Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hashkafa: Modern Orthodox or Yeshivish/Black Hat?

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.


  1. I agree 100% and whenever that particular issue of labeling comes up, I'd like to explain what my philosophy is (I'd rather just say, "I'm an Orthodox Jew...isn't that enough?")but then I don't know where to start or what to address. I just say I'm Modern Orthodox Machmir since I lean more towards that outlook although there are things I don't agree with.
    If I put down Modern Yeshivish, I gotta dress the part then but I have a problem with THAT. Since when did wearing a black hat make a person any more religious than the next person?? I went to a Yeshivish high school and there were plenty of people who did not uphold the views and teachings that were being preached and they STILL wear a hat today! A sister of a friend of mine was looking for someone who wore a black hat. I asked her if she cared whether or not the guy should be a good person who is sincere when it comes to Judaism.
    This labeling issue is kind of similar to your "kippot" entry. I was in a relationship a couple of years ago and the girl asked me why I wear a kippa sruga and I told her that I just prefer that type of kipa. She went insane and started yelling that people wear different kippot to associate themselves with a certain sect in Judaism. At that point, I had absolutely no idea and I thought (and still think) that it's one of the MOST ridiculous things that people believe.

  2. Some places have MODERN Yeshivish and Modern YESHIVISH categories, in that case I would put you into the former and me into the latter, b/c I come from a yeshivish background but watch TV/Movies and stuff. The problem is everyone has their own ideas of what these things mean.

  3. This is why I keep myself in the grey area - I don't subscribe to any particular hashkafa, though I through my time at YU have found the "Modern Orthodox Machmir," or in my own mind, legitimately Torah Umadda perspective to be very appealing.

    A friend of mind recently told me he was looking for someone who is "Yeshivish Maikel" which I thought was hilarious.

    You make a lot of good points though. I honestly think the "shomer Torah U'mitzvos" label is probably the best and most neutral - it should really mean - I keep the Shulchan Aruch seriously, so stop being nitpicky about what clothes I wear since they're tzniyus anyway (that goes for guys and girls, btw). But everyone seems to think it's a step down of sorts.

    I always get into this whole long discussion with shadchanim because labels don't do justice to what you are - a very uniquely defined hashkafic entity. So I always talk about the greyness and being in between - liking bits of all hashkafos, but having ta'anos on all of them as well. None of them are THE one true hashkafa anyway, and more people need to realize that.

  4. Nate- I agree that ideally it would be just best to say "I'm an Orthodox Jew," but unfortunately that doesn't tell people enough about your beliefs. Some Orthodox women cover their hair after marriage, and some don't. Some women wear skirts and some wear pants. They are all Orthodox.
    You make a very good point that certain types of dress (such as a black hat) do not necessarily indicate what beliefs a person has or what actions they do.

    BJG- Interesting. I've never heard of that. I have heard of MODERN Orthodox and Modern ORTHODOX. But if you're already going to make them into two groups, why not just give each group its own name? I completely agree that a problem is that people have different opinions on what the terms means. Some dating websites have the option after you list your hashkafa to answer the question "What does that hashkafa mean to you?" I think that's a great quesiton, but people don't seem to really answer it. They'll say "It means I keep halacha," which is completely unhelpful because lots of people think they are keeping halacha but are not. But I thought it was a good idea for a question.

    Shades- I like that idea- "Yeshivish" Maikel." I was thinking of calling it "Yeshiva Orthodox" which is the other way of combining "Modern Orthodox" and "Yeshivish" that's not Modern Yeshivish, and it also plays on the fact that "Yeshiva" is short for "Yeshiva University." A friend of mine said that a Rabbi of hers calls it "Modern Orthodox L'Chatchila." I definitely agree that none of them are the one true hashkafa- they are each different, none is right or wrong.

  5. Disclaimer:
    I went to very Yeshivish schools, I wear a black hat proudly, my family all learned (or will) in Kollel, I will send my children only to the type of schools I went too, I work but learn b'hadmodah every day and I married a Stern girl. I will not go to movies or listen to non-jewish music. i do watch TV. I spent 5 years in Beis medrash but went to school at night. In short, I am full of contradictions but am part of the "yeshiva" crowd.

