Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Can you teach an intellectual appreciation of God? yes, but its hard to do

Dov Bear blogs about my post on my and my wife's grandparents, and the commments are quite good. As I noted, my grandparent's connection to Judaism was more intellectual and also more innate. I am not sure they were constantly trying to think of what Hashem wanted them to do next, but they were comfortable with their relation to HKBH. I think this sort of relationship between man and God is what R. Haym Soloveichik was referencing in his landmark article. In the absence of a constant feeling of God's presence, or a feeling of deep obligation to follow each dictate of the Torah, can a religious sensitivity and affiliation be preserved? Here is my answer to DovBear's question as to what happened to the children of the grandparents.

On one side, they grew up speaking Hebrew at home(in the USA in the 30's), were very zionist, affiliated ortho, but did not keep all the personal/indevidual mitzvot(davening 3/day, tzitzit). 2/3 got advanced degrees(not in religious studies). One made aliyah and they(and their family) are all personally frum and in the MO spectrum, and most of the kids have or are pursuing advanced degrees as well. One stayed in the states, kids all in the MO spectrum, all finished college, 2 went for advanced studies. The third and family still affiliate, but are not personally observant.

On the other side, they grew up in an English speaking home, went to afternoon Hebrew school, affiliated conservative, kept kosher at home. One went on for advanced studies, married someone a bit to the right of themself, and today and family is found in the MO spectrum. One went to college, affiliates reform,2 kids, one of whom married out and the other one affiliated peripherally .

In one case, the intellectual love and comfort of yiddishkeit was passed on essentially intact, in the other case some(but not a lot) was lost.(recall that conservative 50 years ago was much different than what it is now). And more was lost in one case going into the next generation.

I would disagree with MoC that it is impossible to keep it going for generations. It is difficult to maintain a path, especially when there is no support around you. When on one side there is assimilation and deviation from tradition, and on the other side there is detailed frumkeit, to make up a term. It is hard to maintain a practice without support, especially when it comes under attack as being less than frum. Nowadays I think there is more of an awareness of the specifics of halacha, whereas previously there was a comfort that one was serving Hashem adequately in doing what one was doing. Now I worry about everything I do, rather than be happy with what I am doing. Some call what had been before laziness in following Mitzvot. I dont know. Now people worry about the shiur of matza, I knew someone who had eaten at the seders of gedolim of 100 years ago, and he said the shiur of matza they ate was what they put into their mouth after hamotzei.

Clearly, there are new benchmarks of practice, or at least more awareness of those benchmarks, and that makes the casual observance of Judaism more difficult. Either you are in, or you are not.I think many of those 100 years ago were able to substitute zionism, intellectual excitement, or other connection to Judaism for detailed practice. For the reasons cited above, it is next to impossible today. The idealism isn't there for one. There still is intellectual excitement about Judaism, but it is to be found more often in the context of religious belief, whether it be formally ortho, conservative, or reform.

In answer to the question about whether love of poetry, hebrew and zionism was the norm: In certain areas and circles, many schools sprang up that taught in Hebrew, and encouraged thought and art/culture. I am not sure how many schools and how big they were, but certainly there is a segment of the Jewish population that grew up like this, well schooled, appreciative of the arts, zionist, hebrew speaking, idealistic, and varying degrees of personal observance.

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