Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Mechitzot/s & Talmud Torah (a "what-if" question)

Rabbi Lamm once asked:
What would have happened if Modern Orthodoxy had used all of its efforts that it had poured into promoting & defending Mechitzahs in synagogues into promoting Talmud Torah? What would the community have looked like?

Comments-[ comments.]

The Culturally Orthodox

One of the rarely spoken about phenomenon among among all Orthodox Communities is the Culturally Orthodox. There are people who have basically given up Orthodox Practice and Orthodox Belief, but still choose to participate in the Orthodox Community.
I am not discussing the non-Observant Orthodox, those who have never been Orthodox, but choose to attend Orthodox Synagogues. Or those who were Frum in Europe before coming to America. I am referring to those who were once Orthodox (usually coming from American Orthodox families) & attending Orthodox Day Schools, but go off the Derech (path) but still choose to associate with the Orthodox Community.
On the one hand this is a very bad thing. If Judaism is about belief & practice, having members of the community who do not keep the practice & openly reject the dogmas break down the barriers and (implicitly or explicitly) encourage others to do the same.
On the other hand this does "pad" the community adding members to synagogues & enrollement in schools to keep the critical mass necessary for functioning. Some may claim (but not me) that it is also good because it provides these people with opportunities to come back to Halakha if they choose. However, they are not "kiruv" cases, as they often know the details of Judaism & Halakha as well as Frum Jews.
So why do they stay? Why not assimilate off into the rest of America? Partly because of inertia? It takes effort to leave that which is most familiar. And after having "tasted the pleasures" of the outside world, many find the Orthodox Community the optimal home. And since they can live without many of the restrictions of Orthodoxy (except the financial ones), they think that they have the best of both worlds.

Comments-[ comments.]

The Impact of RYBS

As we continue down the rabbit hole of Modern Orthodox Intellectual History, it was pointed out separately by Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh & Dr. Rabbi Seth Farber, that RYBS was the first to speak about shemiras hamitzvos as a minimum for all Jews. This has become the norm for most of Orthodoxy in America and not just shemiras hamitzvos, but furthermore Orthodox Halakha (e.g Mekhitzos).

Comments-[ comments.]

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Modern Orthodox Intellectual History

My comments section devolved into a discussion of RYBS & his influence on Modern Orthodoxy. I think that this would be a good topic to discuss. If someone had to list the key books which allowed for the creation of an intellectually safe place for Orthodox Jews the main choices would be:
Emanuel Rackman, One Man's Judaism
Eliezer Berkovits, God, Man, & History
Possibly, Herman Wouk, This is My God
One would also have to note the Yavneh Review, Gesher, & the AOJS.
It is worth noting that almost none of these had any lasting memory.

Comments-[ comments.]

American Jewish History

I would think that I could manage to avoid any discussion of "American Jewry"'s "350 year anniversary". However, that appears not to be the case.

In a recent essay, published in the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Sarna, essentially argues that we should all study American Jewish history to get a wider perspective on American Judaism and options. Building off an older essay of his on a late 19th century Jewish revival (A great awakening: the transformation that shaped twentieth century American Judaism and its implications for today), Sarnaargues that Judaism is not about assimiliation and acculturation, but there are a lot options that studying American Jewish History will uncover. Now, I have read his earlier essay and remain unconvinced. What he describes is the creation of Jewish institutions, Jewish organizations, and a bit of revivalism. But it fundamentally was Jewishly shallow. This is the same problem as the BBB does not get. American Jewish History studied for alternatives from the past are usually both Jewishly boring and Jewishly shallow. Furthermore, as Orthodox Jews, we should not perceive outselves as heirs to the long Tradition of American Jewry. And if the reason why you are studying American Jewish History is to justify to the Goyim that Jews are as loyal Americans as any other sub-group, than I genuinely feel sorry for them.

Comments-[ comments.]

Responding to a BBB

I think that one of the BBB (Blogging Butler Brother's) misunderstood my recent post about Modern Orthodox History. I am not suggesting that the Dr. Belkin had no impact or influence on YU. Rather, if you read Geller's book on Belkin or other Modern Orthodox Hagiography one would think that the rise of Modern Orthodoxy in the 1960's & 1970's was solely the work of major Jewish organizations, YU, & specific individuals. I argue that by not discussing how this exactly parallels trends in American religion, one gives too much credit to the Great Men. These people further argue that to restore Modern Orthodoxy to its former glory we need to create leaders on the caliber of the old RCA. My point is that the Jewish Culture has changed & no matter how smart, charismatic, or educated you train Rabbis you cannot change the face of Modern Orthodoxy. You can make things better, certainly, but to think that we can return to an earlier age is foolish.

Comments-[ comments.]

Monday, June 28, 2004

Great Man Theory of Judaism vs. Cultural Forces

One of the unarticulated aspects of the current debates about the Future (and therefore the past) of Modern Orthodoxy in America is the question of what is responsible for the past glories (real or perceived) of Modern Orthodoxy and what is to be credited with its current decline?
According to many, among them Geller's book on Samuel Belkin & YU, and others, this is because, in the past, great men (e.g. Rabbi Soloveitchik, Dr. Belkin, Bernard Revel, Leo Jung, Herbert Goldstein, et al.) made MO great. Now that we have no more great Modern Orthodox Leaders or Builders, the community has faltered. Others will point to how this is in sync with larger trends in American religion, the rise of post World War II Institutional & Suburban Religion & then the rise of Evengelicalism in the 1980's & 1990's. So it is not directly the fault or cause of any one individual. But rather MO Judaism is part of larger cultural patterns over which is cannot control.
This of course is similiar to the debate among historians whether history is made by great men or by social forces. Since this is not a history blog, I will not give the Mareh Mekomos. But it is interesting how these debates plays out.
My personal opinion sides with the social & cultural forces position, while not completely ruling out the influence of great men. But I would think it difficult that whoever rose to prominence, (e.g. as President of YU) would not have done something right. It is difficult to completely run organizations into the ground (although some individuals have tried & succeeded).

Comments-[ comments.]

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Beyond Hagiography & Hock II

As a followup:
For a serious analysis of ARR book on Rabbi Soloveitchik see Shelomo Pick review essay in Bar Ilan's BDD (I do not know which volume).

Comments-[ comments.]

The Other 99%

An observation I recently heard:
In the Yeshivish/Chareidi world 99% of the masses are messed over in this world to create the 1% elite.
In the Modern Orthodox world 99% of the masses are messed over spiritually to allow for the creation of the 1% elite.

Explanation: In the Yeshiva world many people are encouraged to stay in learning so to allow the creation of the few elite Talmidei Chachamim who will become Roshei Yeshiva. Everyone else suffers and foregoes potentially lucrative education to create this elite.
The Modern Orthodox elite espouse an philosophy of studying Torah with studying philosophy and classics. Only 1% actually has the ability to do this. The other 99% watch TV and immerse themselves in popular culture & other shmootze arguing that they are "part of the world". The upshot is that they support the 1% studying advanced Torah and Madda. The downside is the spiritual corrosion among the souls of the 99%.

Comments-[ comments.]

Between Hagiography & Hock

I am reading now, Victor Geller's reminisces disguised as a biography of Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin. Though poorly written, it does have interesting nuggets that one cannot find otherwise (as the book, like all Urim publications, lacks an index) such as Rav Shach being invited to give Shiur at RIETS (with Professor Abraham Weiss as the messenger).

While it includes hock about tensions & conflict between assorted Orthodox Jewish Organization, there is a thread of hagiography which runs through the book, papering over the well known flaws of Dr. Belkin to make him seem larger than life.

So my question is why Modern Orthodox Intellectuals feel comfortable bashing frum biographies which cover up certain information, while fan fiction about Rabbi Soloveitchik and Dr. Belkin go unscathed? It would appear to me that the only person who has successfully written Modern Orthodox Biography is Marc Shapiro, though more as an academic than popular endeavor. Therefore I find it problematic to criticize "Artscroll Biographies" when your community can do no better.

Comments-[ comments.]

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Another Danger of Blogging

If you blog enough, you start thinking in terms of blogging. It begins slowly with, "This would be an interesting thing to blog about". But it slowly takes over your thoughts and you begin thinking in blog posts.
At that point is it best to take some time off from blogging.

Comments-[ comments.]