    Yeshivish modern means grew up yeshivish but made a visible effort to move more left. it is a type of rebellion - but I only use those words for a lack of a better term. Because of this, I do not consider myself yeshivhs modern because my working or secular interests do not stem from rebellion but realizing that I would be committing bittul torah in going to Kollel rather than working. My hashkafah was strong enough that I did not need to extra 2 years, while being first marries, under the protection of my yeshiva. While I step into the real world every day, much of it is because of necessity and what I do for relaxation is not out of rebellion but exposure.
    Modern machmir is the flip side. Someone who grew up modern and moved to the right - it does sound like you.
    SternGrad - nothing personal but you are not yeshivish (and don't be sad about it). There are several small things. There are very few proud Stern grads that can legitimately call themselves yeshivish. It is an argument I have with my wife all the time. YU is the mothership of modern orthodoxy. You can be very frum and keep all halachah and the people in REITS probably learn more torah and at a higher level than those in Lakewood - but people asscoaited with YU are not Yeshivish. No black-hat yeshivah guy will ever call that person yeshivish unless they basically disown that part of their lives. Many of my parents age people went to YU/Stern but they simply downplay it today because in the Yehsiva world it is Taboo. To call yourself a fiercly proud Stern grad essentially says that you are not Yeshivish.
    But going to Stern does not itself make you modern - I do not believe my wife is modern. Your family background is what does that. A small point is the way you pronounce hebrew letters. You write with a "TOF" and not a "SOF". For example KipoT, KoTel and chumroT. I am not saying what is right and wrong in terms of Ivrah, but Yeshivish guys would call that modern.
    Lastly, Yeshivish is a mindset that is one part being l'chumrah (which you got) but it is also a mindset on appearance. To yeshivish people - the type of Yarmukle (and yeshivhish guys would never call it a Kippah unless refering to a srugi) is a huge statement. The fact that you even need to ask about it - shows that you are not really in tune with the importance of the appearance aspect. Again, not a critisicm but a point that unless you are in the yeshiva world, you may not fully appreciate.

  6. SternGrad, as you've mentioned, this is a complicated issue. I used to think "ughhh, why can't they just put Orthodox or shomer halacha and zehu?"
    But overtime, I've come to somewhat appreciate the labels because it gives you a sense of their hashkafah.
    I remember when I signed up for Saw You at Sinai, I checked off all the Modern Orthodox's and Yeshivish Modern and Black Hat. Why? Because I thought I'd be missing out on so many great guys if I only limit myself to one or two categories.
    But right now, the only ones checked off are Modern Orthdox Machmir and Yeshivish Modern. I realized that those are the hashkafot in my range.

    The way I see it, Modern Orthdox Machmir means:
    -an Orthodox Jew who has Yirat Shamayim
    -believes in keeping halacha 100% while still living in the real world
    -kovea itim l'Torah and working
    -perhaps listens to secular music/watching movies, but not necessarily.
    -Zionist/Supporter of the State of Israel

    Yeshivish Modern means:
    the same as above, except he may not be zionist and would probably want to send his kids to yeshivish schools.

    Personally, I call myself a Yeshivish Modern & Religious Zionist, but I just check myself off as "Modern Orthdox machmir" on Saw You At Sinai and specify on my profile that I prefer not to have a TV because:
    1) I am Modern Orthodox in many senses. Like Shades - I agree with the Torah u'Maddah ideal.
    2) I like YU guys!

  7. That's why I don't go on dating sites. I have no idea what I am on the list. Although, Modern Orthodox used to be anyone who went to college, according to one rabbi. Everyone has their own opinions of what these labels mean. When I was in high school, plenty of people said "Oh, she's modern," whatever that means, and they now do what that person did to classify herself as such.

    Labels/criteria change.

