From the late 1970’s until this decade Orthodox synagogues with highly diverse levels of observance slowly reconfigured as institutions proclaiming that they are entirely observant.
In the 1980-1990’s, there were several demographic studies done of important synagogues which show that the observance level was not as high as proclaimed. From a sociological perspective, especially using Chicago frame analysis, whoever belongs to an institution defines the institution. However, these studies were greeted in the Centrist press as flawed because by definition someone who is non-observant is not a follower of Orthodox ideology. They confused ideology and demographics.
However, greater than the confusion of disciplines was their blindness to their supersessionalsim- they assumed that everything was going to change for total observance and ideological consistency. In their mind, synagogues will no longer have diverse observance patterns except for a few elderly congregants.
Here are two recent conversations – both conducted by FB chat. (That itself is a change.) They seem to imply otherwise.
Chat #1 with a young gen y-millennial.
Him- My crowd predominately stayed Orthodox. We are not ex-orthodox.
Me- Would you fit into my category of post-orthodox?
Him- No, we dont fit in. We have found our place and are clearly part of Orthodoxy. We have our niche. However, we are not very observant and dont keep very much.
There are younger yeshiva educated groups out there that are comfortable to say that they are Orthodox and still say that they are non-longer observant of many of the Shabbat restrictions, they no longer keep kosher out of the house, and no longer daven or put on tefillin.
Chat #2 with a RWMO father of many adolescent children- older gen x—-lives in RWMO or even Yeshivish neighborhood–and is friendly with the RWMO online web ideologies.
Him- can you please be part of my project to foster Jewish commitment? (I am vague on purpose)
Me- Yes, I am in. There is a great need in the community.
Him- Yes, I know there is a need. I have four non-shomer Shabbos sons at home.
I was not paying attention at first and continued to chat about the project. A quick check of the FB pages of the kids show that they list their religious affiliation as agnostic (or worse) and that they love heavy metal and Eminem. They are not becoming Conservative, they have no interest in LWMO, they are not feminists, or interested in Debbie Friedman. The synagogue they do not attend is RW Orthodox. A demographer would count them as part of their current synagogue, showing that the synagogue has a less than perfect observance level. The synagogue they affiliate with when they grow up will probably be Orthodox out of habit, filial allegiance, and nostalgia.
The mixed observance congregation, which never really left, seems to be returning.