News & Op-Ed

What Does Ultra Mean to You?

February 26, 2014

What’s so “ultra” about striving to observe Torah law, and make it part of one’s life, as Orthodox Jews do?

Rabbi Avi Shafran asks this question in Don’t Call Us ‘Ultra-Orthodox’, an Op-Ed published on The Jewish Daily Forward website.

Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, believes the term “ultra” (Latin for “beyond”), when used to identify a large swathe of Orthodox Jews, has an inherently negative connotation.

Hello My Name IsHe deems the term Haredim less offensive. It’s from a Hebrew word that literally means “trembling” but implies meticulous care in practice and worship, but would prefer to simply be known as “Orthodox” when other Orthodox-identifying groups choose to self-identify as “modern” or “open” Orthodox.

Samuel Heilman counters in his own Op-Ed in the Forward, Ultra-Orthodox Jews Shouldn’t Have a Monopoly on Tradition, that “the difference is in the claim by people like Shafran that what they have chosen to believe and the way they have chosen to act is in absolute fealty to the Judaism of the ages.” Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York, stresses that “neither is more or less Orthodox than the other; neither is ultra nor inferior. They are just different choices.”