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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Why The Newsroom is Good News for Republicans

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/why-newsroom-is-good-news-for.html

The last time Aaron Sorkin had a high-profile political television show, liberals used it to cope with the decline and fall of the Clinton Presidency and the long winter of the Bush Years. The West Wing was a coping mechanism for the death of a liberal dream, and so is The Newsroom. Both are an escape into fantasy to avoid dealing with the harsh reality.

On an episode of Seinfeld, George is stung by an insult but is unable to think of a retort, so he spends days trying to come up with the perfect comeback, until he finally thinks of it and travels around the country to get the chance to deliver it. The Newsroom, set in the past, and jumping in right before the political balance tilted toward the Republicans in the mid-term elections, is the same thing.

The Newsroom is Sorkin’s sad attempt to win an argument by rewriting history and coming up with all the comebacks that his side couldn’t think of two years ago. It’s the sad and pathetic spectacle of an ideology creating its own fantasy version of its reality in which it won the argument.

Unlike The West Wing, The Newsroom isn’t set in an alternate world in which the universe innately favors liberals. Instead it’s set in an alternate version of the past, in which liberals were smarter and won all the arguments that they ended up losing here. And the existence of The Newsroom is the greatest possible concession that the argument was lost.

There’s no reason for Republicans to look down on The Newsroom. It’s a safer outlet for liberal anger than Occupy Wall Street. It’s a miniature universe in which they are smarter, nobler and better than everyone else. Children have fantasy worlds like that. There’s no reason that liberals shouldn’t. Not only does it give them the security of believing that they really were superior, but it prevents them from learning any useful lessons from their defeat.

It’s never a bad thing when your enemies escape into a delusional state, to a world of their making in which they are in complete control of everything. It makes it more likely that they will cede at least some control over the real world. And it’s not only an admission of defeat, but of emotional and mental fragility. Adults don’t need to build fantasy worlds to escape the effects of their failures on their precious self-esteem. That’s for overgrown children who are used to getting trophies for just showing up.

The Newsroom is the kid that everyone hated losing his race for class president and creating a fantasy world in which he won the election and everyone cheered his obnoxious tantrums. It may not be good for him, but it’s good for us because it means he hasn’t learned to win. All that he’s learned to do is manage the emotional experience of defeat through delusional tantrums of superiority.

Propaganda that tells you that you won, when you actually lost, is corrosive; it inhibits any serious self-evaluation. And without some soul-searching and error-checking, the same mistakes are bound to be repeated over and over again. Seventeen years after the Clinton Presidency was nearly torpedoed by universal health care, his party’s successor, who defeated the woman who shaped the initiative, went down the same road, but with much less caution.

That kind of stupidity would not have been possible if the winners had learned any lessons from the past. But the winners had been living on The West Wing, in which liberal speeches and principles are all it takes to win. Where the good guys never lose, because the scripts are written that way. Rather than living in the real Clinton Years, many of them had been living in the imaginary version. Now, rather than remembering the actual Obama Years, they will remember The Newsroom‘s fictional version of them. And they will make the same mistakes all over again.

HBO, which has invested big in liberal propaganda, knows exactly what it’s doing. At a time when customers are dropping cable, particularly the high-priced packages, it is insulating itself with a built-in audience. Forget MSNBC or Comedy Central with their tantrums against real-life Republicans, on HBO, liberal audiences can go on safe safaris to see experienced liberal great hunters taking potshots at imaginary Republicans.

The Great Identity Crisis

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/great-identity-crisis.html

A moral crisis tends to go hand in hand with an identity crisis. It’s when you don’t know who you are that you’re most likely to take refuge in a political or ethical identity that provides you with the comfort of a false sense of superiority. When all other identities fall apart, you can always rely on being the better man, the better nation and the empty space with the moral high ground.

Societies that go multicultural tend to experience identity drift and take refuge in a self-definition based on values. Who are Americans? As generations of presidents on the left and right have told us, they are people who believe in American values. What are American values? They’re the values that Americans are told they need to believe in, in order to be Americans. Like tolerance, immigration, free trade, and respecting the right of anyone to be a member of the Communist Party or the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a time of crisis, nations and peoples have to choose to survive. But what is survival? Proponents of a values-based identity have argued that survival means the survival of our values. If we take Measure X against an enemy, whether it’s outlawing the Communist Party or waterboarding Islamic terrorists, then we have “killed our values” and we are no longer Americans. It doesn’t matter then whether an act saves millions of American lives, if it means we destroy our values, then we have killed the only worthwhile thing about us.

