Sliding to the Left?

This post is FYI- so everyone can read this before it becomes the blog topic of Summer 2011.

Thirteen years ago Chaim Waxman as an Edah supporter wrote an article The Haredization of American Orthodox Jewry that the sky is falling with the impending Haredization of Orthodoxy and why Modern Orthodoxy is losing.

Now he goes the other direction and asks: Are we sliding to the left? It is a chatty article on the state of American Modern Orthodoxy created by interviewing more than fifty knowledgeable observers.
Yehuda Turetsky and Chaim I. Waxman, “Sliding to the Left? Contemporary American Modern Orthodoxy” Modern Judaism (2011) first published online May 25, 2011
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Much of what he writes in the article is the stuff of recent blogs collated into a long op-ed, namely that we have just as much shifting to the left. His examples familiar to orthodox blog readers includes Prof. James Kugel at YU, Maharat, YCT, Hadar, JOFA, Kellner on Belief, reaction to Slifkin ban, IRF, conversion controversy, and the role of the web.
He finds more of a right-ward swing at YU than in actual pulpits. He gives a shout out to almost everything that could be found online so there will be something for everyone to discuss, argue with and pick at.

In addition, the article in its title and its content is a direct rejection of Heilman’s Sliding to the Right.
(Bear in mind that I do not like or use the entire right/ left language despite what a blog post by Eli Clark incorrectly reported and has not changed. Personally, I see both sides arguing over the same halakhot and as part of the same interpretive community.)

The question to the reader of the current article is: what happened to his data and sociology of thirteen years ago? Is this just a change of mood of the community? Of the author? If he had interviewed fifty people in the late 1990’s would the results have agreed with this article or the first one? Is this just a chance for Waxman to respond to the blogs in an organized fashion? More importantly, how much are the fifty people themselves just part of the echo chamber of people repeating what other people say on blogs?
It is also interesting for a sociologist whose academic work was specifically on the baby-boomers not to have any generational differentiation in the article.

In the past decade there has been a move to the right as reflected in many aspects of YU and communities such as Teaneck [NJ] and the Five Towns [NY]. At the same time, there has been a healthy willingness to experiment with new innovations such as yo’atzot … YCT and maybe even Yeshivat Hadar which, while not Orthodox-affiliated, attracts Orthodox students and teachers.

The “move to the right” is more pronounced at YU. I wonder if is true out there in most major shuls.

Another respondent opined that, “The number of people who feel that they are allowed to be a voice has expanded enormously. This is true in Halakhah, in meta-Halakhah, and in hashkafah [perspective].” This respondent suggested that the declining hierarchalism in Orthodoxy in general and Modern Orthodoxy in particular coincides with the passing of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, in 1986.

As indicated, very few of our interviewees perceive an exclusively right character to Modern Orthodoxy.

One possibility is that those who saw Modern Orthodoxy being overtaken by a rightward trend were incorrect. They may have been expressing their own fears without taking a broader view of what was actually happening. Also, they may have been looking at specific Orthodox localities from which, perhaps due to demographic change, more modern members may have moved away while those of a more haredi disposition have moved in. This, however, does not necessarily mean that American Modern Orthodoxy was moving to the right; only that some neighborhoods moved to the right while others, which previously may not have even been neighborhoods with an Orthodox Jewish population, now have Modern Orthodox communities.

We suggest that, though some aspects of the above may be the case, there has, in fact, been a real shift in American Modern Orthodoxy in recent years, and that this shift is the result of internal developments within Modern Orthodoxy itself as well as developments within the larger American society and culture. As discussed above, women’s prayer groups emerged in the 1960s and their numbers have grown since, indicating that the issue of women and the synagogue/prayer was a very real one

In 1997, JOFA and Edah were founded, and both held conferences which attracted wide interest. Two years later, in 1999, YCT established its rabbinical school and, despite predictions of its imminent demise, it has continued to grow.
That these communal outreach efforts have reportedly been successful suggests that there are receptive communities out there composed of varieties of perspectives, and that they have not all haredized. Indeed, this was suggested by the large number of attendees at the aforementioned JOFA and Edah conferences since their inceptions in 1997.

There are some scholars who have suggested that the “sliding to the left” in Modern Orthodoxy may result in the emergence of a new denomination, especially after the founding, in November 2009, of a new Orthodox rabbinical organization, the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF),

It was further empirically evident in the data amassed, in 2002, by Milton Heumann and David Rabinowitz in a Young Israel synagogue in the New York–New Jersey area, which found that a minority held “conservative” or “very conservative” perspectives on the eight issues presented, while an approximately two-thirds majority held “modern” to “very modern” perspectives. What has apparently changed is not so much the presence of significant numbers of Modern Orthodox with very modern values and perspectives but, rather, the readiness of those with less modern values and perspectives to engage with them.