Conservative Jews, Conservative Judaism, & Homosexuality

I recently had a short conversation with an ex-Conservative Jew who thought that the upcoming change in policy towards Homosexuality & Homosexual Marriage by the Conservative movement would be a fundamental defining shift moving them outside the pale of Halakha. This person's argument being, essentially, that once CJ contridicts an explicit Pasuk in the Torah, then they are outside the framework of halakha which would impact both the old guard of CJ, JTS, and Baal ha-Baatim.
I argued that any ambivalence about change had already been resolved with full egalitarianism & the ordination of women. Even if the ordination of women is technically halakhically acceptable, for most people it presents radical change. And radical change is always as upsetting to most people as halakhic violation. Add to this the fact that the vast majority of the students & recent alumni of JTS support finding a way of "legalizing" homosexuality & homosexual marriage. Therefore, I would argue that legalizing homosexuality & Homosexual Unions by CJ may have an impact, but it will not be significant.

Comments-[ comments.]

When Jews Attack

I recently criticized a prominent Conservative Rabbi for publically attacking the publicity & controversy surrounding the the Indian Shaytelach. At the time, I promised a more worked theory on the issue. So here goes:
As a private citizen you can privately attack whomever you want. Now this will not make you a better person, influence people for the good, or necessarily change things, but go ahead and attack if you want.
As a public figure (or a private figure in a public forum), you should only criticize those in your circle of interactions & community. Meaning that Conservative Jews can criticize the Conservative movement, the Federation world, & National, State or local politics. Orthodox Jews can criticize trends in Orthodox Judaism, and areas which directly affect other Orthodox Jews in their community. Meaning that questioning the belief system of Chabad is valid if it deals directly with Chabad meat, teachers, & resources. Attacking Chareidim in Bnei Brak from Teaneck or vice versa is not valid.
If you are asked a direct question about your opinion on a given matter, individual, or community, then you can be honest, though hopefully in a respectful manner.
Of course there will be grey area and open questions. But at least there should be some general guidelines.

Comments-[ comments.]

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Yada Yada Yada

There is something funny about the way SIW & B(Yada-Guy)C are promoting Jewsweek as if it’s the best Jewish Webzine out there. Indeed it may, in fact, be the best Jewish Webzine, based upon what I have seen of the competition.

But I come here to praise the Yada Blog not to bury it. But I am puzzled by what SIW keeps on saying. That the Jewish Federation types & their flunkies, the Jewish Media types, are all reading Jewsweek & especially The Yada Blog. Now, I must admit that I do have an RSS feed from the Yada Blog and they are rather efficient at linking Jewish articles. But based upon what I have seen, all BC does is surf the web and link to articles about Jews & Celebrities and Jewish celebrities. Now most unemployed people I know (and some of the employed ones) spend hours a day surfing the internet. If I understand this correctly, BC just surfs the net, picks up articles that anyone could just as easily find (especially with a google news bot) and link it to his blog. And this is supposed to be incredible? I mean, this is what the Town Crier does & what Protocols used to do. Anyone with the time, motivation, & energy can do this. The only difference is the TTC has more of a YU Slant and is an Orthoblog while Yada avoids an Orthodox identity and covers more sex.
So why is this so impressive?
I think I understand the appeal of the Yada Blog. It is like Moment Magazine for Gen X & Y. Now, personally I find Moment Magazine too kitschy for my tastes. But I find it a useful barometer of understanding the Jewish identity of the Baby Boomer generation. The same holds true for the Yada Blog. However, the current Federation mold is totally out of sync with Gens X&Y and are acutely aware of this. But there is nothing that the Federation & Media people can do about it. So they read the Yada blog to see what’s going on in Jewish America, which tells us more about how little they can connect to young American Jewry.

Comments-[ comments.]

Women & the Roshei Yeshiva

In my opinion, there are two types of Orthodox Rabbis who are not into Feminist innovation:
1) Those Rabbis who think once we have Jewishly educated women who are Jewishly motivated it is a good thing and we should find a place for them in the community & fulfill their needs.
2) Those Rabbis who wish that these women & the problems would disappear.

Comments-[ comments.]

Monday, June 21, 2004

Jewish Studies & Jewish Identity

JH host a rather nice discussion about what "Jewish studies" courses should be taught at YU, sparked by King Richard's attempt to bring YU in line with the rest of the Jewish World.
The obvious point that I do not know if it has been stated is that in most Universities, Jewish studies is often the only sophisticated Jewish education that most Jewish students have. Furthermore, for many Jews it becomes a foundation for developing their Jewish identities. (I believe that a couple of years ago Chava Tirosh-Samuelson gave a controversial talk at the annual AJS meeting about using Jewish studies to develop Jewish identity, a topic which still sparks heated discussing among academics.)
As I have discussed my ideas about Jewish identity elsewhere, I would like to state the obvious: how different courses help to create different Jewish identities & create different narratives about who & what we are as individuals & as a community.
Elite Eastern European Jewish history: Orthodox Judaism is a continuation of the shtetl religious communities from before WWII & we should continue their traditions & their cultures of learning.
Western Eurore Jewish History: We continue a tradition, since the Enlightenment, of finding our place in the Western World and struggle to maintain identities both as Jews & as X (French, English, Americans, etc.)
American Jewish History: We are a continuation of a 350 year community beginning with Dutch Sephardim & then German merchants, despite the fact that we are unrelated to them. And despite the fact that before WWI Judaism in America was, for the most part, ignorant, non-observant, we are one tradition because we are both loyal Jews & loyal Americans.
Zionism: Somewhat different because Zionism is about Jewish nationalism. By learning Zionism one is establishing a connection to other Jews. Now one could say that one is already part of a larger Jewish community built around Torah. But it is hard to establish a Jewish identity as part of a Jewish community around Torah when 85% don't know & don't care about Torah. By teaching Zionism & cultivating a Zionist identity, one can establish a counter identity to a Halakha based identity.

What this discussion ignores though is that, unlike most Jewish students, most YC/SCW/SSSB have a fairly worked out Jewish identity before they step into YU. Many of them have worked out their issues in High School & in Israel, so that college courses have much less impact than they would elsewhere.

Comments-[ comments.]

New Word of the Week

Kotchka: (literally Yiddish for duck): A (mildly derogatory) term for women.

Comments-[ comments.]

Blogging as Crack

There is something to be said about similiarity between Blogging & Crack Cocaine. Instant high to see your writings on the web. And to have people comment (especially intelligently or in agreement) on your thoughts. And a few hours later, it's old news & forgotten. So you are constantly looking for better and more exciting posts to elicit reactions. The parallel is a bit startling & scary.

Comments-[ comments.]

Friday, June 18, 2004

Hee Esther Hee Madonna

The tabloids splashed news about Madonna latest Kabbalah-inspired move, the adoption of the move Esther. Now, while Saul Kripke, probably has what to say on the topic, let's blog about this for a minute.
What does the Madonna (the original one, mother of Jesus) have to do with Queen Esther? As any student of Tanach or Talmud knows, the Torah expresses itself in archtypes. Various archtypes are played out repeatedly throughout Sefarim, different historical periods, genres, etc.
If you spend some time reading Christian texts or talking to religious Christians, you find that they interpret these archtypes as either prefiguring Osso ha-Ish (i.e. Jesus) or following his patterns (to turn 1800 years of Christian hermeneutics into a soundbite). In contrast Jewish sources tend to accept archtypal patterns without fitting them into a specific person/event.
So the figure of Mary, mother of Jesus, was seen as the woman who comes and saves her people, prefigured in (among others) Judith of the Maccabees, Queen Esther, etc. So for Madonna to pick Queen Esther as her Jewish name, perhaps she is adopting an earlier more connotatively Jewish figure in the model of the original Madonna. (It's a bit whacked, but then so is any pop-culture criticism, especiallly when you throw in religion, e.g. Academic Buffy)

Comments-[ comments.]

Interesting Discussions in Other Blogs That I Don't Have Time to Think About

Zackary Sholem Berger uses Brill's essay to discuss creating Jewish culture in an non-Orthodox context.

Josh Harrison's comments section discusses what should be taught at Yeshiva University: American Jewish History, Eastern & Western European Jewish History, or Zionism, and in what priority.

Comments-[ comments.]

