Your Brain is Green
Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance. You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver. You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns. You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Fifty Shades of Black

Friar Yid, in a comment to his most recent blog post, asks me "How do you personally differentiate Haredim from Modern Orthodox? I feel like it may be easier to make that distinction in Israel vs. the Diaspora, but I'm interested in your take."

The titles tend to be different between Israel and Chu"l, but the substance tends to be the same.  [Some years ago, on the Tachlis list to which I belong, which is dedicated to practical advice for potential and new olim, someone wrote a hilarious "How To Identify the Different Kinds of Religious Jews" by their dress. Does the woman cover her hair with a scarf? Colored or black?  Does she even have hair? With a turban -- which style of turban? Wears a hat? Wears a wig? Wears a wig and a hat?  What style of wig?  Do her sleeves go to the elbow or to the wrist?  Does she wear stockings in summer? Transparent? Black? Length of skirt?  Hippy or tailored or just dumpy?]

And so on.  Israelis feel a lot more comfortable if they can safely categorize people by appearance.  We do have categories which US Jews don't have, such as "chardal" [which also means "mustard"], an acronym for "national [c]haredi-dati" for example, Israelis whose level of observance is haredi, but they support the State of Israel and usually serve in the army via the hesder yeshivot, which is 5, not 3, years of IDF service combined with yeshiva study.  Many come from the Yehuda and Shomron.

There are sub-categories. Within the "crocheted kippa" group there are those with beards and payot, and those without, there are varying degrees of "black", i.e. men who wear the standard outfit of white shirt, black slacks, and small black velvet kippa, but who eschew the streimel and capote or frock coat.  There are those with short payot tucked behind their ears, or immensely long ones that must require curling tongs to keep their bounce. Some have beards, some do not, some only begin to grow a beard after a certain age, some will trim them and some won't.  And, incidentally, there are lots of Israeli men who wear a crocheted kippa and aren't even strictly Orthodox.  This is particularly true of Mizrachi men, who tend toward the conservative side of traditionalism, but are not about to forego attending games of their favorite soccer club on Shabbatot.

But beyond the matters of dress and appearance is a fairly substantial philosophical divide.  Although they tend to gloss over the doctrinal differences these days, the ultra-Orthodox are roughly divided into the Hassidim and their opponents.  The Hassidim cannot tolerate dissonance of any kind, it frightens them just as the modern world frightens them, so that all their women will wear the same style of clothes, the same style of head covering, and the men are nearly indistinguishable from one another in the same Hassidic court.

The range is much wider in the Mitnagid world.  If a Hassid is living in the 18th century, in general the Mitnagdim are in the 19th or early 20th.  Some are even more modern.  It is a lot like the range seen in Conservative congregations, where some davven abridged services almost entirely in English while in other synagogues the only real difference between them and the standard Orthodox shul is the lack of a mechitza.

When I think of "modern Orthodoxy" I think of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York, back in the days when R. Stephen Riskin was the rav -- before he moved, with a large number of his congregants, to Efrat and became R. Shlomo Riskin.  Meet them on the street, and perhaps you'd notice a discreet kippa, and that the women seemed discreetly, but fashionably dressed. If a wig is worn it is stylish and looks "real".  The Jewishness was entirely k'halacha, but not flaunted. Not like Monsey, or New Square, where the men are in distinctive haredi dress, and travel to their jobs in the Manhattan Jewelry Exchange on W. 46th St in rented men-only buses fitted out inside for davvening.  A modern Orthodox man wouldn't have a problem with the subway, and indeed might even only pull his kippa out of his pocket when making a beracha before eating, depending on the kind of business he was in. If he wears arba kanfot, they are tucked inside his trousers, not outside his shirt, flapping in the wind. In fact, he probably wears the undershirt variety which doesn't ruck up.  They can coexist with TV and the internet, but usually closely supervise what access their kids have to it, ditto movies, and on weekdays the number of hours spent in front of a screen is much less than their secular counterparts.  IPods and iPhones are great for listening to religious shiurim while commuting, and many men will go to a daf yomi group in the evenings after work, or spend Saturdays, when not in shul, studying.  While haredim are still big-time advocates of arranged marriages, the modern Orthodox are not, but the dating scene is much more sedate than the secular variety.  And here we go back to the philosophy of why one should want to live a Torah-observant life: in order to raise the next generation of good Jews. Haredi women, depending on the community, get minimal religious education [some groups even think that Talmud is wasted on women] but are indoctrinated with the importance of creating and maintaining the Good Jewish Home, definitely a full-time vocation, while others become teachers and nurses and even doctors [which must be immensely difficult to balance with a home life]  Modern Orthodox women in the US are encouraged to go to college, although they too would give priority to domestic issues.  When looking for a husband, they are educated to look more for the qualities that make a good Jew than a highly successful man of the world.  Many young couples get partial support from parents for a period of years so that the husband can continue studying full time at a yeshiva until he's got several children, but ultimately he goes to work [in the haredi world in Israel, a huge number of men never do go to work --ever. The haredi population of the US, like the modern Orthodox, almost all do. It is relatively rare for a US man to be a perpetual student supported by his wife]

