Monthly Archives: March 2012

A chat with Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn

And your eyes shall see your teacher, Isaiah 30:20

Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, mara d’atra of the West Side Institutional Synagogue, and I have been in email correspondence for over a year and a half and we were never able to fix a time to meet. So, before he leaves town to his new pulpit and before I have deadlines for the next book we found time to meet.  He chose the place to meet, the swank lounge at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel overlooking Central Park.

In the background to our meeting was my monitoring his high-profile synagogue events that use popular culture, his lecturing on pop-psych, and his general trendiness in his programming. He offers a model of a popular culture Orthodox Rabbi to contrast with the Evangelical Orthodox Rabbi or Oprah Orthodox rabbi.  His model is so popular and useful that the OU has given him his own group, program, and website called Wings to work with synagogues training and retraining personal and clergy into the new approaches. The OU website describes Einhorn  as a musician, “as having developed a critically “Simcha Seminar,” authored multiple books, released a CD and grown his shul by more than 70% in the past four years. On his blog, Rabbi Einhorn shares his thoughts and his research on how to be productive and imbue everything you touch with success.”

I came into the meeting expecting to talk about popular culture, sports, and entertainment and instead found myself discussing spiritual seeking and how to learn from the lives of the gedolim. I also was surprised to be hearing a spiritual autobiography in progress.

Einhorn describes the need for his age group, the younger gen x  and older gen y rabbis to seek the experiential.  They grew up with a strict halakhic diet and a rationalist worldview which did not sustain their cravings for religious experience that they were taught to value in Israel. They moved from ipad and MTV to a year in Israel where they acquired black hats, allegiance to rabbinic authority and complete submission to Torah. But they also developed a yearning for the spirituality they found in Rav Zilberstein with his ecstatic third meals in darkness or the tisch kabbalah of Rav Morgenstein or Rav Moshe Wolfson. They were not attracted to the slow study of classic Kabbalaistic texts rather the saintliness and supernaturalism. They loved the emotional devotionalism of zaddikim. The recently deceased  Steipler, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky (d.1985) offered a role model of the aspirational goals of the Yeshiva experience.

Living in a post-lummdus age, Einhorn like the Torah that he learns and teaches to be the short sound bites. Great single paragraph “juicy chaps” as he calls them and he wants them to also have a practical difference. His seforim shelf includes: Rabbi Abba Mordechai Berman, Shiurei Iyun Hatalmud, Businessman Zvi Ryzman Ratz keTzvi, R. Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, Mishmeres Chaim and R. Yoav Joshua Weingarten, Sefer Kaba de-kashyata.  His tastes are part a return to Polish Hasidic Torah and part contemporary Haredi. In haskafah, he likes Rav Dessler Miktav miEliyahu and Rav Schwatz’s  Bilvavi. Like a Polish Rabbi, he attempts to finish Shas once a year And unlike a Brisker approach, he returns Torah to its thick weave of unrelated questions and answers, satisfied with a cleaver answer.  Einhorn attended the non-hesder Ohr Yerushalayim and then YU, spending four years under Rav Schachter, but this method seems more reflective of his generation that was no longer satisfied with halakhah or the rationality of Hesder or Lumdus approaches.

His is a generation that did not know the lumdus of Rav Soloveitchik, the heart of Reb Shlomo Carlebach, or a regular Shabbos in Modzitz. Nor do they know the third meal in darkness from  the old-time world of Satmar, the Bobover rebbe or mussar.  Their character formation was in the beis medrash in gap-year programs in Israel and they returned  to the US – either YU or Ner Yisrael to complete their formation as a ben Torah. They continued college in the same natural, but sheltered, way that they achieved high school, as something that is done. But they are outside of high culture, and lack any rubric for philosophy, psychology, or religion. He represents a generation wide-eyed in search of its own spirituality.

Einhorn found his spirituality when he discovered the world of motivational management books and could not get enough of them. He devoured the books on how to improve one’s leadership, how to motivate those under you and how to push yourself to your potential.  An action centered gregarious form of self-fulfillment in the real world. He also read Rick Warren and the other motivational Evangelical but they were only part of the broader quest for tips and ideas for self-motivation.