The Hareidization of American (Yeshivish) Orthodoxy

I was at a wedding this week of a distant relative, somewhat outside of my usual social circles & I noticed something, the Chasan (groom) had a beard. I realized that several of the Yeshivish weddings that I had attended in the past year had Chasanim with beards. Now these are not Chassidic men, but litvishers. So I asked someone more in the know and he told me that this is a trend over the past 10 years for bachurim (single men) to have beards. Now this goes against trends going back 100 years ago where some Lithuanian Yeshivos (e.g. Slabodka) prohibited their single men from having beards because of yuhora (arrogance). My friend told me that it was due to influence of Israeli Chareidi society on the American litvish culture. This is part of larger trends, in adopting Chareidi culture, patterns of piety (e.g. singles growing beards), and even the name "Chareidi" as a way of self-identification. (Though some claim that the relationship is reciprocal, cf. Yair Sheleg's book HaDatiyim ha-Chadashim, which I personally cannot verify.)

Comments-[ comments.]

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Baalei Teshuva & Confessional Blogs

This is an idea that I am just developing. But perhaps the Orthodox Blogs that are more personal & confessional are written by Baalei Teshuva. Partly, because they were not raised Orthodox & therefore lack an inborn sense of discretion. Partly because "converts" often have a need to tell their story. And possibly because this is an outgrowth of Baal Teshuva stories, which became a genre onto itself around 20 years ago.

Comments-[ comments.]

I go ahead and stop criticizes & attacking and write a nice simple post about what I like to read on Shabbos & those two Blogging Butler Brothers go Soloveitchik on me. (Serves me right for dropping the Hock….)
So responding to Ezra (who apparently also speaks for Menachem):
Apparently E. doesn’t get my point at all. The purpose of a liberal arts education, (and for many Torah U-Madda) is not to gain the tools to be a better academic/Wissenschaft-er, but to have a more humanistic perspective on the Torah we learn. Do you think that I can’t read the EJ also? That I don’t know about historical/literary/linguistic/textual criticism of Jewish texts?
My point about reading Plato or Rumi Jalaladin or the Tao Te Ching is that these are some of the most profound reflective foundational texts of different cultures. Sociology & psychology give you insight into how peoples & people. History about different societies & cultures past. Literature should be obvious, etc.

There are alternatives in learning Sefarim ha-Kedoshim to either naïve Traditional readings or the knives of the Academy. One can reflect upon them using the whole of one’s knowledge. One can associate using the ideas that weave a web through one’s mind, built upon our experiences & the texts we have read). And one can acknowledge cultural & historic differences, while developing these relationships. It’s not about “How Does Midrash relate to Parallel Byzantine Christian Writings”. If that’s where you’re at, man, you need to spend some time away from the Academy.
It is about reflecting upon the Chumash using the Midrash as the springboard.

OK, so as Nachum Lamm & E. pointed out, Midrash Rabbah are not a single book (as most Midrashim, with the possible exception of Tanna D’bei Eliyahu, aren’t) but a collection. And your point being? So you cant cut it up and cut it up some more & label it ad infinitum. At the end of the day, does it make your Shabbos more meaningful? Does it make your interactions with other people more spiritual or holy? I am troubled by your question about reading Midrash “correctly”. If you assume that the Wissenshaft analysis is the most “correct” understanding of the Midrash, I would disagree. If you cannot incorporate your reading of “durkheim, heidegger and donne” into your learning of Midrash, then I would have to suggest that something is lacking your Torah U-Madda education.
When I suggested that Menachem read more non-Jewish texts before reading Midrash, I was trying to make this point. Developing breadth & depth before reading Midrash (unless Midrash was about developing his breadth). I thought that MB, being young should get a wider liberal arts education before specializing so heavily in the Jewish.
Regarding the MJB question, why not ask him his opinion on this matter & then blog it?

Comments-[ comments.]

Jewish Leadership & Al Sharpton

In a fascinating article in the current Atlantic Monthly, reporter Marm Bowden spends time on the campaign trail with the Rav Al Sharpton. Though his analysis is a bit misleading, several pundits quoted question the need for a "Leader for Black America." It led me to wonder if the same could be argued for the Jewish communities in America. There are no current Jewish "leaders" whom I would say represents me. Sure, I think that some are great shtadlanim, of great moral stature, or wise men. But none would I call my leader. Partly, this is due to a lack of motivation & vision among the leadership. And partly is the lack of a need for such leadership. Thank God, the Jewish community is diverse enough and affluent enough, not to require self-appointed, or communally appointed, leaders to represent us.
Though, as a throwaway question, who would you say is your Jewish leader, if you have one?

Comments-[ comments.]

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Another Brick in the Wall

In a great review essay about teenagers in this month's Atlantic Monthly Tom Carson notes that the one experience common to almost all Americans is High School. It is therefore significant (and relevant to our current discussion of Modern Orthodoxy) that Orthodox Jews (almost universally) educate their teenagers away from gentiles. Modern Orthodoxy set up a parallel universe to the America High School, the Day Schools. Bais Yaakov is a training ground/boot camp for future Kollel wifes (something like Parris Island). But Yeshivas are a system unlike American High Schools. Part of the whole Am Levad Yishkon idea.
As many have noted, schools are less about education than socialization. Where children are educated are the communities to which they belong.

Comments-[ comments.]

Mechitzah, Picking Sides, and Background

Making its way through the Blog-o-Sphere is a story out of Columbus via the New Standard about a mechitzah-less congregation that recently had to decide if they were Orthodox or not (New website: AmIFrumorNot). A little background is called for. In previous generations (as Gurock Jr. can footnote), Orthodoxy was not particularly observant and many synagogues had to pick whether they would be Orthodox or Conservative and whether they had a YU or JTS Rabbi (independent of their denominational choice) usually based upon personal prediliction but often each side would come and make a presentation (SIW's "Debate"). Even the issue of Mechitzah was subject to debate, as there were many Orthodox synagogues with mixed seating (the technical term is "Tradional"). Through the 1950's it was not clear that Orthodoxy would require metchitzos/t. It is only through the influence of the Young Israel movement that Mechitzos/t became the minimum standard. In the midwest, where the YI was not as strong, mechitzos/t were not as common. By the late 1990's as Orthodoxy became more Halakhic & the NCYI & the OU entering open warfare, the NCYI banned its member synagogues from being mechitzah-less (mainly as a way of showing how frum they were) & the OU was left with 3 non-Mechitzah member shuls (NMS). Now, these synagogues (like most NMS) had non-observant members, an Orthodox Rabbi & a comittment to Orthodox Judaism. As the OU now also requires its member synagogues to be Mechitzah-ed, the NMS will have to go, and in all likelihood they will go Conservative.
As the bloggers ask, why the OU let Agudas Achim stay as a NMS. Because this used to be the norm. When you up your standards, you sometimes have to do a little amputation.

Comments-[ comments.]

Jews as Citizens 2

Question: If you had to choose between the Church giving up anti-semitism (assuming this is pre-Vatican II) or giving up the trinity, which would you choose?
If you answered the former, why look out for you own self-interest and give up the chance to increase monotheism in the world (or at least to decrease idolatry)? Because as Jews are we more interested in our own safety than creating a moral or monotheistic society?
I think that this question is important for discussing our roles as Jews & citizens. Would you prefer a more Guiliani-esque police state, where occasionally citizens rights are trampled? Or more freedoms, but less safety?

Comments-[ comments.]

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Shabbos Reading

I have begun learning Midrash Rabbah on the Parsha over Shabbos. Though originally I picked it up because I saw it quoted so often by 19th-20th Cen. parshanim, I have found it deep & profound (though it does not need my haskamah chas ve-shalom). It is a Sefer where one can bring the full weight of a liberal arts education (philosophy, literature, hermeneutics, theology, history, psychology, sociology, etc.) to gain a deeper & richer understanding of the text.

Comments-[ comments.]

The Sources of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlita

If one spends enough time listening and learning the thought of RAL one realizes that he has only five maareh mekomot for his machshavah (Jewish philosophy). They are:

1) Halakhah/Gemara
2) Rambam (Maimonides)
3) Ramban (Nachmanides)
4) 19th Cen. English Literature
5) The Rav (Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik)

Now RAL is clearly a Gadol & a Talmid Chacham and with his brilliance & intellectual agility, we is able to do much with these five sources.