  8. Anonymous- You are right. I am not Yeshivish. That is why I decided to call myself Modern Orthodox Machmir. But my struggle was with the fact that it is 100% for social reasons- like you mentioned. When it comes down to philosophy, I am more Yeshivish than some people who call themselves Yeshivish. It's interesting that you brought up the "sof" vs. "tof" difference because that's one area that reflects my struggle to find balace between the two. When I write I always use "tof" because that’s what my parents say and that is what my elementary school used. But in high school my teachers said "sof" and when I daven/read hebrew, sometimes I say "tof" and sometimes "sof." What's funnier is that growing up, the only people I knew who said "sof" were my Reform/not religious cousins!! When I wrote my post "Kipot" I was debating for a while whether to call it "Kipot" or "Kippahs" or "Yarmulkes." The only reason I'm making these points is not to say that I'm Yeshivish- I know I'm not Yeshivish and I'm OK with that (mostly), but I'm not 100% Modern Orthodox either, so by classifying myself as Modern Orthodox Machmir, people do not have a full understanding of my Hashkafa.

    Sefardi Gal- interesting definition of Modern Orthodox Machmir. I think most people would agree. The problem is that pretty much all of those things apply to Modern Orthodox Liberal...hmm…maybe I need to write a post about that one (the difference between Modern Orthodox Liberal and MO Machmir).

    Bookworm- I agree, criteria change. It seems that so many keep complaining of Modern Orthodoxy is moving to the right, while some complain that it's moving left. I guess that's why there are the two categories.

  9. How about just torah im derech eretz?

    Make no mistake, this is very different than torah umadda because under torah umadda, torah is on an equal level with secular subjects. Under torah im derech eretz, the primary is torah, and secular is important but only to serve torah.

    I think that, while I may go for a girl with a particular hashkafic description, background is very important and if my date is different than the rest of her family, it negates her description somewhat because it changes a lot of factors.

  10. lawschool drunk- "Torah Im Derech Eretz"- I like that one. That sounds like a lot how I feel about things.

  11. I didn't make it up. It's the hashkafah of "real" yekkis.

    (From what I hear, the youngest generation has been brainwashed into adopting yeshivishness and not holding their minhagim in high regard.)

    Yekkis will probably soon disappear the way of the jedi...

  12. I am modern orthodox. I go mixed swimming, go ball room dancing and hear women singing at the concert halls.

  13. I pity the single Orthodox Jews who cannot figure out which category they belong to; they will have a hard time getting married, due to no fault of their own.

  14. Wow so I'm not the only person who doesn't feel like I fit into a category. I just started the dating web-site thing and its giving me a migraine.
    My families chassidish but I follow the halachic rulings of my yeshivish seminary and have internet access like modern orthodox type people. I never noticed how messed-up I am. I need my own personal category. I'll name it frumfussion. Ill think of a better name later.
    Is there a diff between reading secular books/having internet because your bored out of your box but you hate yourself for it, or doing those things because you believe in being worldly lest you get crushed by the world for your ignorance?
    two advils should do it

    1. Try to think on the positive side....really it does exist! Basically no one fits into these categories exactly, so in reality there has to be a whole lot of people who also are in sinc with you. I really like the name Frumfusion, not being confused, but different types "fused together". While I'm still navigating the dating websites myself (Im mietz' hashem by all of us real soon!), I try to also decide on the category of hashkafah by the type of guy I want to notice me. In reality I'm between modern orthodox liberal and modern orthodox machmir. I'm sincere about my observance, no mixed dancing, but I'm not machmir personality, so I chose modern orthodox liberal

      . ....And don't forget you can always choose a category then continue to write on the site, why you really don't fit into that least the folks reading it will know you have an opinion....and are able to compose a sentence!

  15. I cannot thank you enough for your article. You really clarified the position of Modern Orthodoxy and Yeshivish people is a clear, non-judgmental and fair way. I am dating someone who falls into your category and you really helped me see what he stands for.

    Thank you so much! You don't even know how much you helped me.

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