Friday, February 25, 2005

Take Back the Torah?

[Warning! This post contains generalizations. If you find generalizations offensive, or have not yet learned that we all generalize all the time, please find something else to read. Thank you]

OOSJ (via Miriam) argues that it's time for the modern orthodox community to overcome it's "utter lack of confidence" and "inferiority complex regarding Halakhah and our intellectual abilities"

If only it was so simple. Modern Orthodoxy may be under seige, with its children defecting in large numbers to the right and left, but this isn't a problem of confidence. It's a systemic problem that touches every aspect of Orthodox Jewish life.

Look at shuls, mikvahs, and schools. Who is the mikvah lady? The third-grade rebbe? The shteeble Rav? Aren't they almost always the Chasidim or Chasidishe-inclined? And the reason is easy to discern. They can't or won't become professionals, and they are trained only at indoctrination, so what happens? Modern Orthodox parents go to work, and leave child-rearing to people who are more than happy to convince children that their parents are shkotzim. And that's lucky. All too often, the attempt at indoctrination has the opposite affect, and the child is driven away from Judaism. [See: Englander, Nathan]

There's also a PR problem. Take Flatbush (please.) The pool halls and movie houses of Flatbush are full of Jews, and judging from their dress and accents, they aren't "modern." Every third house has a satellite dish on the roof, or a teen "at risk" in the living room. Talking in shteebles is rampant, and often they are talking about the latest shady business deal, or the table-mate who got caught. Materialism is also everywhere, or do you imagine the massive, reconstructed houses and overpriced boutiques are evidence of an aesthetic piety?

But when we talk about "black-hat" or "yeshivish" culture, none of this is mentioned. Instead, we hear about are the yeshivas, and the scholars - which is well and good, of course - while the masses of fat, ignorami crowding Avenue J and yammering through shul, are ignored, or called "exceptions."

In Teaneck, though, what might also be called exceptions, are instead thought to be the rule. Any discussion of Modern Orthodoxy (like those led by Steve Brizel in Hirhurim's comment section) centers on their supposed indifference to halacha, rather than on the genuine scholars and committed Jews who live the life of Modern Orthodoxy. As a result, Young Israels, not shteebles, are the icons of poor shul decorum; and Rubin Hall, not Muss, is thought to be representative of student life at YU.

So it's not the Torah that needs to be taken back, but the institutions and the terms of the discussion. Modern Orthodoxy needs to find a way to remind the rest of Judaism that indifference to halacha is not unique to Teaneck, and they need more of their own kind to take control of their communal organizations.

Until that happens, the seige continues.