The problem is that this leaves out (among other Baalei Machshavah) the Maharal, Ralbag, Abarbanel, Ramchal, Zohar, Midrash, Levinas, Chassidus, Mussar, Misnagdus, Kabbalah, Mabit, Tzfat, etc.

There is virtually impossible that this cannot limit one's machshavah.

Comments-[ comments.]

How Referential (or Po' Man's PoMo)

M. Butler of AJH criticizes my analysis of the Forward's Review of Geller's & Farber's books about Dr. Belkin & RYBS respectfully. See his comments section, where I explain my original post. I still maintain my original criticism, but understand how MB misunderstood me.

Comments-[ comments.]

CIW (From the Comments Section)

On : 6/12/2004 11:51:25 PM Chaim I. Waxman (www) said:

For clarification, the possibility of Modern Orthodoxy breaking from Haredi society was not intended as a real option but, rather, as a "trigger" for discussion. I threw it out to try and spur real thinking about how to deal with the haredization of American Orthodoxy. It was not a thought out and developed practical suggestion.
On the second issue, unless RAL made his suggestion in a similar vein, I do haev serious disagreement with him If Judaism is sui generis in that sense, then philosophy as well as the social sciences are irrelevant. But many of Chaza"l, Rishonim and Achronim stated otherwise.

Comments-[ comments.]

Monday, June 14, 2004

Cross References

Both Lammpost & Avraham pick up on various thoughts of mine. While Lamm discusses kiruv, Avraham blogs about the role of Rabbi Soloveitchik in Modern Orthodox communities. What they both share in common, though, is an ability to engage in religious activies while being aware of the greater sociological, psychological, and religious dimensions of our activities. Lamm is not saying not to mekareiv (bring close)those distant from Judaism. Nor is AB saying not to learn the writings of RYBS. Rather, they are arguing that we can engage in these activities, as communities and as individuals, while being self-aware off their greater implications.

Comments-[ comments.]

Jumping the Shark on Modern Orthodoxy

With Saul Austerlitz's Forward review of the Geller's Belkin & Farber's A-Soloveitchik-in-Boston book, we have finally reached the point of Reclaiming-Modern-Orthodoxy-Kitsch.
All one needs is to pick a name (e.g. Dr.'s Soloveitchik, Heilman, Waxman, Friedman), throw around some catch phrases (e.g. "move to the right," Chareidization, Ultra-Orthodox, "crisis of confidence") talk about how tragic this is and how great things used to be & BOOM, you have an article/essay/talk. The problem is that this is no depth or substance in the analysis: the intellectual equivolent of kitsch.
In The Forward's defense, one could argue that SA is only a 20-something kid who should not be taken too seriously. However, he is reviewing books, not 40-something year old rockers in the West Village.
To be more specific, I would like to ask SA who are the Ultra-Orthodox who are coopting RYBS? Secondly, Maimonides (like most day schools) was meant to manufacture good Baal ha-Batim who listened to their Rabbis & were mostly Shomer Halakha, hopefully not "a city on a hill, a shining beacon of Modern Orthodoxy at its glorious best". Third, "rightward deviation of Orthodox practice in recent years." What the heck does that mean? Fourth, this article seriously needs a good copy editor.
Lastly, this article fits into the recent tendency of bemoaning the situation, while ignoring the obvious reasons for recent trends.

Comments-[ comments.]

Orthodox Forum II

I promised months ago (which is something like years in blogger-time; one blog month = 1 doggie year or something like that), that I would conclude my discussion about the Orthodox Forum. So when we left off, we were discussing the Orthodox Forum & what it was meant to accomplish.
So what went wrong? If Modern Orthodoxy prides itself, nay defines itself by its intellectual discourse, what happened to the last forum for such discourse?
The answers are many & complicated:
1) The Forum became too YU-Centric. Even when non-YU academics attend, (from outside the cultural circles of YU), they * their papers tended to be ignored. (Rabbi Lamm actually walked out before a session when two non-YU although excellent Jewish Historian presented.)
2) Ground Rules were never established for what the Forum is & isn't. Meaning, is it an academic conference? Are the papers evaluated as academic papers? Is this a religious council (ala the Catholic Church)? The basic Undanas (assumptions) were never lay down.
3) The Forum has a habit of continually re-inventing the wheel. Meaning, topics are returned to year after year, with the same people taking the same positions. Among the questions asked are: Does Halakha determine our values or do our values determine our Halakha? What do we do with problematic texts, halakhot, & narratives? What is the limits of Orthodox theology?
4) The papers presents (between 10 & 15) tend to be a hodgepodge loosely connected to a single topic. For example, War & Peace (including whatever fits in that category). Egalitarianism (including but not limited to: homosexuality, feminism, 19th Cen France, and experience of Jewish university students on secular campuses). It also includes theoretical, practical, educational papers all thrown together. Even though the papers are distributed beforehand, it is virtually impossible for a gathering of Rabbis, Roshei Yeshiva, Academics, teachers, Baal Habaatim, students, & administrators, etc. and to seriously discuss a complicated and relevant topic in two days.
5) The whole Forum is too secret. No one knows about it, unless they want to (therefore it is self-selecting). The books are expensive and hard to come by. And the Forum itself does not have a website.

So why do I care? Shouldn't I just say that this is a problem that I have nothing to do with & let it be.
Because in order to have a proper intellectual life and intellectual discourse, you need proper funding and resources. It takes times, effort, motivation, infrastructure, and, most importantly, money. There are few institutions which have the resources to put together a high level of intellectual discourse. Among them is Edah, the RCA (just look at the back page of every issue), YU, and RIETS. If they are investing resources, those resources are being misused, then there is no place else to find what I am looking for.

Comments-[ comments.]

Friday, June 11, 2004

Hocking (Defined
See my & Butler's criticism of SIW's definition:

Comments-[ comments.]

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein vs. Chaim I. Waxman

In the course of reading several Waxman articles (CIW), certain ideas tend to continually show up. But among his basic positions are a couple which explicit or implicitly challenge Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (RAL). So, for the benefit of my readers I present CIW vs. RAL:
1) CIW: Unity with the Jewish people is so important, that MO may be required to break with Hareidi society to maintain our position as a bridge between O. and non-O. Jews.
RAL (in a speech from memory): When push comes to shove, we throw our lot in with the maaminim, without question.
2) CIW: Judaism should be understood using the tools of academia (anthropology, sociology, phychology, history, etc.) to better understand ourselves and our community.
RAL: No. Judaism is sui generous.
My personal position: 1)RAL, 2) CIW
(However, based upon reading CIW articles, I have found him using these categories superficially, sort of like how "intellecuals" talk in Kiddush Shabbos morning over a plate of cholent & a single malt scotch. For a more serious application of these disciplines, see Alan Brill's article.)

Comments-[ comments.]

Why People Worship the Rav

What was the best-selling book at YU's Seforim Sale?

The safe bet is usually anyone by or about the Rav, Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik. Now the obvious question that should be asked is why do people worship Rabbi Soloveitchik?

I am not asking why do people find his thought or his lomdus appealing. I can understand why some people might find his ideas compelling. And I understand why those who here in his Shiur would continue to dedicate their energy to understanding him. But why do standard Modern Orthodox Jews treat him like a totemic figure? Why do people in Englewood and Teaneck buy his books just to line their shelves like Sefer Raziel ha-Malakh (maybe to protect their children from, Chas ve-Shalom, donning a black hat or not having a TV).

As I mentioned earlier, people want to be part of something important or significant in their lives. Chareidi Society can provide this, even for simple Baal Ha-Baatim through the Gedolim & the awe and veneration that goes with them. Chassidic society (both mainstream & Chabad) can provide it through the Rebbes. Even Zionism provides such a source of meaning for people. However, for the Modern Orthodox in America, religious life tends to lack a sense of being part of something important & great. By attaching themselves to Rabbi Soloveitchik, they are provided with an opportunity to be part of something more significant than themselves.

Comments-[ comments.]

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Tao (& the Rav)

I was wondering this morning how a typical Modern Orthodox intellectual would understand Wu-Wei (action/inaction), one of the central idea in Taoism.
Probably as a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, ala Rabbi Soloveitchik.

Comments-[ comments.]