Physical identity and values-based identity are in conflict in a time of crisis when the question is asked, do we want to survive or do we want to be morally pure. A values-based identity appears to be superior, but it is actually the product of an identity crisis. And a nation or a people with an identity crisis is vulnerable because they no longer know who they are. Their identity has been replaced with an identity based on their superior values, values that require them to die rather than give up those values. And if they have forgotten who they are, then they are too afraid to risk their values-based identity by fighting back.

The problem is not a unique one. For example, Jewish assimilation dropped the ‘peoplehood’ aspect leaving behind a values-based identity. When liberal Jews express their identity, it is values-based, built around “Tikkun Olam”, or “Social Justice”. That opens up a hole for someone like Peter Beinart to crawl in with a crisis of Liberal Zionism, a conflict between values-based identity and Jewish survival.

Would you rather live as Jews or die as liberals? The determining factor here is whether you have a Jewish identity. Without a Jewish identity, there is only the posturing of values-based identity, and giving up the high “ethics” of bending over backward for the bad guys seems a lot like the death of the only identity such miserable people have. If all that matters about Jews is their “ethical values”, then to step down from the moral high ground by bombing a terrorist stronghold is suicide.

The first question is; “Who are you?” That’s a question that is asked to individuals and to nations. It’s asked directly in the form of a national dialogue, and it’s asked indirectly in the choices that are made in a time of crisis.

The second question is; “What do you live for?” The answer to this question is determined by the first question. What we live for derives from who we are. Self-knowledge gives purpose, and purpose gives self-knowledge. A lack of identity is also a lack of purpose. And a lack of purpose betrays a lack of identity. A nation adrift has lost its identity; it lacks direction because it has no starting point.

A thing that does not exist for its own sake has no existence. It has no existence, because it is not survival-based. It is well and good to dedicate yourself to higher causes and beliefs, but if they do not begin with your own existence, then they have no more substance than you do. You can volunteer for a thousand causes, but if you don’t care whether you live or die– then you have nothing to contribute to them.

Guard Our Freedom

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Cutting-edge technology is a double-edged sword. Under the mantle of progress, and with increasing ease, we are losing greater and greater slices of our freedom. Opponents of the proposed Biometric Law say they worry about how secure a database housing the biometric information of all of Israel’s citizens will be. That fear was recently confirmed when a Saudi Arabian hacker succeeded in breaking into supposedly secure Israeli websites. If the Foreign Ministry’s database, along with the Israeli credit card base, were broken into, it is safe to assume that the biometric database will also be compromised.

The possibility of breaking into the database is simply too strong of a temptation for powerful interest groups and tycoons, who are sure to find a way to get to this data. The same is true for the crazy idea to computerize the elections. If there is a stage in the vote-counting process during which a candidate or his representative cannot physically check the voter slip, it is exactly at that stage that the election will be compromised. There is no way around the fact that when election results are transferred in electronic files, election fraud becomes a simple task. In the U.S., the idea of digital voting has become so controversial that it is no longer a political debate – but rather a legal issue.

But my opposition to the Biometric Law goes a lot deeper than that.

Many years before the invention of computers and the unraveling of the genetic code, an argument developed in the U.S. around the question of identity cards. America’s Founding Fathers did all they could to ensure that the American Constitution would protect individual liberties at any price.

For the Founding Fathers, liberty superseded all other values. They engraved it on their flag and fought for it. It is liberty that gave them the most important thing of all: a goal and sense of national purpose that fueled the creation of the American nation. The founding fathers understood how easy it is to slide down a slippery slope whereby liberty slips away step by step, without anyone noticing.

Distrust of governmental authority is a value that the Founding Fathers engraved through every line of the Constitution and American culture. It is for this reason that the simple question of requiring citizens to carry identity cards became a judicial matter in the United States. Americans said, “No way am I going to let the state treat me as a number on its list, and require me to identify according to this number. My identity is exactly that – my identity – and it does not belong to anyone else.” For the Israeli citizen, this sounds absurd, for we grew up in a culture far removed from this type of liberty consciousness.

Does all this seem irrelevant? Let us do a little test, so that you can see how easy it is to lose your liberty:

If the Biometric Law proponent, Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit, pushed through a law requiring every one of you to go to a certified tattoo center and ink in a number on your shoulder, would you agree to that? Of course not. Even thinking about this brings up horrifying memories.

