Just How Orthodox Are They?

Some Call 'Em Ultra- and Some Call 'Em Fervently-

All Adverbs Aren’t Created Equal: Would you describe these men as fervently Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, or would you use an entirely different word?
Getty Images
All Adverbs Aren’t Created Equal: Would you describe these men as fervently Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, or would you use an entirely different word?

By Philologos

Published February 17, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

For old-time readers of this newspaper, Seth Lipsky needs no introduction: Lipsky was the English Forward’s founder and first publisher back in 1990, and continued to direct it for most of the decade. His voice continues to be heard on the politically conservative side of the ledger, and in a January 20 column in the New York Post, he spoke out on the issue of abortion. Commenting on the high rate of it in New York City, he wrote:

“This was brought into sharp relief two years ago in a press conference by some of the city’s leading clergymen. It featured a rare joint appearance by the archbishop of New York, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, and the leader of the largest grassroots organization of fervently religious Jews, Rabbi David Zwiebel of the Agudath Israel of America.”

This isn’t going to be a column about abortion. It’s about the phrase “fervently religious Jews,” which — more often in the form of “fervently Orthodox Jews” — has been promoted in recent years as an alternative to “ultra-Orthodox” and “Haredi.” The fact that someone like Lipsky, who is far from religious Orthodoxy himself, has chosen to use it shows that its promotion has met with considerable success.

It’s certainly possible to understand the motives behind this. In an op-ed published in the Forward several years ago under the title “Stop Calling Me an Ultra-Orthodox Jew,” a Haredi named Abbott Katz complained that “ultra,” with its “Latinate tinge,” is “redolent of cultic cadres pushing their faith to mysterious extremes.”

What makes “ultra” so pernicious, Katz wrote, is “its very status as a prefix, a descriptive tack-on to a more primeval, integral Judaism of truer provenance. Orthodox Jews seem to be seen as marking the spiritual baseline, while the ‘ultras’ are typed as a kind of fanatic insurgency.” And he ended with an appeal: “Can’t the stylebook writers think of something else?”

Well, they have. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency substituted “fervently Orthodox” for “ultra-Orthodox” as far back as the 1990s, and today one sees it everywhere. “In last week’s column I pondered the yawning gap between the haredim or fervently Orthodox Jews and the rest of us,” Andrew Silow-Carroll wrote in an editorial last year in the New Jersey Jewish News. “Chabad’s Model of Outreach Gains Favor Among Fervently Orthodox,” ran a recent headline in a Jewish Federations of North America newsletter. “In liberal New York City, fervently Orthodox Jews may soon be getting [an electoral] district to call their own,” the Jewish World News proclaims. One encounters the phrase more and more — and it is increasingly being used by non-Haredi writers.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.