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YU sumposium: Being Yeshivish in the Modern Orthodox world

Transcribed by Eli D. Clark

Rabbi Schwartz: Welcome everyone. Our topic tonight is Being Gray in the Modern Orthodox World. Each of our panelists will talk about how it feels to discover that you are really yeshivish after growing up Modern Orthodox. Before we begin, a few ground rules: We are not going to discuss Hashkofoh, Halochoh or the Heisman Trophy. For that we turn to Gedolei Yisroel. Please save your questions for later; if you wrap them in airtight plastic bags, they should stay fresh for days. Our first speaker is Chezkie.

Chezkie: Thank you, Rabbi Schwartz.

Growing up, I never realized I was gray. I went to day school and Camp Moshava. I went mixed swimming (which was about 95% mixed and about 5% swimming). For seven straight years I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I wore my baseball cap backward.

But there were hints from an early age. I remember, around age 6, I cried when the barber cut off my payos. (He also removed half my ear lobe.) I always liked wearing black. When my friends played Nintendo, I would sneak off and read The Little Midrash Says.

But no one wants to admit that hes, you know, different. So in high school I started going out with girls. But deep down I knew Id rather be sitting in a Kollel with guys.

In 12th grade I finally told one of my Rabbeim I was gray. He was very supportive. He gave me a bunch of Artscroll biographies. He got me a subscription to the Jewish Observer. He took me shopping for my first black hat.

The hardest thing was telling my family. My father had taken me to baseball games, to the Israel Day Parade. He dreamed that I would study medicine and join his practice treating nervous gall bladders. Today he realizes that I will probably live in Passaic, work in computers and have children named Shraga and Pessie

The good news is that I have met other guys who like wearing jackets, even though they grew up in Teaneck and the Five Towns. They helped me understand that I was not alone, that Boro Park and Lakewood are full of guys like me.

Rabbi Schwartz: Chezkie, thank you. Our next panelist is Nachi G.

Nachi: Hello everyone. My name is Nachi and Im gray. It takes some courage to say that. I remember in high school all my friends were really into sports and I just wanted to sing like Lipa Schmeltzer.

My brother and sister would make comments. Theyd say, Nathans such a frummie. And my mother would say, Dont say that. Maybe hell end up that way. She tried to get me to join NCSY, Bnei Akiva, anything where I might meet some girls. But all I kissed were mezuzos.

As a teenager I stopped eating chodosh and cholov nochri and pas akum I lost a lot of weight. My mother got upset, but my dad said it was just a passing phase, like the time I went four months without changing my socks.

I started talking yeshivish, everything was geshmak or gevalt. In my bedroom I hung a photo of Rav Aharon Kotler. I stopped shaving, but everyone thought I was trying to look like Brad Pitt.

After high school my father wanted me to go to a Religious Zionist yeshiva Shaalvim or Hakotel. But I went to Toras Moshe and after Elul I switched to the Mir. What an experience! I sat in a bais medrash with a thousand guys who had stopped learning math in fourth grade.

Around Chanuka, my parents came to visit me in Israel and I told them I was gray. (At the time I was really black. It was a white lie.) To my surprise they were great, totally supportive. My mother switched to cholov yisroel and stopped bringing her smutty magazines into the house, stuff like Popular Mechanics and Accounting Today. My dad said I could go to the Mir in Brooklyn, as long as I promised to study accounting at Touro. He even gave me permission to live in Crown Heights, on the condition that I not marry a Lubavitcher.

My sister is still hostile. Maybe its because I said her Tinkerbell nightlight was pritzusdik. But Im working on her. Last month I bought her a book called The Adventures of Chanoh Soroh Fraydel, the Shayna Maydel in a Shtaty Shaytel.

Rabbi Schwartz: Our third panelist is Mordy S.

Mordy: Despite what you see, it actually took me a long time to admit that I was gray.

Today I look like a typical chunyuk. But I didnt always. I grew up in Boston, went to Maimonides, learned Gemara with girls. One of my best friends growing up was Irish Catholic. (Sadly, he was injured in a freak miniature golfing accident and now speaks only in iambic pentameter.) My mother taught me my bar mitzva parsha.

So there I was a poster boy for Modern Orthodoxy. But little by little, I started to change. Once I criticized my sister for wearing pants and talking to boys; she was four and a half. I stopped going to movies. I stopped reading English books not published by Targum Press. I stopped eating broccoli and cauliflower. (Not because of bugs; I just hate vegetables.)

