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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘modern’

Seeing the Shifting Face of American Judaism at Hershey Park

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Most years on the first weekday of Chol HaMoed Sukkot, my wife and I take our four children to Hershey Park. The park, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania., is closed to everyone but frum Jews on that day.

Lancaster is not known as a center of frumkeit – it is most decidedly “out of town – but on that day Hershey not only makes accommodations for the visitors but actually reconfigures the whole park to be frum friendly. The food stands, including the kettle corn that draws some of the longest lines, are all kosher. Placards advertise the times for minyanim, and hundreds of men converge to daven at prearranged times or, if they miss the large gatherings, come together in small minyanim abutting food stands or roller coasters.

In addition, the park has sukkot to enable visitors to fulfill the obligation of eating in the sukkah.

Hershey is not the only amusement park to accommodate frum Jews for Sukkot, but it may make the most effort. The two Disney parks, in Florida and California, also typically host Orthodox Jews on this day, though not exclusively, as in Hershey. Disney Orlando allows the local Chabad rabbi to build a sukkah on the premises, outside the ticket taking area. (At Hershey there are two sukkot on the inside of the park.)

Hershey on Chol HaMoed – aka #jewday on Twitter – is also popular because it is in the heart of the Northeast corridor that houses the bulk of the country’s Orthodox Jews. It is a manageable drive from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and more specifically from Orthodox enclaves in Silver Spring, Potomac, and Reisterstown, Md.; Cherry Hill, Englewood, Teaneck, and Lakewood, N.J.; and of course, Brooklyn, the Five Towns, and Queens in N.Y.

The crowd, though nearly all frum, is nonetheless quite a diverse mix of the entire range of frumkeit, including haredi, chassidic, Modern, and barely. I delight in seeing chassidishe families, notable for their boys sporting long curly peyot and speaking rapid-fire Yiddish, standing on line next to modern jeans-clad teenagers hanging out in “coed clumps.” Though much is written about the divisions within the Modern and non-Orthodox camps, it seems as if Hershey Park, and similar parks around the country that sponsor or encourage special days for Orthodox Jews, have found the magic formula that will unite these oft-times contentious communities – namely, rides.

At Hershey Park, where strangers happily exchange the Yiddish greeting “a gut moed,” we see that despite differences in prayer books (ArtScroll vs Koren), pronunciation (taf vs. saf) and Zionism (silent vs pro), Orthodox Jews are just like everyone else. They are looking for a place they can enjoy a fun day with their families, where their restrictions – kosher food, the need for a minyan and to eat in a sukkah – do not prevent them from sharing in that enjoyment. You can almost sense the excitement kosher-keeping Jews feel at not having to bring their own food to a family fun outing.

Hershey Park helps tell another tale as well. Fifty years ago, American Orthodoxy was being demographically dismissed as a relevant force in American Jewish life; over the last two decades, however, Orthodoxy has grown from its nadir of about 5 percent of the nation’s Jewish population to somewhere between 10 and 15 percent, and the numbers are rising.

About 27 percent of Jews under 18 are Orthodox, in large part because Orthodox Jews tend to marry earlier, have more children and intermarry far less frequently than Conservative and Reform Jews. In addition, Orthodox parents are far more likely to send their children to Jewish day schools or yeshivot, which are key predictors of generational Jewish continuity.

This growing community is in the process of shifting the face of Judaism in America from a cultural, economic and political perspective. The crowd that gathers every year in Hershey is providing a preview of what that changed Jewish community could look like.

Next year, out-of-towners and in-towners alike should consider a visit to Hershey on Chol HaMoed to get a glimpse of the emerging future of American Orthodoxy. And then, when the eight days of chag are over, they can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to work.

The State of the Jew According to Pew

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Pew conducted a study of Jews in America and has released a comprehensive report based on its findings. Nearly 2800 religious Jewish people were interviewed and the results of those interviews make up the model for the results of the study. It’s difficult conduct a study like this and achieve meaningful results. I am not a statistician nor can I compare the sample sizes used in this study with others. To my untrained eye, it seems small.

There are many very interesting findings to discuss. I have three things I want to say about the study.

First, people will point to the staggering number of orthodox Jews who are no longer orthodox. That number is 52%. It seems impossible to believe. That means that over half of people raised orthodox are no longer orthodox. Think about the orthodox Jewish friends and family you know. Does it make sense to say that over half of them are no longer orthodox? I don’t think so.

If you drill down a bit you notice a couple of things. For starters, I know many people who say they were raised orthodox because they went to a yeshiva or modern orthodox school even if they weren’t frum at home. I went to school with several people like that. Those people certainly skew the numbers. After all, the study relied on self identification. There was no process to classify people into categories other than to ask them.