Rabbi Einhorn is absolutely sold on Tony Robbins’s program for fire-walking to be transformed and to release the potential within. Not only has he undergone the fire-walking seminar, he encourages other Orthodox rabbis to do the same. Einhorn has also attended Landmark seminars (a derivative from Werner Erhard’s EST) and appreciates the importance of Neuro-Linguistic Programing for motivating others. (Be prepared for ever new emphasis on emotional manipulation in the Orthodox youth organizations.)

For Einhorn, these seminars show our potential to grow in our service to God and be like the gedolim. If we overcome our fears and hesitance we can be anything. The conversation in the cocktail lounge was entirely on the amazing heights of the gedolim and their worship of God; they lived up to the potential human in their service. Rarely was Torah mentioned, the focus was on avodah.  He rejoiced in telling me how he was using social media to get people to click on pictures of gedolim they liked. For Einhorn, even though the Gedolim are anti-modern anti-social, and certainly anti-social media, we use social media to spread a need to serve God the way the gedolim do. Gedolim don’t do facebook but they have the worship of God that we want. We shared a common interest in the need for exemplarily of saints as a necessity in the religious life.

I asked him: what is the avodah, the service of God that he seeks and preaches? He answered: Meaning in their everyday life.  I asked: Like Victor Frankl? Einhorn answered: “I want people to find meaning in life like Rabbi David Wolpe teaches.” He has met Wolpe and is especially proud that Wolbe has quoted him. Yet, he consistently puts Wolpe’s teaching in the mouth of the Gedolim because they are frum and offer an imaginary ideal of a humanistic way to serve God. Wolpe is not connected to the gedolim so his message has to be put in their mouth. Wolpe runs Friday night live as entertainment but achieves religious commitment,  Einhorn does the same.  Yet I ask: Why cant it be done in the name of Wolpe, admit you differ with him over theology and mizvot and that you have a deep ideological divide but your results match his and not that of Rav Eliyashiv?

What is avodah?  It deals with our deep issues, all of life is an avodah, not just the finding of mizvot in our day but the process of fully living.  God is in the heart and the currencies of the heart are inspiration, peak moments, life’s meanings and our personal relationship with God.

Einhorn repeated several times that his presentations of the gedolim, whether the Steipler or Rav Eliashiv is imaginary. They serve as aspirational foci but Einhorn bears no responsibility for the actual ascetic, stringent, and anti-social life of the gedolim.

The source for his daily examples of how to live life are from Rock stars, athlete,  celebrities, and other avatars of pop culture. They are the appropriate mussar  to reaches us where we are at. According to Einhorn, the rock stars are not the source for how to lead our daily lives, gedolim are. He uses lyrics, especially the ability to tap into deep wells of angst or hope, to point us in the direction of doing the things the gedolim do.Bono’s religious quest is ideal for sermons. Yet, it is important to note that many Evangelical leaders are weary of Bono, despite his religious quest, because he “still hasn’t found what he is looking for.” While Einhorn embraces the human journey of rock stars and his congregants.  The justification for pop culture is because it will bring us to the spiritual levels of the gedolim.

Prior ages focused on Hasidic tales and made them into Romantics, or popularists or Renewal   But Rav Nahman is dead and Besht is dead so one does not have to live with their sectarian nature of Hasidism. But here Rav Eliyashiv is equated with gregarious social marketing and manipulation. He told me a story of Rabbinic friend of his of the same age who found himself by traveling to Wyoming with only $150 and his ID. In order to get back home, his friend had to build resilience and the ability to open up to people by learning to work odd jobs and chat with common people. That is the way to grow and the gedolim stories, told by Einhorn, show that they did similar things.  Extrovert self-help and human potential is the image of the gedolim.

In his opinion, his approach is not cruise ship Orthodoxy or just entertainment because he sees lives touched. He seeks to actively change people lives as a rabbi, and people do change their lives and their observance and attain a meaningful life.

Yet, the real source of Einhorn’s teachings is the motivational literature, especially Tony Robbin’s Leadership Academy seminar, in which participants learn to “[c]reate an identity for them self as someone who can help ‘anyone’, no matter what his/her challenge may be. Participants walk barefoot over hot coals by the end of the first evening. The aim of the seminar, demonstrated in the firewalk, is to illustrate that the main quality shared by those who achieve greatness is the ability to take action called personal power.  The physical is ALWAYS rules by thought; nothing can happen on the physical plane until or unless it first happens in the thought plane; The power of focus will get you through even the most seemingly impossible obstacles. For, Robbin’s people pursue an imaginary someday of satisfaction. And Einhorn offers the imaginary perfection of the gedolim. People can “transform” by simply declaring a new way of being instead of trying to change themselves in comparison to the past.

