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.
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