The 'Week in Review

I stopped blogging the Jewish Week & the Forward, as they can easily be read online. However, two articles particularly irked me today. Gerald Skolnik, a Conservative Rabbi in Queens, complained about recent Halakhic rulings & practices. He claims that Halakhic Judaism is becoming a caricature & as a colleague of the Biblical prophets, he must complain about it. Halakha must engage the world. I don't hate Orthodox Jews. Etc.
I don't know where to being on this one. Honestly. Conservative Halakha has become of mockery of itself over the past 30 years. Observance of law among the laity (and even among many of the Rabbis) is somewhat of a bad joke. To argue that he & the Orthodox are all part of the same Halakhic community is a bit insulting, especially to the women I know who are giving up thousand dollar shaytlach out of a committment to Halakha. Furthermore it is an updated version of the old, "Shah. Don't embarress us. What will the goyim think?" Which previous generations of Orthodox Jews had to endure.

The larger question is whether denominations may criticize each other publically (or, to expand the question, other religions). On the one hand, there is, in general, a live and let live situation. But, if you see a problem, one of the few places where you can directly address members of another Jewish community is in publications like The Jewish Week. But one may recall an article by Avi Shafran in Moment Magazine, which was unfortunately titled by Moment as "The Conservative Lie." The essential thrust of that article was that C. Judaism had abandoned its Halakhic roots and that those C. Jews who took Halakha seriously should join Orthodoxy. He took a lot of slack for that article. Now, one could argue that the problem was that AS was recruiting among the C., but one could also say that GS was saying O. Halakha should be more like C. Halakha. Later I may questions of when & how Religions can criticize one another.

The other editorial which bothered me was Gary Rosenblatt (GR)'s lovefest for David Ellenson (DE). Essentially GR was applauding DE for promoting Orthodox Rabbis who both GR & DE liked. It is not promoting Klal Yisroel to publically play favorites in another Community's politics (although Hartman is an exception, because he is so far removed from the Orthodox community). Now, I like DE & am happy that he is running HUC. However, I do not think it appropriate to publically try to influence other Jewish commuties (to the left or right). As a private citizen one can believe what one wants (personally, I don't like Liberation Theology), but once this enters the public sphere, I would say tend to your own before picking sides in another's battles.

Comments-[ comments.]

Sophisticated Education

The difficulty with sophistication is that one cannot educate people for being worldly. Once you set up a curriculum of social path everyone does it and that becomes the norm thereby limiting people's experience. It is virtually impossible to educate people into a broader perspective.
However, one can educate individuals, or exposure individuals, to ideas, people, places, communities, & texts, outside their normal frame of reference.

This may be why YU's failure is its success. The institution has succeeded in building an institution of thousands of graduates who go on to live in frum communities. However, the graduates are cut off both from the Yeshivish to the right and the Conservative & Reform on the left.

Comments-[ comments.]

Wax on Wax off

I would like to thank Simcha for bringing an article by Chaim I Waxman (CIW) to my attention. If people would like, they could read this article, if only to understand why sociologists should not be trusted in explaing the Jewish Communities. Here's a section by section analysis of the article, illustrating why this is a terrible understanding of Modern Orthodoxy (MO) & Hareidim (H):
Page 1: (Introduction)
1)"it inevitable that Orthodoxy in modern society will adopt a stance of greater isolation and especially of ritualistic stringency” . If so, how does he explain the fact hat Orthodoxy through the 1960’s was moving away from isolation & ritual stringency. Unless CIW considers the 1940’s-1960’s as the middle ages, he wishes to explain something post facto as inevitable, which it is not.
Differences b/w MO & Hareidim
2) He assumes Modern Orthodoxy is inclusive. They are no more or less inclusive than Hareidim. Unless one means by inclusive including people who are not shomer mitzvos. Cf. Brill’s essay about practice vs. ideology
3)It’s never clear where Hareidim are antagonistic & modern Orthodox are accommodating. Unless he means that Modern Orthodox are accommodating in general. These categories are sloppy. Sloppy. Sloppy.
4)“Social & cultural isolation.” Maybe CIW should leave Rutgers once and visit Wall Street during any given business day to see some cultural isolation of Hareidim.
5)Purely anecdotal paragraphs
6)I do not see why CIW is talking about stringency, when he actually means following the basic rules of halakhah. In most circles in the USA, it is about keeping the minimum, not chumrot.
7)His two examples (writing hash-m & not using the Hertz Chumash are less about stringency than piety (which may or may not be misplaced).
8) CIW drops names and claims that Judaism is about stringency without proof or source. CIW’s explanation? B/c of Niskatnu ha-Dorot so we should be more stringent. CIW’s keeps on quoting Durkheim, Berger, Soloveitchik, Douglas, Kellner, Douglas & Friedman without giving a clear example of a single stringency or proof that single most important identifying characteristic of Hareidim is stringency.
9) CIW then argues that Modern Orthodoxy will never develop a structure/organizational framework similar to Chareidi society. However, in the recent Edah Journal, he argues the exact opposite, that Modern Orthodoxy is developing strong communal structures. And he ignores the fact that it was during the 1950’s-1970’s when MO was strongest that their communal orgs. Were then at their peak. A more obvious explanation is mediocrity, mismanagement and a lack a vision on the part of Modern Orthodox leadership. CIW also ignores the obvious point that the Agudah is in fact intruding on MO’s turf by being more inclusive, not less. The attack my Rav Elya Svei was the exception not the rule.
10) CIW then suggests that MO is an elite movement: complicated, philosophically sophisticated, (cool & rational), accommodating, which is why it's numbers are decreasing. CIW ignores any possible flaws within the MO community, leadership or infrastructure.
11) CIW almost tries to engage modern trends and examine Hareidi society in context of evangelical Christian America, but then he backs away.

What CIW is doing here, as he does in his Edah Journal essay, is use a few buzz words (chumrah, Rupture & Reconstruction, Hareidi) and wink at his audience who “understand” him and can now validate their lifestyles because they “independent minded” “progressive”, “individuals”.

In the final paragraph CIW’s real motivation becomes clear: he wants MO to “seriously consider an overt challenge to and, perhaps, even separation from Hareidi Orthodoxy.”

I long time ago, I resolved to ignore articles like this which only serve to distort the truth and reinforce ignorant assumptions. However, the problem is that then these articles become the accepted truth because no one has bothered to challenge them.

Comments-[ comments.]

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Cosmopolitans & Provincials

A friend of mine once commented that he thought that the worse mistake one could have is to be provincial. Because if you are Provincial you do not know if the path & choices that you have chosen are correct or not. I have spent several years thinking about this idea & am still not certain if I buy into it. On the one hand, I think that he is correct that many people are limited because of limited exposure to anything beyond what they grew up with. But, on the other hand, as Wordsworth put it:
Nuns fret not in their convents narrow room....

And furthermore I am reminded of Rebbe Nachman's story of The Simpleton & the Sophisticate. So these matters are not so clear. However, to be honest, I prefer the company of the Sophisticated over the Simple.

Comments-[ comments.]


ZOG: The Comic Book

For more information e-mail me.

Comments-[ comments.]

Defining the Hock

Previously in the blog-o-sphere...
Sem questionedSIW's article on Shaytlach. in the comments, SIW responded. Sem responded to SIW & then went on to suggest a difference b/w Hockers & Journalists. SIW responded. Sem responded to SIW. Doubletongued asked SIW what Hocking was. SIW defined. AJH/Butler criticized. Zalman defined. Sem criticized.

I tried to find a copy of Frumspeak, but could not find it. So here is my attempt to hock on hock.
Hocking has two different, though related, meanings in YU vs. Brooklyn/Yeshivish circles. Hocker originated in Yeshivish/Brooklyn circles meaning a self-important individual, (related to a tutzach or a macher). In such a hierarchical culture, people need to feel important by doing things like joining hatzalah, being well connected, wearing designer clothes, having the latest electronic gear (phone, beepers, etc.), etc. and being in the know. It is also importtant that any non-Torah dicussion would be considered bittul Torah (e.g. blabbering or hocking).
The word was reclaimed by YU (presumably via its more Yeshivish/KBY element), but like all Yeshivish mannerisms picked up by YU, they tend to be somewhat modifed. It use included both its definition as non-Talmud Torah discussion (often inside information) and Hockers as the self-important individuals. In YU, "Hock" included reid (lit. language) (i.e. lowdown). And as YU is not limited to the Bais Medrash Hock included not only the lowdown about politics, gossip, etc., but also academic reid, political reid, learning, etc. Hockers, in this context are insiders who know this information as mentioned by SIW. But outside of YU & those who graduated from there, it still maintains a more macher or tutzach connotation.
It's a stab at a definition (and admittedly, not a great one).