He recounted a curious side story when he was bombarded by 1000’s of calls and emails from the Hadar community when he was going to speak at a memorial for Meir Kahane. In general, people don’t protest cross denominational lines. Members of BJ or Anshei Chesed were not the ones to protest WSIS. This belies a sense that they share a common social group even if the two institutions are ideological poles apart.

Einhorn noted that the current major Orthodox educational institutions are not contributing to this quest for meaning and religious experience so students have no need to attend them.

As we ended our discussion, I mentioned that his approach may come under scrutiny in the upcoming years because structurally there is an inherent clash between Talmud Torah to produce gedolim and popular culture. He noted the warning and we parted.

Back from Traveling

I was busy traveling for an entire month. I gave many lectures over each extended weekend and then parachuted back into NJ to teach midweek. I met many readers of the blog whom I had never met.  I dont post about traveling before I go as not to let people know when the house is empty. I will have lots of new posts in the weeks to come.

My readership slows to a crawl the two days before Passover but usually jumps to a peak the day after the holiday- the posts will be posted accordingly.

New book-Judaism and World Religions: Encountering Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Traditions

Judaism and World Religions: Encountering Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Traditions-– Alan Brill

Officially published today- March 13, 2012      Amazon       Barnes & Noble  (I will have copies for sale at my home or office for $49)

“In this major new contribution, Brill builds upon his earlier path breaking work on Jewish views of other religions. With expertise in both comparative theology and in traditional Jewish texts—a rare combination indeed—he again demonstrates his impressive ability to tackle this vital topic. The work is methodologically sophisticated, as Brill critically engages with key thinkers on interreligious relations. It is also stunningly wide-ranging. He not only delves deeply into Jewish reflections on Christianity and Islam but assembles enlightening but little-known texts on Eastern religions as well. Thanks to Brill’s valuable work, scholars of Judaism and of religion are well-equipped to deal with a topic of great importance in the modern world.” — Adam Gregerman, Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies, Baltimore, MD

“Alan Brill examines the attitudes found in Jewish classical literature and contemporary writings towards western and eastern religions. Brill understands various writers inherently express a wide range of views ranging from rejecting to welcoming. The perspective is designed to argue for a more inclusive and tolerant stance based on modern mind-sets and deeper understandings of Christianity and Islam and even Judaism itself. His wide knowledge of world religions from the perspectives of inside practitioners and outside academic scholars of religion allows him to present original and thought provoking arguments for greater religious recognition of the other.” — Herbert Basser, Queen’s School of Religion, Queen’s University, Kingston Canada

“In presenting the urgency, the possibility, but also the complexity of a Jewish engagement with other religious traditions, Brill works consistently with concrete texts and particular contexts.  Doing so, he not only speaks appropriately to Jews but challengingly to Christians.  By being uniquely Jewish, Brill’s book is a distinctive contribution to the general discussion on how to make religious sense out of religious diversity.”– Paul Knitter, Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions, and Culture, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Alan Brill’s work is an encyclopedic contribution to the literature on religious pluralism. It is at once a guide to the spectrum of Jewish interpretations of other faiths, an insightful analysis of the contemporary interreligious landscape and a sampler of Brill’s own comparative thinking in regard to some major traditions. Through argument and by example, this book encourages a new depth of Jewish engagement in the theological discussion of diversity.– S. Mark Heim,  Samuel Abbot Professor of Christian Theology, Andover Newton Theological School

Judaism and World Religions is essential for a Jewish theological understanding of the various issues in encounters with the other major religions. With passion and clarity, Brill argues that in today’s world of strong religious passions and intolerance, it is necessary to go beyond secular tolerance toward moderate religious positions. Brill outlines strategies for Jews who want to remain true to traditional sources while interacting with the diversity of the world’s religions.

This companion volume to Judaism and Other Religions provides the first extensive collection of traditional and academic Jewish approaches to the religions of the world. In the majority of volume, he presents an excellent survey of the possibilities contained in the texts useful for discussing Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism from a Jewish point for view.

