A common question that people ask when comes to shidduchim is, “What is your hashkafa?” In case you thought that was a vague question and you weren’t sure what it meant exactly, dating websites are there to assist you by listing categories for you to choose from including: Modern Orthodox Liberal, Modern Orthodox Machmir, Modern Yeshivish, Yeshivish/Black Hat, Chassidish, Carlebachian. Some include Modern Orthodox Middle of the Road (short side rant: really? Modern Orthodox needs 3 whole categories?? Oh, and does anyone really categorize themselves as Carlebachian?) , and some try to incorporate more general categories such as “Shomer Mitzvot.”
When I first signed up for a dating website, I had to make the decision: What do these categories mean and which one do I belong to? I used to believe that labels were essentially evil terms created by those who needed words to express their prejudiced opinions. After all, if there is no name for a group, then it is much harder to define them and thereby discriminate against them or make sweeping generalizations. Then I changed my opinion because I became prejudiced and needed those terms. No, I’m just kidding. At least I hope I’m just kidding, but what really happened to me is I realized I needed to describe people in certain social groups, so I conformed and started using the terms that everyone else was using.
When it came to picking what category I fell into, I was torn. I grew up in what I would call a Modern Orthodox home, but as I grew older I became more religious and took on more halachot. My high school consisted of students who were Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish. “Modern” was used almost as a bad word, interchangeable with “less religious,” as in “Oh, they are frum, but they are Modern,” or “She’s modern.” I never defined myself as Modern Orthodox for that reason- in my mind it has a negative connotation. But I never defined myself as Black Hat either, since my family and community is not Yeshivish. But my choice came down to one of those two.
When trying to decide, I remembered something that one of my Rabbis in high school said. He was discussing the differences between “Modern Orthodox” and “Yeshivish” and I think he put it quite nicely. He said that there are 3 main philosophical differences between “Modern Orthodox” and “Yeshivish/Black Hat.”
1. The secular world: The Modern Orthodox believe that there is something to be gained by being a part of the secular world and that there is nothing wrong with it. Therefore they make sure their children receive a good secular education, and are more likely to own televisions and listen to secular music. Black hat/Yeshivish on the other hand, believe in more of an approach of separating from the secular world. That is why they are against television and secular music etc.
2. Women: The way that roles are defined for women in Modern Orthodoxy and in the Yeshivish world is very different. For example, MO emphasize the importance of women learning Torah and believe that women are allowed (and some would say encouraged) to learn Gemara. Yeshivish/Black hat encourage women to channel their energy privately, not publicly, in a more Tznius way. I’m not sure if my Rabbi didn’t explicitly state this, I think that one thing that falls under this category as well is the separation of the sexes. Modern Orthodox weddings will often be mixed seating, while Yeshivish/black hat will be separate. Modern Orthodox often send their children to coed schools, while Yeshivish send their children to single gender schools. This also includes interaction between genders. Many Modern Orthodox have no problem with guys and girls hanging out or being “just friends.” Yeshivish/Black Hat approach says that guys and girls should not just be friends and each gender should only have significant interactions with the other gender if it is for the purpose of marriage (or if they are related).
3. Israel- Modern Orthodox believe that the State of Israel is the beginning of the flowering of Mashiach coming- Reishit Tzmichat Ge’ulatenu, whereas Yeshivish/Black Hat love Eretz Yisrael and focus on it’s holiness, but are not such fans of the State of Israel because it is anti-religious.
Going over how I feel on each of these issues, I end up a little bit of both. On certain issues I agree strongly with the Modern Orthodox philosophy, while with other issues I agree very strongly with the Yeshivish approach. After attending Stern College, part of Yeshiva University and therefore a Modern Orthodox institution, I would say there are two other small differences that I have observed between the two groups, aside from those big three. (Feel free to disagree, as this is only my opinion.)
