Friday, July 30, 2004

Someone should inform Debra (a.k.a. Deborah for the non-onomastically impaired) Nussbaum Cohen & The Jewish Week that schools like Frisch, Ramaz, Maimonides, Shalhevet are not Yeshivahs.  They are day schools, where aculturated Jewish teenagers who's main diet is pop-culture takes classes in Jewish studies along with College required curricula alongside other Modern Orthodox teenagers.

Any confusion between Day Schools and Yeshivahs are strictly the result of either laziness or deception.

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Arts & Culture: Jewed Up

From the comments section, the question arose as to what decent (and even good) Jewish arts & cultures sections exist in any publications.  Normally, I would avoid such a question like the plague as I think aesthetics is my only criteria for good vs. bad & if I can use is to frame Jewish questions, issues, & learning, then all the better (and I find that I usually can).

But for the sake of curiosity, I will throw out the question:  Where can one find a good Jewish Arts & Culture section in any publication/website?

Baynonim suggest The New Republic. 

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Chachamim Hizharu

I was relating the Rav Schechter story (a.k.a. Monkey-gate) to someone last night and they were somewhat incredulous about the lack of common sense there.

During the conversation , a question arose.  The Talmud & Rishonim clearly have strong rules about who you can and cannot teach Torah to.  And teaching Torah to a Talmid she-Aino Hagun (inappropriate student), I thought was a no-no.

So what are the rules about teaching Torah on a website or a Blog where, presumably, at least some of the people reading the Torah will be "Talmidim" who are not appropriate?

Simcha, maareh mekomos?

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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Edah & Blogger

Perhaps one should compare Edah & Blogger?  How so? 

Edah's main strength is creating programs using the work of others.  Creating a conference where different people (Rabbis, academics, communal figures, etc.) who have been saying their ideas for years can say them before an audience.  The same applies for the Edah Journal.  It takes already prominent Jewish people and gives them an audience for their ideas.  Edah has not fostered new Jewish leadership or created think tanks.  Rather is gives people a forum and gives Baal Ha-Batim a forum to hear these people.

Blogger (or blog-city or any other blogging program) too does not create any content.  Rather it makes blogging easy and accessible and allows people to easily create blogs.  Once blogs exist in the world, one tends to create blogging communities, and blogging rings, and comments sections, etc.

As has been suggested by Douglas Rushkoff, owning content is losing importance.  Making content available and accessible is what matters.  And as Marshal MacLuhan explains Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in "The Medium is the Message", technology is not value neutral.  It has natural consequences.  Blogging has certain clear implications, as does the internet.

Making information easily accessable changes it, whether as blogging or Jewish content.

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The Jewish Weak

The Jewish Week picks up a story from Hirhurim (which just again teaches us, if you cannot find something to report, scavenge around the Blogs) and pumps it for all its worth with a bunch of anonymous quotes & the standard Heilman lines.

Rav Schechter's shiur has been hocked enough on Hirhurim, Protocols, & Bloghead, so no reason to hock it further.

The fact that GR has a bone to pick with the YU Roshei Yeshiva, is no surprise and the fact that he is on the Cheerleading squad for Chovevai Torah is widely known.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that Judah should stop transcribing shiurim for Torahweb and leave them on audio, as this is the second time that a Rosh Yeshiva has said controversial statements on Torahweb. 

It used to be that Rabbanim could say what they wished and no one would complain unless it was done too publicly.  Then Shabbos Zachor 1998 which made its way into the Forward.  Then one could say what one wants in communal shiurim, but with bloggers, this is also ending.  Eventually, Rabbeim will have to self-censure themselves in their own daily shiurim, which would be a loss for Torah.

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Raising the Bar

One way of attacking people who do something which you dislike is to complain that they are "raising the bar".

If private citizens or a Jewish school keep a Chumra (e.g. Cholov Yisroel or Glatt Kosher) which you don't, you can say that they are raising the stakes which hurts everyone. ("Now everyone will be expected to follow those standards and those who don't will be looked down upon." "Everyone will now have to pay for Glatt meat.")

If individuals spend lavishly on a simcha, neighbors complain that they are "raising the bar". And now everyone has to maintain those standards.

Of course real integrity would be to maintain one's (lower) standards because you think your way is correct.

One example in recent years how this has manifested itself is through Shaloch Manos, which become more extravagant by the year. So some people opt of giving Shaloch Manos completely or complain that the bar has been raised too high.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Sylla-bust

The Forward's Alana Newhouse posts on Protocols her list of the "hot new Jewish authors" & "Jewish Lit syllabus".
Reponse:
First, including a book that's 20 years old on a list of new Jewish authors, especially one who's author has already won a MacArthur "genius" grant, would normally be just rediculous, but here it's narcissistic (I mean the Mind-Body Problem?! Can you gaze any more deeply into your own navel. I would think that this would be the cardinal sin of an Arts & Culture editor, selecting books which reflect your own experiences.)  Secondly, I hope its not Ms. Newhouse's own words ("She's unbelievably good"..."!!!"..."!!!") as they sound more like a pretentious 18 year old Jewish female college freshman than an editor at a national newspaper.
And lastly, what type of list of Jewish lit. is that?  Her list of important Jewish fiction is limited to 92nd St. Y readings & some stereotype of a course of Jewish Fiction at some mediocre midwestern liberal arts college. No Israelis?  Not even Russians (Babel),  or English?  No Sefardim?  How about someone beyond maskilim & pseudo-maskilim?

