Moishe (Mark) Bane, the president of the Orthodox Union, in a recent article in their Jewish Action magazine, wrote, “Orthodox Lite families do not seek to reject Torah and halacha but, at the same time, they take a relatively lax approach to religious observance. Orthodox Lite promotes a more casual relationship to religion, with lowered expectations and aspirations. Religion is viewed as a source of comfort and the provider of a more meaningful lifestyle.
“Some maintain that the Orthodox Lite approach is selling its participants short by encouraging a shallow religious experience that is unlikely to be sustained through future generations.” This is what Rabbi Steven Pruzansky meant when he wrote his recent article, “The First Modern Orthodox Jew: Two Models” (November 21, 2019).
I am the letter writer who initially wrote about the dangers of secular universities (“Warning for Parents Researching Colleges,” October 24, 2019). My reasoning was that the independence and freedom from parents, yeshivas, shul life and the Orthodox community, along with the liberal values and ideas, both through college courses and the general college culture, promoting pluralism, moral relativism, no absolute values, Bible criticism, atheism, abortion, guiltless sexual lifestyles etc. can influence young, unsophisticated, not yet mature minds.
The writers of letters and articles that disagreed with Rabbi Pruzansky and me do not get it! Of course, college students who are seriously committed to Orthodox Judaism stay close to Chabad, Hillel and the religious environment. But many thousands of yeshiva high school graduates do not, and are influenced by the secular university culture.
In the Pew Research Center’s “Study of American Jewry,” “83% of Jewish adults under 30 who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox.” This means that 17% are no longer Orthodox.
In a 2019 survey of Modern Orthodoxy by the Nishma Institute, it was reported: “Liberal segments of the Modern Orthodox community reported a much higher percentage of their children becoming less observant. Another trend mirrored by Modern Orthodox youth: a decreased interest in the importance of synagogue; only 32 percent of those under age 30 found prayer to be meaningful.”
The crisis is not over. Perhaps, as Wallace Greene recently wrote, our yeshivas must teach less Talmud and Halachah and more emphasis on Jewish thought, philosophy, ethics, the “whys” and not the “whats” or the hows of being Jewish. Parents cannot leave their children’s religious development up to the yeshiva, but have discussions at the Shabbos table. Rabbis of shuls should give less shiurim on Jewish law and more on Jewish thought and belief. And, of course, perhaps attendance at a Jewish and protected environment is essential, like Touro or Yeshiva or Landers College and not secular universities!Martin Polack