But if the tattoo centers used invisible ink, would you then agree? In that case, I think many people would agree. The law is the law, right?

If they were to tattoo you with invisible ink and offer you some perks in return – cutting lines, property tax breaks, and more –would you agree? In my opinion, more than half would agree to that – and maybe even more.

Now for the final question: If instead of ink they use a biometric technique that marks you without touching you, and on top of that they give you the perks previously mentioned – are you then willing? I’m confident that the overwhelming majority of people would agree to that.

Look at how, with amazing ease, they have shut off all of our warning lights and closed our eyes. The master of the house has chiseled our ear into the doorpost like a biblical slave, and just like that we’ve made a soft landing into a life of servitude.

The Saudi hacker is not the real issue. The real issue is how easy it is to lose your liberty without feeling a thing. So guard it with the greatest vigilance, and do not give anyone your biometric information. As for the Saudi hacker, if his attack has at least awakened us to understand this danger, he has done us a great service.

Police: Arab Attack on IDF Soldiers – Case of Mistaken Identity

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

There has been a dramatic development in the investigation of the violent assault on two soldiers on Shabbat in Haifa. Channel 2 News reports that Police believe the attack was not carried out for nationalist reasons – as they had originally assumed – but resulted instead from mistaken identity.

Two youths were arrested overnight, and another four have been behind bars since yesterday. In interrogating the six suspects, police found that minutes before the violent attack, rocks had been thrown at the homes of the assailants, near Rambam Hospital in Haifa, and they went out into the street to take revenge. The two soldiers just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Still, the account of the attack that was given by the two victims, both IDF soldiers in civilian clothing, was rife with descriptions of anti-Semitic slurs. Thus, whether those Arab assailants were out for Jewish blood or were merely looking to murder whomever dared throw rocks at their homes, the outcome is still extremely worrisome.

National Union Chairman MK Jacob “Ketzale” Katz this morning referred to the Haifa incident with strong language . “The Likud government headed by Netanyahu and Barak  failed,” he told Arutz 7. “If after 62 years of independence, anti-Semitic lynching takes place in downtown Haifa, it is clear to all that the Jewish people’s ability to deter such attacks has collapsed.”

Jews, Mormons, Happiest, Atheists Grumpiest: Gallup

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

First, for the record, UPI is reporting that Jews and Mormons experience a higher degree of well-being than other U.S. faith groups, while Americans with no religious identity had the lowest well-being, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

But how, you’re probably wondering, did the nice people at Gallup, who said FDR would win in 1936 while the Literary Digest insisted it had to be Alf Landon, how did they decide who’s happier? We found out, because we knew you’d ask. So, here goes…

Try to answer the following two questions truthfully:

1. How important is religion to you, on a scale of 1 to 10?

2. How important is shul attendance to you, also on a scale of 1 to 10?

If you scored near 20 on both questions, we have news for you: you should be a very happy man or woman. Because, as it turns out, the response to these two questions has led the Gallup folks to conclude that, based on an analysis of more than 676,000 interviews of U.S. adults, conducted from Jan. 2, 2010, to Dec. 30, 2011, highly religious Americans of all major faiths have higher overall feelings of well-being than do Americans who are moderately religious or not religious at all.

But wait, it gets a little more complicated:

The survey found that Mormons were the most religious of all the groups, with 73.4 percent categorizing themselves as very religious. Protestants, Muslims and Roman Catholics were next in order of religiousness, although less than half of the latter two of these groups were classified as very religious.

Now hear this: Jews and other non-Christian religious Americans, and Jews with no formal religious identity, were labeled the least religious of any of the faith groups. Bummer…

And Jews, other non-Christians and Mormons who say they are not religious or only moderately religious, have essentially the same well-being, lower than those who are very religious.

But here’s one question the galloping Gallupers didn’t ask, because they probably took the answer for granted: Who says everybody wants to be happy?

Youth Overcoming Challenges

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

A few weeks ago in these pages you were introduced to Menifa – Leverage for Life, a nonprofit organization based in Israel that works with youth at risk who have dropped out of high school. There are 25,000 teens who live on the street and Menifa’s goal is to help them complete high school and reintegrate into society. Menifa has a high success rate, with 95% of teens in its programs returning to normative educational and social institutions.

