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Is the Modern Orthodox world failing our children?

Eitan Gross is a self-described “normal Modern Orthodox kid, who goes to a normal Modern Orthodox school, growing up in a mainstream Modern Orthodox world.” But, in a recent blog post in The Times of Israel, the teenager writes that the Modern Orthodox movement is failing him and his peers.

Gross testifies that he enjoyed growing up in the Modern Orthodox world because he was able to study Torah and learn Jewish values while also participating in the secular world by following sports, watching movies, and studying secular subjects in school. However, he says he is troubled by the “glaring hypocrisy and internal contradiction” of his community.

He writes that some adults in the community write off areas of halacha because they see it as a burden or question its morality, and that this attitude tells young people that they can pick and choose which laws to follow. He admits that he and his peers keep some laws without any understanding or passion. And he says that young people are “proactively” exposed to anti-religious entertainment, which corrodes their value system.

“We care about world values, and neglect our own,” Gross writes. “We care more about Western morals than the true morals of the Torah. We are high school students before talmidim. We are aspiring sports players before yearning Talmud scholars. We are college graduates before yeshiva bachurim. We are Modern before Orthodox.”

In his blog post, Gross offers a few suggestions to break what he calls an “addiction” to the secular world among his peers and inspire them to be proud of living a Torah-true Jewish life.

First, he calls for a new approach in Jewish education in which halachic standards are consistently upheld at school and in the home so that children can become “acclimated” to them. With the proper education, Gross writes, a child “comes to see these standards as freeing him or her from being controlled by the yezter hara” rather than as a burden.

Second, he says that parents must set a good example if they want their children to be ovdei Hashem. In order to do so, they must be dedicated to following halacha themselves. Then they must set boundaries for their children and be vigilant in “filtering out aspects of the secular culture that indoctrinate us with messages and viewpoints that are antithetical to true Jewish values.”

Third, he thinks there needs to be more emphasis placed on spirituality and cultivating a relationship with Hashem. Gross says too many of his peers live “an uninspired robotic Judaism” where they do mitzvot just so they can check them off of a list. Teachers and parents should seek to inspire the youth to sincerely want to do mitzvot and be closer to Hashem.

Ultimately, he believes that religious leaders, teachers and parents need to do a better job of explaining and demonstrating to youth being raised in the community why it’s important to live a Modern Orthodox life.