Post-Orthodoxy Chatter

I received some company on Sukkot afternoon, one of whom was an unexpected guest whom I don’t speak to often. He wanted to talk about post-orthodoxy – chatter, brouhaha , dialogue, and editorializing about it. He wanted me to publish it as 1000 words somewhere, there was talk of where to pitch it, and eventually more guests came over. In the course of the discussion some of the following came out.
(For those new to the blog and need a definition of post-orthodoxy, see here and here and here.)

The guest was in his early 30’s and part of the of non-Manhattan halakhic egalitarian minyan. He wanted to conceive of the change to post-orthodoxy as ideological and creating new institutions. I was more cautious and reiterated that I saw the change as a moment in time in which some people raised Modern Orthodox have moved on. Some have given up religion and want to be left alone from all of it, some are sowing wild oats, some have become renewal or liberal, others egalitarian halakhic, some are just feeling boxed in, and yet others returning more to a 1950’s Orthodoxy. Much of this is non-ideological, having more to do with carving out a space different than their parents. Much of it is due to new careers, attending Ivy’s, attending state colleges, new places of residence, staying single longer, texting or bicycling on Shabbat, and discovering the wider world.

My holiday guest was not satisfied with this. “But then these people are just sowing wild oats and eventually will return to Orthodox institutions” and they will just become “my parents modern Orthodoxy again.” He keep coming back to the point that for him it was an ideological struggle against the repressive world of the late 1990’s Orthodoxy. He emphasized how the leadership of these new minyanim is yeshiva trained and for him that was not a coincidence. Eventually we came around to the point that I use the tern post-orthodox for the gen y-millennials and not for Baby Boomer liberalism.

My guest, however, as the very last of the gen x’ers is living a cusp life. He has the religious habits of the millenials but an animus against what he perceives as the closed-mindedness of the modern Orthodox Gen X’ers. As a cusp person, he sees both groups but has an active ideological stance against his immediate path of gen x’ers which was not chosen. He needed to have clear lines of demarcation from and against the perceived turn to the right. The defining line is that they dont need a posek or to enter into Rabbinic authority. They can consult with Rabbis and make their own educated decisions as educated lay people.

We then discussed various signs of change, for example weddings in the 1990’s did not have mixed dancing for the second set, now it is becoming common. (Personally, I have attended weddings of several kids in the same family in which older siblings had a mechitza on the dance floor and then attended their younger siblings weddings in which there was mixed dancing). Another guest pointed out that the kids are now picking a place for their year in Israel knowing that they wont change their lifestyle. We discussed how many parents here in the neighborhood have made peace with the fact that their day school educated kids are currently not Shomer Shabbat. And that we have no clear demographics but if we look at HS class lists we can get a sense of the numbers.

We then mentioned how a local baby boomer synagogue that had 1000 people for Rosh Hashanah had no baby carriages, strollers, or attendance at the groups. Was it just age stratification between synagogues or a sign of something more?

This lead to a discussion of: where to get hard data? There will be no 2010 National Jewish Population Survey. If one is done in 2020, then will likely show the multitude of Orthodox kids of the Gen X’ers and the decline from the demographics of the Gen Y kids wont be shown until 2030. (Think of it in the same way as the decline of the Northeast Conservative congregations was only shown in 2000, even though one sensed it already in 1980.)

We then drifted into a discussion of new institutions. But it came out that the RIETS class of 2006, as counted by one of its members, had a full one third of its graduates as liberal as YCT. (I cannot vouch for that.) It had some graduates who were basically Haredi and a majority that were right wing, but 50 out of 150 were liberal. (I am not sure what the criteria was.) We then mentioned how many young rabbis are preaching evangelical, new age, and pop culture.

Other guests came and went over Yom Tov. Rumor has it that YU is going to be aggressively recruiting students from JSU, the public HS branch of NCSY. They will attend the mechinah, the successor to JSS. If so, then they will create unintended consequences. These kids will have had public school lives of football, drill team, music camp, working as waiters in non-kosher restaurants, flipping burgers in McDonalds, having non-Jewish best friends growing up and having a real HS curriculum. When JSS existed in the 1960’s and 1970’s as a place for Hebrew school graduates, the attitudes of the students were generally to the left of the Yeshiva Program student. There are surveys in the student paper, regularly done, showing attitudes inverse of the rest of campus. They used their talents to provide much of the extra-curricular activities and many eventually became the side-burned cologne wearing rabbis of the 1970’s who sported plaid jackets. (Yes, they also produced many on the right wing side, but in the majority they did not. So I don’t need wingnuts showing up to argue against the old surveys.) This will be an unintended social change back to what used to be. (Many of these graduates showed great commitment to Orthodoxy when they found out they could not become actors, musicians, or chefs, but the very desire to enter these profession reflects a different community).

