Modern orthodox judaism

21.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Modern Orthodox Judaism (Modern Orthodoxy) is a branch of traditional Judaism that unites orthodox foundations, views and customs with the modern world.

Because of its connection with some other creeds, it has acquired different features.  The philosophy of “Torah and Science” (Torah U-Mada) is popular in Europe and America. In Israel, orthodox modernism is very close to Religious Zionism. Its adherents make up over 50% of the entire orthodox-religious Israeli population

Modern orthodox judaism


Modern Orthodoxy believes that, on the one hand, it is necessary to follow Jewish law, and on the other, it supports the establishment of benevolent relations with modern society and this enriches Judaism.

Modern Orthodoxy highly values the State of Israel, so it often acquires features of Zionism.

Main denominations

Main denominations

Modern Orthodoxy encompasses many different movements having one basis.

  1. Torah im Derech Eretz.

This expression was first found in Avot 2:2, the Mishnah (the oldest collection of laws after the Bible). In the 19th century, the son of Rabbi Yehezkel Landau, Shmuel Landau, was the first to use the expression, calling for the unification of religious and secular education.  Early forms of Modern Orthodoxy were founded by Rabbis Azriel Hildesheimer and Samson Raphael Hirsch. They made public the principle of Torah im Derech Eretz (which means the peaceful coexistence of the Torah and modernity).

  1. Torah U-Mada.

Torah U-Mada (Hebrew: “Torah and Science”) is an ideology that studies the interaction of secular and Jewish knowledge. It calls for the unification of religious and modern education. Following this rule, a person easily adapts to life in modern society. The movement Torah im Derech Eretz established by Rabbi Hirsch became the basis for this approach.

This philosophy acquired its modern form due to the teachings of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, head of Yeshiva University in the USA (New York). Rabbi Soloveitchik believed that Judaism called for the improvement of the world (Tikkun Olam). According to him, the duty of the “man of Halakha” is to improve the world and enrich the modern life with righteousness, piety and the presence of God.

  1. Neo-orthodoxy.

Hirsch’s son-in-law, Solomon Breuer, was the next Rabbi of Frankfurt am Main. In turn, his son Joseph Breuer became the head of the yeshiva (a higher religious educational institution). After the establishment of Nazism, Joseph Breuer moved to the United States and began to spread the usual order of the community in a new place. At the end of the First World War, in Frankfurt people began to talk about the movement “Neo-orthodoxy”, as being different from Modern Orthodoxy. The difference between them is that science must obey Halakha (a set of laws and norms of Judaism that control different spheres of life of believers). Unwillingness to interact with Jews living in a contrary fashion to the commandments is another distinguishing feature. The very word “Neo-orthodoxy” is similar to the name of a German movement in Protestantism. The Neo-Orthodox movement exists in the United States. 

  1. Religious Zionism.

Religious Zionism is another denomination of Modern Orthodoxy. It was founded by rabbi Zvi Kalisher in 1850, and at the beginning of the 20th century, Abraham Isaac Kook continued to develop it. In the second half of the 20th century, rabbis Zvi Yehuda Kook (Israel) and Joseph Ber Soloveitchik (the USA) were the main ideologists of the movement.

The key difference from Religious Zionism is that the views of Orthodox Judaism are united both with the modern world and with Religious Zionism.

Nowadays, Abraham Shapira, Eliezer Berkovits, Mordechai Elon, Shlomo Riskin, Yehuda Amital and Aaron Lichtenstein are the representatives of the movement.

The beliefs of Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy among Russian-speaking Jews are held by Machanaim. Zeev Dashevsky and Pinchas Polonsky, who are are its leaders.

  1. The Hardal movement.

In the Religious Zionism of Israel, under the leadership of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and his son Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, a movement appeared that was separated from yeshiva Mercaz HaRav. Led by rabbi Zvi Yisrael Thau, it was centralized in yeshiva Har Hamor. Its followers reject unity with science, do not support the Israeli army and focus on the study of the Torah. Representatives of the Hardal movement and Haredi Judaism are similar in these matters. The acronym “HARDAL” stands for Ḥaredi Le’umi (Nationalist Haredi). 

Followers of Modern Orthodoxy do not go to extremes. They seek to establish harmony between their religious views and the surrounding modern world.