Comments-[ comments.]

Waxman on Modern Orthodoxy

Thanks to Simcha, I am reading Chaim Waxman's 1998 article on Modern Orthodoxy & comparing it to his most recent Edah journal article. I will be posting comments later this week. Stay tuned

Comments-[ comments.]

Mikveh Yisroel Hashem

I had a nice conversation this morning with a young Talmid Chacham (YTC) who was reviewing Hilkhos/t Mikvaos/t. I noted the famous quote attributed to Rabbi Soloveitchik that he had never seen a Kosher Eruv or a Pasul Mikve. The YTC pointed out that the same quote was attributed to the Chazon Ish & probably falsely as the Chazon Ish had an Eruv around his house. So we wondered who actually made that quote.

We further noted that the reason why Mikvaot/s tend to be so "machmir" (i.e. not passul) is that they tend to fulfill as many shittot/s (positions) as possible. I asked him why and the YTC suggested that mikvaot/s used to be fairly straighforward, either running water or literally a pit in the ground. It is only once we actually begin "constructing" mivkaos/t that we have to be concerned about details and shittos/t. So I asked the YTC how long we have been contructing mikvaos/t for and he admitted that he did not know but we could figure it out from the shu"t (responsa) literature. But offhand he guessed since the early 19th cen. as all the classic shu"t (responsa) are from there. I had to leave then, with the question wide open. But I am curious when Jews started constructing complicated mikvaot/s & why. Any thoughts?

Comments-[ comments.]

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Discussion about Modern Orthodox, Year-in-Israel, etc.

Butler picked up my question about Modern Orthodoxy’s move to the right and suggested that it is a result of The Year in Israel returnees.

The timing would correspond to the year-in-Israel phenomenon reaching full swing & I do believe that there is a relationship between the phenomena. Simcha Goldstein already commented on how the impact of the returnees has trickled down to younger students. Furthermore, their year in Israel does expose people to other forms of Orthodox Judaism.

And Dan Jacobson’s comparison to conversion is consistent with my suggestion that it about adopting norms & values of another Orthodox (Yeshivish) community.

However, I wonder how long term those shifts are and how lasting is the effect of the year in Israel?
Also, how does the activities of the young spread out to the rest of Orthodoxy?
Also, this does not deal with the lack of Halakhic observance which characterized Modern Orthodoxy from the 1940’s-1980’s.

Comments-[ comments.]

Beyond Bifurcation

I would like to conclude my discussion of the Edah Journal with a Alan Brill's important essay on Torah U-Madda. I would not have thought it necessary to discuss why this essay is so important, but this appears to be the case.
(Incidentally, I would discuss issues of Tradition, but they aren't (yet) available on the web. If you are curious, I canceled my subscription to Tradition after de Solo Pool issue.)
In brief Brill argues that current Modern Orthodox discourse is limited because (1) it uses rarified limited definitions of "Torah" & "Madda", (2) unconnected to the real world that people live, (3) based upon an ahistorical misunderstanding of the historical situation of the Jewish people (and their previous conception and relation to "Torah" & "Madda"), (4) and a misunderstanding of the actual questions and choices which are more relevant to how "Torah U-Madda" affects people's lives.

Brill's suggests an alternative model of Torah U-Madda based upon six points.

I may blog assorted quotes, which I find ring particularly true, from Brill's manifesto during the coming week.

Comments-[ comments.]

Women on Wigs

Elder Uri has a rather nice, if ranting post, on Indian wigs, but then concludes in the comments section that men should just stop talking about wigs, and let the women speak for themselves.

Jewsweek is kind enough to provide us with a women's voice on the matter. In a rather all-over-the-place-with-random-comments essay, Ellen W. Horowitz tries to present the issue from a woman's perspective. However, there is something fundamentally different between EWH & most frum sheital bearers. The latter never choose to cover their hair. God commanded therefore they cover. Based upon my conversations with women who do cover their hair, for many it is the among most difficult mitzvos to keep (especially given that for the first part of their life they went hatless). Once you have to make do with the halakhically mandated situation, you are in radically different position. I could say more until I see more women posting on the issue.

Comments-[ comments.]

The Danger of Public Relations

There is a profound danger when you start believing your own public relations (a.k.a. publicity). Many organizations & people would do a better job if they were more skeptical about their own PR.

Comments-[ comments.]

Monday, June 07, 2004

Educating for what, exactly? (with links)

I picked up last week a copy of The Jerusalem Report, one of the few decent Jewish publications around. They had a flattering portrait of the Yosef I. Abramowitz who is carving out a nice niche for himself in publishing flashy & thought provoking Jewish periodicals. It appears that he is avant-garde Judaism for the Federation types.

Now, I must confess that I have never met YIA, and I have no doubt that he is a nice guy. And I do enjoy reading Sh’ma on occasion and Babaganewz is a nice eye candy for the kiddies. But upon thinking about the article a bit, I wondered, what exactly is YIA educating towards?

The last paragraph of the article is the kicker: “says, Abramowitz, who views assimilation as his arch-villain.” OK, assimilation is bad. So we need to educate Jews about Judaism, because, why exactly? So, lets pull up the JFLMedia mission & vision statements:

Mission Statement
To spark and nurture Jewish identity and build interactive Jewish communities by providing access to multimedia resources and tools to the global Jewish community and to those interested in the Jewish way of life.

Vision Statement
Our vision is the creation of the infrastructure to facilitate universal membership in the Jewish people. The necessary first step toward this vision is to establish and foster life-long relationships, upon a foundation of strong brand awareness and loyalty, between JFL properties and a significant share of the Jewish market.

As I have mentioned in the past, I have no issues with pluralism in Jewish identity and people creating their own Jewish identities based upon what they view as Jewish & based upon their Jewish experiences. However, I do find it a bit bizarre to pour so much effort and energy into educating Jewish children & adults into… (pause) what exactly? It’s not religion. It’s not Jewish peoplehood? But clearly ITS IMPORTANT. But why?

As a bonus here is The Revealer’s take on the JFLMedia mags (which is pretty accurate):

Sh'ma: Serious essays by serious Jews. Often seriously good.

Generation J comes from the same edgy-as-earnest conglomerate that produces Sh'ma, but it's more "lifestyle" oriented. The young people, they love it. Well, maybe not -- but they produce some good features, and their "Daily Buzz" is a useful synthesis of the news.

JVibe is Generation J, Jr. (does that make it Generation I? for "irritating"?), and it strikes us a rather obvious attempt to convince "kidz" that Judaism is cool. Which means it's an excellent glimpse into the mindset of middle-aged Jewish-Americans concerned with "continuity."

Comments-[ comments.]

Latest Lakewood News

Since noone else has mentioned it, I will. Last week, the largest Kosher food store in Lakewood, NJ, the Coop burned to the ground. Probably hundreds of thousands of dollars of Kosher food was destroyed.

Comments-[ comments.]

Modern Orthodoxy: "Moving to the Right"

If you repeat something enough times, people eventually believe that it’s true. No more true than the canard that Modern Orthodoxy is "Moving to the Right". But what does this mean, both when people say it & practically?

Practically it means two two things:
1) Modern Orthodox laity, which traditionally was lax in its religious observance, has become meticulous in its observance of Halakha (which before had been limited to the Rabbinic elite).

2) Modern Orthodox Jews, as opposed to following the practices of their parents, have adopted the dress, speech, behavior & religious patterns, dating customs, etc. of another religious community which they view as more authentic expressions of Judaism. (Included in this community is less of a distinction of between elite & laity in relation to Religious knowledge and observance.)

Comments-[ comments.]

Word of the Week

When Conservative or Reform Jews, communities, or
organizations adopt a practice that they have
disdained, mocked, or ignored previously, (e.g.
Kollel, Kashrus, Hand Shmurah on Pesach) they say that
they are reclaiming that practice. Sometimes, these
“reclaimed” practices take on a very different form
than the original practices, before it was “reclaimed”
(e.g. tikkun leil shevuos).
In contrast, when Modern Orthodoxy reclaims a practice
(e.g. meditation, clapping in shul), they just pretend
that it was never lost.

