We’re an American Blog?

Tomer who runs two excellent blogs in Israel, – one and two- called this a US blog. Is that true? I am trying to wrap my head around that one.
NYC has the largest group of my readers but the next city is the region of Gush Dan. Most of the people I interview are Anglos living in Israel-Buckholtz, Joshua Berman. I write reviews of Yair Sheleg and Eliaz Cohen. The paper I quote most often is Haaretz and that is for culture not politics! I review Jewish studies produced in Israel- Daniel Abrams, Avi Sagi, Moshe Idel. I cover kabbalists who live in Jerusalem- Rav Morgenstern. On the other hand, this blog does not reflect the majority of American Jews- the happenings of Reform and most Renewal, no representation at the CCAR, NHC, or at 92nd st Y. I dont share the concerns of Mah Rabu, Velveteen Rabbi, or Jewlicious. I dont cover the majority of great stuff happening in American Jewry.

Is this blog American? Would you call the Talmud Blog US or Israeli? Would you call JID or even the Jerusalem Post US or Israel?

My blog tends to discuss things from a vantage point relating to intellectual formation that included the cultural world of Israeli Yeshivot and Universities. I think Tomer can relate to the blog specifically because it is not too American, he is not quoting the more American blogs.

This is not a new phenomena, Safed piety was created not just in Safed but in Cairo, Venice, Damascus, Saloniki- there was a network of interests and trade routes. So too in Colonial America, Boston was culturally connected to London, but not to Virginia. Or Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem still writing in German and attending the German conferences. So in that sense I am reporting on how a certain set of ideas play themselves out in my location, like R. Gedaliah Cordovero living in Venice and writing back to Safed about his new siddur.

But is there more to this story? Is it a story of globalization.

Globalization assumes that large numbers of people are in flux and information is in flux. People do not define themselves in 19th century territorial national terms. People and ideas keep moving.
Fifteen years ago, Arjun Appadurai published Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization explaining some of the new dimensions of mobilization through small vignettes.

Appadurai describes a trip he and his wife made to a Hindu temple in Bombay. His wife asked about a Hindu priest that she had known before, and they were told that he was in Houston. The point isn’t just that they went there and he came here. He’s talking about trans-locality, and the production of locality beyond mere connection to a place. Not all Hindus live in India, and not all Indians have to live in India to maintain their Indianness.

The conjunction of media and migration means that what is imagined is no longer the “imagined community” of the nation-state, but numerous “diasporic public spheres.” Appadurai writes that “[a]s Turkish guest workers in Germany watch Turkish films in their German flats, as Koreans in Philadelphia watch the 1988 Olympics in Seoul through satellite feeds from Korea, and as Pakistani cabdrivers in Chicago listen to cassettes of sermons recorded in mosques in Pakistan or Iran, we see moving images meet deterritorialized viewers”

The US can be represented in Israel and Israel in America. Appadurai coins words like ethnoscape and mediascape. To give a relevant application of the former. Anglosaxon Israeli culture is related in Raananah, Jerusalem, Teaneck or Miami. People come and go and the culture of the Anglosaxim in Israeli is not Israeli or US. Rather a specific ethno-scape, not landscape. Charlie Buckholtz and David Hartman could be in NY or J-M, as well as their readers. The Anglo-Israeli world of JID or J-Post does not depend where the authors live. And do you feel comfortable saying that David Hartman or Shlomo Riskin are Israeli thinkers? American thinkers? or part of an ethno-scape of Anglos in Israel.

And this works because of the amazing fluidity in which people go back and forth with regularity and have spent years of their lives working in more than one country. They can even come and visit the other country for 5 trips of 3-4 weeks each. Or if you spend every summer for 20 years in the other country, besides being 5 years of time it allows one to live in both countries. I certainly see the gap year programs, the yeshivot as Anglo-Israeli products, a specific ethno-scape that transcends boundaries. Or we joke about the many people that we know, we make “aliyah” as an ideal and then return to live for many years in the US after only a year or two in Israel. They return for business, doctors, their kids education, but after a year in Israel they get to live in the US for the next decade as an “oleh,” there are even those Anglos who commute bi-weekly between Israel and the US. These are post territorial demarcations of globalization.

In terms of the media-scape, there is a realm of cultural production that occurs in more than one country but is not localized to one country. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein writings are produced in Israel but more copies are sold here. The writings of Rav Shagar or Moshe Idel (There are many names to insert) live in a mediascape that is used in an ethnoscape more than an national landscape. Many of my neighbors, watched Serugim on their computer before the DVD came out. I have probably given more papers in Van Leer in J-M than anywhere else.

Appadurai whose book mainly deals with the Indian diaspora has many insights that apply to other groups as well. For example he points out how some Indians can be universalist and tolerant in the US setting but fiercely nationalistic when they discuss politics in India. (Think of the American Jew who is universal here and fiercely nationalistic about Israel.) In the age of nationalism, people wanted to fit into the land they lived in and did not have two elements.
He also points out that in the age of media, flashpoints and images on TV can count more than your own neighborhoods. Here he gives examples of Kashmir, and Hebron overriding concern for Delhi and J-M. Or a more halakhic example, the media makes Torat Hamelekh more important than all the other responsa being written by the Religious Zionists.

