Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Modern = Less Religious? I don't think so.

"Are you Modern?" A very bored family member once asked me.
"No," I answered emphatically.
"Why not? What's wrong with being Modern?" the people around the table roused.

The word "modern" seems to mean different things to different people in different communities. In the summer, when I wore my sandals without socks, I was deemed "modern." Does that make a person "modern"?

I find Modern Orthodoxy to be a belief system that leads to a lifestyle different from the Yeshivish and Black Hat ways of life. (Yes, Yeshivish and Black Hat are two different segments.) Does "modern" mean less religious?

In the community I live in, which I consider "Black Hat," certainly not Yeshivish, if a child rebels against his school, or a girl begins to dress like a ho, the child is considered Modern. No. It's about Hashkafos and thoughts, not just appearances. Considering my high school teachers taught me about R' Solevicthik solely as "J.B." implying a sore lack in religion, I have lots to learn about the Modern Orthodox Hashkafa. Does this mean that once I know these things, I will find it permissible to wear pants? No. It has little to do with appearance.

I find it entertaining that the black-hatters judge the MO on their standards of Tznius. And I've been labeled "Modern" because of my sandals without socks, or my slits below the knee. I don't think that's what makes me Modern, if I am in fact Modern. So these women who attended various Bais Yaakovs or other kinds of schools in Brooklyn have been taught the importance of covering their hair, and of course, elbows, knees and collarbone. So according to these warped ideas, it is okay to wear skintight everything and attract every man that passes, as long as their hair is completely covered. With a sheitel that looks nicer than anyone's real hair would look anyway.

When a woman attempted to set me up with someone, I made sure to ask if the guy davens with a minyan on a regular basis. His mother explained that he works, so he tries to make Shacharis when he can...all that. Then she said, "I guess he's too modern for you." Umm, EXCUUUUSE me? I know many Modern Orthodox people who wouldn't miss a minyan, unless there were extenuating circumstances. The word "modern" is terribly misused.

The guy has misplaced priorities. Missing minyan doesn't make somone "modern," and neither do sandals.



At 3/14/2007 7:31 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

what do you see as the difference between Black Hat and Yeshivish?

At 3/14/2007 8:25 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Yeshivish are sincere. Black hat wear the hat to look yeshivish, or to keep tradition,not because they believe in what lies behind it

At 3/15/2007 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The guy works and you think he has misplaced priorities because he doesn't attend a minyan all the time? Well to each her own, but where did he go wrong?

Ichabod Chrain

At 3/15/2007 10:24 AM, Blogger SaraK said...

modern != lazy

At 3/15/2007 11:00 AM, Anonymous Ike said...

Good post, Michelle. I don't have a link for it, but I highly recommend you read Godol Hador's discussion of right-wing chareidi, left-wing chareidi,RW MO, etc.

At 3/15/2007 2:39 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

In a philosophical sense, MO differs from the more conservative groups within Orthodoxy in that it takes a much higher view of secular studies and pursuits. That those highest of pursuits and intellectual considerations often get mixed with the baser attributes of modern society is considered an acceptable loss - though the models of MO hashkafah are those who take the good while leaving the bad.

In actual practice however, Modern Orthodoxy is simply another gradation in Judaism between YCT-type 'Open Orthodoxy' and the black hat type groups. While not necessarily true for every individual, as a group MOs are generally more lax (meaning makil, not necessarily a-halachic) on practice and less fanatical about dogma (though they do have their share of sacred cows) as compared to their more conservative co-religionists.

At 3/15/2007 6:48 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

sarak-please elaborate

Orthoprax--well said

At 3/15/2007 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Modern=lazy? How so?

Anyway, Michelle, I've defended you before, so I'll be the one to break it to you. From the way you describe it, when she used the word "modern" she was probably being, umm, polite. Asking if someone davens in a minyan regularly as a condition of meeting him strikes me at least as, well, putting the cart before the horse. (Besides how is she going to know?)

If I had been in the guy's position and had heard that before meeting me someone wanted to know if I davened regularly in a Minyan, I'd say no thanks. I would not only be afraid, I would be very, very afraid. It doesn't seem to have much to do with what's important in a relationship, or in basic compatibility. If it's that high on the list of priorities, then I'd be wondering why.

Ichabod Chrain

At 3/15/2007 11:31 PM, Blogger Steve said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3/15/2007 11:35 PM, Anonymous Xvi said...

Honestly, your personal definition of modern (in the orthodox sense) seems equally as arbitrary and self-decided as hers does. I could say the same for your definition of black hatters. The idea of labeling is that it is intended to exist as an umbrella to aid in lumping people together, in this case, through shared ideology. The problem then is, when that label has no technical definition or an unagreed definition, that people will miscommunicate such as in your cases.

I'd say, particularly in the sort of situations you are discussing when you are dealing with "flatbushy" RWO definitions, that modern is used to label anyone that dosent happen to meet your own personal standards of A) Halachic machmirus B) Dogmatic acceptance or C) yeshiva-boy dress code. Youd be shocked at how often someone is labeled as modern on the merits of choice C alone.

IMHJO, if you do not clearly define your intended definition of modernity (on a point by point basis) when labeling, you will never properly communicate your intentions. And once you are already delineating your various stereotypical labels, what is the purpose of having them anyway?

At 3/16/2007 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous comment. Give us your full definitions of each.

At 3/16/2007 8:34 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

Ichabod--I think minyan is important. if a guy asked whether I daven every day, I wouldn't be upset. That means he wants to know where my priorities lie. If I have class at 9:25, so I sleep late and run to class, or do I set my alarm clock early enough to daven Shacharis before I go to school?
Men are mechuyav to daven with a minyan. I know it's hard. But this guy, NOT ONE tefillah with a minyan daily. At least SOMETHING.