1. Approach to Studying Torah. The Yeshivish/Black hat approach to studying Torah is entirely from a religious standpoint. They view studying the Torah as a means to keeping Mitzvot, becoming closer to Hashem and spiritual growth. This goal has a large emotional component. Modern Orthodoxy agrees with that viewpoint, but also approaches Torah from an intellectual, academic perspective, where the way they study Torah is comparable to studying a piece of literature, except that they keep in mind that the Torah is from G-d and therefore the greatest piece of literature that could be written.
2. Approach to Halacha: The Yeshivish/Black hat approach is to be machmir whenever possible. They are completely devoted to doing as much as they can to serve Hashem. As I like to say, “If Hashem created us to serve Him, how can we not give up everything to do so?” Why not be machmir if you can be? They like chumrot and going that extra mile, taking that extra step to serve their creator. The Modern Orthodox approach is that being machmir is the easy way out. If you’re not sure what to do in a halachic situation, the easier approach is to just be machmir. It takes lumdus and intellectual effort to find a valid way to be Maikil and find a halachically permissible way to be lenient. If you are unnecessarily strict, then it might be too much. If something is permitted, why add on extra prohibitions?
So where does all this leave me? Am I Modern Orthodox or am I Yeshivish? Which one do I tell shadchanim? Which one do I put down on the dating website? I am a bit of both, since I am split when it comes to the philosophical issues. I understand both sides and think both sides are valid in their approach on all the issues- neither one is right and neither one is wrong. I have opinions of what I believe is right for me, but those opinions are evenly split between the two. And that is what I say when I am not forced to choose, but on dating websites I have to pick one.
There is another factor that went into my decision and that is the social aspect. Socially, my community is not Yeshivish. I am a proud alumnus of Stern College, which is as an institution is Modern Orthodox (this is not to say that there are no students who are Yeshivish, there definitely are. And the Yeshivish world looks down on them. Just kidding again, about that last sentence.) Despite agreeing with many Yeshivish outlooks, I had to face reality after much, much thought (a lot of thought). In the end, I selected Modern Orthodox Machmir. But since I do not define myself as “Modern,” I was not entirely happy (and I’m still not entirely happy) about picking this.
So what about “Modern Yeshivish,” you might ask? This category is the least well defined category of them all. It is my experience that some people think that “Modern Yeshivish” refers to people like me- partly Modern Orthodox and partly Yeshivish. But my actual experience is that most people do not define it that way. Most people define “Modern Yeshivish” as someone who grew up Yeshivish and then became more “modern” in the sense that now they watch TV and listen to secular music and they have jobs in the secular world (as opposed to learning in Kollel- another issue that divides MO and Yeshivish that I didn’t even touch upon) and are more involved in the secular world.
Since this happens to be one of the issues on which I lean more towards the Yeshivish approach, I do not want to define myself as Modern Yeshivish. Those are the two aspects that I am not. I’m not Modern and I’m not socially Yeshivish. “Modern Yeshivish” people are Yeshivish people who moved to the left, and I am a Modern Orthodox person who moved to the right. (Side point: Once someone tried to set me up with someone with this hashkafa, and after looking into it, it made no sense since we had completely different backgrounds and we were going different directions in our life. He had moved to the left religiously and I had moved to the right. I guess the shadchan thought we would meet in the middle. Completely illogical in my opinion.) Some people define “Modern Yeshivish” as both Yeshivish moved left and Modern Orthodox moved right, but I don’t define it that way.
My conclusion is to pick “Modern Orthodox Machmir,” when I have to pick one. (Side point: The counterpart should really be Modern Orthodox Maikel, and not “Liberal” or else “Machmir” should be changed to “Conservative,” but that would get way too confusing to be called Modern Orthodox Conservative, that would really mix people up. I think they should just go with Modern Orthodox Right Wing and Modern Orthodox Left Wing, but that’s just a technical point about how to call things, the definitions would still be the same.)
Why did I write about this? So now you can all stick me into a box in your brain and apply all the stereotypes about “Modern Orthodox Machmir” to me? No, I am writing about this because I think most people, once you’ve gone over the issues I’ve mentioned and how you feel about them, don’t completely fall into either category. I am writing about this to discuss my struggle to define myself and where I fit in.