Saturday, December 12, 2020

60,000 Jews over the fence are living on borrowed time...

What are we going to do about it?
[this post is going to stay at the top until someone gives me a satisfactory answer]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Update your bookmarks

I've decided to move over to wordpress. The old blog will stay up for the enjoyment of my few readers (esp. Anon :) ).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Shut It Down! (On the Kiruv Industry in Israel)

[The following is a reworked version of a speech given by one of the columnists written in last week's weekend Makor Rishon. I feel it is necessary to post it, as the local discussion of the Immanuel school is missing the bigger picture. [Shabbat section] - aiwac]


We are all gathered here today, Rabbis and educators, all people dedicated to bringing non-religious Jews back into the fold. We have heard many heart-warming speeches on the successes of the kiruv movement. Rabotai, I wish to put a damper on all of this by saying we need to shut it down. Now. Allow me to explain:

The kiruv starts out positive enough. Avrechim and professionals go on their mission, usually to masorti neighborhoods of Sefardi Jews. They show warmth and compassion to their fellow less religious Jews – teaching them Torah and inviting them for wonderful Shabbatot. Eventually some of them decide that this is the life they want for their family, and the become full-fledged Charedi chozrim betshuva. This is the story we have heard over and over again at this conference, and it truly is inspiring.

Except that this story has a sequel, a very bad one. That family, once ensconced in Charedi society, is never truly accepted – not even three generations later. The parents and children are constantly viewed with suspicion and checked to make sure they "fit the bill". Children in particular suffer – forced to go to second-rate schools and associate only with 'their kind'. They will often be called derogatory terms like 'frankim' and "schorim", to say nothing of disgusting insults like "sefarajukim" (sefardi cockroaches). They will never be able to marry above into the "first class" Ashkenazi community unless the Ashkenazi in question is physically or mentally lame or has some family defect. This family of genuinely religious Charedim is forced to forever walk the earth in a state of second-class status – no matter how learned, no matter how pious they are, they will always be considered inferior to the lowest Ashkenazi.

I have heard the excuses given for this state of affairs. It's not racism; it's the importance of masorah and tradition, each edah and its principles. Some might even compare it to the twelve tribes maintaining their separate identities, though I may point out that the only time the tribes didn't intermarry was during the pilegesh bagiv'a incident.

All of this only exacerbates the hypocrisy and fraud of kiruv as is presently constructed. You are selling these wonderful, devout Jews an empty bag of goods, offering them heaven and giving them hell. You present them with the promise of a loving, accepting community of God-fearing Jews. They end up with a bunch of narrow-minded ethnic Ashkenazim who barely tolerate them and give a million and one (even if justified!) excuses for doing so.

Rabotai - this is not true kiruv. This is fraud, a system that destroys the lives and often the families of many a good Jew just so the "kiruv professionals" can feel better about themselves. Until our communities are truly willing to work towards ahavat yisra'el and true acceptance of ba'alei tshuva, we must shut down the project. Otherwise the cries of these thousands of these Jews will continue to reach the heavens, and judgement will come swiftly.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A True Individualist: On Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel

[Note: I'd love to write a post on the Brisker, but I am unaware of any non-hagiographical sources on him. Anyone who knows of such is invited to post them in the comments – aiwac]

I've mentioned before how Eretz Israel in the first half of the 20th century attracted more than its fair share of brilliant, off-the-wall Orthodox thinkers. Today, we'll take a brief look at one of the oddest of them all: Rav Moshe Avigdor Amiel, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv from 1935 until his death in 1946.

To this day, many scholars of religious Zionist thought include him as a member of the RZ philosophical pantheon. Rav Amiel was not just an original thinker, but also a brilliant Talmudist. His 'מידות לחקר ההלכה' was a tour de force attempt to create a complete, unified logical system (based on formal rules and deduction) for understanding the halachic method.

One of the most striking things about Rav Amiel was his fierce intellectual independence all throughout his public career. This was a man who considered himself beholden to no particular position, to the point where he spent many of his drashot attacking…well, everyone. In addition, Rav Amiel was not shy about 'bucking the trend', whether it was criticizing Agudah Rabbis' anti-intellectual attitudes or taking an extreme indivualist line in a Zionist community where collectivism and conformity was the norm.

While many Rabbis (especially post-WWII) are extremely cagey about consulting, let alone quoting, non-Orthodox sources, Rav Amiel had no such compunctions. When he quoted Kant, he called him by name. The same goes for the scholars of Wissenschaft des Judentums or outright secular thinkers like Ehad Ha'am.

What's most fascinating about Rav Amiel is that he can't really be pegged – especially as a religious Zionist. Yes, it's true that he was affiliated with Mizrahi for many years. It's also true that he supported the Mizrahi program of giving religious Jews secular education (he established Yishuv, after all) and he believed that Eretz Israel, not Europe, was the place for Jewish spiritual regeneration, contra TiDE people like Dr. Isaac Brueur and Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch.