But the real key here what the numbers are for young people being raised in contemporary orthodoxy. Those numbers are impressive. 83% of people raised as orthodox Jews under the age of 30 stay. This is a huge success. It’s also a number that correlates with anecdotal evidence. So the people who were raised orthodox and no longer are orthodox are mostly older people. What does this mean?

It means one of two things or perhaps a hybrid of two. [It doesn't mean that orthodox Jews leave the fold in their 30's and 40's at alarmingly high rates.] It could either mean that orthodoxy is much stronger today than it was 20 and 30 years ago. People get a better Jewish education, there is more insularity, and the shift to ultra orthodoxy which outnumbers modern orthodoxy by nearly 10:1 in this demographic is working to keep more orthodox Jews orthodox. Alternatively, it signifies a shift in who attends orthodox schools. In other words, 20-30 years ago it was far more likely for a family to send a child to an orthodox school and identify as orthodox even if they were not totally observant of halacha. There was more cross-pollination and there were fewer non-orthodox options. So you wind up with more people from previous generations identifying as being raised orthodox even though they weren’t truly orthodox through and through. This is rarer today because we are more insular and non-orthodox or unaffiliated Jews feel less comfortable in orthodox institutions. The truth is likely a combination of the two but the latter does concern me.

Also, very few middle aged and older people consider themselves ultra-orthodox. It’s a youth movement. Sure, some mellow out and switch affiliation. But it’s also a recent phenomena that is sweeping orthodoxy. It’s pretty compelling evidence that what is happening now for the under 40 orthodox Jew is different from what their parents and grandparents experienced. It’s a different kind of Judaism. The numbers bear it out.

Next, the non-orthodox denominations are falling apart. The numbers support the rumblings and rumors regarding the demise of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism is dwindling as well. Some orthodox Jews like to cheer while these two denominations begin to disappear. Others view it as a sign that those Jews must be saved and brought into orthodox Judaism.

I think that it is important for Judaism that non-orthodox denominations are strong and vibrant. I think that orthodox Jews should be concerned and make efforts to help revive non-orthodox Judaism. This sounds controversial and heretical but it’s really not. Orthodox Judaism is not going to magically become the Judaism for the 89% of non-orthodox Jews. We can either wish them well and watch them disappear or we can try to keep them connected to their Jewish heritage. I think the latter choice is preferable. Now we can either keep them connected by “making them orthodox” as if that is even possible, or we can rely on strong non-orthodox denominations to keep them in the fold. I think the latter choice is preferable here too. It’s certainly the more likely option to achieve widespread success. While resources are precious in the orthodox community, I think strengthening the non-orthodox denominations is a worthy endeavor. They are also our brothers and sisters. If we value what we have, we should do whatever we can to help them stay somewhat connected to their Judaism. A little bit of a good thing is a whole lot better than nothing.

‘You Murder the Children’: Rav Soloveitchik on Abortion

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

When one thinks of Modern Orthodoxy, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l soon comes to mind for his leadership thereof. In our time, however, Modern Orthodoxy has become a vague term with problematic tendencies. As Rabbi Steven Pruzansky–who has numerous shiurim on Yeshiva University’s Torah website–recently wrote, “Too often, one finds in the Modern Orthodox world grievances of one sort or another against this or that aspect of Torah, as if Jews get to sit in judgment of God and His Torah.”

No issue might better crystallize the dissonance between Rav Soloveitchik’s Modern Orthodoxy and today’s than abortion. Let us consider the great man’s views.

During a shiur on Parashat Bo in 1975, Rav Soloveitchik stated that “to me it is something vulgar, this clamor of the liberals that abortion be permitted,” adding:

“I consider the society of today as insane…I read from the press that in Eretz Yisrael they permit abortions now! Sapir [probably Pinchas Sapir] comes to the US and asks that 60,000 boys and girls should leave the US and settle in Eretz Yisrael. When a child is born, it’s also immigration to Eretz Yisrael, and yet you murder the children.”

Rav Soloveitchik then predicted:

“And if you kill the fetus, a time will come when even infants will be killed…The mother will get frightened after the baby will be born…and the doctor will say her life depends upon the murder of the baby. And you have a word, mental hygiene, whatever you want you can subsume under mental hygiene…And there is now a tendency for rabbis in the US to march along with society, otherwise they’ll be looked upon as reactionaries.”

Similar remarks appear in Reflections of the Rav:

“If the dominant principle governing the logos ["thinking capacity"] is that abortion is morally permissible because only a mother has a right to decide whether she wishes to be a mother, then infants may similarly have their lives terminated after birth. What if the child interferes with the promising brilliant career of the mother?”