So here we are, back at the original question, what differentiates haredi from "merely" Orthodox.  There isn't a, you should forgive the expression, a black and white contrast.  To me, it depends on one's outlook more than the way one dresses, if one is trying to live in a Jewishly distinctive manner, according to how strict or how liberal an interpretation of the basic halacha one can accept.

It's quite true that there is a movement which actively looks for humrot [stringencies]. [My personal view is to look for leniencies.  For example, in the matter of how long to wait between meat and milk, I am Dutch. Their nusach is to wait one whole hour.  The main point here is to keep a distinction between the two types of food]  I think this is a response to the lure of, and fear of, assimilation.  R. Mordechai Kaplan is supposed to have said that while Jews and Judaism managed to come to grips with the destruction of both Temples, especially the Second, through the Sages of Yavneh and the generations which followed and created the Talmud, Jewry has not yet been able to cope with the Enlightenment and the Holocaust.  It is so much easier not to be Jewish, when the world allows you to drop the burden of your identity.  Assimilation destroys us in ways oppression does not.  The ultra-Orthodox have circled the wagons;they have reacted to history by fossilization, while the modern Orthodox are less intimidated by the challenges of maintaining identity in a fluid environment. They see Judaism as a vibrant, growing vine, true to its roots while sending out new foliage. The haredim, in the last analysis, are far more insecure than the mainstream Orthodox.

Friar Yid lives in San Francisco and claims he can't find the sort of Jews I've described as "mainstream Orthodox". I'm sure they're out there somewhere.You just don't notice them so easily because they look "just like folks", while the haredim are immediately recognizable.   He and his wife feel that Orthodoxy is misogynistic.  Up to a point, it is, I suppose, and in the haredi world the tendency is stronger. One has to remember that the Biblical and Talmudic codes were advanced for their time but now, in how they regard women at least, are not.  [Let's remember just how long ago women got the vote, and had control of their own property, and divorce did not require, in the UK, an Act of Parliament before we discuss how antiquated Judaism is to women]   But the question remains whether the women so "oppressed" find the system oppressive. The ones I know seem fulfilled and quite content.  I confess that I've never wanted to be a rabbi [rabbit? ravit?].  I'm traditionalist enough to be quite happy letting the men do their thing.  I'm sufficiently knowledgeable to do my own praying and studying, thank you [made a lot easier by the plethora of books out there; I'm saving for the Steinsaltz Masechet Berachot].  I don't need to be called to the Torah, or to lay tefillin.  Being different from my husband does not inevitably imply being inferior.  I don't feel demeaned by running my home, although I do feel demeaned when my husband can't be bothered to put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket and throws his bathtowels on the floor rather than replacing them on the rack, and I think serious research should be done about the apparent genetic defect on the Y chromosome that makes men incapable of putting down the toilet seat. You may not think this is a religious issue, but it is. Numerous rabbis have gone on record as saying that the men should lighten their wives' household burdens when they can.  But I suspect this is one of those things that will have to wait until Moshiach comes, may it be speedily and in our days, amen.


Friar Yid said...

Thanks so much for your detailed response! You confirmed my guess that in Israel some of the dividing lines are a little clearer since Zionism (in various ways and forms) is so front and center in everyone's mind-- in America, that particular set of issues tends to be more hypothetical.