Comments-[ comments.]

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Defining Hock

Normally, I try to avoid being petty. However it's a bit of a shonda when the premiere Yiddish publication in America can't get a Yiddish word correct (even when it is transmogrified into Yeshivish). It reminds me of a friend who once went to the Workman's Circle booksale and all they saw was bad Yiddish Kitsch & religious books. Didan Neztach (our side has one)!

Now, Zalman was kind enough to provide us with Rosten's definition of Hock from the Joy of Yiddish. I will try to weigh in later this week with my definition & its geneaology. In the meanwhile, can someone post the definition from Frumspeak?

Comments-[ comments.]

Friday, June 04, 2004


Following up on my previous post, someone once told me an acronym to describe a distinct phenomenon: HBFI (hideous back from Israel), used to describe those newly returning from a year (or three) studying in Israeli-American Yeshivot. The critique is implicit, and I am certain that Simcha (Goldstein) can supply the explanation.

Comments-[ comments.]

Modern Orthodox/Hareidi Redux

An easy way to expand a blog's comments section is to mention Modern Orthodoxy "moving to the right" or one-year-Israel programs.
(First let me get a pet peeve off my chest:
Until 1995 there were no Chareidim outside of Israel. To apply that term to the American black hat community was a deliberate attempt to link two very different communities & a search for pundits for a catch-all term for black-hatters. However, I still find it jarring to call American Yeshivish Chareidim. But I will use the nomenclature to make things easy.)
Academics and pundits (such as Waxman, Heilman, Wein, Sarna, Helmreich) cannot write about it enough. Nor apparently can bloggers.
However, I am looking for some unity or consensus. At least Wein & Heilman agree on the facts on the ground. But the bloggers are all over the place.
Simcha just quotes sources without giving his opinion.
Simcha "Bukhmeister of Teaneck" Goldstein gives his personal anecdotes. But where is his brother Rabbi Uri G., from the Protocols guest-gang? I have no doubt that he has what to say on the matter? And what about Elder Sam who can tell a "Chareidi" side of the Chareidization of Modern Orthodoxy? (Do they even want them?)
The Town Crier gives his personal, Zionist, take.
Menachem Butler gives sources and notes phenomenon, but (like the academic he is attempting to become) does not weigh in with his personal shittah.
And where is Josh with his acerbic lines, when you need them?
And Modern Orthodox Chassid of course defends his lifestyle choices, but at least he is giving his opinion.
So it looks like we are ready for an interesting inter-blog discussion? (Where is SIW to moderate?)

Comments-[ comments.]

SIW, The Seminarian, Reporters, and Rabbis

I think both SIW & the Seminarian are missing something obvious. There are Chareidi reporters, both in the United States and in Israel. Presumably someone (i.e. Hareidi Reporters) is talking to Rabbis on the record. If you need their names and contacts, let me know. Or better yet, pick up a copy of Yated or Hamodia. Even though half of their material is off the wire services, half is in-house.

Comments-[ comments.]

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Rabbis & Journalists II

I always wonder whether it's worth the efforts to respond to other bloggers. But than I remember that blogging is all about self-promotion, so of course I should respond if someone references me (and kal ve-chomer is they challenge my Hock).

SIW (from whom I am still waiting for a R. Belsky-in-India retraction) questioned about Rabbis & Journalists. My basic assumption is that Rabbis, Roshei Yeshiva, & Poskim, tend to avoid talking to journalists unless absolutely forced. My arguement is that a journalist by virtue of his position is a persona non grata to many Rabbanim. See, for example, the NYT's article. With two notable exceptions YU Roshei Yeshiva do not speak to reporters. Now, you may claim that you are the exception and everyone from Rav Hershel Schachter to Rav Aharon Schechter speaks to you and the Forward. However, a cursory search through the Forward archives show neither of them quoted in any Forward articles. (Similar checks for R. Matisyahu Solomon, R. Malkiel Kotler, R. Belsky, shall I go on.) I could try the Jewish Week, but I don't have the patience, though if a thoughtful blogger would like to do so, I would be delighted.
As you note, some reporters are hockers, which may be true. However, once they begin publishing what they hock, Rabbis may be reticent to speak to them. Many, many, things that a Rav says, is meant to be only spoken among "friends". Once Rabbanim know that it will get out, they will be quiet, as you noted with Rabbi Ribiat's letter.
Of course, there are Hockers which have poor information & hockers with better information (as you will have to grant me that in all areas there are better and worse at any endeavor, even journalists). But people who get to know hockers, find those with good information and can discern even bad third-hand information from good third-hand information, or know where to get accurate information (from people close to the Rabbi who are not looking for lashon hara) or (among the best) will tell you the source for their information when they tell it over.
SIW makes an interested supposition: "a community cannot build its informational foundation on such poor sourcing".
I would hope that the Jewish community is not building its informational foundation on hockers, bloggers, or journalists, or Jewish newspapers. It's "informational foundation" is built on speaking to to their local Rabbi or to their friends in Shul. If you mean, how would they know what is going on elsewhere or in politics, for better or for worse, Jews have been talking and spreading rumors for thousands of years. (For example, Chakira's discussion of the meat issue very simply could be resolved by asking your Rabbi what meat one could eat.)
On your last point, I would concede that reporters should have an agenda of building trust in themselves and the media in general. However, in my personal experience, this does not appear to be the case.
Regarding the blogging/journalism debate, as Singlemaus and I pointed out earlier, blogging is a hobby. Journalism are people who work in the media. Unless you are offering me a job, then, alas, I am not a journalist.

Comments-[ comments.]

Edah Journal (continued)

Continuing my multi-part review of the Edah Journal....

A decent (if chanifas-dik) review of Alan Brill's Thinking God by Alan Yuter (whose blog would be highly enjoyable if it existed). Though he could do a better job of explaining both his terms and the book, his explaination of the relevance of the book to a Modern Spiritual Jewish life is good.

Though it is interesting how in the Edah journal, which seeks to promote Modern Orthodox Community, implicitly advocated such a radically individualistic, God-centered, piety.

An very interesting piece of Conservative scholarship by Ruth Halperin-Kaddari. If one can tolerate her attitude to Tanaim, Amoraim, & Poskim, her discussion of Tav Lemeitav Tan Du Mi-Lemeitav Armalu is worthile reading, if one wishes to keep abreast of Conservative Halakha. And I am happy that the Agunah Bais Din Activists are no longer publishing manifestos in The Jewish Week, but are actually writing extended explanations of their positions. While Halperin-Kaddari is clearly a partisian for Rackman & Co., unless I missed something, she ignored the obvious fact that Rackman's BD is mafkia kedushin based upon situations that noone else would consider pre-existing at the time of marriage.

This reminds me of R. Mordechai Tendler's short lived Tuesday night Bais Din in YU. Basically he converted his weekly shiur (and everyone else present) into an ad hoc Bais Din where he used the principles of his grandfather, Rav Moshe zt"l, to mattir agunot. This included testimony about missing husbands, agunot, assorted research, etc. It went on for a couple of weeks until the Hanhala of RIETS got wind of the matter.
(Indeed, the world is a crazy place.)

Comments-[ comments.]

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

How to blow things up

One of the more irksome aspects of the current issue Edah Journal (and of the journal as a whole) is its tendency for otherwise excellent scholars to rant about what bothers them. On the one hand, it is far better than meaningless abstract scholarship. But a bit of distance and a few less personal anecdotes would serve the journal well. Clearly, these authors have serious issues with the direction that their community is heading, and it is good to voice your opinion, but do not couch it in an seemingly scholarly article or review.

An ideal approach would be Alan Brill's essay, which, though passionate, is nonetheless a well reasoned and scholarly manifesto.

