More Popular Culture, Two Books and SNL

I just submitted my overdue Maharal paper from the 2009 conference and now continue on my examination of popular culture. and rock and roll Orthodoxy.

1] Rodney Clapp’s ‘Border Crossings affirms that and that forays into other areas of public culture (across “borders”) should be undertaken first and foremost as Christians. Popular culture has gone mainstream in the US and religion has been swept up into popular culture American evangelicals have got to stop being so rational and seemingly intellectual, it wont reach anyone. It assumes people we disagree with are “benighted or ill-intentioned.” He says the plan of identifying with American culture leaves no alternative if it fails. Clapp instead wants greater emphasis on community and worship and less on individual belief or individual practice.
What about the future? Clapp wants greater involvement in culture but as religious people.What does a film or jazz piece teach? How does it help our journey?

Any thoughts on the application of this to orthodoxy? It seems higher education as in Mada is opposed to Torah, but popular culture seems to be synthesized well with Torah. Can we make any of Torah as counter popular culture?

Rodney Clapp’s ‘Border Crossings’ says that everything evangelicals think they know about American culture is wrong.
For this baby boomer, it’s jarring, and a little unsettling, to see Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child, Part II” being used to sell a truck. Wasn’t rock and roll–at least the good stuff–supposed to be about maintaining a critical distance from corruptive influences such as the marketplace?
American evangelicalism (specifically, the white suburban variety) is even more captive in this regard than is the music of Hendrix.
Christians should work at being an alternative to the “technologically-oriented” and “consumer-based” mainstream culture.

According to Clapp, evangelicals believe that Christian truths are “available to rationally able, well-intended individuals quite apart from any particular tradition or social context.” It may be hard to believe in our post-“Inherit the Wind” world, but evangelical faith is indeed dominated by a kind of rationalism, which says that the content of evangelical faith is expressed in propositions supposedly accessible to any “well-intended individual.” The Bible is a sort of instruction manual, albeit one sometimes more difficult to interpret than what comes with Ikea furniture.

Clapp is saying that almost everything American evangelicals know about relating to their non-evangelical contemporaries is wrong, or at least outdated. Other Americans share neither their spiritual aspirations nor their moral reasoning. Sticking to the “foundationalist” script is not only unproductive, it’s counterproductive. Why? Because in addition to assuming something about your interlocutor that isn’t true, it “inclines us towards believing that those who disagree are necessarily benighted or ill-intentioned.”

Evangelical faith places huge emphasis on the individual and the idea of a personal relationship with God. And the less said about liturgy, the better.
With no real sense of what it means to be the church–what Christians call an ecclesiology–evangelicals depend on being American–and Americans being Christian–as their sole source of a corporate identity. Little wonder so much of the “religious right’s” rhetoric is characterized by fear and sense of crisis. There’s no plan “B.”
Full review here.

2] Another Book on the topic- this one argues that youth leaders should strive for something deeper than entertainment.
In Growing Souls Mark Yaconelli reaches beyond the tendency for youth pastors to make ministry to adolescents an exercise in entertainment. He believes both adolescents and those who work with them are longing for “deeper, more authentic forms of … discipleship” but that traditional approaches don’t cultivate this

3] Finally, I wish to discuss the SNL sketch from last night.
The sketch opened and closed with a nice shot of Park East Synagogue. The sketch itself made fun of the 1980’s Bar Mizvah’s that were all Bar and no Torah. Garish Bar Mitzvah’s of entertainment, hiring Hollywood stars, sports figures, rock musicians, wild themes and high budgets. Nick Kroll, better known as the caveman of Geico commercials, helped produce a humorous documentary book on the topic a few years ago, Bar Mizvah Disco.

25 years later these bar mizvah’s seems not religious, garish and devoid of Torah and spirituality- everything that made people leave their suburban and predominately Conservative congregations. But at the same time, these events kept people in the synagogue, they served to show the relevance of Judaism.If people were into ostentatious wealth, then they found a way to keep it in the synagogue.