At my parents suggestion, I started seeing a psychologist. He was a shul member, a friend of the family. He dabbled in hypnosis. Every time he heard the word marmalade, he would start singing the The Whiffenpoofs Song in Pig Latin. At our first session, I told him, Modern Orthodoxy is hollow and hypocritical. Yes, he replied, but what dont you like about it? He suggested I go to an Ivy League college for a few years, then decide. I told him that we were created to learn Torah, not to study The Architecture of the Igloo.

My parents suggested I change therapists. The new guy was an old guy, 83 years old and certain that all religious devotion is a sign of neurosis. Do you think God really cares if you hold your tzitzis during Shema in your left hand between your ring finger and pinkie? he asked me. I dont know about God, but I care more about the Mishnoh Brurohs opinion than yours, I replied. After six months, he announced his retirement, left Boston and opened the first Dunkin Donuts outlet at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul.

I asked my Rebbe what to do with certain Modern Orthodox seforim I still had from high school (Soloveitchik, Steinsaltz, Ibn Ezra). He said that they were not vaday kefiroh, so I mustnt burn them, but it would be assur to give them away, because the recipient might read them and think they are true. In the meantime, I hid them in a box under my collection of Star Trek action figures.

I am still dealing with a lot of issues, but today I can proudly look at myself in the mirror and say out loud, I am gray.”

Rabbi Schwartz: Our final panelist is Rachel O.

Rachel: It is very exciting to be here and be called by my new name Rachel, after a lifetime under the name Shannon. I was born Christian. I started my conversion process with a respected rabbi, who unfortunately was not schooled in telephone etiquette and had a lot of friends he wanted me to

Rabbi Schwartz: Um, Rachel? Do you know what the topic of this panel is?

Rachel: Sure. Being a Ger in the Modern Orthodox World.

Rabbi Schwartz: I think thats all for tonight. Thank you to our panelists, our audience and the sponsor of this evenings program: Borsalino. Since 1857: When Your Father-in-Law Can Buy You the Very Best.

Copyright 2010 by Eli D. Clark

{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous February 18, 2010, 1:08 PM

    Good stuff.

  • Jonathan February 18, 2010, 1:13 PM

    That was funny!

  • spidey February 18, 2010, 1:14 PM


  • Heshy Fried February 18, 2010, 1:17 PM

    I can’t even find the guy to get permission to post it – I used his name and copyright – so I hope the people who sent it to me are friendly with him and he doesn’t make me take it down.

    • shoeless February 18, 2010, 4:58 PM

      Is it sad that i thought that was serious up until the end? I just dont get what modern orthodox means you either follow halacha or you dont. What would you call a guy who brakes some halachas and follows others? If he does it in a black hat thats frum? I dont think so the guy who goes mixed swimming and the guy who speaks loshon hora in the middle of seder without remorse, aren’t they in the same ship?

      • Bob February 18, 2010, 7:32 PM

        Its very sad if you thought it was serious past the title

      • tollerantofgreys March 15, 2010, 2:56 PM

        Just because a lot of people abuse the title “Modern Orthodoxy” to mean “doesn’t observe (or try) all mitzvot” doesn’t mean that is what its about. “A guy who brakes some halachas and follows others” is not really a true and honest religious Jew, presuming of course we mean he’s not trying to keep all of the mitzvot. That is not synonymous with Modern Orthodoxy. There may be, or rather very probably are, Halachic issues with doing some of the things you mentioned, and doing it in a black hat doesn’t make it any better. It’s just one of the symbolic dividers. (And if you couldn’t tell that the it was satire, at least I hope the Ibn Ezra as modern orthodox kefirah tripped you up. In the end of the day, it is just satire after all.)

    • Eytan February 28, 2010, 12:03 PM

      The guy who wrote this is my neighbor – he’s been writing something like this every Purim. If you want I could connect you two.

  • Anonymous February 18, 2010, 1:20 PM

    I loved it! My loudest laugh was at the guy who told off his 4 year old sister for wearing pants! ROTFLMKO

  • Avrumy February 18, 2010, 1:55 PM

    OK, that was funny.
    I attended the YU panel on g(r)ay Orthodox Jews and you did a good job here. 🙂

  • G6 February 18, 2010, 2:02 PM

    Very, very funny…. right up to the end!
    Excellent piece.

