The Year Ahead: Modern Orthodoxy at the Crossroads

Modern Orthodox advocates trumpet a “revival” of daring intellectual excitement and halachic experimentation. Literacy is high. Intermarriage is low. But growth is dwarfed by the booming demographics in the yeshivish and chasidic worlds. Just one chasidic girls’ school (Beis Ruchel) in Brooklyn has 15 first grades, about as many as all the Modern Orthodox first grades in Manhattan, Riverdale, and Westchester combined. Haredi yeshivas will ordain scores of rabbis in 2014; liberal Yeshivat Chovevei Torah will ordain only two rabbis.

Nevertheless, Modern Orthodox calendars are packed with activism and educational options, such as Drisha and Yeshivat Maharat (it ordained its first class of women clergy, maharats, in June). Modern-haredi debate is fierce, but tension on the street has softened. Chabad successfully runs preschools in Modern neighborhoods. Satmar women bring food to non-Satmar Jews in hospitals. Modern Orthodox Jews don’t fear “looking over their right shoulder” but looking at the monthly bills; even the better-off among them are asking for financial assistance that is harder to come by. (Modern Orthodox growth seems more a victim of economic pressure than has haredi growth.) If finances remain forbidding, demographics remain lopsided, and halachic change exceeds the mainstream consensus, then the Modern Orthodoxy revival will be a reduced to an elite boutique, unable to challenge that other revival that is crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Jonathan Mark