Nevertheless, his attitude towards the Zionist program was pretty reserved, and grew more so over time. He had no patience for the attempt to create a secularized Jewish culture, and he saw little to no value in the establishment of a secular state (i.e. one not governed by Torah). Indeed, one gets the impression that he saw little need for a state at all, and preferred some kind of cultural autonomy instead. As opposed to Rav Kook, who saw much value in the works of Secular Zionism, Rav Amiel was barely able to be melamed zechut. The most he was willing to do was praise their building up of the physical infrastructure of the country. He spent about as much time being melamed zechut for Communists and Christians as he did Zionists.

Then there's the matter of his pacifism. Rav Amiel was a life-long principled pacifist. Although he did not rule out individual self-defense (what Orthodox Rabbi could do that?), he made frequent comparisons between war (no matter what kind) and murder. His position on Jewish self-defense was no less strident; although he acknowledged the existence of halachic "war" categories such as "milchemet mitzvah", he insisted that Jews during the Arab Revolt conduct themselves according to the incredibly strict rules of "rodef". He even paraphrased the Rambam along the lines that 'even if there's a one in a thousand chance' that a captive Arab is innocent, he should be spared. Needless to say, he's a darling of the Machon Hartman crowd for this stance, unrealistic though it is in actual warfare.

The sad thing is that today Rav Amiel is barely known outside of left-wing religious academic circles and a few scattered fans. It's a shame, because like most brilliant thinkers – even if one doesn't accept his answers, his questions are still pertinent.

Shabbat Shalom


Monday, June 07, 2010

The Murder of the Mind (on Disillusionment)

Recently ADDeRabbi introduced yet another term for the ever-splintering groups of O Jews – Ironic Orthodoxy. ADDeRabbi is right, IMO, that for now this is more a "mindset" of individual O Jews across the spectrum rather than an ideology (See the forum "Stop! Here We Think" internet forum for a look at Charedi "Ironic Orthodox Jews").

I am something different. In addition to being a centrist (or trying to be), I am a deeply disillusioned Orthodox Jew (no, that's not intended as a label). Believe me when I say that there are many like me – people who stay Orthodox but who have lost faith in core parts of the "system". So what I am I personally disillusioned about?

I believe that the term "Oral Torah" has been turned into a lie, a fraud. What we call "Oral Torah" is merely a collection several thousand Written Torahs on top of the original which no-one dares to consult. Every statement is kadosh and literally true if it appears in print, and no-one dares to challenge the issue, lest one be accused of "mehkar" (academic study, which is treif). The consequence is that there is no "orality" in Torah study today of real consequence – no intellectual diversity, no halachic hiddushim (humrot are not hiddushim - any idiot can invent or discover humrot), no attempts at reconception.

The corollary of this is that I have no faith whatsoever in the yeshiva/Rabbinic system as it currently exists – no matter where on the O scale it lies. Both Rabbis and Yeshiva students owe their sole allegiance to the ideological-social community of their institutions; that community is almost entirely anti-intellectual, extremely conservative (halachically and theologically) and contemptuous of real-life problems as opposed to abstract, theoretical ones.

For generations since modernity, moderate Orthodox Jews have been hoping for great Gedolim (or at least a cadre of Rabbis) who will rise up to the challenge and take the problems we face – such as women's standing, the relationship with non-Jews, the reality of Orthodoxy being a 10% minority - by the horns. I believe that such faith is pointless and harmful. Every innovative thinker and posek we have had in the last 200 years – Rav Hirshenzon, Rav Meshash or Rav Chayim David Halevi, Rav Kook or Rav Soloveitchik – has been either ostracized, minimalized, or their biography re-written to fit the views of the Edah Charedit. Whatever intellectual independence that was left in yeshivot is being whittled away – and none of it is allowed to exist in the world of psak and halachic policy.

The "savior Rabbinic leaders" who will buck the "Forever to the right" trend will never come to be and maintain a viable, constant presence – not in a hundred years and not in a million. They either lack the guts, or are overwhelmed by the numbers and hateful rhetoric of those to their right. Which is why "ironic" Orthodoxy exists as a mindset of "cacha zeh" (that's life) rather than try to work for change – they have despaired that the religious elite will ever take the plunge.

I write these words with a deep sense of pain and anguish. I wish it were otherwise. But I can not deny the present intellectual weltanschauung in O Jewry, one which has only gained in strength over the past few decades.