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Alana Newhouse was not beaten enough as a child.

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Head to Head Videos

Some of us had the privilege of catching both the OU & the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Tisha B'Av videos yesterday.  For those who missed one or the other, let's compare the two:

Style
1)  CCHF:  Several inspirational shiurim/lectures with an interview in the middle.  It came across more like a videotaped shiur.
2) OU: Assorted interview-style mini-shiurim interspersed with images & video footage, and mini-documentaries about different chesed programs.  Looks like an in-house video.

1) CCHF:  Prominent speakers on the moderate to right Frum speakers circuit.  Noone controversial.  Noone Zionist.  No women. 
2) OU: Prominent people from the OU, YU, & Kiruv Organizations.  People who run private Chesed start-ups.  Men & women speakers.

Ultimate Message: 
1) CCHF: Feel the pain of other Jews.  When thinking about your own tzaros, think, act, & pray about the suffering of others.
2) OU: Do acts of chesed (kindness).  Be creative & sensitive when doing chesed.
 
Overall, both were very good.  Presumably aimed at different communities.

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New Kinoth

Most American Jewish Communities have accepted the addition of Kinos/t remembering the Holocaust to the Tisha B'Av service.  I wondered yesterday why don't we have Kinos to remember other tragedies of the last bloody century.  Perhaps Stalin, or even 70 years of Communist oppression & suppression of Judaism?  (I would mention the 1929 Chevron Massacres, but that might be too controversial.)  Why not commission some more Kinos.  Calling Avi Shmidman?


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Monday, July 26, 2004

Can on Make a Sacred History

Rabbi Josh Yuter links to his discussion aboutyear The Historical Meaning of Tish'a B'av (9 Av).  I agree with him that we should not distort the past to create meaning & the role of Tisha B'Av as a day of Jewish mourning for all tragedies overshadows what happened or did not happen on this day.
 
I do, politely, disagree with him & Jacob Neusner that bad history created bad theology.  As I have been some quite good & meaningful theology come from bad history. 

 
A related question though is whether one can treat the study of history as a sacred activity.  In recent times, notable Professor Jeffrey Woolf has argued, based upon the Maharitz Chijos, that Jewish History should be studied as a sacred act, an extension of Maimonides ascribing to science & math sacred status.  This was possibly the sentiment of Woolf's teacher, Professor Isadore Twersky, the Talner Rebbe (though perhaps not).

I have not found this in my studies.  But perhaps, I am not studying history with the proper perspective.  Some late Achronim have said that one can see God's Hand through the study of history. 

I often find myself thinking about Jewish history during the three weeks.  Can one create an Orthodox Jewish History?  I don't have the tools to do so.  Many who do, are afraid of being not taken seriously by academia so they do not even try.  Perhaps one can study Jewish history in a sophisticated fashion while seeing God weave his way through its currents.

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Shevua She'Chal Bo

In anticipation of Tisha B'Av this evening, I will not post anything that may be construed as attacking. 

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Friday, July 23, 2004

Jewish Coolish

Interesting piece in L.A.'s Jewish Journal, courtesy of RY of Jewschool, (who, for some reason didn't like it) about the "new" "Cool" Jewish & "Cool Jews". 
My take (as is the articles) is that if your worldview is based upon pop culture references, music, movies, even they are all Jewish, you are pretty superficial & the Judaism produced from that worldview will, no doubt, be also superficial.  But the article didn't have to say that; it could have done straight reporting.  Also, since their contemporaries are living American Pop Culture lives, having a Pop-Culture Judaism is not so harmful.  It's also a reflection of how Jewishness is so different than an ethnicity like being black, Asian, or Evangelical.

I think that there are strong parallels between Yiddish culture & Jewish Coolish culture, in that they are both manifestations of my third model of Jewishness.  Which does answer some of the questions about the relationship between Jewish Peoplehood & Jewish Culture which the article posed.  Will Jewish Culturehood lead to Jewish Peoplehood (i.e. Bnei Brith, Zionism, Federations, etc.)?  My guess is probably not.  But as much as Yiddish Culture had an interesting relationship with Jewish Peoplehood, so too Jewish Coolish has & will have a complex relationship with Jewish Peoplehood.

The question remaining is what will be produced out of all this Jewish Cool-ish stuff?  I think that someone should compare it to the early 20th Century Yiddish Culture movement.  However, much of the Yiddish Culture was rooted in a very knowledgable Judaism & produced by Jewishly literate Jews; the same cannot be said for Jewish Cool-ish.

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Tisha B'Av & Mourning

When I was much younger I thought that there should be some sort of meaning or message from the Three Weeks, the Nine Days, and Tisha B'Av.  That we should leave this period with a mission, whether that mission be to do teshuva, avoid sinas chinan, don't speak Lashon Harah, or emphasize Jewish unity. 
Lately, I've decided that mourning is sufficient.  If one can reach a point where one is genuinely mourning the death and destruction of Jews & Jewish communities  and the connection to Hashem (as Tisha B'Av is our official Day of Mourning) then that is enough. 

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Two Truths of Torah

Many prominent Modern Jewish Thinkers, most notably Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, in Torat Emet & Torah Chesed & RYBS in The Halakhic Mind, (but I have also heard a similar argument from Jeffery Woolf & David Weiss-HaLivni) have argued for a system of multiple truths within Torah.  Each truth can be derived using a different system of rules.  This allows one to maintain the integrity of Halakha while simultaneously being engaging in academia or lumdus or archaeology, etc.  Because Halakha comes to it's conclusions/truths, and the other discipline comes to its own conclusions/truths.

