun right? Want to know more and maybe even register? Go to the event Web site. Any ideas on what I should talk about? Leave a comment! Frankly I’m a little scared. I discussed this with a certain Orthodox female rapper and she yelled at me, insisting that Modern Orthodoxy was doing just fine, thank you. I hope no one yells at me at the Begin Center…

And no. This is not an elaborate April Fool’s joke.

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • Man, I wish I could help you. But I’m afraid you’re on your own on this one. I mean, what do I know? If I was there I might say something stupid like, “If not being an endangered species means that it’s because you’re having 8-14 kids and believe the world is 6000 years old, then maybe it’s better to be an endangered species.”

  • TM – having 14 kids and believing the world is 6000 years old is not the point. Besides, if you believe in an all powerful God, wouldn’t it be possible that such a deity can in fact have created a world 6000 years ago that had all that in place? Dinosaur fossils, stuff that seems ancient etc.? Thus the question of the earth’s age is actually kind of irrelevant isn’t it?

  • It’s a hypothetical question and rooted in logic that explores the notion of an all powerful God. Logically it makes perfect sense. If God can do anything (except create a rock so big even he couldn’t lift it – but I won’t get into that) then God can easily create a universe that seems upon even exacting scientific evidence, to be millions of years old but is in fact only 6000 years old, no? If you believe in an all powerful God then you have to believe that this is a possibility. I’m not saying I believe that. I’m just saying it’s a possibility given those parameters. I don’t see what’s embarassing about that.

  • Dude! Congrats. What an honor!!!
    Does this mean that all those Tzohar Rabbis will be speaking in English???
    In any event – i have SO MUCH TO SAY on what you can talk about. I think mainstream Orthodoxy has hit a wall – or did when Halakha stopped devloping significantly to alleviate human pain. The system was specifically designed to evolve. I refuse to believe that the current prevailing inertia is God’s will. On the other hand, we see where doing whatever the hell you please (or at least staying totally within your comfort zone at all times) has landed other streams of Judaism. Making yourself “an easy time” (hayim kalim) is not really what religion is about.
    And then there are the 15 people on the stage trying to solve this connundrum (did i spell that right?) and the maybe 500,000 people worldwide who truly and wholeheartedly support them. Would you put it any higher? Or lower? hmm.
    The biggie is of course women’s issues. That’s where it’s at, some of the greatest pain at lack of evolution, and Modern Orthodoxy’s big huge challenge – like, today. I would be happy to bat this around with you. GOOD LUCK!!!!

  • oh – and PS – why is MO floundering? Aside from the “we educate doctors, not rabbanim” reason you give above…Moderation always flounders. It requires too many dance steps to keep up, people prefer to either run or sit.

  • Sarke: MO didn’t always flounder. With a good marketing campaign and some minor internal adjustments MO can position itself as a meaningful spiritual alternative to the exigencies and isolationism of Haredi Judaism, and the uh… perceived vacuousness of uh… less uhm, demanding and rigorous forms of Judaism. Why is the internet awash with smiling, ‘net savvy Chabadniks and Aish Ha Torah people and hardly a peep from the MO community? I, who grew up in MO institutions, and can walk the walk an d talk the talk, still feel wicked uncomfortable in MO synagogues on the UWS for instance. I can and have attended them for weeks at a time while travelling with nary a peep or a hello from any of the regular members, whereas if I just look at a Chabad house, some chronically smiley dude is going to run out and insist I come by him for Shabbes. Heck, I got more invites from Satmars and Belzers when I lived amongst them on St. Urbain st. in Montreal – and they considered me one step removed from a full fledged goy! So yeah. Modern Orthodoxy can do better, and when it doesn’t, it essentially abdicates it’s role to others. Not good. They ought to be doing something about Agunot, fixing things that they can fix, and they’re not. And we’re losing Jews as a result. Not good. Don’t get me started. Feel free to write a post on the subject Sarke.

  • sarke: with all do respect, i don’t believe that the concept behind other streams of judaism is making life easier. while some may practice that way, it is certainly not the point or goal of the movements. moreover, i could argue that there are those in the “orthodox” world who choose to engage in their religion without learning anything of the outside world so as to make their lives easier, and not have to question. but it wouldn’t be fair to characterize all of orthodoxy by those few, would it?

  • CK – i may do that. Of course, right now there is pesach crap all over the playroom as i attempt to “switch over”. So it may be a few days. Dahlia – I agree ENTIRELY re the point you make re Orthodoxy and convenience. As Talmudic types say – ain hachi nami – this, too, is true. Re other streams – i agree that it didnt start out that way, that there was a lot of real ideology once. But the in and out and only sometimes nature of many (if not most) adherents to these streams is what convinces me that it is now largely (altho i agree, not entirely) about convenience. Truth be told, the real frum original JTS brand of Conservative speaks to me more than a lot of what is going on in Orthodoxy. But the success rate of that former movement in keeping Jews committed – or even Jewish – is dismal enough to keep me toeing (or towing – etymology debatable)the Ortho line. With much criticism and heartburn and a huge headache. Oh – and CK – re the friendliness of frummies vs coldness of the progressives -one could posit that it goes to personality types of the people that each stream tends to attract. Gross overgeneralization, but not entirely capricious.

  • On the UWS in MO circles, the demand for rigorous conformity is amazing. They all seem to come from the same place, and think the same way. Accountants AND Lawyers. They have both kinds.

    I always complained…I never went to the right summer camps, and my grandparents didn’t go to the right concentration camps…to be accepted by these people or think like them.

    I can (and will) complain about Liberal Judaism until the behaimas come home, but at the end of the day, I know I will usually be more accepted as a brother of someone who grew up in a non-JAPy Liberal Jewish background than in Teaneck.

    Unless they are Indy-minyan folks (Romemu exluded — they are very nice people even if a little hippied out).

    The coldness of the MO may be why groups like NCSY have pushed “baal teshuvahs” to the haredi yeshivas and seminaries for decades. They don’t want them in their midst, because they aren’t exactly like they are.

    Yet another reason why the JSU (Jewish Student Union) should be expelled from our public schools: false advertising.

  • Uhhhh…. “Modern Orthodoxy” should just be called “Mainstream Authentic Judaism”.

    It’s what Judaism was in most previous times and places.

    Our vision is distorted by the false Ashkenazi-Haredi projection that they are somehow more authentic.

    But the extreme intellectual isolation and cultural impoverishment of shtetl life – accelerated by the post-Enlightenment schism into separate movements, and increased even more by the modern Haredi chumra culture – was not the norm in Jewish history.

    Haredim wear 17th century European garb because back in 17th-century Europe Jews wore what everyone else was wearing.

    Just like us “modern” orthodox.

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