To understand modern Orthodoxy, we must view “Orthodoxy” within its larger social, economic, and cultural contexts.
For example, if you read modern Orthodox Jews’ disinvestment from American citizenship as being, at best, a manifestation of a centuries-old relationship of Jewish ambivalence toward the society around it, and, at worst, hostility toward that society, we miss that mid-to-late-20th-century patterns of suburbanization and sorting—patterns that we share with other upper-class white Americans—do a better job explaining our reactions to the world around us than our great-great-grandparents’ feelings about the czar. Material affluence, and the anxiety (and feelings of precarity) that surround that affluence, in the modern Orthodox world are not specific phenomena of a particular religious subgroup. Except for larger family size, we are precisely mirroring the socio-economic concerns and anxieties of the societal stratum into which we fit.
Take, in particular, the tuition crisis. Observers of the community, both from within and without, cast this as the greatest challenge and threat facing our community. Fully cognizant of how dangerous it is for someone whose salary is paid by parents’ tuition dollars to wade into this, I nevertheless challenge this way of looking at the problem. Yeshiva tuition doesn’t have to cost over $30,000 a year. We know, because in the Haredi world, it doesn’t. The further one goes to the right, the lower tuition tends to be. And while one can point to ultra-Orthodox schools with tuitions of $4,000 and no general studies education, one can also find schools whose tuitions are a third or a half that of modern Orthodox schools, but which provide a sound basic education that adequately prepares students for college. This is not advocating for the Haredi system as much as suggesting that the economics of day schools’ education is not a necessary or inevitable product of a modern Orthodoxy lifestyle.
But modern Orthodoxy doesn’t only want a sound basic education. It wants the full range of academic and co-curricular opportunities that will enrich their children’s lives and get them accepted to the most competitive colleges. It wants the full range of support from school psychologists and learning specialists, so that students with a variety of needs can be supported in our institutions. It wants its students to be engaged meaningfully in their lives as Jews—not only in stimulating classes but with personal connections to teachers, in chagigot and Shabbatonim, in programming outside and around and on top of the school day. We want Horace Mann plus a geshmak (love) for Yiddishkeit.
Rivka Press Schwartz “When the Cost of Orthodoxy Is Too High”, Tablet (26 November 2018) [https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/274954/cost-of-orthodoxy-is-too-high]