14 responses to “Sliding to the Left?

  1. Maybe there is a sliding both to the left and to the right. Think of Orthodoxy as being constituted by two discrete dense networks joined by a very narrow, i.e. few members, seam (cusp, bridge).So if you fall off to the right there is a tendency because of the network to be pulled over time even further to the right and the opposite if you fall to the left. The reason is that we are influenced by our friend and friend’s friend and our friend’s friend’s friend. If everyone we know is charedi and we work inside the shtetl there are no forces pulling in the other direction and there is no limit to how charedi and chassidish people can become. If we are on the left and three degrees of separation already are friendly with secular Jews, but we are not friendly with charedim we are pulled by the network only to the left. How far left or right a person falls depends on where they are positioned in the network.

    I realize this is not a clear presentation of this idea, but it is the best I can do right now. For the full theory see:

  2. I think he is right outside of a few places ,YU Roshei Yeshiva have little influence on the broader Modern Orthodox Community .Perhaps the appointments of Rabbi’s Goldin & Weil support this idea

  3. I think this topic is moronic. Orthodox Judaism is among other things a culture and a society. It is not a polity. And if it is sliding one way or the other? What should I do about it? Tell my Rabbi what opinions to have? Start being more lenient in my own practice to level the playing field? Take on a chumrah to further strengthen the ‘slide to the right?’ Should I opt out of Torah observance because frum culture or society changed in a way I don’t like? How silly it all is. The only thing this topic can do is cause people to worry needlessly about something they can and should do absolutely nothing about. Here’s my sage advice: serve Hashem as best you can and look for ways to improve that service.

  4. Ben,
    That is my point in saying I dont use these categories…
    Those who speak of right and left treat Orthodox Judaism as a polity and try to lobby for one side. I dont like that language at all. They also read everyone as if they are also treating it as a polity.
    I posted this to let people know since so many others out there in our time think of Torah as a political caucus.

  5. this seems to miss an important point – the real slide to the left is about dropping out of orthodoxy altogether, and is a significant phenomenon in both the states and israel. the slide to the right, however, is never defined that way.

    • Eli Clark thought that there are people, on what he calls the left,, that think that the right drops off of Modern Orthodoxy into becoming haredi. Heilman was not too far from that position in his sliding to the right. And go look at Waxman’s 1997 article.

  6. I agree with “ej”… I read the trends as indicating a splitting of Modern Orthodoxy. National Conference of Young Israel and the RCA are Mod-O institutions that are trying to minimize (eliminate?) association with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. This is what primarily motivated the creation of the IRF — YCT grads and those sympathetic to their viewpoint weren’t welcome anywhere else.

    While YU, the OU, and the RCA appear to be firmly on the rightward drifting side of the trend, this split seems to be running down the middle of the Young Israel movement. Somewhere between the greater NY and other densely Orthodox areas, including the NCYI central office, and the rank and file YI in the rest of the country. Thus causing stories like “Leaking Ship: Young Israel On The Rocks” in the YU Commentator (Charlie Quinn, Dec 2007).

    Rav Soloveichi, the Rav, was really the only thing that anchored Mod O together. Even when the right slide further right, fealty to their rebbe kept the slide from denying the basics of Mod-O. Under R’ Herschel Schachter, Torah uMaddah (Torah and [Academic] Knowledge) has become Torah uParanasah (Torah and making a living). Ideologically, the Rav’s notion that secular knowledge is inherently holy because it is knowledge is no longer echoing down the halls of RIETS.

    On the other hand, the same could be said of the leftward travels of some of his other students. When the Rav was alive, Open Orthodoxy had to have significant limits not now in effect; his guidelines on joining the SCA don’t only obligate one in preserving the sanctity of the unified Jewish community when it came to matters of fate, it also prohibited one in uniting with heterodox movements and their leaders on matters of destiny. On pragmatics, survival, and dealing with the outside yes; on spirituality and internal matters, no.

    • Micha,
      You are doing more to build a historic and sociological base for Open Orthodoxy then anyone I know. They should pay you as their PR person. Here you calling all the old time rabbis who were not on the right, all the 1950’s and 1960’s Torah UMAdda rabbis as Open Orthodoxy. You are calling Rabbis like Rabbi President Belkin who supported the SCA as Open Orthodoxy.
      And elsewhere you have called the kids who may text on shabbos who go to TABC and MTA who live in Teaneck as Open Orthodox. You are pre-dating it and making it an eternal struggle in YU granting it eternal importance.
      I did not know that you were such a supporter.