Now I am completely fine with this approach from the standpoint of legal theory or quantum mechanics.  However, where do we find this idea of multiple truths in Traditional Judaism or in the Talmud? 

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Theories of Halakha

Some time back R. Dov Linzer was scholar-in-residencing about how Halakha works.  I believe at the time he proposed a triangular relationship between the text, the Posek, & the community.  At the time, I discussed the matter with a budding intellectual & we agreed that we didn't like his model.  I wanted to add a fourth element, the textual tradition.  So instead of the three-part relationship, there would be a four-part-system (text, tradition of interpretation of the text, posek, & community).  However, lately, I have come to realize that my model was flawed.  I think the term, "text" is incorrect.  A would replace "text" & "tradition of interpretation" with "texts" & "Derekh ha-Psak", which incorporates everything that I mentioned yesterday (e.g. what are called meta-halakhic principles, which texts are used, how aggditah, popular practice, minhag, the practice of other communities, sociology, kabbalah, etc.).  Every Posek has his own Derekh ha-Psak, which is not the same as hermeneutic. 

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Wanted: Guide to Christian Sects

I wish that someone would perform a public service for the Jewish Community and publish a decent guide to Christian denominations & where they stand. 
It's getting confusing trying to remember who are the good baptists & who are the bad ones?  So the Catholics & the Evangelicals are pro-Jewish & pro-Israel, while the mainline Protestants & the Eastern Orthodox are anti-Israel?  And which one's are really frum and which are just ethical humanists pretending to be religious?

[At least in Judaism we have only four religious denominations.  (Plus a whole slew of groups like the UTJ, Chabad, Sephardim, Chassidim.   And then there are the Federations.   And the Jewish defense organizations.   And Modern Orthodox vs. Chareidi vs. YU....  OK, so maybe how it breaks down among the Jews is not so much easier to follow for an outsider.]

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Hume on TV

As I rarely watch TV & have never seen Fox News, I was surprised this morning at an advertisement in the Subway for Fox News featuring Hume.  I said, "Huh?  I didn't know that David Hume was a Conservative commentator."  But after thinking about it a bit, it did make sense.  Given Hume's skeptical attitude towards reason.   And his belief that morality was based on sentiment more than logic, similiar to George Bush's distinction between good and evil.  And although Hume did have his critique of both miracles and the argument for God from design, most Conservative Evangelicals are basing their religion on feeling rather than on rational argument.  Furthermore, Hume's understanding of free will & determinism does make work with Conservatives who are into reward & punishment.

Afterwards, I went onto the internet and saw that the poster was referring to Brit Hume, some sort of TV news anchor, and not David Hume, the 18th Century Scottish Philosopher.

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Tonight: Rav Noach Oelbaum & Benjamin Brafman, Esq.

If any of my readers will be in New York this evening you may want to hear a program on Law, Ethics, & Business tonight. 
Among the featured speakers is  Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, shlita, author of Minchas Chein, Rav of Cong. NachlasYitzchok, Queens a distinguished Rav & Talmid Chacham & Benjamin Brafman, a nationally known attorney & Orthodox Jew, who defends, among others, famous mobsters, Michael Jackson, and Charles Kushner. 

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Beyond Halakha & Hashakafa

I posted Dilbert's H&H hock without thinking about it.  But in the day since, I had some time to access my thoughts on the matter.  (Many things I have thought through, but since, for the most part, I haven't thought about them in years, it takes a while for me to access them.)

I once spoke to Professor Jeffrey Woolf about this matter a couple of years ago & he pointed out that categories like Hefsed Merubah are part of the Halakhic Process.  I (building off the work of others) want to push this further and suggest that every Posek & Community of Interpreters sets up its rules of interpretation. 
This includes (but is not limited to):  Which sources are used and which ones are ignored?  How much weight do they give to principles like hefsed merubah, not casting aspersions on earlier generations, or kavod ha-bri'os?  Are aggadic sources valid as sources of halakhah?  Has anyone given this particular interpretation in the past?  What are the people currently practicing?

All these are principles/sources which a Posek may or may not use.  Are any principles considered invalid?  When Tosfos will Pasken off Aggaditah or Achronim will Pasken off kabbalah is that a unique approach or an invalid approach?

All these questions have been discussed extensively in Legal Theory.  Unfortunately the Journal of Torah & Legal Theory hasn't been published, yet .

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Why Do People Trust Blogs?

One of those questions which continually fascinates me these days is why do normal intelligent people trust blogs for information.  Even named blogs are no more than a random stranger attached to a website.  Unlike Institutions, Rabbanim, or Organizations, nothing is backing up a blog more the bloggers word. 
The psychologists who read this can give their explanations, but I assume that it has three parts. 
One is the assumption that bloggers who have not lied in the past, would not lie now.  Even anonybloggers have an ego behind their blogs and if people think that they are lying, then people will stop reading their blogs.
Second, bloggers usually back up ideas or arguements with links.  Something which sounds too good good or bad to be true, quite likely isn't true, unless someone has a link to support it.
Third, comments section.  If someone makes a bad point, a false statement, or an error, commentors will jump all over it.  That's why on blogs where noone comments, you can't be certain that what they are blogging is accurate. 
 
Why do people trust newspapers, TV, the radio, or Jewish magazines or weeklies?

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An Analogy to Halacha/Hashkafa?

(The following is "Dilbert's" Hock.  It's an interesting idea (though not my own), so I am posting it. 
 
