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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘david brooks’

David Brooks a Very Wise Jew

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

I must admit that I was surprised. Noted New York Times columnist, David Brooks gave what I consider to be the quintessential message of Centrist Orthodoxy at a Chanukah convocation ceremony where he received an honorary doctorate. The video which appears on Gil’s blog Torah Thoughts (available for viewing below) is the address he gave upon receiving this degree. And it truly hits the nail on the head of what Centrism is all about.

What surprised me is that Mr. Brooks actually read and understood the message of one of Rav Soloveitchik’s most important works, The Lonely Man of Faith. And in my view he expressed the Rav’s thoughts rather well… and is a believer in them.

David Brooks is not an Orthodox Jew. I don’t know how observant Mr. Brooks is. But I do know he understands what being Jewish means in terms of the proper approach to God.This he takes from the Rav’s philosophy he so elegantly cited.

Briefly stated the Rav talks about the two mentions in the Torah of the creation of man. He calls them Adam I and Adam II. Basing it on the context in which the Torah mentions them, The Rav expands on them in the following way.

Adam I is majestic man. He is the conqueror of the world. He goes out and ‘accomplishes’ for his material well being. Adam II is covenental man. He is concerned inwardly. He seeks the relationship with God. He is the man of faith – inward and therefore ultimately alone in that personal relationship with God . It is in the relationship with God that man develops his moral character. He is unconcerned with worldly pleasures and seeks only to do God’s will.

Adam I on the other hand wants to seek control of his environment which includes seeing to it that his own physical well being is taken care of to the limit of his physical and mental abilities. The 2 Adams there are therefore in constant struggle. And from that dialectic struggle, our person-hood develops. That struggle informs our values and actions.

Mr. Brooks compared what Yeshiva University does to the two Adams. Something that no other university does. Whereas the best universities do a good job educating man in his role of Adam I, they completely ignore educating man in his role of Adam II. Moral teachings are absent in the secular classroom. The result is a culture of a-morality. One which is difficult to navigate without the moral underpinnings of Adam II. Which is basically an unfettered love of God.

A-moral cultures have arisen in the past… when only Adam I is educated and Adam II is ignored. Taken to its natural extreme we can easily end up with the Germany of the 1930s and early 40s. Germany did a great job educating Adam I. And we know where that took them.

Western culture today is nowhere near that. But I think it is safe to say that we too live in an a-moral society. One need not look too far to see the wide acceptance of immoral images that surround us daily. They are all over, on billboards, magazines, TV, movies, and popular music. It has been that way for a long time. I recall the mantra of my generation during the late sixties, ‘If it feels good, do it!’ That is mostly all that mattered to many of my contemporaries back then. I don’t think that as a society, we have gotten any better today. If anything we have gotten worse.

YU is to its great credit counter-culture. It teaches man how to deal well with cultural surroundings and at the same time to revere God and his moral teachings.

My hat is off to David Brooks. He is a very wise man.



Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Is Sabbath Observance Enough?

Monday, March 18th, 2013

The David Brooks article in the New York Times about Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn has stirred up a lot of controversy. This time it is a complaint in the Forward from an unlikely source – Jordana Horn, an observant Conservative Jew. I say unlikely – not because it is unlikely that she would complain, but because of her identification as an observant Conservative Jew. And by observant, I mean Shomer Shabbos. It is that particular Mitzvah that has in the past always been definitive of observance. At least in America I suppose that’s because it was so difficult to keep Shabbos during the great influx of European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

There were plenty of Jews that immigrated to this country then who were observant in Europe and wished to stay observant. But because of the work ethic of the times, many of them succumbed to the pressure of working on Shabbos – even while keeping the other Miztvos (like Kashrus)to the best of their abilities. Many Jews felt that it was either working on Shabbos or starving.

That concession cost them greatly in their children. In many if not most cases their children abandoned the ritual observances of their parents in part because of the melting pot spirit of the times… but perhaps equally as important, because they saw their fathers working on Shabbos. They considered it hypocritical of their fathers to insist on their children keeping Shabbos when their fathers worked on that day.

I am not judging that generation. Times were tough. These are just the sad facts of reality. We lost a lot of Jews of the subsequent generation to assimilation back then. Of course this is not the only reason we lost them. The utter lack of any meaningful Jewish education in those days had something to do with it too.

On the other hand there were a lot of Jews who toughed it out and did not work on Shabbos. They kept getting fired from their jobs when they didn’t show up for work. Or they somehow found jobs that did not require working on Shabbos even when it meant lesser pay. They were in the minority. But their kids for the most art stayed Shomer Shabbos too – as well observant of other Mitzvos.

Others may differ but this is why I think Shabbos is the defining characteristic of observant Judaism. Which brings me back to Ms. Horn. She is observant. She is Shomeres Shabbos. She admits that this is a relative rarity in the Conservative movement and although there are more than a few like her – I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of Jews in the Conservative movement are not Shomer Shabbos.

She complains that Mr. Brooks ‘waxed rhapsodic’ only about Orthodox Jews. …that her observance of Judaism is just as legitimate as in that of Orthodox Jewry.

The obvious question is, what makes her Conservative if she observes Shabbos? That is a very good question. In fact, if there were no labels like Orthodox and Conservative… we would all just be Jews with different levels of observance. (This is the way Sephardim live. This is one of the things I am envious of about them.)

Alas, there are labels. Labels that identify ideologies. In some cases those ideologies contradict Halacha and Mesorah. The problem I have with Ms. Horn is that she sees egalitarianism as an essential feature of her life. So much so apparently that she cannot imagine Judaism without it. She believes that equality of the sexes in all areas of life including religion is so important that Halacha can be changed to accommodate it. And she has found a movement that agrees with her and even encourages that kind of thinking.

The Conservative movement has done away with all Halacha that does not bow to egalitarianism. They have changed the entire nature of the Halachic process from one of adhering to Halacha as laid down before us by the sages as recorded in the Talmud and finalized in the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries… to one of changing it to fit with the spirit of the times. Egalitarianism drives Halacha in the Conservative Movement – instead of Halacha driving egalitarianism.

A View of Observant Judaism by a Non Observant Jew

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/a-view-of-observant-judaism-by-a-non-observant-jew/2013/03/13/

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