Menifa provides a holistic program that addresses the academic, social and emotional needs of teens at risk. An important component is the outdoor therapy workshop. Outdoor therapy involves the use of challenges found in nature – rock climbing, white water rafting and hiking. The encounter with these challenges helps instill in the participant a sense of responsibility and belief in his or her ability to succeed in difficult conditions.

Each workshop is unique and tailored to the needs of a specific group of teens. Activities include climbing Masada, hiking parts of the Israel Trail, rappelling and ropes courses, desert survival and more. The kids sleep outdoors and are introduced to experiences which they have never before faced.

On the one hand the purpose of the workshop is therapeutic – to provide metaphoric obstacles that symbolize daily hardships. The workshop also emphasizes different topics relating to the Land and Zionism. This provides the teens with an opportunity to discover new things about their country and about themselves as part of the Jewish nation. The workshop also introduces environmental and ecological issues, making the kids more aware of their surroundings.

The outdoor therapy workshop has helped lead to fundamental changes in the lives of the teens who participate in them. They develop life skills including responsibility, leadership and the ability to get along in a group setting and they gain self-confidence from their accomplishments.

Fifteen year old Sara* is one of the teenagers who participated in the outdoor therapy workshop. Her favorite activity was the drum circle because, “Everybody danced and sang and we really let our energies out,” she explains. The social aspect of the outdoor therapy workshop is very important. “We learned to see the teachers from a different angle, different from what we see in school,” another teenager named Shelly* explained. “They are having fun with us.” Participants leave the retreat feeling closer to each other and to their teachers and staff. The social aspect of the workshop also teaches the teenagers about the importance of group responsibility. They take part in communal cooking and obstacle courses that show them the importance of each individual in the group. When one drops out, the entire group suffers.

Sara describes the biggest challenge she faced on the retreat. “It was very cold. We were freezing but we overcame it and saw that it is possible to live in the conditions of the desert if you are with your friends or with people that you like to be with. Then you can be in any condition”.

Before Sara came to Menifa, she was kicked out of her high school and had tried multiple schools. “I did not get along in any school. I looked for a while and I came to Menifa and they right away accepted me.”

When asked what her goal is, Sara says with a smile, “To succeed.”

*Names changed to conceal identity

The cost of operating a workshop for a group of up to 20 teenagers is $1,800. For further information please visit our website www.menifa.org.il or call (201) 203-2937.

What’s In A Name? Everything!

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I once asked my parents why they had named me Chana Malka, and they responded: “We didn’t, the rabbis named you.” For the longest time, I chose to be content with that answer, but then again, for the longest time I chose to be content with my assumed religious identity, and never felt the need to examine either subject too closely. I am the daughter of two loving parents, a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father.

But two weeks after my 19th birthday, in the food court of a Tel Aviv shopping mall, I was informed that actual halacha only considers a child born to a Jewish mother to have the birthright status of a Jew. My informant wasn’t a particularly observant person, but what she shared was stated as common fact. What was this halacha (a word I had never heard before)? Was it true I wasn’t Jewish? Would I have to “convert” to my own religion?

I was thirsty for answers and in need of consolation for the sudden state of confusion into which I was thrust.

What do you do about the kid who thinks she is Jewish but isn’t a real Jew; who has more connection and involvement in Jewish life than the child born with full-Jewish status according to Jewish law? Suddenly, I was that kid. And to this day, I still struggle with what to say when I meet someone in the same situation.

Do halachic Jews realize how difficult it is to admit you’re not Jewish; to simply walk away from an identity that fit your outlook on life; to be told you’re not a Jew but your friend with the non-Jewish father is; to realize you could be harming the very nation you wish to defend and connect with in so many ways?

We all have choices in life. The easiest choices in life are not always the wisest, let alone meaningful. I recognized that choice: I could continue to live my life hardly understanding what it meant to be Jewish, all the while knowing I was only considered a Jew by the Reform movement’s 1980s decision (recognition of Jewish identity when either parent is Jewish if the child is raised as a Jew). Staying as I was would mean that in the back of my head and heart I would continue to question my Jewish status, which didn’t technically exist.

I chose to convert according to the highest standards of halacha, by the approval and testimony of the Beit Din of Monsey. The Torah is the greatest treasure ever created, a gift given exclusively to the Jewish people as a reminder of our special relationship with the Creator of the world. This, in fact, is a privilege and if you do not understand why you were hired to protect the king’s crown jewels, then what value could they possibly possess for you?