Recently the FDA(food and drug administration) considered whether to approve an over the counter morning after birth control pill(basically a double dose regular birth control pill)..  The outside scientific advisory board and internal scientific advisory boards both reccomended approval of the pill.  The FDA then did not approve the pill, the first time it has ignored the unanimous advice of the scientific advisory boards.  The reason given was that the side effects of the pill were not well documented on 13-16 year old girls.  The scientific reality is that 1) there is no scientific reason to think that there would be different side effects in this age group 2) there was no indication from the limited data that there were any differences 3) girls in this age group take birth control pills for a number of different reasons(besides birth control) and there have been no reports of unusual adverse side effects.  In addition, the FDA had the option of approving the drug for a certain age group, and could have limited its use to people over 16, in the same way that alcohol and cigarettes can only be bought be people over 18.  What is clear is that the ideology of the administration influenced this decision, and the reason given, while it had some mild validity, provided a weak excuse for what was basically a political decision, ignoring the scientific facts. 
 
I am not bringing this to have a debate on whether it was a good or bad thing that the administration did.  However, I think it provides an analogy to how Halacha and Hashkafa sometimes work.  Halacha would be analagous to science, in which an objective mind can sometimes find clear indications as to where the path should lead.  Hashkafa provides an overarching influence as to how the Halacha is interpreted.  In some cases, weak Halacha is preferred when it is in consonance with the Hashkafic view.  Of course, we all have different Hashkafot.

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Hamishpacha (English)

As no one has mentioned it online yet, either the jBlogs or the Anglo-Jewish media watchers, I thought that I would mention that several months ago Hamishpacha magazine debuted in English (sorry, no link).  Like the Israeli (Hebrew) version, it is rapidly becoming a major American Chareidi publication, filling a niche currently unfilled by the newspapers (Hamodia, Yated) or quarterlies (Jewish Observer).  Of further note it is privately run not affliated with any movements or organizations. 
 
So when will Luke Ford be interviewing the publisher?

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Monday, July 19, 2004

Gambling in Monticello

I haven't yet seen anything in the Blog-o-Sphere about the recent spate of Casino & slot machines being built in Monticello, NY around the Jewish bungalow colonies.  Can someone give me info. about who is building them?  Who is fighting it?  And what is being done to stop them? 

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When Daas Torah Fails

One of my commenters (rightly) asked why I keep bringing up three examples of Daas Torah failing without providing elaboration. 
1) The Holocaust is the classic example, because some Jewish leaders told their followers not to leave Europe, but history has shown that their survival was best guaranteed by going anywhere.
2) Zionism.  It is less clear if it was correct to support it before WWII.  It is not clear if support by Gedolim would have made a significant difference in the founding of the State of Israel.  Since there were major Talmidei Chachamim who were clearly in favor Zionism, a position against is less justified.  Whether the fact that the State of Israel is the center of more Torah learning and Talmidei Chachamim than any other place in history in 1800 years, one can conclude that Zionism & the State of Israel was a worthwhile cause & to oppose Zionism was a mistake.
3) Russian Jewry.  Both the Gedolim & the Jewish leaders opposed loud communal action against those like the SSSJ who thought that loud public demonstrations could force the USSR to "Let My People Go."  Now, one can argue that they were following the old European model of quiet shadlanus (quiet backroom advocacy).  Or that they were no different than other Jewish leaders who didn't support public demonstrations.  However, this undermines the belief that Gedolim have special insight about what is the best public policy for the Jewish people.

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Daas Torah (some categories)

Some of my commenters have complained about using the generic term "Daas Torah" to refer to everything from asking advice on a major life-changing decision, to calling a Gadol about what to serve for lunch.
In an effort to simplify Daas Torah for Blog-sized Hock, lets apply an old line about Halakha:
For Reform Judaism Halakhah has a voice.
For Conservative Judaism Halakhah has a vote.
For Orthodox Judaism, Halakhah has a veto.
The same three could be used to understand the power of Daas Torah in various thinkers & theories.

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Friday, July 16, 2004

Speak to your Rabbi about Sudan this Shabbos

As mentioned earlier this week, when you see your Rabbi this Shabbos ask him what the Jewish organizations are doing about the tragedy in Darfur, Sudan.

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RYBS & Ikkarei Emunah

From a discussion with Simcha in the comments section, I raised the question of what was RYBS's Ikkarei Emunah.  Simcha correctly pointed out how he opposed Rackman because of questions of the role & authority of Chazal to interpret tradition.  But what were RYBS' positions on creation, Biblical Criticism, Hashgachah Pratis, Nevuah, Revelation, Yemos HaMashiach, etc.?
Footnotes, Yoel?

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The Holocaust & Zionism

One of commentors notes that one's theological position on Zionism should not change because of events in history, such as the Holocaust or the founding of the State of Israel.   This is refreshing because it reminds us how radical a Sefer like Kol Dodi Dofaik is.  The question though remains.  Can one changes one's theological positions because of historical events? 
(For those into German-Jewish philosophy, this reminds me of Franz Rozensweig's idea that Christianity is a religion in history while Judaism is outside of history.)