Daniel Boyarin- new book The Jewish Gospels

Daniel Boyarin just published a new book The Jewish Gospels: the Story of the Jewish Christ, an attempt at a popularization of his thought. Boyarin professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California, Berkeley is influential on the current generation of scholars and is only now beginning to filter down to the clergy level. Boyarin has written on early Jewish–Christian relations and emphasizes that in the early centuries, there was no clear border between the two faiths. Both groups were figuring out their identity based on and in contrast to the other group. One of his earlier books, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity, was part of the new wave of Pauline scholarship showing that Paul did not reject Judaism but he rather sought to create a universal religion for the gentiles.

In this new book, The Jewish Gospels: the Story of the Jewish Christ, he draws the conclusions of his prior work Border Lines and present them in clear layman’s term. The book was meant to be a popular summery of his ideas. In short, every idea in early Christianity is to be found in the variety of Judiasms of the first century. There were Jewish groups who built their Judaism on Daniel, on Isaiah, and the ideas of Qumran. The Pseudepigrapha was not just a funky alternative to our midrashic narratives, rather they were people’s lived version of Torah

Boyarin looks at the first and second centuries where you have some Jews focusing on the book of Daniel and expecting a mediator figure as redeemer, some even expecting the mediator to be the suffering servant. There was widespread bi-theism or binitarianism within Judaism where Jews perceived God as an unknown God and a lower logos of God. The ideas of a complex godhead (a God with two or three persons) have their origins in the Judaism of Jesus’ time and before him. Many, perhaps most, Jews were expecting a Redeemer who was an anthropomorphic divine being, known as the Son of Man.

Boyarin follows the scholarship on the historic Jesus and rejects the popular view that thinks that the Gospels speak of Jesus as abrogating and setting aside the Torah, Boyarin proposes that the Jesus of Mark defended the Torah, and that Jesus, himself, was portrayed as keeping the Sabbath and the kosher rules. Many hold it was the suffering and dying of Jesus that caused a break with traditional Judaism, Boyarin shows that the idea of a suffering Messiah was not foreign to Judaism even beyond the Jesus movement. Boyarin calls on Jews to stop vilifying Christian ideas about God as simply a collection of “unJewish,” perhaps pagan ideas; Jews should stop seeing Christian ideas as bizarre and see them as paths not taken.

Much of the fluid location of division centers on what Boyarin calls Jewish Binitarianism in which there is a lower entity below God that still bears many of the elements of God or is God’s manifestation on earth. Second Temple literature is replete with forms of bitheism, including the philonic logos and the Ezekiel traditions of an Angel of God in the image of a man appearing on the throne. Even rabbinic liturgical terminology, such as the Alenu hymn, speaks of “The Lord of All” as distinct from the “Creator of Bereshit.” (A compete treatment of the topic of bi-theism by Boyarin- here in pdf.)

For Jews, the two powers are one and a person does not worship one without the other. Most Jews are no longer aware of this bitheism and the rabbinic polemics against considering them two entities. Yet by the time we are done with the book, or actually from the very first pages of the volume, the Trinity is a Jewish concept

Boyarin thinks that many of the theological concepts, which earlier scholarship, such as Rudolf Bultmann, had credited to a Hellenistic break from Judaism are actually antecedent to rabbinic Judaism as part of second Temple Judaism. Bultmann in the 1920s declared that the wisdom traditions of the logos were not a living force in Judaism. For Boyarin, the logos is ever present as the site of God’s presence in the world in the targumim, in Philo of Alexandria, in Ben Sira, and then later in the midrashim.

This is not at all like the ill-informed gibberish of Boteach who lacked any research skilled. Yet, I don’t know how this will play out among ordinary non-academic Jews. Boyarin does not accept Kosher Jesus and thinks that Rabbinic Judaism in its definition rejected it. This rejection of a “second power” by rabbinic Jews, begins a “heresiological” process in Christianity and Judaism. Polemics created the nascent borders, yet it was intellectual “smugglers who transported discourses [. . .] in both directions across the abstract frontier of the two groups.” In non-technical terms, Boyarin assumes that these positions were slowly rejected in the first centuries though self-definitions and polemics. They were no longer kosher by the end of the process.

In contrast, the academic field won’t accept all of Boyarin’s conclusions; however, they will embrace the book because he pushes the limit on questioning our essentialism and fixed boundaries of the first century.