These words might be jarring for those who view Rav Soloveitchik as the mild-mannered author of philosophically oriented books like The Lonely Man of Faith. Equally if not more jarring might be Rav Soloveitchik’s statements on sexual morality, which I discussed a few months ago.

Specific to abortion, one might counter that Rav Soloveitchik permitted an unborn child with Tay-Sachs disease to be aborted through the sixth month, but this proves just the opposite, namely: 1) What does this narrow, tragic case indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s general view of abortion? 2) What does it indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s view of abortion after the sixth month even in the case of Tay-Sachs? And vis-à-vis those who claim a woman’s absolute right to “terminate a pregnancy” at any point, I doubt such an attempt to (mis)represent Rav Soloveitchik as a “moderate” on abortion would be received agreeably. In this regard, one of Rav Soloveitchik’s sons-in-law, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlita, has observed in the context of abortion:

“Even if we were to accept that indeed it is the woman’s own body, we totally reject the conception that she then can do with it as she pleases. This is a completely anti-halakhic perception [emphasis added]. It rests on a secular assumption that, as it were, ‘My Nile is my own; I made it for myself’ (Yechezkel 29:3), as if we are the source of our own existence and therefore the masters of our own being. This is assuredly not the case.”

Rav Lichtenstein summarizes the worldview of that anti-halakhic perception as follows:

“The essence of modern secular culture is the notion of human sovereignty; individual man is master over himself, and collective man is master over his collective… From a religious point of view, of course, eilu va-eilu divrei avoda zara—both approaches are idolatrous. Here one establishes individual man as an idol, and the one idolizes, in humanistic terms, humanity as a whole. The basis of any religious perception of human existence is the sense that man is not a master: neither a master over the world around him, nor a master over himself.”

Yes, Rav Soloveitchik earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin (as likewise Rav Lichtenstein earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard). Yes, Rav Soloveitchik enjoyed classical music (especially Bach). And first and foremost, Rav Soloveitchik was a Torah Jew for whom Halachah was not some intellectual game or cultural style, rather an all-encompassing conviction with profound social implications. Thus his denunciations of abortion, which derived from the same worldview as these remarks in 1953:

New Republic Article on Feminism from Zion Is All About the Stakes

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The new issue of The New Republic cover story (The Feminists of Zion An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism) is about us. It is about Haredim, modern Orthodox, and women. These are things we discuss regularly online and at our Shabbos tables, and in our coffee rooms. The story is remarkably accurate and balanced, displaying a very deep understanding of the issues in Israel today. I recommend reading the article immediately.

Imagine a spectrum of religious fundamentalism in the orthodox Jewish community. On one end you have extreme Haredi sects and on the other end you have completely secular Israelis. On most things and for most of time the people in the middle, let’s call them modern orthodox, skewed their allegiences toward the Haredi side. Orthodoxy is the great uniter. The assumption is that any two orthodox people will have more common interests than an orthodox and a secular Jew. This is how things were.

In essence, the article argues that while naturally aligned with their fellow orthodox Jews, women from the modern orthodox community in Israel are finding themselves aligned with secular feminist Jews in Israel. The collective pain that is felt due to the oppressiveness toward women in the extreme and not so extreme Haredi world is taking a toll. Women have been attacked physically, verbally, and psychologically for a long time and it is starting to create a negative reaction.

Several times the article mentions signs that tell women how to dress. We have become accustomed to these signs. But the women in the article argue that the signs give license to thugs who want to make a statement to women. To them, the signs mean much more than “Please be sensitive to our religious beliefs.” Part of that is because these standards are entering the public sphere and are no longer just limited to the private insular neighborhoods. But the other part of it is that the signs are somehow justifying the negativity and violence toward women.

What has happened is that women who feel hurt and abused are turning to secular and Reform Jews for salvation. Feminism is a dirty word in many orthodox communities, even in some places within the modern orthodox community. But it’s becoming a necessary evil for modern orthodox women who are not feminists at all to ask for help from feminists. It’s odd when orthodox people are funding they have more in common with secular and very liberal Jews than fellow orthodox Jews. But that is what is happening.

The article also talks about modern orthodox women who sympathize with the Women of the Wall. I wish they would be more vocal but i was heartened to hear it.

Last week I wrote about finding common ground and room for dialogue between modern orthodox and yeshivish Jews in America. (See:
Maybe Rabbi Birnbaum Has a Point: A Solution) I think what we are seeing in the article in TNR is what will happen if we can’t work together. If the people in the middle start to feel like the liberal and secular Jews are more sympathetic to their way of life, the great split that has been predicted for years, will finally happen. Modern orthodox Judaism will become an independent group.

