Holiday Rambles – Dec 2010

I prefer posts that have a book under discussion. But since people have liked my past rambles, here are various things heard or observed since Thanksgiving.

I had a junior high reunion. The person with whom I drove in talked about how the majority of the class was surprisingly still somewhat observant even through half the class went to public high. Attending a Day School for HS was not needed to keep people religious, rather other factors. She mentioned that in the late 1970’s there was great optimism in the new Modern Orthodox institutions. She commented how everyone thought whatever kinks in the day school system were going to be ironed out. No more 1960’s gruff rebbes without teaching skills letting out their frustration on the kids, now it was going to be American teachers paid well. So everyone rode the wave of optimism. In contrast, she pointed out how now her husband is on the school board dealing with long term planning issues not dreamt of then. She also pointed out from her own observations and those of her kids that right now many HS kids are going through periods to see what life is like without Orthodoxy, even the good and committed kids. Some of them go without shabbos and kashrus for a while, some a complete rumspringa, and others a mild thought experiment. I wonder how the HS students decide in the end: cost-benefit analysis, where their interests lie, if they have the skills to make it on the outside, group think with friends, finding reaffirmation of meaning.

I wonder what kept everyone in the fold, it seems the optimism and Orthodoxy as a growth stock counted more than the formal content of a yeshiva high education. Most of them were what I called in an earlier post Golden Rule Believers, oblivious to ideology and textuality. They also broke down into those who stayed in NY, who even if they were non-observant, were nominally Conservative, or Conservidox, and still in the loop of observant culture from friends, neighbors, and business contacts. And one who came in from out of state were acculturated out of the former world and into new ways. Those completely off and out of the system did not attend.

For my trend watching, I wonder what parts of the community are most optimistic now? Which parts think that they are just around the corner from perfection? What do twenty somethings feel most confident about Orthodoxy or which group of twenty-somethings are the most optimistic about solving everything. I am not asking which are most committed or most learned or most scared of the outside. Which group between 18-28 sees itself as most on the right track in their decision? If you can identify it then you can pretty much be assured that they will last as Orthodox the course of their lives.

I meet a 30-31 year old couple who are renting a house here in Teaneck. They knew me and complained that it is not spiritual or intellectual. They know that if they stay here by buying a house, their lives will be rightly order and both will structure their lives to have material success and receive promotions. Their kids will have friends and possessions. But is that all there is? Where can they find an intellectual and spiritual neighborhood in the US?

Met a thirty year old who used to briefly blog about his pain at ethical scandals in the Orthodox community. No longer blogs and has given up all observance entirely. Finds all these big Centrist derashot that combine Bible as literature, Rav Soloveitchik Torah and presentism as hokey and as having nothing to do with the Bible. It is interesting that Orthodoxy was presented to him as these new Literary Biblical derashot and not as an “halakhic system.”

Met a person who claims his son says that his class is 40% not observant and 20% non-observant and also lechahis. Even I think this number of 60 % is a great overstatement but what is interesting is that only a third are lechahis against the system. When you meet the older baby boomers who left Orthodoxy are now 58-65 , you get much more anger and lechahis reaction. I get a sense that it is due to socio-economic reasons. Most of those who were so angry grew up in inner-city Orthodoxy and saw Orthodoxy of the 1940’s and 1950’s as backwards, poor, uneducated and primitive. I get a sense that now if your Orthodoxy is upper-middle class and consists of malls, suburbia, and entertainment then one cannot be so angry. I may be wrong, we will know after the fact but I sense that for the majority this is a respectful checking out without the need for anger. Even now, I have colleagues in the English department in their 60’s who still picture the Orthodoxy of their youth and cannot imagine anything positive in Orthodoxy let alone the existence of an Orthodox academic. They are still angry after 50 years.

Was told at a Shabbat meal by a parent of a Maaleh Gilboa student that YU made a pitch to attract Maaleh Gilboa students. AT the meeting, they had to admit that the graduates of Maaleh Gilboa wont find any of the YU Roshei Yeshiva to their liking and that the latter will oppose and condemn what they think as Maaleh Gilboa grads, but they should come anyway and take solace in philosophy and Jewish studies. More interestingly, the pitch turned into a single focus on how they are not ready to be in a co-ed environment. A very senior YU person said: “What if it is New Year’s Eve and a non-Jewish girl sits on your lap with a bottle of non-kosher champagne and says lets have some fun? You are not mature enough to handle it. You are not mature enough to make the right decisions. Only when you reach graduate school will you be ready to be in a co-ed environment.” The YU person said it actually happened to him when he went to NYU, now he sees he made the wrong choice. The fear of the outside became the major part of the pitch. I was not there and this is hearsay but the students asked about the ban at YU of Rabbi Ethan Tucker, a graduate of Maaleh Gilboa. More tellingly, they asked about Levinas and the importance of doubt, disbelief, and mature faith, and were only met with lack of comprehension of their points- submission counts not doubt. The most important point was rather than using anything aspirational or ideological they offered fear that a girl will sit on your lap and fear that you will give up Torah, mizvos, and learning if you go to a secular college.

It is a known Yeshivish thing to point out that Chanuka had no holiday sacrifice, no hagigah so one should not say Hag Sameah. I received Christmas cards from Hebrew speaking Christians that say Hag Ha-Molad Sameach and Hag Sameach for Hag-Hamolad. Should they be corrected?
I received Holiday Cards for New Year’s from Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, and India and noticed that they waited until after Christmas in order not to have to mention it and to only mention New Years.

2 responses to “Holiday Rambles – Dec 2010

  1. Re: “A non-Jewish girl sits on your lap.”

    Walter Wurzburger often used such hypotheticals during his Ethics classes (although to my memory, it was usually “A lovely Stern girl sits on your lap”). It’s nice to know some people were listening.

  2. Q: “What if it is New Year’s Eve and a non-Jewish girl sits on your lap with a bottle of non-kosher champagne and says lets have some fun?”

    A: Call Rabbi B. and ask ask about the permissibility of Stam Yayyin B’sha’at HaD’chak?

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