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Chareidization of English Jewry

Blogging about across the pond, (a.ka. Lizzy-Land, Merry Old England), I recently spoke to a young Brit who noted that the same phenomenon that was taking place among American Modern Orthodoxy was also taking place among our cousins in Hasmo-country. Of course there are major differences. Such as no equivolent to YU so students attend University while living at home & creating their own learning programs. But any analysis of the American phenomenon would require an analysis of the situation in the UK.
It is also noteworthy the lack of an evangelical movement in the UK, so drawing parallels in America to the Evangelicals is problematic. An interesting way of thinking about this is as Post-Colonialism. As the West absorbs immigrants from around the world, the whole melting pot theory has been replaced with alternative identity models. Jews are adopting a pan-Jewish model & Orthodox Jews are choosing Jewish identity over their national identities. Which would work in Europe also.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Blogger Wars

Ah flame wars. Velvel & MoChassid would like people to cut them out. I have found in my (personal, offline) life, that people tend to be more upset & to get offended when they have too much free time. When people are busy with [work, family, projects, Talmud Torah, relationships, etc.] they have less time to be offended & therefore fewer things bother them. But since blogs are a hobby for almost all, they are written, almost by definition, by people with a surplus of time. Hence the natural tendency of bloggers to be engaged in flame wars.
(I have previously posted about anonymity & why I don't think that it is the problem for flaming.)

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Blogger Problems

It's a strange situation when you don't have anything to blog that is as interesting as what's going on in your comments section.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

From my comments section

On : 7/13/2004 2:34:12 PM kochav (www) said:

I'm going to get blasted for this but...

How do you know Da'as Torah was wrong? Maybe HaShem wanted the Jews of Europe wiped out. The Belzer Rav may have been wrong in saying all would be ok, but the point of Da'as Torah is that you listed to a rebbi/tzaddik because he has a stronger link to HKB"H and therefore is more in tune with what He wants. If He wanted the Jews of Europe wiped out then the proper advice to give the people was to stay. Just because we don't like the outcome of His will does not mean that His will - as possibly expressed by various g'dolim - was incorrect.

Therefore, I have a problem using these arguemets against Da'as Torah...

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Ikkarei Emunah Revisited

An underlying problem with mandating Ikkarei Emunah, which is sometimes discussed, is how can you command someone to believe something as true. For Maimonides one could come to Divine truths through Philosophical or Scientific Inquiry. However, nowadays, studying philosophy, science, or Bible in an academic setting will likely lead one to be an Heretic.
One may suggest that since we now know that people are influenced by their environment, one can choose to be in an environment which is condusive to belief. And in this way fulfill Maimonides' commandment to belief in God.

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Ikkarei Emunah & the Youth

There was an interesting Houses of Worship (not a neighbor to the House of Hock) article in last weekend's Wall Stree Journal, focusing on how even Evangelical Christian teenagers who are gung ho on Jesus tend to have theologically incorrect beliefs. This should comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever worked with Modern Orthodox Jewish youth. Thank God Judaism does't care about Dogma or belief, but only about keeping Halakhah. At some point I may discuss how most Modern Orthodox Jews & in particular the young get their religious values from popular culture (TV, Movies, Music, etc.) & not from Jewish texts.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

When Daas Torah Fails

Two interesting discussions in my comments section:
1) Who was hurt worse by the Holocaust the Litvish or Chassidish Gedolim? Also important is why there were multiple Vaadei Hatzalah during WWII?

2) Daas Torah, Modern Orthodoxy, & the Holocaust. The Holocaust, Zionism, Soviet Jewry. Three strikes. But I personally believe that it does not matter. Either Daas Torah is mandated by Halakhah or not, independent of historical reality. (Of course which Daas Torah is a different question).

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Young Baal Ha-Baatim & Jewish Orgs

An upcoming crisis that has not been noticed in the Orthodox world, though discussed ad nauseam in the Federation World is the lack of Young Leadership. Though definitely more acute in the Secular Jewish Communal World, among National Orthodox Organizations, both Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish, most of the leadership tends to be older while younger affluent Baal Ha-Baatim tend to work for local organizations & schools. (The only exceptions to this may be JOFA & Edah, which a friend of mine described as narcissistic in serving the needs of its supporters.) This is a result of several factors. Schools & other local organizations are becoming more expensive to run so more effort is needed to run them. 2) There is less of a sense of National Jewish Community & the need for someone to represent them. Therefore the younger generation feels less of a need to join and pour their talents into them. People feel more secure in their Judaism & being Jewish in America. 3) Much of what the national organizations do is shadlanus & its harder to appeal to people when all you can show are state senate resolutions that may or may not be passed.

While for now this is not a problem, within the coming decades this may be a major problem as major Orthodox Jewish Organizations being older & lose their appeal for the younger generations.

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Daas Torah & The Holocaust

The reason why a discussion of the Holocaust & who was saved can provoke a strong reaction is probably for a couple of reasons. Among them is that Jews were actually killed & saved. But also, because this was a case where Daas Torah was actually applied in the real world & was found, for the most part, wanting. And unlike Soviet Jewry where Gedolim advocated quiet diplomacy where loud activism was warranted, the Holocaust did not all turn out for the best. There are several ways of deciding whether Daas Torah correct or not: Textual (i.e. Is it in the sources?), Personal (Do I feel compelled to follow Daas Torah?) & the Historical (Has Daas Torah worked in the past?) Of course, this is both a personal & communal decision & facts do not necessarily play a central role in the decision making process.

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Monday, July 12, 2004

Responding to the Chareidization of Modern Orthodoxy

Alan Brill's manifesto effectively undercuts Shlomo Riskin's argument. Nachum Lamm responds to Jonathan Rosenblum (whatever mistakes Lamm makes, he more than compensates in vehemence).