In Judaism, names often reflect on the qualities of an individual. In the process of undergoing halachic conversion, I was given the unusual opportunity of renaming myself, so I wanted something with personal relevance.

I chose two Hebrew names – Batya Miriam. Why specifically those two?

The Midrash tells the following story: Pharaoh’s daughter decided to become a sincere convert to Judaism and was on her way to the Nile River for ritual immersion. Her name, Bithia, evolved into Batya. I chose this name because, like Pharaoh’s daughter, I consider myself born into a life of great opportunities and privilege, cognizant of the Jewish people but generally observing them from afar. We both saw past the complacence of our upbringing – what do I really believe? How do I want to live my life?

I didn’t go looking for change, but when confronted with the truth, I couldn’t remain complacent either. The more I learned of Torah-true Judaism, the more I discovered a life of purpose and joy. Was it an easy transition? No. Yet Torah doesn’t expect me to be perfect. I am expected to keep moving forward in life, improving myself in observance of Torah and mitzvot, which is the basis of Jewish life.

My decision was one based on finding truth, not upon emotion or the desire to rebel. I chose to be Batya because we both chose to help the Jewish people. I attempt to live up to that goal, looking for opportunities to serve the Jewish community, especially in times such as these when there are such great misunderstandings about what it means to be a Jew.

A Question Of Identity

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

My first visit to Israel in the summer of 1959 coincided to an extent with the trip by Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the great rosh yeshiva of Lakewood, who came to give shiurim at Yeshiva Eitz Chaim in Jerusalem and to campaign for Agudath Israel in the Knesset elections, as he had done previously in the decade.

My relationship with Rav Aharon spanned nearly all of the 1950s, arising from my involvement in his extraordinary effort from a distance of 6,000 miles away to create and then sustain the network of elementary school yeshivas called Chinuch Atzmai or the independent Torah Schools for Israel.

Although family members with whom I spent much time during that trip were Mizrachi or Religious Zionist in orientation, I identified with Agudah. Chinuch Atzmai had come into being when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion decided in 1951 to consolidate the four separate party-affiliated educational systems established during the British Mandatory period into a state or mamlachti system, with a religious track for families who wanted something of a religious education for their children.

It was apparent from the outset that the state religious schools were inadequate in their religious ambience and curriculum and ineffective in transmitting our glorious heritage. That is why Rav Aharon acted. The acquiescence of Mizrachi to a severely watered-down form of religious instruction was a costly mistake for it and Israeli society, as in the aggregate these schools contributed to religious abandonment.

A greater mistake occurred in 1953 when Ben-Gurion – over the fierce opposition of Torah leaders who understood the consequences of such a policy – insisted on drafting girls into the Israeli army after they completed high school. During the controversy that erupted, which included a large demonstration outside the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, the Chazon Ish and then Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Aharon’s father-in-law, died.

Ben-Gurion ultimately backed down a bit, allowing religious girls to choose forms of national service, an arrangement that also was opposed by Torah leaders.

Despite efforts to convince Mizrachi leaders to reject the women’s draft, they – as had occurred on other occasions – subordinated the “religious” in their identity to secular Zionism. Mizrachi paid an enormous price for its refusal to fight for halachic principles. Israel has paid an even greater price. There is unchallenged evidence about the effect of the women’s draft on the moral and religious character of the state.

* * * * *

 

As I traveled around Israel in 1959 and came into contact with North African Jews who told me of Jewish Agency and government programs that weaned children away from Judaism, my antipathy toward those in the dati or Religious Zionist sector who had sacrificed religion grew.

But my interaction with Rav Aharon taught me that it was at once possible to reject Religious Zionism and work for the communal good with persons of that outlook.

By yeshiva-world standards, Chinuch Atzmai schools were – and many still are – relatively weak institutions, if only because their hours were severely limited. By and large, they attracted students from homes more modern than the yeshiva world, as parents in that sector invariably sent their children to chassidic or otherwise more fervently Orthodox schools. Yet Rav Aharon, exhausted as he was with a multitude of communal responsibilities, strove to direct and support these schools.

At Rav Aharon’s request – indeed, insistence – the main speaker at the first Chinuch Atzmai dinner was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who by then was actively engaged in Mizrachi. Rabbi Soloveitchik had helped Chinuch Atzmai in its early years. His speech was memorable, notably in his extraordinary praise of Rabbi Kotler.

