Friday, March 08, 2013

David Brooks has Published a Terrible and Deceptive Article about Brooklyn Orthodox Jews


I'm not the brightest guy, so I tend to rely on paid smarties like New York Times Op Ed Columnist David Brooks to explain things. Unfortunately, his new column on the Orthodox Jews of Faltbush has me reconsidering the wisdom of that approach. There are school children better equipted to write for the New York Times about Orthodox Judaism. If Brooks is as much of a lightweight on other subjects as he is on this one, we who read the Times and have trusted his reporting, may have grounds for a malpractice suit.

Fisking after the jump:



In Midwood, Brooklyn, there’s a luxury kosher grocery store called Pomegranate serving the modern Orthodox and Hasidic communities. It looks like a really nice Whole Foods. There’s a wide selection of kosher cheeses from Italy and France, wasabi herring, gluten-free ritual foods and nicely toned wood flooring.
"Serving the modern Orthodox and Hasidic communities?" Hmmm Which tiny, invisible, easy-to-ignore Flatbush community did he forget? Why, the ones who wear the black hats and make up the overwhelming majority of Flatbush Jews. How did that happen? We think we know why Brooks ommitted to mention the yeshivish/RWOJ.heimish people. So, stay tuned.

The snack section is impressive. There’s a long aisle bursting with little bags of chips and pretzels, suitable for putting into school lunch boxes. That’s important because Orthodox Jews spend a lot of time packing school lunches.
I've seen the snack section at Pomegranate. Its like the snack aisle in every kosher market. Shelves and shelves of every imaginable type of edible crap, most of it packaged for easy distribution at shiurim, kiddushim, shalom zachers, tikkuns and all of the other almost daily OJ get-togethers that now seem impossible to imagine without attendant platters of cakes and containers of jelly fish and sour balls. This would have been a wonderful moment for Brooks to segue into Orthodox Jewish eating habits, and to perhaps point out that every third Pomegranate shopper looks like a failed Biggest Loser contestant. But Brooks is on a propaganda tour.

Another really impressive thing about the store is not found in one section but is pervasive throughout. That’s the specialty products designed around this or that aspect of Jewish law. There are the dairy-free cheese puffs in case you want to have some cheese puffs with a meat dish. There are the precut disposable tablecloths so you don’t have to use scissors on the Sabbath. There are the specially designed sponges, which don’t retain water, so you don’t have to do the work of squeezing out water on Shabbat.
Our ability to find and market religious loopholes is "really impressive?" We are to be praised not for keeping the laws, but for outsmarting them? Anyway most of these workarounds aren't really so creative. For instance, I don't need to waste money on precut tabelcloths. I can cut them myself before shabbos. And, the world won't explode if I am deprived of cheese puffs. The correct takeaway, therefore, isn't that we're so creative, but that we're just like all the other lazy and spoiled Americans who want things as fast and as easy as possible

For the people who shop at Pomegranate, the collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order.
The people who shop at Pomegranate are exactly like the people who shop at every other market in the world. Some of them are decent, some of them are lowlifes. Some of them take their religions seriously and some of them are pious frauds, hypocrites, humbugs and backsliders. Brooks must know this. So why doesn't he say it?

The laws, in this view, make for a decent society. They give structure to everyday life. They infuse everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires. They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality.
Yup. Flatbush sure is the #1 place to go if you want to see the moderation of religious zeal. I can't think of a place with fewer psycho over-the-top Rabbis, or people with less interest in piling on useless and arbitrary chumrahs for the sake of impressing their neighbors. David Brooks: if you're reading along that last sentence dripped with sarcasm.

Meir Soloveichik, my tour guide during this trip through Brooklyn, borrows a musical metaphor from the Catholic theologian George Weigel. At first piano practice seems like drudgery, like self-limitation, but mastering the technique gives you the freedom to play well and create new songs. Life is less a journey than it is mastering a discipline or craft.
Ah ha! And here we begin to understand things. This article was composed following a Public Relations Tour! Brooks is being escorted by Rabbi Dr. Famous Last Name. As a YU man (like Harry Maryles), RDFLN is likely under the delusion that modern-orthodox Jews are members in good standing of the yeshivish/heimish sect, when in reality they are derided both publicly and privately as insincere backsliders and treated like members of a different sect. So of course, Brooks thought he was seeing only "modern Orthodox and Hasidic communities" shopping at Pomegranate. That's (likely) what RDFLN told him. 

Now about that metaphor. Can someone explain to me what the hell it means? What are the "songs" I supposedly am able to play now that I have "mastered" e.g waiting six hours between meat and milk? I hope I don't sound snide. I honestly find this impossible to decipher. Help?

Much of the delight in life comes from arguing about the law and different interpretations of God’s command. Soloveichik laughingly describes his debates over which blessing to say over Crispix cereal, which is part corn, but also part rice.
Can someone please inform New York Times Op Ed Columnist David Brooks that not every Orthodox Jew is an egghead nerd? Sure, many of us do get great pleasure out of intellectual discussions, but many of us also find it a crashing bore and find our pleasure in work, children, sex, food, athletics and the rest, i.e, we're normal human beings, who are not carbon copies of each other. If New York Times Op Ed Columnist David Brooks wrote a piece like this about Latinos ("Much of the delight in life comes from eating beans and whacking pinatas") or Asians ("much of the delight in life comes from solving math problems") he'd be laughed out of his job. He deserves the same fate following this atrocity.

This sort of life involves a fascinating series of judgment calls about what aspects of secularism can safely be included in a covenantal life. For example, Soloveichik’s wife, Layaliza, was admitted into Harvard, but she went to a religious college, Yeshiva, instead. Then she went to a secular professional school, Yale Law, and now works as an assistant U.S. attorney.
Brooks, acting as RFDLN's mouthpiece, wants you to think that this is typical. It isn't. The people who shop at Pomegrantes, generally, send their kids to third-rate schools, degrade and disparage secular educations, and infantilize their daughters for as long as possible. Brooklyn girls (generally) are raised to think that becoming an Occupational Therapist represents the pinnacle of achievement. Those who dream of bigger things are politely (and sometimes impolitely) discouraged. I'd wager that 95 percent of Brooklyn OJ high schools  would refuse on principle to release a transcript to Harvard. In fact, the high school Layaliza attended (Google is a great thing: She went to Shulamith) is a shell of its former self. The people who shop at Pomegranate voted with their tuition dollars and sent their daughters to Brooklyn schools that emphatically and purposely do NOT prepare their students for careers as US attorneys. If Brooks was attempting to be a journalist rather than a publicist he might have discovered this.

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