Vosizneias posted (with permission) a recent article in Mishpacha magazine about uninspired Orthodox youth (link). After discounting the required denunciation of secular culture and the occasional crime against the English language, the article is fairly good. It offers some concrete suggestions on how to turn your children on spiritually. What I find troubling in the article, though, is an attitude that I’ve seen elsewhere.
Most readers know that I have adopted and adapted Dr. Alan Brill’s observations on the development of what he calls Post-Orthodoxy. He has also written about teenagers from the heartland of Modern Orthodoxy keeping what he quotes them as calling “half Shabbos”, which includes texting on the holy day (link 1, link 2). This is troubling and is similar to what the Mishpacha article says is happening in the Yeshivish world.
I grew up in the heartland of Modern Orthodoxy and I am saying that this isn’t new. And from what I understand from my peers in the Yeshivish community, it isn’t new there either. Just look at the term used by the Mishpacha article to describe the phenomenon — mitzvos anashim melumadah, thoughtless observance out of habit. It is a biblical term! Heshy of FrumSatire coined a more humorous term — Lazydox (link). Consider the behaviors he lists there. Do any of them strike you as particularly new? Can it really be the case that teenagers in the Orthodox community — from the finest families and schools — are suddenly discovering temptation?
Lazy Jews, including but not limited to teenagers, who care more for their own pleasure than their religious obligations is an old story. I grew up with Jews who kept kosher, except for eating some things at the diner up the road from high school or at the mall across the street (for just one example), who tried to get away with as much on Shabbos as their community and consciences would let them, and who didn’t think twice about experimenting with drugs or the opposite sex. These weren’t rebels who rejected religion but rebels who were exploring their boundaries and breaking some rules. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s what some have called MO-lite, a cultural Modern Orthodoxy devoid of religious passion. The same “lite” phenomenon exists in the Yeshivish and Chassidish worlds.
The real question is whether it is growing. Experts are telling us that it is but I remain skeptical. The Orthodox community loves a crisis and this seems to me to be just the latest alarm. I’m not suggesting that the experts are lying, only that they are basing their claims on personal, anecdotal experience which can present them with a distorted picture. Since my last post criticizing Mishpacha magazine was misunderstood, presumably because of the crisis of deficiency in judging others favorably, let me be clear. I am not saying that the educators and experts quoted in the article are anything less than the most righteous people on the planet. I am also not saying that we should do nothing to prevent deviations from religion. All I am saying is that we should not blow this out of proportion.
Let’s get real. This isn’t a crisis or the development of a new movement. It’s the old phenomenon of uninspired Jews, a sad state of affairs that needs to be addressed but no cause for any more alarm than it deserved twenty and forty years ago.