A big reason a lot of people confuse RZ and MO is that they seem to occupy the same space in both Jewish communities – that of the “non-Charedi orthodox/religious Jews”. What these people seem to misunderstand is that while this superficial similarity does indeed exist, the “devil” or the difference is in the details.
One of the most glaring differences between the two communities is the demographic reality of the surroundings of each community. Put in simple terms: RZ communities live in a society where the majority of people are halachically Jewish, MO communities live in a society with an overwhelming majority of non-Jews.
This difference leads to special advantages, and difficulties, in both communities. For instance, MO’s struggle with modernity is essentially the same as that in Germany and the rest of Europe starting in the Enlightenment. The power relations sometimes change, but the questions and challenges – of faith, modernity, assimilation and intermarriage – are essentially the same as they have been for 200 years. Paying for Jewish education and maintaining frumkeit was plenty hard a hundred years ago too. It is no less shver to be a yid now then it was 50 years ago.
On the other hand, the challenges may still be the same, but they are still just as powerful. The questions of the provenance and historicity of the Torah and the Torah Shebe’al Peh are still just as explosive now as they were 150 years ago. Endogamy is even less popular today than it was thirty years ago, and intermarriage is celebrated. Indeed, Orthodox Jews are repeatedly cast as the villain in academic and media circles for not endorsing such phenomena wholesale.
The reality of the RZ communities in a Jewish-majority state means that assimilation and even the question of religious education (which is largely paid for by the state) are a great deal lessened. The “worst case scenario” for a child of religious parents (leaving aside the question of FSU non-halachic Jews) is for the child to go OTD and marry a secular Jew, leaving open the possibility that the grandchildren will “come back” full circle.
On the other hand, the Jewish-majority reality places a number of serious challenges on RZ Jews, many of which have not really been answered. The most important issue is that of the state of Israel as a Jewish state. Even leaving aside the question of whether an “halachic state” is in any way feasible, there are many practical questions that remain unsolved.
For instance, whereas abroad, non-Jews are responsible for the essential services of the state (defense, water, electricity, commerce &c), in Israel, most of these services are provided by Jews. These things are essential for a modern state, and the “pikuach nefesh” argument cannot possibly be stretched to include everything. Nor is the frankly laughable “Chazon Ish” solution of simply cutting oneself off from the grid for Shabbat, which is not feasible for a city, let alone a country.
The second issue is the status of non-Jewish citizens. The publication of Torat Hamelech has placed the problem of the status of non-Jewish citizens (and non-Jewish enemies) in the eyes of halacha in stark relief, including their right to be elected to high office. Even if few seriously propose replacing civil law with halacha, it is clear that RZ has not been completely successful in neutralizing the more negative attitudes towards non-Jews within Jewish sources.
So what of the RZ and MO attitudes towards non-observant Jews? More on that in the next entry.
Difference #2: RZ and MO, Church or Sect?