The NYT wrote about the book in 2005:

During this period, Mr. Neuman said, “the country clubs that used to not want to have us as members want us as members.” So the proud new members of the Cadillac-driving gentry began organizing religious ceremonies around “enduring American themes,” he continued..”

“Part of the move to the suburbs is seen as a step to being more integrated with your non-Jewish neighbors,” Dr. Shandler said. “It’s not just a family celebration. It becomes a kind of mega birthday party. Parents are using this as a social occasion, so their business associates and neighbors get invited to the celebration.

Now to what I really want to ask. Here is the SNL clip making fun of one of these Bar-Mitzvah. The father in the skit says that we do tis because we can afford it and to entertain the guests. Meaning that they see that Jews don’t have to be excluded, they can have everything in popular culture. How is this different than a Rock and Roll Shabbaton? In both there are rock performers instead of Torah. If you answer kiruv and getting people into shul, I can say the same thing about the 1980’s bar mitzvah. People wanted to be part of these suburban Jewish centers because it allowed to do the things that interested them. Both assumed that once in the door the rabbi would teach them more about Judaism. So what is the difference?

2 responses to “More Popular Culture, Two Books and SNL

  1. Both assumed that once in the door the rabbi would teach them more about Judaism. So what is the difference?

    The jury is obviously still out there on the R&R shabbaton, but I would suggest that the crucial different is in planning and intent. The garish lavish BM parties were celebrations of pure we-got-there-and-can-too. The RR shabbaton is planned as a roundabout spirituality/kiruv event. It may not be your average Aish haTorah event, but it is clearly intentionally structured around getting people in AND feeling something. That targeted emotional component is crucial. What was missing in the 80s BM scene was a plan and tools to move from A to B. That is presumable what the R&R shabbaton organizers feel that they have now began addressing.

    Personally, I do feel, however, that the R&R shabbaton is passé before even starting. Any R&R that will make it into the synagogue is likely to be golden oldies, which the young generation never heard. Please correct me if I am wrong here. So, I think that after the novelty wears off, this will only have niche appeal.

    I much sooner see social activism coupled with spirituality / meditation attract the young. And it need not be all about post Orthodox/ post Evangelical pet peeves. Judaism has a solid doctrine of fairness and equity. There is so much to do with this, whether in the legislative, in the faith-based social welfare, or in the judicial realms, not to speak of international politics (fighting for the refugees of Drafur was very energizing, and the right thing to do), to keep college students and twenty somethings busy for generations. The question is, once people settle down, in their thirties, does that still atract, and if not, what should they be transitioned to.

  2. The RR shabbaton is planned as a roundabout spirituality/kiruv event. It may not be your average Aish haTorah event, but it is clearly intentionally structured around getting people in AND feeling something.

    So how is it different than mixed dancing in the 1950’s or marching to protest political embassies int he 1980’s. It is an activity done for people already in the fold and what you are competing for is market share.The word Kiruv is used as magic dust that can turn impure into pure but it is a theological term not a sociological one. Kiruv allows us to say anything can be permitted, any change to the synagogue life can be tolerated, any upturning of the normal hierarchy is allowed. Even if that was Ok for moving people from non-observance to observance, kiruv is now used as a synonym for outreach, synagogue events, community events. Let’s have a BBQ, so now it is called kiruv and not men’s club. Part of the reason is to get the magic dust inversion of categories.
    If you are doing kiruv with people who are already floating around Orthodox synagogues or already have day school education, then it is community outreach like offering mixed dancing kept people from jumping ship to the Conservative congregation.
    The Evangelicals have the same issues in that all Churches are engaged in mission, but some have made the entertainment and cultural elements to be their core and forgotten that there was an original religious mission. Part of Rick Warren’s success is that he gets you involved after one event, and does not wait until you have been there several years. Our question about rock nRoll shabbos should be the relationship of the entertainment to mainstreaming. Aish has a single digit number who are mainstreamed, most go back to their Reform congregations looking to Aish occasionally as authenticity. If a shul had a single digit observance level then it would not be a success. Aish picks people from Birthright and Rothberg Overseas program and places where they are not observant, this event was for people already reading Orthodox shul bulletins, the unaffiliated Orthodox singles of the UWS.

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