New Potential Group of Orthodox Female Clergy- graduates of the GPATS

On today’s Huffington Post, Gilah Kletenik an alumnus of Stern College’s Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS) has moved from calling herself educator to being an Orthodox Jewish clergy. She has burst beyond her official title of Congregational Scholar at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun  by officially calling herself clergy and for the removal of the glass ceiling for female clergy.Along the way, she is going to “ameliorate the religious fundamentalism and extremism” through “cooperation across the denominational, religious and secular spectrum.” She can now be counted among America’s rabbis by a simple reorientation of her thinking. 

Republican Congressman Darrel Issa deserves our gratitude for his selection of an all-male panel of clergy witnesses to testify at the recent congressional hearing on reproductive rights and religious freedom. He has unintentionally sounded a startling and overdue wake-up call concerning the face of religion in America. Thankfully, our country is finally able to appreciate the deep disparity in the ranks of our spiritual leadership. According to a 2009 finding by the Census Bureau, women comprise only 17% of our country’s clergy.

As a young Orthodox Jewish clergywoman and former intern at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, I am especially grateful to the GOP. It has drawn national attention to the need for women religious leaders. Particularly, when our reproductive rights are continuously imperiled in the name of religion. 

The gender disparity amongst clergy is not simply a concern to those among us who belong to synagogues, churches, mosques and other houses of worship or who are actively engaged with our faith. Rather, it affects all Americans, believers and atheists alike, whether we like it or not.

It is time for all citizens to take claim over religious leadership in our country and to push for gender parity throughout its ranks.

Perhaps engaging the other half of our population in the spiritual ranks might even ameliorate the religious fundamentalism and extremism we have come to take for granted here in America.

Together with my female colleagues, on a daily basis, I am engaged in the arduous task of breaking the stained glassed ceiling. However, our efforts will prove unfruitful unless there is cooperation across the denominational, religious and secular spectrum.


Read the Rest Here


A YU Centrist Orthodoxy Guide to College

About two years ago, when I started this blog a document appeared on Torahweb (a website dedicated to the values of the influential Centrist Orthodox Roshei Yeshiva) that is a great primary document about the opinions of a solid plurality of YU in the last decade. The document reflects the tension between the Centrist Torah lifestyle of study, Yirat shamayim, and family on one side and the needs to have a solid upper-middle class well-paying career on the other. The document is 20 pages long, so here are just excerpts- here is a pdf. I am surprised that in the interim no one has gone beyond mere mention and picked up on for definition or fully discussed the document. I see the document as extremely important for understanding certain segments of the community. (I was reminded of it because I went for mincha yesterday to a group that both produced and is reflective of the document, wonderful people).

A Ben Torah’s Guide to Parnassa

The goal of this publication is to share with current talmidim the insight and experience of bnai Torah who are, b’ezras Hashem, succeeding both in their profession and in other aspects of life. They discuss how to prepare for and succeed in their profession, as well as how to strike a proper balance between hishtadlus forparnassa and other mitzvos. We hope that this will give current talmidim the information they need to avoid the trap of spiritual mediocrity.

Hashem is perfectly capable of making things work out for us. However, He requires that we play by His rules, i.e. we must make a realistic hishtadlus, keep our priorities straight, and trust that He will bless our efforts with whatever success we are allocated each year on Yomim Noraim. One who thinks that it is in his hands to earn a living (“kochi v’otzem yadi” – Devarim 8:17) is delusional. At the same time, one who does not play by Hashem’s rules and expects things to work out on all fronts is severely misguided. Of course, our hishtadlus is not limited to parnassa! We must also make a realistic hishtadlus for having learning time and family time.

Invest in Your Future
There is a common, and unfortunate, desire among bnei Torah to “patter up” college as quickly and as easily as possible. This desire, when examined in the context of a life-long pursuit of shleimus in avodas Hashem, must be seen as nothing other than a powerful atzas Yetzer Harah. The modern economy awards those with higher levels of skills and training. One whose goal is to “patter up” college generally chooses an easy major in college which may not provide professional skills that would be in high demand in the economy.

One who wants time to learn, parent, and properly perform the other duties of a ben Torah, is looking for a better than average work situation and must therefore have better than average qualifications and training. One who “pattered up” college and did not go to graduate school will not be in high demand, and the odds are that he will have to work long hours for the majority of his career to make ends meet, thus eliminating learning time, parenting time, etc. Similarly, in tough economic times, it is easiest to fire lower-skilled employees, as they are easily replaced once the economy picks up again.