* * * * *

 

There is something else about the 1959 trip that influenced my approach to communal activity, not immediately but after the passage of some time. One Shabbos I was with Rav Aharon for the meals at what had been the home of Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer and was now the home of his other son-in-law, Rabbi Ben-Menachem, a member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court. During the Shabbos lunch, a messenger came to tell Rabbi Ben-Menachem that Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the Ashkenazic chief rabbi, had died and there would be a meeting shortly after Shabbos to set the details of the funeral.

Rav Aharon spoke highly of Rabbi Herzog, saying he was a Torah scholar who had done much to assist European Jews during the Holocaust. This evoked a protest from Rabbi Yaakov Schiff, Rav Aharon’s outstanding American student who had come to Israel to be married to the daughter of the Brisker Rav, who was then critically ill. Rabbi Schiff spoke of Rabbi Herzog’s role in Mizrachi, his refusal to oppose the draft of young women, and other matters.

Rav Aharon would not yield, saying, “My father-in-law eulogized Rabbi Kook. I can eulogize Rabbi Herzog.” This hesped or eulogy has been published and it is evident that Rav Aharon spoke with great feeling.

* * * * *

 

After Rav Aharon died in 1962, I set out to follow what I had learned from him, in fulfillment of his last words to me about two weeks before he passed away, when he asked me to devote my life to assisting Torah education. This meant that without any lessening of my yeshiva-world identity, I would work with others in Orthodox life to fulfill that mission.

In 1965, COLPA (the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs) was established to represent religious Jewry on legal and legislative matters. I became its first president. Our membership, which consisted primarily of young Orthodox lawyers, encompassed the spectrum of Orthodox life, from haredi to Modern Orthodox.

That was a time when intra-Orthodox conflict was intense over membership in the Synagogue Council together with Conservative and Reform rabbis and other issues. COLPA had remarkable success in court and in legislative bodies. This is in contrast to today’s situation where, though the barriers to intra-Orthodox cooperation have been removed or reduced, there is in fact little cooperation. In the recent Supreme Court case regarding a conservative Christian student group at Hastings Law School in California, Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union and Young Israel each submitted separate briefs. Is it any wonder why, despite our growth, our legal and legislative achievements have been puny when compared with what was accomplished decades ago when American Orthodoxy was able to unite on public-affairs matters?

During the 1960s, as well, I was active in Agudath Israel, as I had been since my teens, and also in the Orthodox Union, representing it on public issues. This dual commitment was and remains unique and reflected my determination to work for the entire community. When, however, Rabbi Samson R. Weiss, the Orthodox Union’s immensely gifted executive vice president, asked me to become an officer, I demurred, saying that while I would work voluntarily for the organization, an officer must take responsibility for the group’s policies and I could not take responsibility for Synagogue Council membership.

In 1973, I became president on a voluntary basis of Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, where I had been a student, a position I continue to hold. This resulted in a shift in focus. RJJ was in a state of collapse. It would take a huge effort to reverse its fortunes. For that reason and one or two others, I withdrew from nominal organizational activity, a decision that assuredly did not diminish my communal activity. To the contrary, from then until this day, that is my primary focus. (There are persons who do not accept the notion of a fully active communal life outside of major organizational involvement.)

RJJ has evolved into another manifestation of my commitment to Orthodox unity, even as the prevailing tendency is to categorize and separate religious Jews into discreet and relatively small segments of Orthodox life, such as Modern Orthodox and yeshiva world. Many cannot accept that wherever a person may stand in his personal orientation, there remains the responsibility and the opportunity to work for the entire community.

There are now four RJJ schools. Two of them are Centrist Orthodox institutions, one is firmly in the yeshiva world and the fourth is a Modern Orthodox day school. Each has a distinct student body, for which the particular school meets the needs of the families who send their children there. There has never been an arrangement like this, and for obvious reasons. It is difficult to integrate separate and different educational entities into a cohesive institution. Essentially, the schools operate separately, even as they embody and fulfill my ideal of transcommunal responsibility.

* * * * *

 

For all of the disparate activities, I continue to identify with the yeshiva world, as I have for sixty years, ever since joining Zeirei Agudath Israel in 1950. While this identification has not changed, our religious life has changed substantially over time and, in turn, this has had an impact on what it means to be in the yeshiva world.

