By the middle of my post-high-school year of yeshiva study in Israel, it was obvious which of my classmates would return home much as they had left and which would return transformed. In the latter group were the boys who had begun to trade evenings at the bars on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street for the study hall, where they spent hours imbibing rabbinic wisdom. Their hair grew shorter and their sidelocks longer. Baseball caps declaring allegiance to the Yankees and Mets were replaced with velvet yarmulkes. Now they declared allegiance to a higher authority.
Religious transformations like these have become such a phenomenon in the Orthodox Jewish world that they have birthed their own derisive catchphrase. “Flipping Out,” a term first popularized by an Orthodox rock band, is now the title of a book published by Yashar Books in cooperation with New York’s Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy. Jews who identify themselves as Modern Orthodox keep kosher, observe the sabbath and practice other rituals but are otherwise well integrated into society, living and working among people of other faiths.