The Yetzer Harah dresses himself up in the clothing of “tzidkus” and “hasmada,” telling you that you need to over-extend your learning time for the three or four years you are in college by “pattering up” college. But in so doing he undermines your avodas Hashem for the rest of your adult life.

A talmid who seeks shleimus should invest the time to get the higher level of skills and training that will enable him to command a better work situation and thus more time for learning and other mitzvos. This means taking college seriously and, more often than not, going to graduate school.

Of course, one must also spend long hours in the beis medrash during his college years. After all, if one does not learn to correctly balance learning and college, how can he be confident he will balance learning with working, parenting, and more? A talmid in Y.U., for example, should strive to have at least a full morning seder,shiur, and a significant night seder, coupled with serious college studies that are relevant to his parnassa.

Priorities and Lifestyle
It is the priority of a ben-Torah to follow the will of the Ribono shel Olam as outlined by the Torah and interpreted by Chazal. Our priorities have an enormous affect on all of our life decisions: what occupation to choose, whom to marry, and where to live. As early as high school we start making priority-based, career-oriented decisions that will significantly impact our avodas Hashem, be it our bein adam lamakom (learning, tefillah btzibbur, etc.) or our bein adam lachaveiro (being a good spouse, parent, etc.).

Our priorities determine the lifestyle we would like to live and that lifestyle will heavily influence our choice of occupation. WordNet defines the term “lifestyle” to mean “a manner of living that reflects the person’s values and attitudes”. If our true priority in life is to serve Hashem, we will choose a lifestyle which will deemphasize physical luxuries and allows us time to learn and be good parents. If we choose to work long hours for a high salary while sacrificing growth in learning and time with our children, our lifestyle makes a clear statement (especially to our children) about our real priorities, all lip-service to the contrary notwithstanding.

In order to avoid a spiritually bankrupt lifestyle we must differentiate between comfort and luxury. We need to know what is necessary for the level of yishuv hadaasthat will allow us to optimally serve Hashem and know when we have crossed the line into a pursuit of luxury that will pull us away from serving Hashem.

Personal Accounts
In this section bnei Torah in different professions share their own experiences and approaches to balancing work and other mitzvos. Their accounts include both general advice as well as personal reflections. The general advice gives the reader the facts and insights he needs to make informed career decisions. The more personal reflections provide a glimpse into the decisions these bnei Torah made and into the role of yad Hashem in their careers.

So now, instead of working at a prestigious big firm job with a nice window office in midtown Manhattan with a secretary and access to paralegals and junior associates, I work for a company in a windowless office in a boring office park in suburban NYC and I make my own copies. But I usually get home by 7 pm to help my kids with their homework and put them to bed. At my law firm job, working late into the night was routine. For my in-house jobs, it is a rarity. There is no question that my in-house jobs have provided more time outside the office for family and learning than the big law firm jobs. Not being in NYC also helps since the commute is shorter and there are far fewer people in the office that have made their work their life.

Computer Science
1. Live reflectively. Have a daily mussar seder and some kind of daily reminder (ex – daily alarm on your phone) of why/how you work. Otherwise, you are in great danger of “going with the flow” of the corporate culture. The culture of corporate America is a secular religion, and you need to be strong in your real religion to not get sucked in.
2. If possible, learn daily in a yeshiva. Once “grown up”, one is less likely to accept spiritual mediocrity for himself if he is consistently exposed to the ruach of a yeshiva.

One of the first things I had to get used to was being called by my English name, which I rarely used in the previous 21 years of my life. Although today, with many other minorities having non-English names as well as many frum Jews deciding to use their Hebrew names, going by one’s Hebrew name is much less of an issue now than it was 15-20 years ago. I would highly recommend keeping your Hebrew name since it goes with my overall theme of maintaining your Jewish identity and not being bashful at all about it. (In fact, as you will see, you will be treated with more respect.)

1. You only have one chance to make a statement about how important Yidishkeit is to you. Once you cross the line, it is almost impossible to go back. If you give-in once, you are doomed. I remember interviewing on a Friday afternoon for my current position, the series of interviews dragged on and the fifth one that day, with my prospective boss, was cutting into my driving home time to make Shabbos. After realizing it is now or never, I politely apologized and informed him that I needed to leave for sundown. He completely understood and was actually a bit embarrassed that he might be infringing upon my Sabbath. After I got the job, he mentioned to me what strong moral courage it took to do this and it was one reason why he hired me.