So are we an American Blog?

We’re an American blog
We’re an American blog
We’re comin’ to your town
We’ll help you party it down
We’re an American blog
(With apologies to Grand Funk Railroad)

11 responses to “We’re an American Blog?

  1. I think this is very much an American blog, but the question brings to mind a lot of other interesting questions about identity.

    I presume I am not the only one of your American readers who made an unsuccessful attempt at aliyah. During the years that I lived in Israel, it always frustrated me that someone from virtually anywhere else in the world can make aliyah and is now seen by Israeli society as Israeli but an American oleh, no matter how long he or she lives in Israeli, is still seen as an American. I suspect part of that has to do with the fact that American olim made aliyah out of choice rather than necessity, retain their American citizenship, usually still have many relatives in “the old country” and go back and forth frequently.

    My sense — and it is very much impressionistic and I could be wrong — is that most of the religiously-interesting and creative stuff happening in Israel has more influence on the American scene than on the Israeli scene. There are plenty of “Shira Chadasha”-type minyanim in the States but are there others in Israel? If so, are there many non-Anglo participants? Are there many non-Anglos who daven at Shira Chadasha?

    There was a period in the late seventies and early eighties when David Hartman was pretty influential in general Israeli society. At the time I had quite a bit of contact with educators from places like Oranim and Seminar Ha-Kibbutzim and his name was mentioned frequently by non-Anglo Israeli educators. But I don’t know how much influence he has today. I venture that the Hartman Institute is a lot more influential on American Jewry than it is in Israel.

    There is certainly cross-fertilization and it goes both ways. A sabra friend of mine comes from a dati background. She did some graduate work in the US — I was her Hillel rabbi — and became interested in more egalitarian forms of Judaism. She and her husband recently had egalitarian davening in their home for their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah rather than have it in the Orthodox Jerusalem synagogue where they are members. But I wonder to what extent all of these various American phenomena when practiced in Israel get beyond a certain highly-educated elite. My friend and her husband are not Anglo per-se but they are both highly-educated, affluent, fluent English speakers and received part of their university educations outside of Israel.

    Many years ago I heard a provocative speech by Leon Wieseltier. Washington Hebrew Congregation, a large Classical Reform Temple, has an annual “State of World Jewry” or some such title lecture. Wieseltier said that for all its creativity American Jewry may ultimately prove to have made no lasting contribution to the ongoing Jewish project because all of our literary production is in English. We are the first large Diaspora not to produce our output in a Jewish language and indeed so no importance in Hebrew knowledge, by and large. How many American rabbis of whatever denomination can read an Israeli newspaper with ease? An Israeli novel? Give a talk or a drasha in Hebrew?

  2. Moshe Shoshan

    As one of your Anglo-Israeli readers, I definitively see this as an american blog. for all your familiarity with what is going on here in Israel, you still write from New Jersey and it comes across. Physical space still matters in this world. Kids growing up in places like beit shemesh call themselves “Anglos” many feel very american till they actually spend time in america and realize how Israeli they are. It is a mistake to think that we actually live in cyber space

  3. This post deserves to be fleshed out! I would love to hear more of your thoughts on globalization and the “new” anglo oleh!

    • Is your blog American or Israeli or Anglo? And it is not just that some of the US born come home for the summer, but one of your Israeli members is teaching at Drisha.
      What does it mean to be an oleh, if you would accept a tenure track position in the US?
      How much of your readership is as mobile between countries as you are?
      Most importantly, You have lived in Boston, Baltimore, Jerusalem, and NY. Is your time in J-M different than the others? Is living in Boston and NY different than J-M and NY?
      What is the intellectual relationship of your Irano-Talmud studied in the US from that of HU? Finally, if you are chosen to stay at HU, would it not be specifically because of what you are bringing from NY?

  4. I think that the mere fact a blog is broadcast in a global way precludes it from being labeled American or Israeli or whatever. The issues on this blog traverse both societies and to me it boils down different aspects of the Jewish cultural experience. Looking at the blog, while some does focus on Israeli culture and academia, much of the other material is American, such as the discussion about mormonism and about half shabbos. Yet, both of those areas are merely locale based, as the Israeli academia is written for an American audience, hence its language, and its not as if the material you are reviewing tends to be Hebrew academic works. I think labeling any blog is anathema to the general idea of the internet as a global community.