So I remain an O Jew, with deep faith in Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and none in the Rabbinic/Yeshivish elite.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Pointlessness of it All (On Higher Criticism)

[This will be the last post I write on the subject. I intend to spend my time from here on in on more productive issues - aiwac]
Menachem Mendel has put up the entire program of a major conference in Jewish Studies taking place in Ben-Gurion University. There is a heavy emphasis on the relationship between Bible Studies and Orthodox Judaism, with most of the First session being by Orthodox adherents of the DH (Baruch Schwartz and James Kugel; to be fair, I have no idea what Tovah Ganzel will be discussing).
Originally, I was going to write a post expressing my exasperation at the fact that we have no-one who can give an Orthodox response to stuff like this. I mean it's not like there weren't and aren't Orthodox scholars on Bible out there (Uri Simon, Yehuda Elitzur zt"l, Amos Frish &c). I was going to read the riot act to people like Jeremiah Unterman and Shneyur Leiman, both of whom have complained in different contexts of the lack of a substantive Orthodox response/answer to the challenges of Biblical Criticism of the Chumash. I would charge that they should put their money where their mouth is and compose such solutions/answers (after all, both have the requisite knowledge, training and yir'at shamayim).
Having seen the discussion of this issue in Hirhurim, especially the responses of a certain "Jerry", I must regrettably retract that challenge. Apparently the Charedim are right on this issue - one is either a James Kugel or a fundamentalist when it comes to the Torah. Orthodox Jewish scholars are apparently either incapable or unwilling to provide any other option.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Good Diagnosis, Bad Cure (On Esther Lapian)

[The following is yet another "fictional letter" meant to deal with Esther Lapian's article in the latest issue of Conversations (no.7) – the article itself is unfortunately not online. Enjoy, aiwac]

Dear Esther Lapian,

I recently read your article in Conversations regarding the "Charedization" of the Mamad educational system. You complain of the anti-intellectual atmosphere and attitude of the educational personnel, where it is better that a teacher "dress properly" than know Matisse. I share your concerns and I think the increasing retreat of our educational institutions is losing us many thousands of good people – adults and students - every year.

To be sure, I could question the cavalier manner in which you approach the genuine and legitimate concerns of students and educational personnel towards halachically and theologically problematic issues (I refer you to a letter I wrote to Dr. Aviad Hacohen on this very subject). But I fear that your article suffers from much deeper flaws, which I would like to expound on in this letter.

The first and most obvious flaw is how you frame the issue. To you, apparently, the Chardal-liberal struggle is a zero-sum-game. Either one is completely open to the world, in school as well as in life, or one shuts it out completely; there is no room in your world for compromise. Surely, Ms. Lapian, you are aware that most Jews in the RZ community are somewhere in the middle. There are many, for instance, who would love for their children to learn about literature and science, but might hesitate to let their kids look at nude paintings. Furthermore, I'm fairly certain the overwhelming majority of religious parents, regardless of personal beliefs, would vociferously object to actively exposing their children to theological landmines like Higher Biblical Criticism.

But there's an even deeper issue at stake, one that goes to the heart of your article. Throughout your long panegyric to your students, you go on and on about how open-minded they are; how cultured and intelligent. You explain quite well their "deviations" from certain halachic norms. But not once in your article do you demonstrate that your students are genuinely yir'ei hashem, i.e. devout. Not "halachic", not "makpid" – but religious in the true, fullest sense of the word.

I mention this because your students sound to me too much like a certain archetype of religious Jewish scholar I have had the misfortune to meet many times over the years. Said scholar also "goes through the motions" – keeping halacha, sending their kids to the "right" schools and maybe even is stricter than usual on certain issues. But they are all – to a man and woman – either religiously dead or broken, leading double, compartmentalized lives. One life – the life of scholarship and the Western world – sees them happy, enthusiastic with shining eyes. The other life – the life of ol Torah U'Mitzvot – shows a different, functional side. The fire in their eyes goes out when they live this life; there is no true ahavat Torah. I have never seen such a person truly daven with kavana and God-awareness – not even on Yom Kippur. To address and excuse the halachic actions of such people is to utterly miss the point.

Perhaps you may respond – why is this relevant? After all, many of the frum, anti-intellectual teachers that currently populate the Mamad schools also "go through the motions". To which I will reply – it's relevant because the frum teacher is not the one taking my children on a journey through the wonderful but dangerous world of modernity – your students are. From what I understand, they will do so while being incredibly enthusiastic about the outside world and lukewarm at best about the world from which they came. Children aren't stupid, Ms. Lapian. When they see your students' relative "enthusiasm deficit" for Judaism, what lesson do you think they'll take away from it?

Don't misunderstand me, Ms. Lapian. I believe in the value of secular knowledge. I agree that Orthodoxy needs to come to grips with the various challenges the world has to offer. But they cannot do so and remain ovdei hashem, if, as you contend, the only value worth investing in is "openness" to the world.

Judaism, especially Orthodox Judaism, is not just a "lifestyle" – it is a serious, deep commitment to a series of truths, values and rules which we have carried for thousands of years. Teachers who wish to introduce students to the world must be equally committed – emotionally as well as intellectually – to that world. From what I have read in your article, Ms. Lapian, your students are not up for the job.

Sadly yours,

A (Now-Centrist) MO Parent