As I said on my post, I am happy that there are groups in Orthodoxy that are made up of, pardon the expression, "normal" and sane people. It makes it a lot easier to envision a future where Mrs. Yid and I might be part of (or at least have close relationships with people in) a more religiously observant community. I think part of our foundational trickiness (which I will go into in future posts) the fact that since we are literally starting from zero, there are some cultural lines that I doubt we'll ever feel comfortable crossing-- not that they're inherently bad, just that not having grown up with them (or something similar), they seem like too big of a leap to take. I would put things like mechitza and taharat mishpacha in this category.

You hit the nail on the head a while ago when you said that we didn't know any "reasonable" Modern Orthodox Jews. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but the truth is, you're right. But I am sure that they are out there and would never claim (and hope you didn't infer otherwise) that they don't exist. In fact I've heard good things about several MO shuls in the city, but we've never gotten around to checking them out-- I think part of it is the implicit fear of judgment, particularly given our status as an "Intermarried couple"-- even though it would be more accurate to call us something like a "Half-Jewish couple," or a "Not-yet-converted couple." Anyway, between that and our random knowledge pluses and minuses, I think there's an intimidation factor of being seen as not really knowing what we're doing. There's been some of that even at our new Conservative shul (but at least we're comfortable enough with the community that we can dust ourselves off and keep going back). So, yes. I know sane OJs exist, I just wish I had an opportunity to know more of them and hear about them.

Another place where the image of "no moderate Orthodoxy" comes up, in the US at least, is the sense when there's a need to take sides, even moderate OJs appear to circle the wagons around institutional Orthodoxy, which these days is becoming more and more Haredi. So that makes it even harder to parse out exactly where Modern Orthodoxy stands apart from Haredi-ism and where some of the commonalities between it and the more liberal movements are. To a degree a lot of it just comes down to labels, but they carry a lot of weight when people stop talking to each other face to face.

Regarding religious (as opposed to cultural) gender roles: I have no problem with Orthodox women who like their own defined roles. However I feel the sticking point comes with how Orthodoxy responds to women who want to have the opportunity to participate in those other mitzvot and activities that historically women have not been "required" to perform-- which now seems to be becoming read as "can't or shouldn't perform. If my wife didn't want to come to shul with me or study with me, I would be fine with that. But since she does, I want to be part of a community that lets her do that and doesn't view a desire to participate as weird or subversive. Since she is my partner in our marriage as well as in our Judaism/Jewishness, I want her to be able to be in a position to choose how much she wants to do without feeling judged for choosing "the wrong things."

I enjoyed this exchange! Perhaps a follow-up could be, "What do you think differentiates Modern Orthodox from Conservatives?" :)

Antigonos said...

"What do you think differentiates Modern Orthodox from Conservatives?" :)

I'd phrase it a bit differently, replacing "Conservatives" with "Conservadox". The biggest problem with the entire Conservative Movement is that it's trying to be all things to all people, and that's impossible.

But it's a good question. Practically speaking, the only essential difference in the manner of praying is the lack of a mechitza. It is perfectly permissible to pray in languages other than Hebrew, and the liturgy is flexible, up to a point, even in Orthodox shuls. Different nusachim differ quite a bit, not only in what they include or exclude, but the order of service. Personal observance is between you and God.

But the BIG difference, as I've written elsewhere, is the Divine Revelation/Divinely Inspired divide: if you believe Torah is literally the work of God, you aren't left with any choice but to try to adhere to halacha to the best of your ability. But if you think that Torah is a creation of men [who perhaps managed to create something greater than the sum of its parts, which is the meaning of "Divinely inspired"], then men CAN change Torah or its interpretation at will. Reform believes the latter. Orthodox believes the former. The Conservatives try not to be explicit about what they believe, so if you ask 3 Conservative Jews, you'll likely get 4 opinions. [Reconstructionists, btw, take the view that either they don't know if Torah is Divinely Revealed or not; they tend to doubt it, since they have reservations about an anthropromorphic God who incises stone tablets with his finger, but they will, for the good of the continued existence of Klal Israel, act as if they do]

My personal feeling, given what you've written to me, and on your blog, is that you will feel most comfortable in what used to be called "traditional Conservative", or "Conservadox". Right now, the lack of Hebrew is the biggest obstacle to feeling at home there, and that can certainly be remedied.