Anybody who reads my articles with any regularity knows that a regular, perhaps too frequent, theme of mine has been the drifting of Modern Orthodoxy. By drifting, I mean that as time goes on, this community finds it harder to pass on a meaningful, religiously inspired message to the next generation. None of the iconic MO teachings such as Religious Zionism, Yom HaShoah, or Torah Umada (as an idealistic pursuit) are practiced by young Orthodox Jews. Respect for Shabbos and its dress codes has also dwindled in today’s generation.
A critically important article appeared in the latest Yated newspaper on the topic of Torah priorities in the chasidic/yeshivish, Modern Orthodox, and Liberal Orthodox communities, written by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer. Rabbi Gordimer quoted extensively from the 2023 profile of the Orthodox Jewish community conducted by Nishma Research, spearheaded by Rabbi Mark Trencher, a prominent business statistician and sociologist.
It was not surprising to see that the basics of kashrus, t’filah, family purity, and Shabbos were observed in the majority of all the sectors of Orthodoxy, although less so in the Centrist Modern Orthodox and even less in the Liberal Orthodox communities.
Most noteworthy was that in the chasidic/yeshivish communities the highest priorities of their concern were shidduchim, “off the derech” (wayward youth), and abuse.
In the Modern Orthodox community, dealing with agunos (women whose recalcitrant husbands refuse to issue a get), the cost of raising an Orthodox family, and fighting anti-Semitism were understandably given top priority. But as you go down the list, topics such as climate control and gender issues were given a higher priority than, say, “off the derech.” As I have been writing, this clearly shows political correctness creeping into the MO world. Yet the Modern Orthodox leadership is totally stymied in trying to figure out how to get a spiritual message across their community.
It may not seem like such a big deal, but I am told repeatedly that the young generation in every Modern community largely comes to shul on Shabbos in shirt sleeves and sneakers. In truth, it is a very big deal. There is a reason why kavod Shabbos (honoring the Shabbos) requires formal dress. Can you imagine a serious judge walking up to the bench in slacks? (Although, I’m sure today it does happen, because there is no respect for the law.)
Last week, I wrote an article (“V’nahafoch Hu!”) in which I referred to the hand-wringing in certain Orthodox circles and organizations over the Jewish revenge of multiple Jewish terrorist victims in the Palestinian town of Huwara. In the spirit of Purim, I did not want to refer to any particular person or organization.
It turns out, in the same issue of the Queens Jewish Link, on the front page, an article on the topic, written by Shmuel Sackett, is featured. It was titled “How It Happened,” a response to Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the Orthodox Union’s Executive Vice President, who issued two press releases (check the OU website for one) asking how it happened that Jews acted with such revenge. This is not Jewish behavior.
At the time of the OU’s first release, I wrote to Rabbi Hauer, asking him that just recently the OU issued a statement that they will begin to take a stand (a new policy) on issues, but only through “quiet diplomacy and negotiations.” Why is it, then, that the first issue on which you go public is to condemn fellow Jews?? What happened to “quiet diplomacy”? Rabbi Hauer did not respond.
Does the OU not realize that the self-flagellation – as unfortunate as Huwara was – by Jews only encourages further Arab terror? Have they joined the ranks of several Liberal Orthodox synagogues on the West Coast whose rabbis incredibly chose to condemn the Jews of Huwara on Shabbos Zachor rather than the travesties of the Jew-haters of the world? (See Frontpagemag.com March 13 by Daniel Greenfeld.)
Mr. Sackett painted a horrific portrayal of life for Jews who have to travel in or around Huwara. They are subject to almost daily rock attacks and maiming. This culminated in the killing of the two brothers, Hillel and Yagel Yaniv. Can you blame the Jews for finally erupting? The Army is hampered by political restraints, so sometimes Jews have to do what they have to do, according to Sackett. This is how it happened, wrote Sackett in addressing Rabbi Hauer.
Mr. Sackett, in an email to me, told me that he received “hundreds” of emails applauding his article. I believe him. I, too, received numerous emails and phone calls asking me how the OU could issue such a release, as though I am a spokesman for the OU. My siblings in Israel were aghast, as well. A couple that we are very friendly with, who daven in an OU shul, joined us for lunch last week. We promised our wives that no politics will be discussed. “But just one question,” said my friend unexpectedly, “what was the OU thinking when it issued those releases?”
When Sackett wrote that Rabbi Hauer is a very fine person and the Orthodox Union is one of the best organizations in the world, he was right on both accounts. I know Rabbi Hauer from his devoted work for Kever Rachel together with my sister Aviva Pinchuk in Israel. There are few organizations that do more for the proliferation of Torah and religious services than the OU. I should know; I’ve been working for the OU since 1984. That’s why it hurts all the more to see that the OU feels the need to be politically correct and not focus instead in developing a system of educating today’s Modern Orthodox youth to appreciate the teachings and values of Orthodoxy. Lead the way in standing up for Israel, in fighting anti- Semitism and BDS, for Torah family values, and responding to Reform/Woke encroachment. Speak up for the real issues – loud and clear! Don’t worry about your “Big Tent,” I have been begging of you.
When that happens, you will see that the Orthodox Union and other Modern Orthodox organizations will attract an audience of many hundreds to their convention to debate the issues of the day and be inspired – not the mere 50 or so that has become common. It is time for them to get out of their bubble and take in what is truly happening to their constituency.
I see that that there are protests in the US as well as in Israel, shaming MK Bezalel Smotrich’s calling for the wiping out of Huwara, for which, incidentally, he apologized. Where was their same outrage over the horrific killings over the last few weeks by Palestinian terrorists? Nothing to say? Is it possible that these are very bigoted people who have extremely low expectations of their Palestinian “brethren”?
I am extremely gratified that the OU, along with the ZOA, will be one of the very few Jewish organizations that will receive MK Smotrich, and not yield to the intolerance of the left. Kol ha’kavod for that!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.