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Ger Toshav

A week ago Shabbos, I had the pleasure of talking to the Young Talmid Chacham (YTC) again. I mentioned the Rambam's position that the prohibition of Kana'im Pogim Bo (Zealots Kill Him) does not apply when the violator is sleeping with a Ger Toshav (as opposed to an idolatress), which is somewhat of a Chiddush (innovation). He pointed out that since there are no more Gerei Toshav these days (as per the Gemara in Erechin), this Halakha/Kula is largely moot. However, the YTC, pointed out ways that one could still have Gerei Toshav nowadays.
He added an interested point. Apparently, Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz of Maaleh Adumim has an article where he says that one can violate the Shabbos to save a non-Jew (and not because of Eivah). He does this by combining two positions; one being a Maharitz Chiyos who holds that most non-Jews alive today have the status of a Ger Toshav. He didn't offhand know the source for either Rabbi Rabinowitz or the Maharitz Chiyos. Perhaps Simcha can supply them?

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Hamodia Travel Section

I see that noone has mentioned seeing last week's Hamodia Travel Section. It is useful for understanding where & how Yeshivish & Chassidim vacation, which is itself important for understanding their culture & communities.

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Darfur & the Jews

Chakira takes a break from the usual and encourages everyone to petition their elected leaders to do something about the tragedy in Darfur, Sudan. I would just like to add that, in addition to their Senators & Congressman, Jews should speak to their Rabbis about the situation. Not that I am under the illusion that Rabbis have either special political power or divine intervention. But rather, if enough Rabbis on the local level press the national organizations, (RCA, OU, NCYI, Agudah, etc.) to act, they may actually do something (or come out with a statement).

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Chareidim & the Vaad Hatzalah

The Vaad Hatzaloh could explain their actions very simply by saying that within their (Torah-true) worldview, Gedolim & future/potential Gedolim are more important than ordinary Jews. Therefore, we had to do whatever we needed to guarentee their safety & nourishment, even if it meant that other Jews were killed by the Nazis. This is basic for the survival of Yiddishkeit in the world, which is more important than saving the lives of individual Jews.

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Friday, July 09, 2004

Picking up where I left off

One of the things I like about Hocking in the Blog-o-Sphere is that you can blog a few lines & others will pick up where you left off & finish up for you.
Two recent examples: Nachum Lamm on Jonathan Rosenblum & Isaac Kaplan on anti-Semitic rockers.

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Suggestion

As per the Gaon my comments section, I have an idea. I would like everyone to e-mail Jonathan Rosenblum (http://www.jewishmediaresources.org/contact.php) and ask him to apologize or tone down his criticism of Dr. Ephraim Zuroff. You can say that calling people "patholigical haters" is inappropriate for Orthodox Jews and people who speak on behalf of "Torah true Judaism." Let's see what happens.

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More on the Jewish Week Article

After thinking too much about DNC's Jewish Week article on blogging, I realized what bothered me about it. Basically, this is the first time The Jewish Week is writing about blogging (at least according to their archives) & they missing the fact that this is where the some of the most exciting, creative, & dynamic discussions in the Jewish Communities are taking place. It's not only about seeing parts of the Jewish community to which you are normally not exposed (though it is telling what DNC finds interesting; it appears that she has never seen Hamodia or Yated). The Town Crier& Fiddish are more informative than most Jewish Weeklies. What makes The Jewish Week worth reading is as much the advertisements & announcements as the actual articles. Which means in my opinion that if someone were to collect the best 50 or 100 posts off the Blog-o-Sphere every week & make it into a publication online or off, I would find that as good a read as The Jewish Week.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Jonathan Rosenblum on Ephaim Zuroff

I was planning on comments on Rabbis Shlomo Riskin's & Jonathan Rosenblum's essays on Hareidization of Modern Orthodoxy (courtesy of Simcha. But I thought Rosenblum's public slander of Ephraim Zuroff deserves a highlight:

The huge resources, both human and monetary, invested by the chareidi world in kiruv work completely refute Efraim Zuroff’s claim that the chareidi world shows no concern for secular Jews, and seeks to live in total isolation from them. (Zuroff is a pathological hater of the chareidi world. A few years back, he spread the slander that the chareidi world’s efforts to rescue the great roshei yeshiva from the Holocaust were at the cost of the lives of other Jews, about which the chareidi world showed little concern.)

JR is basically accusing Zuroff of forging his academic scholarship because Zuroff is "pathological hater" of Chareidim.
Defination of Pathological: Caused by or evidencing a mentally disturbed condition.

Whether or not various rescue groups were justified in letting other Jews be killed by the Nazis so that the Litvish elite could be saved is a valid question for debate & discussion. But to accuse those with whom you disagree of having a mental disorder is outside the bounds of a discussion.
Cf. David Kranzler in Jewish Action attacking Zuroff's conclusions.
Perhaps Menachem or Simcha can fill in some of the details of the debate.

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The 'Week on Some Bloggers

Debra (presumably a.k.a. Deborah for those non-phonetically challenged) Cohen Nussbaum writes the first Jewish Week article on Blogging, though, I have no doubt that most writers in the 'Week are regular blog readers. SIW already digs his sharpened knives into the article. As does the Village Idiots, Shmarya who whine about not being included.
As I noted earlier, bloggers fall into one of three types, but she only pics up on #1 (with some mention of #3).

As she consciously or unconsciously notes in her article, blogging is a challenge to reporting, as I can find out more information from The Town Crier & Fiddish than from JTA or the Jewish Week.