Medicine 1
In addition, given the length of time spent in training, you should not view these years as time to get through as quickly as possible. Typically you will spend your late 20s and early 30s in training. This a critical time for your personal, family, limud hatorah, and ruchniyos development. During this time you will likely see your family begin to grow, and you will be making decisions that will impact you and your family throughout your working life. The portion of your time outside of classes and clinical activities should center around your family, your shul, and/or your frum friends.

People who have successfully [from the point of view of shmiras mitzvos and yiras shomayim] navigated the long training period in medicine have had their social and family life anchored by individuals and institutions who share values they wish to reinforce. Conversely, people who developed their primary friendships with individuals whose values are not defined by Torah were rarely successful in staying frum.

1. Develop a relationship with a rav or poseik with whom you can freely turn to ask sheilos. These will be numerous. Issues ranging from Shabbos to Yichud toMaacholos Assuros and even end-of-life questions will come up. Patients will turn to you with questions that have halachic ramifications. Make sure you pass them on to a poseik.
2. One of the secrets of getting through medical school and post-graduate training and remaining frum is to develop as many connections as possible with thefrum community. If you are male, tefilla betzibur whenever possible is critical. If there are regular shiurim or chavrusos available, take part. Nowadays, if you don’t have a local chavrusa available, set up a telephone chavrusa. If you are a woman, daven in a shul on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Go to shiurim.

Physics / Engineering
“What’s a good Jewish boy going to do as an engineer/physicist?” I cannot tell you how many times I heard variants of the above question from various relatives and friends throughout my years in high-school and college. Now, more than 15 years later, I still hear the same question.

Read the Rest Here and as pdf file here.

David Brooks, American Religion, and I: De-conversion and the Quest for the Heroic

I was traveling so I did not get to write this up until now.

On Thursday February 16th, David Brooks called Lin heroic due to his education and belief in contrast to the vulgarity of sports; he even connected Lin to Rav Soloveitchik. I got a smile about it because I had typed the same thing three days prior on Monday February 13th. That prior Monday I had entered into my computer a paraphrase from a new book that “most contemporary religious American life was dogmatic hierarchy grounded in an absolute transcendent with contrasting foreground of the self-obsessed contingent individuals lost in money, sports, and consumerism.” The new book asked: What happened to the hero of modernity? Where are the heroic visions of Camus, Unamuno, or Niebuhr? I noted to myself that Monday: We should compare contemporary Evangelical or Centrist approaches to Rav Soloveitchik’s Lonely Man of Prayer. And my relationship with Brooks has been going on like this for several years.

When Brooks published his Social Animal last March, I had just written my Orthodox Forum paper. Looking at the footnotes to Brook’s book, I saw that we had very similar reading lists, we kept up on the same authors, journals, and schools of thought, and we agree on what was an important fact. The difference was that he glorified the intuitions of the middlebrow upper middle class life style and I had described problems from both secular and Torah perspectives.

So, on Feb 13th I was reading James S. Bielo’s important new book Emerging Evangelicals: Faith Modernity, and the Desire for Authenticity (NYU Press, Oct. 2011) where he contrasts the heroic religion of mid-twentieth century to the combined authoritarian and self-absorbed religion of today. Bielo relied on several articles written by others in 2009 and 2010, but whether Brooks had just read Bielo or had read the earlier articles we are still keeping pace. The differences was that Brooks offered a self-comforting message that Lin is our religious heroic similar to Soloveitchik and my notes pointed out the contrasts.

In any case, James S. Bielo’s Emerging Evangelicals is a good book and worth reading by academics, its notecard summaries of the current data and micro-studies would be too much for a general reader. His book is part of a new trend of Christian Anthropology, that is, not asking questions about the relationship of religion and modernity, rather the more subtle questions that distinguish between congregations.

Bielo points out how many people are now moving beyond their Evangelical religion of the 1990’s to new forms especially the Emergent Church. He contrasts what they are leaving and what they are seeking. You can compare the Evangelical issues to the Orthodox concerns of the gen y and gen z.

