Jerusalem Post article – A bit overstated but it has a point. There are some Orthodox Jews who do go into music and art, and there are kippot at Lincoln Center – it is not all or nothing. We have to distinguish between the two points the author is making- that few Orthodox kids go into the arts and that the community is philistine and wedded to pop culture.
His answer about courage is not the issue; his answer about risk aversion seems more to the point. Anyone who wants certainty in values, certainty in religion, and certainty in society-which are the reasons many choose Orthodoxy- would want certainty in the rest of their lives. But why the be philistine? There are many European orthodox in the Hirschian tradition, that are even more stiff and certain but appreciate the arts.
It is not the shomer shabbat question because in Israel they have founded Orthodox art and music HS’s and one can attend the arts on other days of the week. And if there was talent and desire, then people would find a way.
Guest Columnist: US Orthodoxy and fear of the arts
By JJ GROSS 14/01/2011
How can a society that crams the classes of law schools and medical schools barely yield a single poet or painter?
After making aliya last March, I started taking clarinet lessons at the Academy of Music and Dance, this country’s answer to Juilliard. Unsurprisingly, my instructor, Gadi, is a graduate student at the academy. What might surprise my friends in New York – as it did me – was his kippa.
In New York, one cannot find an Orthodox teacher at a serious conservatory. In fact, the likelihood of finding a classically trained Orthodox clarinetist in the Big Apple hovers at about zero.
As the weeks progressed, I realized that Gadi was hardly an anomaly. At the academy I noticed young kippa-wearing violinists, cellists, pianists and more. And surely there were at least as many Orthodox young women.
In fact, music is not the only art in which Orthodox Israelis are represented. Here one finds Orthodox painters, filmmakers, composers, writers and poets. In America? Forget about it! A celebrated fiction writer who is also a rosh yeshiva? In America, unthinkable. Here there’s Haim Sabato.
What’s more, Israel boasts a boys yeshiva-music high school, an Orthodox girls art high school, an Orthodox film school, and even a haredi classical conservatory for girls – not to mention myriad observant students at major art academies.
The hermetic absence of Orthodox Americans in the arts has long troubled me. There has never been a society without its quota of creative spirits. African tribes, barbarians in medieval Europe, aborigines in New Zealand, Indians in Central America have always had their dancers, musicians, artists and storytellers. Orthodox Jews in America? Nada.
Art is not a luxury. It is a necessary vitamin, if not our oxygen.
Indeed, both the modern Orthodox and the yeshivish borrow their celebratory and liturgical music exclusively from the hassidic world. And one often finds hassidic paintings on modern Orthodox walls. Kitsch? Maybe. But still.
How can a society that crams the classes of law schools and medical schools barely yield a single poet or painter? One explanation must be the prohibitive cost of being religious in America. The price of admission to Orthodox society for a family of four is a combined household income in the top 2%.
Understandably, Orthodox parents steer their children into lucrative professions rather than encouraging them to do what they love (and I include the sciences as well). The word “muse” is not part of their vocabulary. Even the rabbinate and Jewish pedagogy are spurned by the best and brightest, as these do not pay enough to make Jewish life affordable. It shows in the quality of American rabbis and day-school teachers who, with a few noteworthy exceptions, are distressingly average.
I believe the answer is courage. Diaspora Jews are not blessed with a surfeit of courage. They are geniuses at risk aversion. They choose safety in numbers, safety in professions, safety in neighborhoods, safety in the cars they drive. None ride motorcycles.
Choosing painting over law, music over medical school, writing over banking takes courage. One chooses an art because it is a passion, not because it comes with a guarantee.
American Orthodox teens are fast-tracked into college and narrow-tracked into law school or dental school… And if their gift is playing oboe or videography, they don’t have frightened parents and gutless pedagogues weaning them into life with a safety net.
The writer an advertising creative director who made aliya in March. His son, who preceded him, is a lieutenant in the IDF. Read entire article here.