Another point is that she views Jewish Journalism as objective as opposed to blogging which is subjective. But we all know better. Especially as the Jewish Week lists both personal essays & reporting under its news section without distinction.

The larger point is that for most, information & opinion is culled from the web from whatever (newspapers, blogs, aldaily, press releases, etc.) These old distinctions have mostly fallen away for me. The only practical distinction is for the reporters & publishers who are getting paid (or not) & by whom.

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The Frummer Forward

I was reading today's Forward, online, as usual, & I noticed that they have taken to writing God as G-d. Apparently the secular yiddishists are getting frummer than G-o-d, (as there is no halakhic reason for the hyphenation).

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Singer vs. Grade II

I neglected to mention in my earlier post that both Singer & Grade (in English translation) are enjoyable reads for the simple pleasure of reading good literature. Though I would caution that reading I. B. Singer can have a detrimental effect on one's Avodas Hashem.
(Though if you are only looking for a good reads you could read the short stories of John Cheever or Raymond Carver. So if you are reading Yiddish literature, the aesthetic pleasure is probably not your only criteria.)

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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Singer vs. Grade

Isaac Bashevis Singer cannot seem to enjoy the limelight of his 100th birthday without the mention of Chaim Grade.

On the one hand we have Singer, who makes the Yiddish tradition into something mysterious, otherworldly, magical, & dark. A formula that first worked for Ansky's The Dybbuk & later used by Bernard Malamud.
(Magical realism is a much more popular & successful presentation of Judaism than rationalism, law, or logic. Look at the popularity of the Golem story, despite the fact that Eastern European non-Jewish society had many more monsters & demons than the Jews. Or of Kabbalah nowadays.)

Himself a coarse individual, Singer was more interested in sex & food than in the Jewish people or in God. Ironic then, how he is now being used to forge a Jewish Identity for Jewish people.

On the other hand, we have Chaim Grade. Once a Ben Bayis of the Chazon Ish, he later went off the Derech & wrote novels, poetry, short stories, etc. Describing, mourning, remembering, and (sometimes) mocking the elite Eastern European Yeshiva world. He struggled with the religious traditions which he rejected & accepted the burden of Jewish peoplehood.

However, much to some people's chagrin, Singer & not Grade received the Noble Prize. Singer for whom Judaism (or rather the destroyed Eastern European Jewish world) was presented as something otherworldly, mysterious, dark & crude. As opposed to Grade who described the poor but noble, scholarly, pious & struggling world of the elite.

What's my take on things? On the one hand I like the world that Grade creates more than Singer's literary creations. On the other hand, both went off the derech. Why is Singer's animal passions worse than Grade who chose to go off the derech? (Because Grade Stuggled with his religion; cf. My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner. And Singer's success teaches us that Judaism as dark & mysterious will succeed where Judaism as rational & elite will not.

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Blogging: It's Cheaper than Therapy

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The Jewishness Question

I thank my comments section for expanding my earlier Marlon Brando discussion. I do think that much of the "How does it effect the Jews?" attitude by even younger people is a hold-over from an earlier generation who themselves inherited it from their own parents (Mochassid) who actually experienced real antisemism (James).

However, I would like to suggest that the issue is more complex. I had a friend who once spent a Shabbos meal at a Hamptons sharehouse. Now this Sharehouse, though nominally Orthodox & Kosher was mainly housed by Jews who were very ethnic but largely poorly educated. After fish they made a toast (on some very good scotch) to the "downfall of the goyim, but only the bad ones (i.e. anti-Jewish)". Now, this was clearly meant as a joke, as an expression of Jewishness/connection to each other. But this expression was primarily as support against our foes.
This is similiar to those who use anti-semitism or the Holocaust as the basis of their Jewishness, connection, or community.
By asking "How does this affect the Jews?" they are asking skipping the aesthetic (which, in the case of Brando, is universal) for the particularistic communal. My problem with this is that one should maintain the aesthetic in its own sphere & not compromise it for the use of the particularistic/communal.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Holocaust & American Pop Culture

I was hocking with a friend the other day and he was hocking about Alan Mintz’s book, Popular Culture and the Shaping of Holocaust Memory in America, about how the Holocaust was being used & trivialized by American society and how the Holocaust was losing its Jewish identity. My friend, understandably, was perturbed by this phenomenon. My response, somewhat unsympathetic, was to let "them" have the Holocaust. I do not need the Holocaust as a source of Jewish life, and Yiddishkeit. They can have Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the ghettos.
As long as they do take from us or trivialize all that the good that Jews have produced. For example, Gemara, Chassidus, Maimonides, Halakhah, Yiddish Poetry, Ladino, etc.
Update: They can also have the whole Cult-of-Victimology.

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New Word of the Week

Kike (adj.): The word has been reclaimed, and now means something done only for the sake of Jewishness or making Jewish the only criteria for evaluation.
E.g. I can barely stand to read some of those jBlogs; they are so kike. He is so kike, he scans the morning paper for articles with Jewish names.

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Marlon Brando

It is interesting to note the Jewish response to Marlon Brando's passing last week. It was not, by & large, "this was a great actor, who made our lives my pleasurable with his talented performances".

But rather: "What does he think about the Jews?"

Can't these people enjoy an artist for his art for a minute without thinking about what he thinks about Jews? Can't they express their Jewishness by liking good or campy movies without talking about the actors and what they have done for or against the Jews?

