I've looked on the websites and, other than just going in and asking each and every local synagogue, is there some easy way to know if an orthodox synagogue is Modern or Traditional?

  • 3
    You may wish to look at the "About the Rabbi" section, where the yeshiva that the rabbi attended (and therefore his likely philosophical bent) would be listed. The distinction in practice between Modern Orthodox and Centrist Orthodox is often kind of fuzzy; a Haredi synagogue probably wouldn't have a website.
    – Tatpurusha
    May 5, 2014 at 23:30
  • 2
    @Tatpurusha Although these labels are not generally well defined (or else they are defined in many different ways by different people), the neologism "Centrist Orthodox" is usually self-applied to people who would traditionally be considered "Modern Orthodox."
    – Fred
    May 6, 2014 at 0:16
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    neither "Orthodox" nor "Modern Orthodox" is defined and quantified to the exclusion of the other so there is no official affiliation that a synagogue might have. A synagogues association with the RCA or the Young Israel or the Agudah tells about some of the synagogue's official religious positions but says nothing about the people who happen to attend. Maybe if you defined the terms as you understand them, someone might be able to find a link which will make your definitions fruitful in anticipating a shul's place on the continuum.
    – rosends
    May 6, 2014 at 2:56
  • 2
    Those aren't the only two options within orthodoxy. Do you mean to ask "how do I know what flavor of orthodox?" or are you asking specifically about these two? And if the latter, what does "Traditional" mean -- all of them would presumably say they're traditional, right? May 6, 2014 at 14:51
  • 4
    Close as Unclear? You can't answer a question about undefined terms.
    – Double AA
    May 6, 2014 at 18:39

4 Answers 4


The question mistakenly assumes that every Orthodox synagogue is either Modern Orthodox or not. This is not the case.

  1. The MO and charedim mix to a large extent. There are shuls with a charedi rabbi but a mainly MO congregation, and there are many shuls with a mix of charedi and MO congregants.

  2. Many people are in between MO and charedi. They might describe themselves as "frum but not yeshivish" or "centrist Orthodox" or just "Orthodox" or "frum." The men will often wear black kippas, typically velvet, but not black hats, and will wear colored as well as white shirts. Other people may "look" charedi but have a more MO hashkafa or halachic orientation, and vice versa.

Accordingly, I'll answer the question by noting separately how you can determine whether the rabbi and congregation are MO or charedi.

To determine whether the rabbi is MO or charedi, look at his bio. Did he go to YU, and does he belong to the RCA? Then he is probably Centrist or Modern Orthodox. Did he go to YCT? Then he is Modern and/or Open Orthodox. Did he go to a charedi yeshivah? Then he's charedi.

To determine whether the congregants are MO or charedi, see how they dress. The more knitted and non-black kippas, the fewer beards and especially long beards, the fewer black hats, the more MO the shul is.


In America:

A high percentage of black hats is a sign that the synagogue is more haredi orthodox than modern orthodox.

A prayer for the state of Israel is a sign that the synagogue is more modern orthodox.

You can also look at the tone of the parsha sheets and listen for the tone in the Rabbi's speeches.

If there are some people who regularly drive to the synagogue on Shabbos, it is almost certainly not a haredi orthodox synagogue.

  • Also, look out for the term "Torah Lifestyle" May 6, 2014 at 12:50

In America, using an Israeli/Sephardi transliteration (Shacharit as opposed to Shacharis) often indicates that the synagogue is more Modern. The size of the mechitzah is also a clear indicator; the larger and more opaque it is, the more traditional the synagogue. Modern congregations usually sing more of the prayers, so their Shabbat morning prayers are usually longer.

  • 1
    Haredi Sephardi shuls would use Sephardi pronunciation.
    – Daniel
    May 6, 2014 at 19:34
  • @Daniel That's why I wrote "In America" where Ashkenazim greatly outnumber Sephardim, and "often".
    – Ypnypn
    May 6, 2014 at 20:09
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    Some Hasidic shuls sing much of the Shabbos service in the evening at least, and prolong prayers. Satmar and Breslov do this. Others, such as Belz and Lubavitch I think, go fast however. Of course, said Hasidic shuls would use different niggunim probably than Young Israel. May 7, 2014 at 2:05

Here's an interesting contrast to use an example:

One shul that I attended had the women daven on the 2nd floor. Not a balcony - but I mean really the 2nd floor. There was a hole in the floor of the women's section so that they could hear the davening. (A fence surrounded the hole so no one accidentally fell through.) This was very Orthodox.

In contrast, Lincoln Square synagogue has "stadium style" seating using concentric circles as seating rows. There was a mechitzah, but men and women could clearly see each other (and, did - hence the nickname "Wink and Stare".) This place was Modern Orthodox.

  • How does this answer the question? My shul also has a hole-to-downstairs for the women. I am sure it is because of architectural considerations, and not because of orthodoxy-degree.
    – Adám
    Jan 13, 2015 at 22:11
  • @NBZ Only Orthodox shuls would separate women on a separate floor in a manner where they would be this unnoticed. M.O. would be more inclusive by having them on the same floor.
    – DanF
    Jan 14, 2015 at 1:52

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