Speaking of passion about Modern Orthodoxy, R. Berel Wein's recent oped from the J-Town Post (itself a passionate response to Samuel Heilman's oped) has created a huge discussion whereever it is mentioned. Clearly this is the most viceral issue within the Modern Orthodox community today. But although Waxman , Heilman, & Wein mention some causes for the "shift to the right" (which is itself a misnomer) none really capture the whole issue.
Among the reasons given:
1) Moral decline of the USA (BW & SH)
2) "Hareidi" Teachers in MO Schools (BW & SH)
3) A decline is talented (ideologically) MO teachers (BW & SH)
4) The year-in-Israel experience (BW & SH)
5) "Hareidi" culture & community is more attractive (e.g. BTL's, fake degrees, professionalism, more services) (BW)
6) Hareidim are less obvious in their anti-zionism so they are less noxious to MO (BW)
7) America is becoming more religious (CW)

Waxman (in my opinion) unsuccessfully attempts to make the argument that the community is not moving to the "right".
However, people are not asking the right questions:
What people are most bother by is why things are changed. Parents are bothered why their kids do now share their values? Why Modern Orthodoxy is not the same as it was 20 years ago? And while mimesis & lazyness were once a strong force in Judaism in America in today's Spiritual Marketplace, one must accept that religion is fundamentally voluntary.

Although this is not the thrust of his article Brill mentions the two reasons that I think are best explanations. While Waxman (against Rav Aharon Lichtenstein) does mention that as American has moved towards evangelical Christianity so too the Jews have, Brill really engages this topic (with footnotes). This is fundamental to understanding this issue. Secondly, as Brill & Wein point out in their article the self-perception among Modern Orthodox that Chareidim are more authentic in their Judaism, more sincere, more closer to Gedolim. It is easier to believe in Chareidi Society than in Modern Orthodoxy? This is why the Cult of the Rav exists, because it gives people something to believe in larger than themselves. Whatever facts on the ground are about the various Modern Orthodox & Chareidi communities, individual's self-perception favors affilating oneself with the Hareidim.

Comments-[ comments.]

Housing Crisis in Orthodoxy

Don't you just hate it when you have a topic which you want to blog, but you keep on getting dragged out into side topics?

Following up on my earlier Lakewood post & JH's current obsession with Waterbury, one of the major crises facing all Orthodox Jewish communities is a lack of affordable housing. Why is this becoming a crisis in the past few years? I do not know for certain, but I have some suggestions.

1) I noted earlier the need for Orthodox Jews to live in major cities. In the past fews years, mid-size cities Orthodox Jewish communities have been emptying out with children moving to larger communities. (Greater mobility, b/c with more education they have greater employment possibilities, etc.)

2) In the post-1967 rise in Jewish identity, Baal Teshuva, etc. Orthodox Jews began having many more children. These children have reached the stage to buy houses and therefore there is more demand.

3) Fewer communities have affordable houses. And when a community becomes "hot", (e.g. Passaic, Lakewood, Monsey, Teaneck) housing is quickly snapped up.

Therefore people are looking farther and farther into suburbia for the "next" Jewish community. Hence Philadelphia, Waterbury, etc.

Comments-[ comments.]

Rabbis & Journalist

I originally posted a variation of this in my comments section, but I think that it's worthy of its own hock, especially in light of R. Feivel Cohen shlita in the NYT & Rav Belsky shlita in the Forward.

With the exception of a few Modern Orthodox publicity-hounds, most Rabbanim, Poskim, & Roshei Yeshiva tend to be very media wary. Especially in the past few years, as many Talmidei Chachamim have been burnt by the press, if a reporter calls up, unless you have a personal relationship with them, they are inclined to ignore the reporter. Therefore the Media (both Jewish & non-Jewish) are the worst source of information about the Orthodox Jewish community (or at least their elite). In the NYT Times article on Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the YU representative was Rabbi David Israel of the MSDCS, but not any Roshei Yeshiva. Presumably because all Roshei Yeshiva know better than to talk to a NYT's reporter.

This would strongly suggest that Hockers (like the residents of the House) are better equipped to know the inner workings of the Orthodox & Ultra-Orthodox communities than reporters & journalists. And if one wishes to know the real story, one has to either speak to them, or read their blogs.

Comments-[ comments.]

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Lakewood, NJ

The Ashbury Park Press had several articles about the Yeshivish community in Lakewood, NJ and related housing concerns (courtesy of JH).
First, one should make the disclaimer that the APP has had it in for the Yeshiva & its community. However, since the APP might be the only Newspaper other than Hamodia & Yated that covers Lakewood (probably the fasting growing Jewish community in North America) we should be reading it.
Chakira already gives his spin on the articles.
My only comments are related to another discussion involving a recent Berel Wein op-ed in the J-Post about Chareidi Culture which I hope to discuss later this week. Even if one grants that the APP is baised against the frum yiddin, one can ask if a community created by the largest & most important Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva in North America should be making a Kiddush Ha-Shem rather than causing problems with the neighbors?
Now almost every major Orthodox Jewish community in the world is having a tremendous squeeze on housing and affording housing has vanished for the most part. But does Teaneck, Queens, or Passaic have these problems with their neighbors? Does predatory housing practices an indictment of the educational institutions what bred these people? Are questions like these valid? I believe that they are.

The other observation which I will note and not mentioned by either JH or the APP is that many of these houses are being paid for by the US Gov't by way of HUD. Even though the Kollel Yungeleit do qualify for HUD, WIC, food stamps etc. because of their poverty, they freely choose this poverty (usually with the blessing of their Gedolim). It bothers me, though I could understand if others would disagree.

Comments-[ comments.]

Word of the Week

The role of a Conservative Rabbi or Seminarian during Yamim Noraim when they are Shaliach Tzibur for all Tefillot, Lain, Blow the Shofar, Give the Drasha, etc. often at an ad hoc or once-a-year minyan.

Comments-[ comments.]

Jews as Citizens

It's nice to see two prominent bloggers raising questions about divided loyalties of American (and in particular Orthodox) Jews. Divided between Israel & the USA and a lack of patriotism and good citizenship.
I am reminded what I heard from an attendee at this year's Orthodox Forum on War & Peace. During the Q & A sessions, several of the American attendees, when referring to Israel and the Israeli government talking about "us" and "we". A similar charge about dual loyalties was (privately) made.
It would be nice if Orthodox Jews could work out either a theory or a practice of being good Americans while still living in shetlach in Queens or Teaneck & being good diaspora Zionist. Alan Brill begins asking these questions tangentially in his Edah Journal article, but that is not the focus of that essay.
In theory Edah, the Orthodox Forum, or the Orthodox Caucus should be asking these questions and developing these theories, but I have little hope for them at this time. Perhaps the Blog-o-sphere can make a contribution to working out these issues?
In the meantime has anyone read Jan L. Feldman's Lubavitchers as Citizens? It looks like it begins to develop some of these ideas.

Comments-[ comments.]

I was sent this earlier in the week and although I normally try to avoid snark, leaving it to the experts, I suspect given their institutional leanings they will miss this one.

So here is the announcement:


ATID's Discussion and Research Forum for Future Jewish Educators

ATID is seeking a small number of Orthodox students (post-B.A.), men and women, who are planning to enter Jewish education as a career in the coming years, to round out the inaugural cohort of Atuda Fellows--a new training program for pre-service educators, to complement our ATID Fellows in-service program.

Participants in the 2004-05 program will partake in approximately 15 evening seminars and discussion groups over the academic year (September 2004-June 2005, inclusive). The sessions (on Sunday evenings, once every three weeks - approximately) will be dedicated in this coming year to:

and will be conducted in cooperation with The Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute (Boston, Mass.), Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, Dean.

Atuda Fellows will study and analyze texts written by and about Rabbi Soloveitchik, and will prepare position papers and pedagogies to wrestle with the application of those teachings to the contemporary classroom. Fellows will be exposed to leading students of the Rav, and teachers of his thought and Torah.

The program takes place in Jerusalem, and will be conducted in English. Candidates must possess at least a B.A., and be preparing to enter Jewish education in Israel or North America. Fellows will receive a stipend of up to $1,000 (US).

Space is very limited. Interested candidates should send a current C.V. to or by fax to 02-567-1723. For further details, contact Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, Director, ATID at 02-567-1719.

I don't know where to begin with this one.
1) I strongly believe that the greatest challenges in Jewish education is not a lack a Soloveitchik in the schools. I do not see how having more lesson plans from Rav-Torah will be solve any of the current problems plaging Jewish education.
2) Even given #1, Rav-Torah translates terribly into High School or Elementary Education.
3) Even given #1 & #2, aren't these people a bit obsessed about Rabbi Soloveitchik? How about reading someone else? Anyone else? If you need suggestions, I would be glad to provide them for you.
(Waiting for Yoel to respond.)

Comments-[ comments.]

Web Counter by Site Meter Add to your Kinja digest