  • oy vey February 18, 2010, 2:03 PM

    HAHA. I’m stifling a laugh because it really wouldn’t be appropriate to burst out in class,

  • oy vey February 18, 2010, 2:04 PM

    but I’m cracking up on the inside.

    Sorry about the split post. Stupid laptop.

  • Yakov February 18, 2010, 2:36 PM

    “… anything where I might meet some girls. But all I kissed were mezuzos. ”

    gotta love it!! this is awesome stuff!!
    if you ever do find this guy, maybe you can ask him to team up with you?
    not that you’re not gr8 you are, but this is almost as good as your stuff!

    • Heshy Fried February 19, 2010, 2:31 AM

      Here is the fundamental problem – it probably took this dude a long time to write this. Sure I could probably take loads of time to write everything, but when you have thousands o people to please it just doesn’t happen. Also people who write great stuff usually cannot do it 3 times a day.

      • Stan February 19, 2010, 7:05 AM

        Maybe write great stuff once a day or even every other day as opposed to drivel three times a day. Or find funny stuff like this to post

        • Lakewood February 19, 2010, 3:52 PM

          What makes you think he owes you shit? If you dont like it, stay off.

          • Stan February 19, 2010, 4:01 PM

            With your permission lakewood, id like to not like it and stay on. Is that ok?

  • John February 18, 2010, 2:51 PM

    Very funny, I was actually surprised to laugh at post ive read here. Kudos

  • Happy on Purim February 18, 2010, 2:52 PM

    Funny stuff; a little long at times, though. I was wondering when the Tropper was going to come out–this is FrumSatire after all…
    (Heshy, why was there not a peep about Tropper being kicked out of Monsey by the rabonim?)

    • Heshy Fried February 19, 2010, 2:32 AM

      I had no idea he was kicked out – I’m in LA enjoying such nice weather, yu begin to realize that people in NY are very bored because the weather sucks.

  • "Rabbi No" February 18, 2010, 3:07 PM

    Three great lines that resonated:

    a) ‘I sat in a bais medrash with a thousand guys who had stopped learning math in fourth grade.’

    b) ‘I stopped reading English books not published by Targum Press. ‘

    c) ‘Borsalino. Since 1857: When Your Father-in-Law Can Buy You the Very Best.’

  • parent in ny February 18, 2010, 3:50 PM

    heshy that was the best post on your site ever

  • Menachem Lipkin February 18, 2010, 4:06 PM

    Why did you change his original title? It was so perfect.

    “Being Gray in the Modern Orthodox World: A Conversation”

  • Frumsatire Fan February 18, 2010, 4:55 PM

    Just to wrap it up: boys and girls, remember, it’s Ok to be gray as long as you don’t act on it.

  • Drew the Jew February 19, 2010, 12:39 AM

    Loved the Modern Orthodox Seforim part “because the recipient might read them and think they are true.”


    • DrumIntellect February 19, 2010, 4:11 PM

      “He said that they were not vaday kefiroh, so I mustnt burn them, but it would be assur to give them away, because the recipient might read them and think they are true.”

      That was the best line for me as well. It is dead-on!

    • Rafi February 25, 2010, 5:11 AM

      What is so funny – you know Purim really brings out the hidden “penimiyus” ???????
      of a person – and so you would think that anything which isn’t “black” is K’firah!!

  • Rachel February 19, 2010, 1:46 AM

    peeing in my pants from laughter.

  • Michael Makovi February 19, 2010, 4:21 AM

    “So in high school I started going out with girls. But deep down I knew Id rather be sitting in a Kollel with guys.”


    (Soloveitchik, Steinsaltz, Ibn Ezra)


  • Michael Makovi February 19, 2010, 4:22 AM

    I presume he did in fact burn the Rambam, right? 😉

  • Anonymous February 19, 2010, 12:18 PM


  • Yerachmiel Lopin February 20, 2010, 7:22 PM


    You nailed it. I loved the confessional tone and the sibling wars.

    I am glad you got this in before the new ban on satire goes into effect, even for Purim. http://frumfollies.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/satireban/

  • CA February 23, 2010, 2:40 PM

    Surprisingly funny. Good job.

  • Yerachmiel Lopin February 25, 2010, 12:42 PM

    I have a new posting about the modern orthodox launching and winning the war against chumras. Yep, satire. It gets triggered by a ban on lox and sushi.


    Have a freylich Purim.

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