Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Today's Avi: Does he hate women or irreligious Jews most of all?

Who does Avi Sarfran hate more -- women or irreligious Jews?  Reading his latest article, its hard to tell. What is obvious, however, is that he thinks the Daf yomi - and perhaps all Torah study - is the personal property of Agudath Israel. After the jump, you can read his latest, laughable attempt to asset organizational hegemony over the inheritance of Israel, with my comments interpolated in red

SOUR GRIPES
Rabbi Avi Shafran


Like pretty much all publicity, the heavy reportage of the Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium earlier this month was something of a two-edged sword. Over the weeks since the Siyum, awareness of the event likely inspired many Jews to undertake Daf Yomi and legions of others to aspire to a greater degree of Jewish study and observance. It also brought the very idea of Torah study to the attention of large numbers of our fellow Jews who may have, in reading or watching reports about the Siyum, for the first time confronted Torah study as a real-life ideal.

All the reportage of the Siyum and Daf Yomi, however, also provided grist for some grumbling mills.

“The question is how much depth does one really get into with a Daf Yomi kind of approach,” sniffed Conservative Rabbi Steven Wernick of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “It’s breadth over depth,”

The "sniff" is Avi's invention. In the original article, Wernick simply repeats what any of us know: Daf Yomi is about covering ground, not about understanding the ground you've covered.

he pronounced, explaining helpfully, and risibly, to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency how “the Conservative approach to Jewish study tends to be more depth-oriented.”

Who knew?

The actual article makes clear something that Avi omits. When Werniks speaks of the "Conservative approach to Jewish study" he has something specific in mind, as the article continues:  Instead, his movement encourages learning one Mishna per day. Though the Mishna is the foundational text for Talmudic discourse, it’s much shorter and simpler: The Mishna is to the Talmud what the Constitution is to constitutional law. That's more "depth-oriented", no?

 And then there was Arnold Eisen, the chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary, who penned an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal on August 9 about the Siyum and Daf Yomi’s implications for non-Orthodox Jews.

He began with a short history of Daf Yomi, quoting Rav Meir Shapiro and acknowledging how the Siyum HaShas, whose first celebration included “only a small group of participants,” had now brought “some 90,000” to join in the main event, with “thousands more participat[ing] online.”

It constitutes “a remarkable achievement,” he writes, “bearing witness to the vitality of Orthodox communities and the impressive network of Orthodox educational institutions that engage Jews in study from childhood through retirement.”

So much for the objective, honest assessment part of the op-ed.


Right. Only the parts that echo your own talking points are honest and objective. We get it.

But ah, Mr. Eisen continues, Daf Yomi “deprives students of a precious opportunity to raise difficult questions about meaning and truth.” He laments that a participant in the program “misses the chance to engage in the traditional back-and-forth arguments over facts and implications that have breathed life into Talmud study for centuries.” (Apparently he’s never having attended one of the more lively Daf Yomi shiurim out there.)

Maybe, but the typical Daf Yomi shiur wants to get done in 45 minutes or less, so there is precious little time for back and forth.


And—in case you were waiting for the other shoe (the fashionable one) to drop—Mr. Eisen also takes care to add that his critique “is even truer if women are absent from the table as learners and teachers—still the case at most Orthodox lessons.”

Only fashionable people think women have a share in the Torah? Why is Avi so proudly unfashionable? And why can't he recognize that something worth having, namely the female perspective, is missing when women are missing? And why does the mere mention of women learning Torah always bring out the beast?


All the de rigueur lamentation off his chest, the chancellor then turns, finally, to what “the rest of the Jewish world” can “learn from this grand study of the Talmud.”

“How,” he asks, “can they be offered a sense of community and meaning? What learning could galvanize non-Orthodox Jewish minds, stir our hearts, nourish our souls?”

Good and worthy questions, without doubt. In fact, they are questions we Orthodox Jews should be asking too.


 Mr. Eisen’s answer begins in a promising enough way. He proposes “a different page for Jewish learning,” one that “would cleave faithfully to texts, rituals, history and faith.” Beautiful: a Perek Chumash Yomi, or Perek Tehillim Yomi, or a Halacha Yomis. But Mr. Eisen isn’t finished. The course of daily Torah study he has in mind is “one that is open to the larger world and bears the impact of modern thinking,” one that is “informed by art, music, drama, poetry, politics and law.” A “passage from Job,” he suggests, “would be accompanied by clips” from a movie about a Jew; “the poetry of Isaiah could be explored side by side with that of the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.”

Note to Mr. Eisen: You’re missing something fundamental about Daf Yomi’s success—for that matter, about the Orthodox community’s success.


How can you claim "success" when you're addressing a Jewish movement that is larger than your own? By what metric is Orthodoxy more successful than Reform? I'm also rooting for Orthodoxy, by the way, but how do you figure that we're winning?


There may be times when the larger world’s cultural products or wisdom might meaningfully augment a Jew’s understanding or appreciation of Torah concepts. But adulterating the study of Torah with contemporary cultural offerings turns it into a sterile hybrid.

I don't think adulteration is what was proposed. I think its eminently more likely that Eisen wants to do the first thing you mention. Did you call and ask for clarification? And if you weren't able to reach him, why not give him the benefit the doubt instead of assuming the worst? 


Please try to understand that truism, and share it with those who look to you for guidance. May we merit that you all join us for the 13th Siyum HaShas.

Note to Rabbi S: You don't own the Siyum Hashas. Why doesn't your blessing ask that we celebrate the next siyum together? 


Note to Rabbi E: When  Rabbi S. says "you all" he means the men. Not the women. Just in case that was not clear.






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