Finally, Katy Perry was on TV this weekend. I only knew who her name from the discussions on the religion beat. Here she is, someone raised by Evangelical parents who did not let her have non-religious pop-music or dress in an immodest manner. She was a Christian singer in her late teens providing the enthusiasm for other teens to be religious. Now, she is entirely beyond or post her evangelical upbringing. But let us look at a few points. More or better enthusiasm at Jesus camp would have not keep her right wing. In fact, she was the enthusiasm and ruah. Better advisers would have not kept her religious. As part of a generation rejecting the religion of the 1990’s, she is not arguing for greater roles for women, she is into seductive presentation and immodest performance. She remains against blasphemy or speaking against religion. And she is not into liberal theology that speaks of the need for changes due to modernity, she continues to directly read the Bible but now finds that Paul speaks new age universalism.

If we only had some demographics about the Jewish community.

12 responses to “Post-Orthodoxy Chatter

  1. please define 1950s orthodoxy. i wonder how much of the change is due to wider knowledge of modern biblical scholarship and/or jewish academic studies. where some of the false idols of past beliefs may have dented or shattered yet one wants or desires to be religious. and of course a well researched and thought out piece on post orthodoxy would be welcomed – instead we have bloggers trying to claim what is and what is not orthodox on very flimsy basis (i guess they are clueless that over time every category changes as what defines it) and that post orthodoxy is no longer religious or orthodox (with a pejorative usage of the term).

    you mentioned day school kids that are no longer shomer shabbat – how about the fact that most if not all those kids spent 1 year learning in israel. i think the numbers are higher than people think.

  2. I did not mention the 1950’s, since they are now quite elderly. I cannot define the 1960’s and 1970’s in a comment- at best it would be a description of a wide number of social, economic, religious, and institutional differences.
    I am not sure that academic study of religion is playing a major role, just as I dont think that Katy Perry left the evangelical fold due to scholarship. And most of the Orthodox raised intellectuals that I meet are more frustrated by the lack of Dara Horn and Don DelLillo. I do think that the Centrist ideologues caught in the vortex of change are using scholarship as point to draw a line in the sand for their own changing definitions.
    I always thought that the year in Israel was a projected space and was serving the emotional needs of the participants. It was not an indoctrination by outsiders. Now that they have different attitudes, they are projecting a different Israel.

  3. i was referring to your comment “and yet others returning more to a 1950’s Orthodoxy” what is that?
    also. your comment “Much of this is non-ideological, having more to do with carving out a space different than their parents.” if so, would you believe that the same percentages should show up in yeshivish, black hat, hareidei and hasidic as in the modern orthodox or is the lack of going to the ivys etc diminish the numbers considerably? do you see this anecdotally? shouldn’t all groups equally want to carve out space different from their parents according to your hypothesis?

  4. 1950’s Orthodoxy” what is that?
    I may have used it in a general sense for less about boundaries or checklists, just denominational affiliation.

    if so, would you believe that the same percentages should show up in yeshivish
    Not the same percentages but there are always changes also in those. I have my personal observations on shifts within those worlds. So, next time when someone from the Haredi world shows up in my living to talk, I can post. I do think that they are half a generation behind in the generational lines and we will have more changes to discuss in a decade.

  5. On the post-evangelical singer front, I would love to hear your thoughts on the sensation known as “Tonex”. The New Yorker had an excellent article on him a while back (
    Among other things, I would love to hear about what you think of Jewish Orthodox parallels, or lack thereof, for how homosexuality maintains a place in the evangelical discourse.

  6. I would like to see a demographic and sociological survey of Gerim in Orthodox circles, who they were, who they are and how they’re doing (Boomers, Xers, Yers), have they’ve been doing, what influences decisions (many Xers from the internet, etc). There’s been some discussion of them in several OTD blogs of recent. The same dynamics of change in community you discuss here as reflected in stam goyim becoming Jews would be interesting to see. I also think of R. Amselem’s psak, and certain changes in “transitional” stages between goy in Jew (and Shmuel Kadosh’s lectures at Mechon Hadar), based on changes in who’s coming to convert (for example in Israel, those select russians who chose to convert often have Jewish fathers and having some “in between” status, etc), but I’m sure there are other examples of changing margins betwixt and among.

  7. Great post.
    “He has the religious habits of the millenials but an animus against what he perceives as the closed-mindedness of the modern Orthodox Gen X’ers.”
    See this:

    Regarding JSU, I think that the prediction about the mechina program is probably right… will have to cater to them, as it did in the 70s/80s. Even when I was in JSS (1989-1993) it was mostly those yeshiva high school grads when to either slack or because the were, what’s now called, “at-risk”. The average public school grad like myself wasn’t really being serviced.

