This is a first draft. Not completely thought through so it may change in a few days. I am not wedded to any section, so I may retract whole sections. Yet, I think there is something here.
When I first started this blog, the New York Times Sunday book review had an issue dedicated to the 1930’s depression featuring books about the attitudes toward the downtrodden masses . Many of the opinions featured corresponded to the positions of the Conservative rabbis of the era and their decision for the law to respond the masses. (My thoughts on the 1930’s will show up in a more professional venue, eventually). This week’s New York Times book review has two articles about the Tea Partiers. As I read those articles, it sounded much like the rhetoric on the orthodox blogs and orthodox editorials which blame the Rabbinic administration for the high cost of yeshiva tuition. It seems like we are heading for some form of Tea Partying about rabbinic authority.
It seems that the economic difficulties are generating a sense of outage that is taken out on the current leadership, in our case day school administrators. The important line in the book review is that “the objects of their outcries …are of far less consequence than the great failures that plague the nation.” There are problems and the objects of anger are not the cause. So the question is: When will there be a Rabbinic leader who is playing a tea-partier role? Since we have had rabbis in the 1950’s hunting communists, in the 1960’s wearing Dashikis, in the 70’s advocating “do your own thing” in the 1980’s cozying up to the Moral Majority, becoming libertarians in the 1990’s, and rabbis sounding like Evangelicals today, then it is only a matter of time until we start hearing Tea Partier sermons about Rabbinic leadership.
People are angry that they cannot afford to live the frum lifestyle they want, because if one is frum then one is guaranteed the lifestyle. Someone has to be at fault. If you create a community that requires the members to be in the top 6% of US income, and makes one comfortable only if one is in the top 3% then you have a social problem. The objects of blame are a side show, but if the blogs are an indication then there is some of the blame is being placed on leadership.
From the NYT
Anatomy of an Uprising By ALAN BRINKLEY October 8, 2010
Listening to the many and diverse demands and ideas that the Tea Partiers express in their rallies, pamphlets and oratory does relatively little to explain why so many Americans are so angry… Similar outbreaks of outrage and blame have accompanied most major economic crises over the last century and more…. The Great Depression produced multiple movements that reviled the power of bankers and the concentration of wealth. In both cases, as in our own time, the movements soon became immersed in innumerable other grievances and prejudices.
The Tea Partiers are right to be angry. But the objects of their outcries …are of far less consequence than the great failures that plague the nation.
But let me recount another Sukkot story. We had as a guest an NCSY BT from the 1970’s who is RW MO, as are his kids. He now lives in an agudah neighborhood somewhere in the US where 4 bedroom houses cost 180, 000. He was complaining that the synagogues here in Teaneck don’t allow drinking. He was adamant in his declaration that: who do the rabbis think they are telling us what to do! Rabbis have no right to forbid anything! He proclaimed that the tradition to drink on Simchat Torah goes back to the Gemara since the gemara says we do birchat Kohanim at Shararit because the kohanim will be drunk by mussaf. (I did not correct him about the Gemara or tell him what the Mishnah Berurah actually says, it was too good of a diatribe). Over the course of the meal, he complained about NY orthodox, its day schools, and the cost of living in the NY community. There was a sense of the Torah being one thing and the Rabbis as administrators as another. There was also a sense of how alienated some parts of out of town Orthodoxy are from the NYC enclaves.
There is a certain distrust of the elites in America and so too in certain parts of Orthodoxy. Many people feel outside or looking up at the elites who are disconnected from their lives. And many want freedom – a core value in America. Our enclaves are conformist and dont hear their needs.
The Beat Generation and the Tea Party Lee Siegal
Still, American dissent turns on a tradition of troublemaking, suspicion of elites and feelings of powerlessness, no matter where on the political spectrum dissent takes place.
Like the Beats, the Tea Partiers are driven by that maddeningly contradictory principle, subject to countless interpretations, at the heart of all American protest movements: individual freedom. The shared DNA of American dissent might be one answer to the question of why the Tea Partiers, so extreme and even anachronistic in their opposition to any type of government, exert such an astounding appeal.
More seriously, the origin of the word “beat” has a connection to the Tea Partiers’ sense that they are being marginalized as the country is taken away from them. According to Ginsberg, to be “beat” most basically signified “exhausted, at the bottom of the world, looking up or out . . . rejected by society.”
There are people out there who fell that they are not represented in the Rabbinic elite, just like Tea Partier’s have “a feeling that their opinions are not represented in Washington.” This movement or moment is likely to come from the right wing side – a call to follow Torah and not Rabbinical organizations, Rabbinical administrations, and the politics generated by rabbis. (It will probably still deeply respect Gedolim, Zaddikim, and Rabbinic authority in general-just not the political manifestations of lower levels of the hierarchy.)
In the past when there was an economic gap and a blaming of the Rabbinic leadership it led to varied results. In the 1740’s, there was a critique of Rabbinic leadership and the newly wealthy and new lands of Podolyia created Hasidism. People broke from the Kehillah to form shiblach. In the 1880’s, it lead to a variety of secular solutions that fled the Rabbinate to Zionism, Socialism, Bund, Folks Party. The story of Kotso shel Yod by Yehudah Leib Gordon conveys a sense of the alienation. By 1921, it lead to young Rabbis choosing the Mizrahi movement that preached job training, education for productivity, and secular studies. The Great Depression created a generation of Conservative rabbis who spoke of social realism and helping the masses.
Now, what will come from the economic crisis of the last few years. There will certainly be the creation of Orthodox communities that allow one to make lower than the top 6% of income. Centrism may be cast as having been a rich man’s religion. But the interesting point is that the blaming of the Rabbis as an object of scorn for the economic difficulties will lead to a distancing from the seemingly aloof rabbis. (It does not matter if it is true at all, just that it is perceived that way).
Now from where will the change occur? There are three choices: (1)the places with 180K homes far from NY who are alienated from the economics and education required for Centrism. (2) the new places in the Sun belt devoid of seminaries, rabbinic elite, and direct contact with the North (3) the heart of places such as Bergenfield where the economic inequities are being felt. This corresponds to (1)Those who fundamentally disenfranchised from the community (2)Those in a new place without a strong leadership base (3) those in the center who feel the greatest dissidence and that their expectations not met. Hasidism started in a place like the second choice, Secularism, Bund, and Mizrahism in the third, but those leader found fertile ground for their ideas in the first group.
Let me know when you start hearing from some young Rabbi who thinks we need to scale back Rabbinic authority or that the Rabbinical supervised enclave is not needed. Not a liberal Orthodox Rabbi who never had a strong sense of authority, rather someone who has a tea-party rhetoric against the elites who are not concerned for the needs of the people. Look to the right not the left. Someone with Tea Party politics and a strong sense of Torah.
I am not interested in discussing American politics, rather to gather the voices of the new Jewish generation.