Some might say, what’s so bad about that? Well there are plenty negative consequences to mention. But I will mention the two biggest issues. First, the Haredi institutions will fall without modern orthodox support. Some might say that’s not so bad either. I disagree. Their services are necessary, as is their trap door into engagement with society. On the other side, without a connection the Haredi community, the modern orthodox community will be hard pressed to support its own institutions for lack of qualified teachers and rabbis.

It’s not in our best interests to see a formal split. It might happen in Israel and it might happen in America. I think we should do everything we can to prevent it. The first thing we need to do, is get together and talk.

Visit Fink or Swim.

The Feminists of Zion An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism

A Ray of Light Behind the Clouds

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Some years ago I was invited to speak at a secular high school for exceptionally bright students. The student body was mostly non-Jewish. Since I am a Holocaust survivor, they asked that I address that subject. After my presentation the principal asked if I would agree to a Q&A session. “By all means,” I answered.

The first student at the microphone asked a question that I sensed was on the minds of many there. “Where was G-d?” he asked. “How can you keep your faith?”

I replied:

“You asked me a question and I will respond with a question of my own. Where was man? And I do not refer only to the satanic Nazis but to all the nations that were complicit in this unspeakable evil.

“As far as faith goes, in what and in whom could I have placed my faith? In twentieth-century enlightenment, education, culture, science? I saw university graduates use their scientific know-how to create gas chambers where millions of lives were snuffed out. I saw doctors maim, torture and kill. I will simply ask once again, ‘Where was man – where was modern Western civilization?’

“Whenever I seek answers I turn to the pages of our Torah, for everything is to be found within it. I invite you to meet the very first family who lived on this planet. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. They lived in paradise. No one had to go to work. The climate was perfect – not too hot, not too cold. There was no illness and no death. G-d intended for man to live forever but then man debased himself. He became corrupt and evil.

“Cain and Abel made a deal. ‘Let’s divide the world between us,’ they said. And so they did. Livestock was to belong to Abel, real estate to Cain. But no sooner had Cain received his portion than he said to Abel, ‘The land is mine, get off it.’ And with that he killed his brother. G-d asked Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ To which he responded, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

“To this day Cain’s question echoes in the wind. Man plunders, kills, rapes – but instead of accepting accountability for his heinous deeds he shifts the blame to G-d and asks with audacity, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

“Thousands of years have passed and man has yet to respond, ‘Yes G-d, I am my brother’s keeper. Forgive me. It was all my fault. I take responsibility. Almighty G-d, give me another chance. Allow me to try again.’

“The question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ means, in essence, ‘You, G-d, created the world; You, G-d, are in charge. Why did You allow this to happen? Where were You? How can I believe in You if You allowed this monstrous atrocity to occur?’

“Has anything changed in thousands of years? Yes, things have changed. Cain killed his brother with his hands or a primitive instrument but today modern man has harnessed his scientific brilliance to create hell on earth. The way of the first murderer Cain has become the reality by which modern man justifies his abominable deeds.”

* * * * * Recently I shared with readers my experiences when I spoke in South Africa. More than 5,000 people gathered for Torah study at the Sinai Indaba organized by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein. In one of my presentations I spoke about the Holocaust. After the program a distinguished gentleman came over and introduced himself. He was a Christian living in Johannesburg. With tears he spilled out his heart.

“Rebbetzin,” he said, “we need to repent, to make atonement for the sins committed against the Jewish people. And we have to make that real, not just an empty declaration. I would like to convene multitudes of people and have you address them. Tell them about the Holocaust so they might all know and pass it on to future generations.”

This glimmer of light amid the dark clouds of anti-Semitism that once again are engulfing the world reminds us that dormant within the human heart is the spark of G-d. We must only plug into it and the voltage could light up the entire world. Whether or not that convention of Christians in Johannesburg will take place remains to be seen but the words were said, the call was made, and that in itself is significant.

Let’s return to the question that bright young student asked me: Where was G-d? Let us understand once and for all that G-d is not a puppeteer and we are not puppets. We have choices; that is what separates us from the animals. It is all recorded in this week’s parshah. “Behold I give you today blessing and curse.”

That choice is the challenge to every generation. The Torah speaks for all time. When will man choose good over evil, blessing over curse? Is it possible that that day will ever come? Of course it is.

There is a spark in the hearts of all men and I believe that one day that spark will burst forth into glorious light and banish all evil – and the world will know that “G-d is One, His Name is One.”

May that day soon come speedily in our own time.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/a-ray-of-light-behind-the-clouds/2013/07/31/

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