    Regarding Katy Perry, she is also almost on the cusp of Gen X/Y, being more Y, since she was bornin 1984. Her views of religion seem to echo this.

    BTW, Alan, are you a fan of The Fourth Turning by Strauss and Howe?

    • Neil, I dont see it as authority or no authority but more as the question of what type of authority. There used to be a greater emphasis on the vital center-broad tent. There has been a shift from treating rabbis as part of a denomination and a greater role for ideology and culture wars. On the other hand, a good gadol today has to have a media presence, or able to be used by his followers in the media. Successful gedolim can be downloaded. For some, there is a greater role of mystical charisma and magic today. There is also greater transparency required now. I am not sure of everything that led up to your post. People think in terms of management style today. Even when you identify gedolim today, there function has changed from authority to legitimation. And in some cases it is legitimation of popular mass reason.

      The fourth turning is a pop version of what social-intellectual historians do. Jonathan Sarna’s American Judaism contained a broad sweep of history and was written using similar categories.

  8. Something is indeed rotten in Denmark when we see surveys about observing half of Shabbos and other equally problematic types of behavior. There seems to be a lack of awareness in our communities that Shabbos is a day of renouncing our dominion, technological and otherwise,over this world, which educators, parents and students are unaware of, which has a rich halachic and hashkafic basis. A community educated and reared on observing Shabbos because “we observe Shabbos in our family” or the equivalent is truly and tragically at risk.

    Neil Harris-by the time you reached JSS in 1989, I suspect that the numbers of BTs were strongly outnumbered by FFBs , as opposed to the 1960s and 1970s, when anyone with a yeshiva high school education was admittted by R Besdin ZL on the proviso that he would be treated no differently than aBT as to his level of knowledge.

  9. Apropos of post-Orthodoxy, in a contribution to the most recent Meorot Journal, Gideon Rothstein claims that many in the Orthodox world who are pushing for a more egalitarian communal structure are not really Orthodox. I wonder how the categories he mentioned correspond to your breakdown. Is he talking about those liberal rabbis who were in his YU semichha cohort c. 2000? Older Orthodox liberals who were around since the inception of JOFA? The cusp gen-xers like your guest? Is there something particular to the advent of post-orthodoxy in Rothstein’s calling-out or is it similar to past controversies where it was strategic to question the “orthodoxy” of those involved?
    Here is the relevant quote:

    In any conversation about where Orthodoxy should go, it seems obvious to me that all the contributors should have to be Orthodox. Of course, non-Orthodox people can have good ideas as well, but we look at those as outside ideas, to be considered more cautiously and accepted more gingerly, than when a fully Orthodox person offers the idea.
    I raise that concern because I repeatedly have conversations with influential members of Jewish communities who reject basic premises of Orthodoxy. In private, I have spoken with various people of Jewish communal influence who admit that they do not really believe in God, or in prophecy, or in an Oral Law, or in any form of Divine Providence, or in the Exodus from Egypt.

    It is not for me to judge them, nor do I know how God balances their beliefs against the great good they do for the Jewish community and the world; it is for me to know that their opinions on how Orthodoxy should move forward are, to some, inherently tainted, since they do not operate within the required parameters of an Orthodox life. And yet, on women‘s and other issues, such people are vehement and influential participants.

    I use those examples of lack of faith because they are relatively indisputable; I know other prominent members of the conversation with whom I am uncomfortable for reasons that are less clear-cut. My opinion, again, is not important for its own sake, but for what it says about how we are conducting this conversation; if relatively left or center people are uncomfortable with the Orthodoxy of certain thinkers or lay people who are prominent members of the conversation, we have to consider how that affects the reaction to the ideas that come out of that conversation.

  10. I take the quote to mean that he refers to everyone from 80 to 20. I think he opens up many other issues about what does it mean to believe, what is actually believed in private, and the change from a denomination to an ideology. Some of this has been discussed on Lookjed over the years.
    There was/is a great deal of doubt and lack of faith in Modern Orthodoxy that has not been dealt with properly. The recent concepts of orthoprax and “does one need to believe anything?” have derailed the discussion from legitimate discussions of faith and doubt.

  11. “There was/is a great deal of doubt and lack of faith in Modern Orthodoxy that has not been dealt with properly”

    Is this because lack of faith is usually put on autopilot, or because it’s not even on one’s radar?
    The popularity of such books as “Garden of Emunah” (Lazer Brody) and Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh series (“Building a Sanctuary in the Heart”) are an indication of something.

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