  7. Rabbi Dr Brill, I don’t think you took sufficient time to read my posts. Maybe you overestimated the clarity with which I write?

    1- I said that with the Rav’s death, one side slid to the right, and the other to the left. The side that slid to the right took the majority of communal structures, forcing Open Orthodoxy to build his own. I don’t think either is actually perpetuating the MO that the Rav taught.

    2- Going beyond what I said, I didn’t intend that as a value judgment, but as a historical statement. It could well be that the MO of a few decades ago addressed a need that today’s society doesn’t face. The fact that there isn’t a sizable community sticking with it would give some indication that it’s true. Which modification is holier? Which is healthier? I didn’t touch that issue.

    3- Yes, I did call those who supported SCA as being to the left of the Rav. That’s not saying they would have gone as far was 21st cent Open O.

    3- What I wrote elsewhere is that I don’t think “half Shabbos” is sustainable in large O communities outside of Open O. I actually think the majority of kids who are texting on Shabbos who attend MTA or TABC are either violating Shabbos more generally, or will be in the next few weeks. And I say that as someone who has a dozen or more teenagers at my home on the typical Shabbos afternoon, in various states between Mod-O and not-currently-O, and asked them if they knew kids who basically tried to keep Shabbos but can’t keep away from texting and their Facebook app. They haven’t heard of “Half Shabbos”, neither the term nor the concept. And if you search around on-line, this is the consistent result of such experiments. So I figure the phenomenon is localized in geography or community-space.

    So, I have to guess what population would have such teens, some group that doesn’t overlap with my six teens’ pools of friends. What came to mind were communities that aren’t as judgmental, that don’t force you to choose between complete compliance and affiliation: (1) Smaller out of town communities, (2) Open Orthodoxy. ((3) Lubavitch — but only WRT the not-yet-frum; they’re relatively less judgmental of their own kids’ choices, but this far.)

    But I said this because my “spies” in Teaneck, MTA, JEC, do NOT see what you, R’ Burg, [R’ Pelocovitz] your anonymous educator friend, etc… are speaking of. (My home neighborhood doesn’t have a sizable MO population. Too many kids entirely off the derekh and willing to use their phones on Shabbos, though…) Trying to find conditions that *don’t* match the typical Teaneck kid is what brought me to ask about Open O, not trying to *identify* the two.

    • I would caution that a sample of MTA and TABC students may not find half-shabbos observance because I suspect it to be a very gendered thing. In my observation of a very small, very unscientific sampling of both a TABC boy and a Frisch girl, the boy connects to his friends by playing basketball; the girl by texting.

  8. The article by Yehuda Turetsky and me emphasized the tentative nature of our suggestions. I “contend” nothing; we explicitly inserted a question mark in our main title – “Sliding to the Left?”; we reject neither the thesis of Sam Heilman nor my own earlier argument about “haredization” — though I do elsewhere now argue that “humrazation” is a much more appropriate term for the phenomenon; we also suggest that “that American Orthodox Jewry is much more heterogeneous than the above-cited observers perceived”; we think that the heterogeneity of American Orthodoxy is part of broader American social and cultural patters; and we state explicitly that a “deeper, more detailed analysis of American Modern Orthodoxy requires much more extensive empirical data, including but not limited to a representative sample of the norms, values and thoughts of members, in addition to rabbis, of Modern Orthodox congregations across the country.”
    The “dropping out of orthodoxy altogether” is a very interesting phenomenon; so too are the dropping out of Conservative and Reform Judaism, the dropping out of Judaism, and many others, interesting phenomena. They just are not what we were studying. We were looking at those who identify as Orthodox Jews.

  9. you all are forgetting that even in YU there is now a significant left trend – with the CJF placing women in synagogues as full time scholars, with over a 1000 students a year engaged in service learning around the world and many of those becoming the new YU rabbinical students, as well as the fact that CJF is engaging the reform and conservative leadership and creating a safe place for orthodox rabbis to continue to grow irrespective of their smicha

    • CJF is YU’s attempt to appeal to the hinterlands, the same places where NCYI’s attempt to avoid YCT grads from taking YI positions isn’t going over too well. But what RIETS is producing, particularly now that R’ Herschel Schachter is “the” shiur to get into, is to the right of where RIETS was in my day. (Not my own shiur; R’ Dovid Lifshitz’s talmidim were always off the right of the mainstream…)

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