Also, regarding my definitions--your raise good points, Xvi, I know that my definition is kind of arbitrary. That's why this post is completely different than how it started. I knew I wanted to write about what it means to be modern (which was the working title) but i asked more and more people, I got such different ansnwers, I realized there is none. SO, Anon, I don't feel it necessary to define Modern and Black Hat, because I don't give much validity to it. Or anyones.

So perhaps I am a hypocrite. I don't think labels should be discontinued. I think most are poorly defined and inaccurate, which most of the time renders them useless. Hmmm.

At 3/16/2007 9:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Labels are important and necessary. We have to group people for purposes like shidduchim etc. otherwise we would never get anywhere. It's a stupid liberal concept not to "profile." That would be like if you were walking on the street and wanted to know about some ancient chinese ritual and you asked anyone because you couldn't profile and just ask an Asian looking person. Duh-the hispanic guy won't know about chinese customs!! But no-we can't profile...Labeling is necessary but shouldn't be taken too far. Don't pass judgment on the person because of his label but do use it as a means to place him within an umbrella and match him with someone that has similar priorities.

At 3/16/2007 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i find this whole concept to be confusing--

there is no tradition to wear black hats-the tradition is (and this is in secular society until JFK) to cover one's head. it was always considered dignified. black hats were introduced as a frum thing in the last generation or so.

yeshivish as it is now is also new.

labels are NOT needed for shidduchim purposes. what happened to the good old "he's a sincere, observant Jew?"

why do we rely so much on categories? do we want to marry categories or individuals?

for example: bt and ffb. first of all, the titles themselves are not mutually exclusive. chazal say that tzadikim gemurim cannot stand in the place of a baal tshuva. this refers to anyone who has truly done tshuva. if you give up an aveira that you do habitually, you;re a baal tshuva, and should be proud of it. why is it that it matters so much if you are frum from birth? it's one thing if your parents are anti-religious, but if you or your parents are baalei tshuva (in the non-ffb sense) why should it make a difference in shidduchim?
why do people care if your first cousins who you don't have much to do with aren't frum?

this whole labeling thing is part of what is making shidduchim these days so much harder on parents and young singles. in the old days, no one really worried about these things, they were set up based on money. now, i wouldn't want to be married off to someone for monetary purposes alone, but think about it. marriage was more of a business deal. you found out about the other person's business sense and gathered personality tidbits by dealing with them. the young couple was young enough to agree without really objecting, and no one said the other was too modern. people are so crazy these days. in my opinion, find out if the guy/girl is an ax murderer or not. if not, go out on a date and then check the other out. people are disqualified from the dating scene by sheer stupidity on the part of those who are checking. a part of me really understands why shadchanim charge $2000 per successful shidduch. they have to deal with such shtuss just to get a 19 year old girl to go out with a 22 year old boy, and they have to smile the whole time.

and on another note, someone tell me why it is that some girls' mothers find it necessary to tell you things like "oh, she used to be a size 16, but now she's a 12. she looks good now." guys don't know the difference.

At 3/19/2007 3:42 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Anon---You don't always find out whether the person is an ax murderer before the date.

At 3/20/2007 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the post and the comments. I would like to bestow on you a link I found, when searching for more information on this topic. It is unfortunate what the author writes- but it is actually extremely true and accurate and it is well worth the view.

At 3/20/2007 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 3/21/2007 12:28 PM, Blogger Michelle said...


At 3/26/2007 5:20 PM, Blogger matis said...

It's hard to translate the word yeshivish and therefore it's hard to see what defines modern.

At 3/27/2007 7:01 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

I think "Modern" is a nice way of saying materialistic or worldly.

At 4/25/2007 10:11 PM, Blogger Neal said...

I have to concur with this entry. I attended a "black hat" high school for part of my High School Career. There, one of my Rabbaim was detailing on the board the Brisk Dynasty, and put his Rabbaim on the right...then drew a line across the board and wrote, "JB from YU" and "Aron from Chicago." Being that my family lives in a community that is considered "Modern", however you would like to define the term, it made me furious.
On another note, I attend a "secular" college, so when I am asked about shidduchim, when I mention I am graduating XYZ University, many times, the conversation takes a slight twist and their ideas of me change, as if I come from a different world. They sets of girls they present me with are very different , more modern- hang out with guys but are looking to date- other factors which would be considered "MO", than if I would've gone to Yeshiva/College or even YU. Albeit the fact, that I daven with a minyan 3x a day, and also learn. But those factors people tend to over look and ask obscure questions as to why I chose to go to this place as opposed to yeshiva or YU. All the labelling is unneccessary.

At 4/25/2007 10:12 PM, Blogger Neal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6/06/2007 3:00 AM, Anonymous elazar meyer said...

why cant everyone just be jewish why cant we as a people stop judgeing people and catagorising people if your looking for a black hat your looking at the outside may hashem forgive us for overlooking and catogrising the rest

At 6/27/2007 7:16 PM, Blogger Hefcuz said...

I think you confusing two issues.
One, the misuse of the word “Modern”.
The second, tznius.

If you don’t adhere to the hallachas of tznius, you’ll get an express ticket to gehinom. WRONG!

Figure out why it’s a value to you as a BY/Frum/Grey hat/Solvaitzick Orthodox/… Gal and you won’t feel oppressed by the halchas. You may actually appreciate them.

Disclaimer: Halachah should be determined by a Rav.

P.S. Does a blue shirt make you “Modern”?


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