I must say that I am both surprised and disappointed at the negative comments about David Brook’s op-ed column in the New York Times. And they weren’t few. They were many. The Forward, DovBear, Failed Messiah, and the many people who commented in the New York Times itself – all of them could not have been more upset about a positive article dealing with Orthodoxy.
I am upset too. Not by the article, but by all the negativity – some of it venomous! It is almost as if the entire column was some sort of a made up lie by an Orthodox cheerleader.
The fact is however, that David Brooks is not Orthodox. Nor is he a cheerleader. He is a respected journalist reporting on his impressions of a community which he is not a part of. Mr. Brooks took a tour of a Pomegranate, a ‘luxury’ kosher food store in the Midwood section of Flatbush a large mostly Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. His guide was my old (…well maybe not so old) friend from Chicago, Rabbi Dr. Meir Yaakov Soloveichik.
The article was very positive. Brooks describes rather well what it means to be an Orthodox Jew living in the modern world. He explains quite nicely the primacy of Halacha in our lives even among the upscale Orthodox Jews who shop at a store like Pomegranate.
Expanding on his encounter with Pomegranate – he makes Orthodox Jews look like role models for all… suggesting that one could do a lot worse than following our ‘countercultural’ model. For example he quotes Rabbi Soloveichik on the Jewish approach to marriage:
“Marriage is about love, but it is not first and foremost about love,” Soloveichik says. “First and foremost, marriage is about continuity and transmission.”
He seems to praise our “deeper sense of collective purpose”:
They are like the grocery store Pomegranate, superficially a comfortable part of mainstream American culture, but built upon a moral code that is deeply countercultural.
He ends with the following paragraph:
All of us navigate certain tensions, between community and mobility, autonomy and moral order. Mainstream Americans have gravitated toward one set of solutions. The families stuffing their groceries into their Honda Odyssey minivans in the Pomegranate parking lot represent a challenging counterculture. Mostly, I notice how incredibly self-confident they are. Once dismissed as relics, they now feel that they are the future.
I think he’s got that right. Even if one looks only at the statistics he cites one can see a very bright future for Orthodox Jewry versus other denominations. At least in terms of population growth:
Nationwide, only 21 percent of non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 18 and 29 are married. But an astounding 71 percent of Orthodox Jews are married at that age. And they are having four and five kids per couple. In the New York City area, for example, the Orthodox make up 32 percent of Jews over all. But the Orthodox make up 61 percent of Jewish children. Because the Orthodox are so fertile, in a few years, they will be the dominant group in New York Jewry.
British historian Arnold J. Toynbee must be rolling in his grave. This is how he explained our survival: The Jewish people are an ancient relic of a dead past. (He was corrected by Dr. Eliezer Berkovits who successfully challenged him on that notion.)
I felt really good about this article. But it did not take long for all the naysayers to come out of the woodwork – bashing it.
It’s not that any of the claims they were making against it weren’t true. Many of them are. In fact these problems are discussed right here fairly often.
No one screams louder than I do about the miscreants in our midst. Indeed these people are the cause of so much hilul HaShem – it is a wonder how any objective person could ever say anything positive about Orthodoxy. And no one complains more about how some of the more extreme segments of our world could use some serious tweaking.
Nor is Orthodoxy uniformly observed as one might erroneously conclude from this article. Indeed, there are Hasidic, Yeshivish, Lubavitch, Modern Orthodox, and Sephardi communities whose lifestyles are in most cases quite different from each other. Additionally each one of these has their own subgroups. And just like the non observant world, socioeconomic conditions play a very important part in how any of us live.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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