1) 1990’s made everything into “objective” facts, into truth claims and dogmatic truth or wrapped themselves up in a mantel of scientific objectivity.
Now people want their religion to speak about the human narrative, human relations, or our problems and frailties.
2)The 1990’s made everything text based and now people want local concerns, local color and lived life.
3)The 1990’s counted heads and wanted outreach and now people want saintliness and sincerity. (Germane to the Brooks discussion, we don’t do kiruv by sports and pop culture. Brooks found the heroic in sports.)
4)The 1990’s dogmatically insisted that one must follow the religious mores and practices of the 1980s and 1990s, now people want to go back to medieval, Renaissance, and even early twentieth century. We can now go back to viable practice and ides from earlier times.
5)Finally, the current trends seek an authenticity in religion – liberation from false beliefs and practices of suburban life that undermine freedom. Now there is desire to overcome fragmented, economic pressured consumerism. For more, see Bielo’s introduction.

The best part, in my opinion, of Bielo’s book is his discussion of deconversion. Bielo contrasts those who go off the path and leave- usually from a more restrictive enclave- to those who are deconverted and are left in a wilderness or looking for a new formulation. The latter group of Emergents find that the religion is not what they were promised or what they think is correct so they go the way of many greats before them and seek a return to true religion. They don’t question religion as a whole, rather they want something different. In Bielo’s case, they become Emergent Church. They are self-conscious about what they want, unlike those who leave religion and their conversion involves an opening of the eyes and a loss of naivete (see Louis Frankenthaler on Haredi Departure Narratives).

Bielo and the hundreds of studies of the last six years show that knowledgeable people are leaving because they find their religious group too dogmatic, or too anti-science, or lacking artistic values, intellectual striving, and creativity. They were promised a religion has the best of Orthodoxy and the modern world and did not find it. This is the point where Bielo shows that they are not leaving the Church but “deconverting.” They are involved in a two step process of turning from their communities and formulating a self-conscious critique. They become more into relgion rather than less into it.

Bielo compares them to the 17th century author John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, and those who want to leave the association of religion with specific demands of materialism, vanity fair, and a culture of belonging, not one of virtue.

This group does not seek to jettison faith, rather they cultivate a self-conscious highlighting of religious attention because they find that their former their religious lives were wanting. They have hope and choice as effective tools for change. They want a return to the heroic virtues of religion, the aspirations and heights of the heroic struggle. They want to do it as religious individuals not as self-obsessed consumers or submissive to an authoritarian hierarchy.

They are now are concerned about the loss of their soul, they despise the consumerism, they start to read socially banned books and they seek to apply religion to broader realms of their lives.

They show irony and mock the established wisdom like Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. And they are willing to read negative criticism of their own community or secular books and to ask how their community is lacking. They are self-conscious about living post-Durkheim and acknowledge the social elements of what they do. And they want social change, to go beyond consumer society, and to transform the world into a kingdom of God, not Brook’s acceptance of it.

Brooks saw a tension between the shallow consumerist life and religion and was criticized on a NYT watch for seeing the mere existence of Lin, the future Presbyterian pastor, as a solution to our current consumerist un-self reflective religion. But the real tragedy, is that all the people who took pride that Brooks quoted their patron saint Rav Soloveitchik did not realize that he quoted him wrong and that their own Orthodoxy reflected the very banality that David Brooks and the Emergents decry. But Brooks, and those who linked to it, thought all that is needed to change reality is a good quote rather than seeking to face our human condition with the requisite heroic virtues. For a long detailed take down of the piece with full quotes from Rav Soloveitchik, see here.

Modern Adam the second, as soon as he finishes translating religion into the cultural vernacular, and begins to talk the “foreign” language of faith, finds himself lonely, forsaken, misunderstood, at times even ridiculed by Adam the first, by hinself. When the hour of estrangement strikes, the ordeal of man of faith begins and he starts his withdrawal from society, from Adam the first—be he an outsider, be he himself. He returns, like Moses of old, to his solitary hiding and to the abode of loneliness. Yes, the loneliness of contemporary man of faith is of a special kind. He experiences not only ontological loneliness but also social isolation, whenever he dares to deliver the genuine faith-kerygma. This is both the destiny and the human historical situation of the man who keeps a rendezvous with eternity, and who, in spite of everything, continues tenaciously to bring the message of faith to majestic man. (“The Lonely Man of Faith,” p. 65)

Yes, I assume Brooks just read his copy of Bielo. But our solutions are different.