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.