  5. I would say you’re blog is American because you were born in America and spent most of your life there, however much you travel abroad. In addition you’re an American because as a citizen you subscribe I would hope to the idea of America, political liberalism, with equal rights and opportunities for minorities. You understand how a republic with a constitution separating church and state is so very important in a fair and decent society. Some Israelis believe in these values, but many don’t at least with regard to the Palestinians and the rights of secular Jews to marry and divorce. I also assume you do not subscribe at the political level to Jewish or Israeli exceptionalism, whereby all other nations must protect minorities and allow religious freedom, but Jews have a right revealed in the Torah to act differently.
    Your appeal to globalization is for me also problematic. I think except for the very wealthy with multiple mansions, most people think of one place they are happy to call home. If you consult the literature on globalization it is supposed to entail deterritorialization, according to which a growing variety of social activities takes place irrespective of the geographical location of participants. Zionists have worked for over a century to establish a state in a particular place. They would be shocked to learn territory is no longer very important. I assume you are closer to Zionists than to Satmar, so this globalization is not exactly a cause for celebration. Similarly for the second main consequence of globalization, the speeding up of time. Judaism has not changed its liturgical year, we don’t celebrate Pesach twice a year, Shabbus has not been abolished, everything goes on at the same pace as it did for our ancestors. And we are all grateful for this resistance to globalization. Even the neo-liberal goal of arbitraging labor markets (outsourcing), whereby capitalists shift production to low wage countries, has not affected life inside the world of Judaism. If it did, I have no doubt all our tefilin and sefer torahs would be produced in China. Computer guys are threatened, but for the moment sofrim are safe. Many religious Jews spend their free time on Talmudic studies in depth. Life doesn’t get much slower than 30 blatt a year. The upshot is that Judaism spends much of its capital, both financial and human to resist globalization, and we rightfully take pride in pushing against the winds of change. What I am trying to say is that globalization might describe macro trends affecting the world’s economies. As a personal ideal it is far from being an advance over what we had. There is much to be said for being a provincial and taking life slow.

  6. Pingback: Talmud in the New World | The Talmud Blog

  7. EJ-
    I am definitely American but I don’t reflect the broad spectrum and variety of American Jewry. I have an American context but a narrow focus of a few neighborhoods in the US but that also includes South Jerusalem, I may be an American antipode to some of the Israeli and Anglo-Israeli trends, clearly American yet enmeshed in a group of people forming culture on both sides of the Atlantic.
    For many the gap year has created a second city for them to feel comfortable living in and returning on a regular basis. Not just the very wealthy or global few. And the very programs are the Israeli soil are an antipode to their symbolic and projected images of Israel. But they are not really Israeli, they are Anglo.
    And in my neighborhood, people commute regularly between the countries. My upcoming posts will include the books people are bringing me this month from Israel.
    Yet, I don’t really think the two ends are antipods. It is something much more complex. Maybe Shai will weigh in with his thoughts.
    I am not sure why you fell into the false dichotomy rhetoric of Zionist or Satmar, but many elements of Judaism as practiced are not territorial. And this Anglo aliyah that is not unidirectional and not permanent is not classic Zionism.
    Israel is affecting second day Yom Tov among many things. And American brought women’s learning to Israel. Yair Sheleg did a small pamphlet a decade ago about the Anglos in Israel- it was too meager and had the wrong focus. A longer study is definitely needed.

    Actually, I think that many of us have multiple formulations of our identities. Interfaith & Kabbalah are also not reducible to a simple US or Israel.

  8. Asking whether this blog is “American” is like asking whether we should classify it as “Betamax” or “VHS.”

    Since the advent of mass media, geography’s importance in cultural identity and belief began to recede. An entire country could listen to Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and many people across wide geographic divides adopted the beliefs of their preferred moderate anchorman.

    Narrow-casting on cable TV allowed broadcasters to find a particular niche of identity, and serve them very strong opinions. People could use cable TV to associate with a particular identity — regardless of where they were — and have their beliefs comfortably spit back at them.

    Now social networking allows people to interact solely with people of increasingly specific and similar beliefs and preferences — again, regardless of where they live.

    What makes us read and interact with this blog is our idiosyncratic preferences for a particular type of thinking about Jewish things. Where we were raised and live now probably plays only a secondary role in building those preferences.

    To illustrate, I would ask how many people in your kindergarten class are also participating in this blog (I don’t believe any of mine are, but of course you never know with anonymous posters).

  9. I moved from Kiryat-Atta to Jerusalem this week, and so unfortunately only now have I read this post. So, sorry for that, and thank you Prof’ Brill for your kind words.

    I’ll just say why I referred to your blog as “US Judaism” – it’s simply that I find that most posts and talkback discussions here deal with the (evolving and changing) boarders and boundaries of Jewish American denominations and views. So it’s not only the attitude, or the accent, so to speak, which is American, but the subjects you mostly deal with. At least that’s my impression.

  10. (Professor Emeritus) Alan Jay Weisbard, Madison, WI

    Just FYI–here is one non-Orthodox, long-time NHC havurahnik, plopped down in the American Middle West, who reads and enjoys your blog on a regular basis. I found your publication of (and/or links to) the Arthur Green /Daniel Landes exchange of particular interest and value. Keep them coming.

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