And even if one wants to get all kike about it and say: What's the Jewish angle?, this person did help the Jews in 1946, as noted by Lammpost. And as per Brando's comments the Jews do control Hollywood.
And lastly, besides the Woody Allen/Ben Stiller neurotic Jew, how many Jewish roles are played to stereotype as manipulative, hook-nosed, amoral power brokers?

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Monday, July 05, 2004

AJHistory & End the Madness

I have been watching the current discussions about if and why teach American Jewish History on & off the Blog-o-Sphere. So I thought that I would throw in my answer which also includes a solution to the so-called "Singles Crisis".

In the words of the poet:

Good friends we have had, oh good friends we've lost along the way
In this bright future you can't forget your past
So dry your tears I say

No woman, no cry
No woman, no cry
Little darlin' don't shed no tears
No woman, no cry

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The Orthodox Response to the Tragedy of Darfur

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Friday, July 02, 2004

Conflicting Models of Jewishness

Using my three models of Jewishness one can understand some of the tensions in the Jewish community currently (and in the recent past).
On the one hand we have the conflict between the Orthodox (who view Jewishness as a religion) & the Federation/Zionists who view Jewishness as an expression of Peoplehood. Even a group like Aish ha-Torah (a.k.a Aish), which is austensibly about Jewish Peoplehood is really about Religion.

On the other hand some of the attempts of the Federations & the Jewish Orgs to bring in young people through Jewish Culture (e.g. Jewish Music; Joshua Fellowships) are an attempt to use Jewish Culture to foster Jewish Peoplehood.

One can understand some of the conflicts about American Public Opinion as a conflict between Jewishness as Culture (e.g. Ethics/Morality) vs. Jewishness as Peoplehood (which means that you have to support the Jewish state).

Of course I am dealing with archtypes, so expressions of Jewishness often contain multiple models.

One of the highest forms of Cultural Judaism was Yiddish Literature. For those, whom Yiddish literature was not about tying together the Jewish people, it became an alternative to both Peoplehood-or-Zionism & Judaism-as-Religion. Which is one of the reasons why attempts to make Yiddish culture a knot to tie the Jewish Community often come across as forced.

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Accountant on the Roof

I recent overheard a radio interview with the writers of Fiddler of the Roof about the original show & the current (controversial) revival. It got me thinking a bit about the show.
I do not dislike the Musical & Movie because it has a kitschy Broadway view of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The is only to be expected when Orthodox Judaism is digested by Hollywood/Broadway. (Incidentally, I actually liked the Simpsons digestion of Judaism.) What I dislike is how it plays into a simple bifurcation. Either one chooses the simple piety, poverty, and practices of the Old Country or one chooses to assimilate into ignorant American Jewish Suburban life. As pointed out by the writers, the Musical & Movie is all about change between the "Old Way" & the "New Ways". For those American Jews watching Fiddler, it reenforces the assimilationist choices that they have made (as the Shtetl is clearly no longer an option). However, they undermines & diminishes the choices of those who went beyond this simple bifurcation to maintain their religion or culture, while becoming completely Western or American.

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Mechitzos & Women's Minyanim

I have always found it amusing, disturbing, & odd that many of the recent Orthodox Jewish Feminist Synagogue innovations, such as Women's Aliyot & Women's Minyanim emphasize how they have mechitzot/s & wouldn't dare of giving them up.

Odd because there are more explicit sources against Women's Aliyot, Minyanim, etc. than against mixed services. It's either a matter of the sociology interacting with Halakhah or an example of the rule that if you repeat something enough times, people will believe it.

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Three Models of Jewishness

As part of some upcoming posts, I would like to introduce a rough model of the major way in which Jewishness has been expressed in the post-Enlightenment era. Although, as noted by Eugene Borowitz among others, the main feature of Judaism since the enlightenment is the personal autonomy, in practice Jewishness has tended to express itself in three ways. I am not suggesting that these models are completely separate or that they do not mix for most people; rather these are tools to discuss Jewishness:

1) Jewishness as a Religion: However one defines religion (be it Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Mosaic, Chavurah, Kabbalah, etc.).

2) Jewishness as a People: This expresses itself through kinship with other Jews, caring for other Jews, & through Jewish movements (e.g. Zionism, Federation-ism, Historical Judaism, the Yada Blog).

3) Jewishness as Culture: In this model, adopted by many of the Yiddishists, Israelists, Judaism is less about religion, or people, but a culture in which one can express oneself.

Over the next week, I will be using these models a bit & playing around with their implications.

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More on American Jewish History

Continuing the Wonderland of American Jewish History, the "thoughtful" "Simcha" suggested yet another reason for why Yeshiva College should have a course in American Jewish History (using a quote from King Richard):
Because one needs background information to become Jewish communal activist & background about assorted Jewish organizations & religious movement to deal with them.

This, of course, fits in with King Richard's vision of YU as providing the people to fill positions in Jewish orgs. The problem with this approach is that the tools one needs to work well with the bureaucracies that is Jewish organizational life are people skills & managerial skills. Knowing the 100+ year history of Conservative Judaism is that it doesn't tell you much about how to deal with a University of Judaism Female Rabbi in 2004 & researching Uriah P. Levi or Haym Solomon doesn't help with negotiating UJC politics to get funding for your programs.

If King Richard was serious about training Communal Leaders then he would create an interdisciplanary graduate program in Jewish Communal Service (which does already exist as a certificate program at WSSW) among with some MPA classes.

But Jewish History does assist in RJ's vision in fostering the values of a unified American Jewish Community going back 350 years and where doing Jewish with other Jews is the primary value.

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