You Might Be Modern Orthodox If…

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What does it mean to be Modern Orthodox (MO)? I don’t think that there is a single definition because the MO community is, for better or for worse, a big tent. From my perspective, sitting on the fence between the Ultra-Orthodox (UO) and MO communities, I have an interest in where the division lies. Both communities have members who are not fully observant or, as some call them, the MO-lite and the UO-lite. The MO community is often more attractive to the O-lite membership because it generally allows for greater individualism and privacy. But there are plenty of O-lite people who like the heimishe atmosphere or simply prefer to have the Judaism that they don’t fully observe be more “authentic” or at least consistent with their ingrained views of what Judaism should be.

But back to the main point, here are some views that would qualify someone as MO. For some of these people, it is possible that holding only one is insufficient and you need to accept more. Members of the left wing of the UO world, what Dr. Alan Brill calls the “Engaged Haredi” community, might hold some of these views. This makes defining the line between LWUO and RWMO somewhat difficult. But it is clear that you need not hold all of these views in order to be MO.

So, with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, let me suggest that, assuming your beliefs are Orthodox, you might be Modern Orthodox if…

1. You approve of exploring some or much of general culture in order to find beauty and meaning in it (Torah im Derekh Eretz).
2. You believe that studying some or many areas of secular studies is valuable for more than just earning a living (Torah u-Madda type 1).
3. You see value in using some academic methods in the study of at least some areas of Torah (Torah u-Madda type 2).
4. You give the views of experts in any field serious consideration.
5. You believe that expertise requires serious training.
6. You encourage greater participation of women in the Jewish community.
7. Mingling of the genders, whether in educational or social contexts, is OK with you.
8. You dismiss the infallibility, omniscience and supernatural powers of rabbis.
9. You see the establishment of the State of Israel as a religiously meaningful event.
10. You think people should dress in the style of clothing they like rather than communal uniforms.

Note that stringency and meticulousness in halakhah is not on this list.

UPDATE: I should add that this post was partly a response to Joe Schick’s recent post.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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