In my youth, “yeshiva world” meant for the most part going to one of the major yeshivas in New York and then on to college, usually in the evening, and perhaps then to graduate or professional school. Lakewood and kollel were for relatively few. A major change has occurred in the far greater valuation given to Torah study, which is certainly welcome. Other changes have occurred as a reaction against modernity, against societal standards and practices that are hostile to Torah living.

In a sense, my yeshiva world identity is more attitudinal than behavioral. I continue to feel close to this spiritual home, although younger persons who identify with this same home are in key ways different – and probably better – in reflecting the values that are associated with the yeshiva world.

While identity may be static, what constitutes identity shifts over time, which is true of most or perhaps all social statuses, especially in the contemporary period when the world is spinning faster than ever and social change comes quickly.

Identity is also affected by context, by the geographic home in which it finds expression. What was regarded as rigid Hirschean Orthodoxy in early 20th century Germany was a far cry from the Orthodoxy of Eastern European shtetls. Local culture, economic conditions, values, mores, political systems and even the climate contribute to determining how identity is expressed in particular places. In political life, what is conservative in one setting may differ radically from what is regarded as conservative elsewhere. So it is with religious identity.

We need not look far to appreciate the geographic impact on Orthodox identity. Being in the yeshiva world in Lakewood is different from being in the yeshiva world elsewhere in this country – of course not in all or even most respects, but in key indicators such as the tolerance of secular studies in yeshivas.

Several years ago, Lakewood rabbinic leaders forbade attendance at local baseball games. A visit to the ballpark when the Yankees or Mets are playing will show a different picture. Touro College operates in Brooklyn and educates a large number of yeshiva world youth. It could not operate in Monsey and certainly not in Lakewood.

The divide within Orthodoxy is far greater in Israel. This is understandable because unlike the U.S., where issues that may generate conflict – such as relations with the non-Orthodox – are tangential in daily religious life, in Israel they are from a religious standpoint existential.

These issues include military exemption for yeshiva students, military service for women, government supervision of schools, abortion, autopsies, conversion and other matters. More broadly, they concern the fundamental issue of participation in Israeli society. Israeli issues, accordingly, are of greater urgency and pack a far greater emotional punch. There is also greater division within families and this may be why it is a frequent experience at Israeli weddings to see greater religious/secular heterogeneity than what we commonly see at simchas on these shores.

In the aggregate, Israeli haredim “out-haredi” those who are designated as haredim in the United States. This is evident in the lower level of tolerance for secular studies in Israeli yeshivas, as well as in dress, work patterns, openness to the general culture and a host of attitudes. Some of this arises from socio-economic factors, namely a far higher degree of haredi poverty in Israel. Should Israeli haredim become middle class, there likely will be a change in lifestyle and in attitude and behavior. However, the growing tendency of Israeli haredim to live entirely apart in cities that are exclusively haredi and exert strong communal pressure against even minor deviation from required standards inexorably pulls religious Jews living in these places away from greater engagement in the larger society.

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Though by affiliation and attitude I continue to identify strongly with the yeshiva world, when in Israel the emotional pull is away from this orientation toward greater affinity with those who may be referred to as haredi-leaning dati leumi. Some of this may have to do with being located in Rechavia, my Israeli friends, and the work I do.

There are deeper emotional and intellectual roots. I am constantly moved by the sincerity of these Israelis, by their tznius, chesed, modest living and devotion to Torah and mitzvos. Few pursue riches; most strike me as engaged in activities that benefit other Jews and Israel. It is hard not to admire the dedication and deep religiosity they have achieved without adopting a nominal haredi lifestyle. They live a life of mitzvos and a willingness to resist the allures of modernity, something that was not true of earlier Religious Zionism.

As a parallel to this increasing affinity with those who are haredi leumi, there is a slight moving away from identification in Israel with the nominal haredi world.

I admire the yeshiva world in Israel, notably the extraordinary commitment to Torah study and the sacrifices it brings. I respect the Israeli Torah leaders, who are also, in a way, America’s Torah leaders, for their humility and modesty and for their sanctity. Yet there are aspects of haredi life that are off-putting, such things as exclusionary schools and exclusionary communities.

What troubles me especially is that what I regard as unwelcome in Israeli haredi life is dynamic, which is to say the practices I regard as questionable are likely to become even more extreme.

This is also to say that my identity with this part of Orthodoxy may become more fragile.

Dr. Marvin Schick is president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/a-question-of-identity/2010/10/13/

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