Chaim Strauchler Tradition Online | August 3, 2023

Click here to read about this series.

What is it? 

Zillow, an online US real-estate marketplace, released a study in January 2023 on the effect of color on buyers’ perceptions of a home’s value. It found that charcoal grays (in place of whites), and other “moody hues,” could affect a buyer’s perception of a home as modern and up-to-date rather than tired and in-need-of-repair (paying much more for a house with one paint color over another). The study suggests that popular sensitivity to design trends has increased with exposure to home improvement television and social media.

 Why does it matter?

Color is in our homes. Color is also in our schools and synagogues. How does color affect our perception of our institutions as trendy and relevant or outdated and passé? This is a particular challenge for institutions whose identities are closely connected to their modernity, or alternatively, to a sense of tradition. Should our schools and shuls play the Zillow color game? What does it mean for a Modern Orthodox institution to inhabit a building that is less “up-to-date” than its traditionalist competitors?

When choosing the color and decor of a home, both individual taste and Zillow-like market considerations influence the decision. As much as we might imagine that we are free as consumers to choose what we like most, we actually make decisions with the next owner in mind. I think, “What home improvements will make an imagined (and often years away) buyer pay more for my home?” Some may be influenced while holding the color swatches by imagining how their wealth will be assessed by next week’s Shabbat lunch guests. We often make decisions with market value in mind, even if subconsciously, not thinking about what we ourselves most enjoy.

Unfortunately, this is true not just of decisions about home improvement. A market-influenced self-evaluation will lead people to pick a certain profession, neighborhood, or even life-partner, because they believe it will make them look better in the eyes of others. We play with the price tag that we place upon ourselves. The social media habits of living for the post (with smartphone in hand) only exacerbates this phenomenon. Living with the next buyer in mind is to become an object and not a subject. To see oneself through others’ eyes is to blind one’s own self-perception.

Yet, living with the next person in mind is to live with intergenerational sensitivity. The world will not end with me. I am responsible for how my decisions will influence my children. I am responsible for the waste that I leave. The world is bigger than I am. To look at one’s decisions and actions from the “buyer’s perspective” can lead to better decision-making.

What questions remain? 

For those who would like to create a less materialistic Modern Orthodoxy, what demands of being fashionable are baked-in to the Modern Orthodox ideology? Can a Modern Orthodox Jewry be behind the times and out-of-style?

Is there a value to not being the most modern? Does it reflect a spiritual authenticity to be above material fashions? Should we embrace the dated?

Is there a way to build our communal infrastructure to be less sensitive to trends? Is there a style that really is timeless and therefore more cost-effective than the color wars into which our schools, our shuls, and we fall?

 Chaim Strauchler, an associate editor of TRADITION, is rabbi of Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck.

Leave a Reply